Brain International | Ribot
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Was he planned or did he simply evolve?

One of the greatest racehorses of the 20th century, Ribot, was undefeated in sixteen racecourse starts. While it is beyond dispute that he was bred by the Italian master Tesio, it may well be that we should not attribute all of the dramatic improvement in the female line of Ribot to Tesio’s genius. In fact the breeding of Ribot is possibly the best example of the step by step emergence of a champion from a relatively obscure female line, in the last one hundred years.


106 years to previous Classic winners

Prior to Ribot’ s momentous performances in winning two Prix de l’Arc de Triomphes, and the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, we have to trace back no less than 106 years to encounter his female line’s previous Classic winners, The Flea, winner of the 1849 English 1,000 Guineas, and the 1844 English 2,000 Guineas winner The Ugly Buck. From that pinnacle in the family history, it was no less than 80 years before Ribot’ s direct branch of the family exhibited signs that it was undergoing a transformation.


Then in 1928 the colt Cyclonic won the Jockey Club Stakes, the Gordon Stakes, and the King Edward VII Stakes at Ascot, signalling that a revival that had started several generations earlier was firmly underway. In 1933 Cyclonic’ s sister Typhonic won the Park Hill Stakes, while their less well performed sister Panic in 1930 produced Nassau Stakes winner Solfatara. In 1937, his brother Solfo further established the credentials of this emerging line in repeating Cyclonic’ s victories in the Jockey Club Stakes and King Edward VII Stakes.

Newmarket sales 1937

It was against this background of clear-cut success that Tesio’ s attention was drawn at the Newmarket sales in 1937 to a weanling filly by Papyrus from Bucolic, half sister to Cyclonic. It would seem to be overstating the case therefore to attribute the main upgrading of this line entirely to Tesio, for the bulk of this task had already been accomplished by breeders such as Sir James Robinson, the breeder of Bucolic’ s dam of Volcanic, and Major J. S. Courtauld who bred the sisters Panic and Typhonic, and brother Cyclonic. Rather, Tesio’s genius lay partly in his recognition of the bargain he was getting in paying only 350 guineas for a weanling of the quality of the filly he named Barbara Burrini, and partly in his subsequent choice of El Greco in planning the mating from which she produced Italian two year old champion Romanella.

Turning point

In breeding Romanella, Tesio had taken the revival of this line to a stage of excellence from which it would be possible to breed a champion. But the turning point that triggered the commencement of such a revival was a mating that took place over 40 years before Tesio’s involvement with the line. This was the mating in 1894 between Little Emily, the undistinguished winner of just two minor races, and the classy stallion St Angelo. Little Emily’ s dam was the unraced daughter of a mare that had raced ten times without any hint of even minor success. The mating with St Angelo produced Ribot’ s sixth dam St Lucia, and it is significant to note that St Lucia was by far the best of Little Emily’ s seven foals, winning four races and prize money of just over £ 1,000.

Linebreedings to Voltaire

The union with St Angelo resulted in a pedigree which contains no less than five strong linebreedings to St Simon’ s great great grand sire Voltaire, four linebreedings to the legendary Irish Birdcatcher, and two to Gladiator. The mating represents the first intensely linebred (“compatible”) mating of this line for many generations, and became the cornerstone of a remarkable sequence of “compatible” matings which culminated in the birth of Ribot. St Lucia produced eleven foals, and it is without doubt more than just a coincidence that the best of these on the racetrack, La Soufriere, became the next link in the chain which produced Ribot.

Linebreeding to Stockwell

Her pedigree also contained six linebreedings in her first six generations to Stockwell, arguably the single most influential stallion in the history of the Thoroughbred. La Soufriere had a relatively short career as a broodmare, dying at the age of eight years after producing just four foals. The first three of these were the products of the most uninspiring matings, and they ran a total of eighteen times between them for just one small win. In complete contrast, but in line with a most noticeable feature of previous generations, her last mating produced by far the most successful racetrack performer, from a most beautifully matched mating with the Polymelus stallion Corcyra, and as such it would seem, “qualified” to become Ribot’s fourth dam. She was of course Volcanic, with her £ 2,200 prize money and her win in the Levant Stakes at Goodwood making her the third consecutive “best foal” of dams that would become the backbone of Ribot’s pedigree.

Inbreeding to Galopin

Despite being the best of her dam’s eleven produce on the racetrack, La Soufriere probably did not live up to her pedigree as a racehorse, as often is the case with fillies. She was by Robert Le Diable, and the result of a mating again of high “compatibility”, reinforcing in more potent fashion still, St Lucia’ s linebreedings to Voltaire. In this case it was the quality of the ancestors through which this was brought about which impacted most strongly on her progeny, central to her pedigree being a third and fourth generation inbreeding to Voltaire’ s great grandson Galopin.

Volcanic and Cyclonic

Yet again Volcanic was the product of five close up linebreedings to Galopin and his sire Vedette, further reinforcing the original linebreedings to Voltaire in St Lucia’ s pedigree. This mating also includes three strong fourth and fifth generation linebreedings to Hampton (great great grand sire of Hyperion), and an interesting reinforcement of the brother and sister Bend Or and Rose Of Lancaster. Volcanic was the dam of the stakes winners Cyclonic and Typhonic as referred to earlier, but for some reason the closely matched pedigree of their half-sister Bucolic did not translate itself into racetrack success. Nevertheless, very strong linebreedings to Polymelus’ s sire Cyllene, and further reinforcements of Hampton and his sire Lord Clifden, maintained high concentrations of key ancestors in her pedigree, and ensured that she was now the fourth successive compatibly mated mare in this female line.


Papyrus and Sunstar

In 1937 Bucolic produced an unimpressive looking foal by Papyrus which her owner decided to send to the Newmarket sales. As fate would have it, not only was Papyrus a favourite of Tesio, so also was Sunstar, sire of the weanling’ s damsire Buchan. These features of her pedigree, probably combined with the more recent racecourse successes of her relatives Solfatara, Solfo, Cyclonic, and Typhonic were enough for Tesio to be convinced he was buying into a quality female line at a bargain price. Contrary to those analysts who attribute to Tesio a computer-like facility to visualise pedigrees of his breeding stock many generations back, I believe that it was not immediately evident to Tesio, or perhaps ever evident to him, that the filly he purchased was linebred six times to St Simon and his sire Galopin, maintaining for the fifth consecutive generation the powerful concentrations of their forefather Voltaire.

Intuitive thought patterns

But with Tesio’s purchase of Barbara Burrini, this female line, already much in the ascendancy, now could benefit also from the inspirational and intuitive thought patterns in planning his matings that had been the hallmark of Tesio’s successes for decades before. Barbara Burrini was by no means a star herself on the racecourse, but she developed into a useful stayer, an attribute that seems to have been significant in his choice of El Greco as one of the stallions with which she was mated. Tesio wanted to put Barbara Burrini to a speed sire, and particularly one by Pharos, as a foil for her abundance of stamina. He also wanted to reinforce the pedigree of Derby winner Sunstar which had attracted him to her in the first place. El Greco satisfied all those conditions.


The result of this mating was of course Italian champion two year old Romanella, whose pedigree, possibly unbeknown to Tesio, contained multiple linebreedings in yet higher quantities to St Simon and Galopin, concentrating more powerfully still the dominant influence of the silent Voltaire. The remarkable feature of Tesio’s success with this line is not so much that he produced Romanella, as to a large extent the potent influences were already in place in Barbara Burrini’ s pedigree when he purchased her. It was rather that, having produced her, in just one of further generation he was able to raise the class of her own progeny by not one, but two or even three rungs up the ladder of excellence.

St Simon and Cyllene

For, Ribot is linebred no less than 32 times to St Simon, Cyllene, and their sires in the first eight generations of his pedigree. The isolated occurrences of these few ancestors alone, weighted by generation in which they occur, account for 30% of Ribot’s entire pedigree. Such high concentrations of a small group of influential ancestors can only result from a number of successive generations of stallions and mares from similar genetic (ancestral) backgrounds, being mated in continuous reinforcement of their ancestral strengths.


As far as we are aware it has never been properly explained why Tesio sent Romanella to Tenerani, but his thought patterns were such that he continually made mating decisions which not only fulfilled his immediate aims (such as the duplication of Sunstar in Romanella’s pedigree) but also invariably preserved, or even magnified, the underlying strengths in the pedigrees of his mares, without his having direct knowledge of what those strengths actually were. Tesio did not have the technological resources available to him that we have today, and could not possibly have known the extent to which old father Voltaire was guiding his destiny. But, for whatever reasons, in choosing Tenerani as a partner Romanella, he selected one of the few stallions worldwide at stud at that time with a pedigree which was able to match, and extends still further the multiple linebreedings to St Simon, Galopin and to a significant extent Cyllene and his sire Bona Vista, which dominated Romanella’ s pedigree.


While Tesio could not possibly have known precisely what the strengths were when making mating decisions for his mares, the same intuitive thought patterns which guided him in the evolution of Ribot, had been just as effective in his creation of Nearco seventeen years earlier.