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By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Sunday 10 Nov 2013
Pretty Polly

The Indian Stud Book started maintaining the records of horse breeding activity in India from the year 1935. At that time, most of the stallions and mares at stud had been retired to pasture after their racing days were over. Very few, if any, horses were imported specifically for stud duties and the locally born were just adjusting to the transition of "Indian-bred" from the previous "Country-bred". As days passed, a trickle of imported horses for breeding began to manifest. The outbreak of the Second World War and the uncertainty hovering over racing in India after Independence meant that the trickle remained a trickle. The license Raj imposed severe restrictions on import of horses and while stallions did come in now and then, mares remained scarce.

These were the constraints under which the first fifty years of indigenous breeding stagnated. It did, however, provide a wonderful opportunity for some Indian families -- Stella Marina, Aurelie, Belamina, Daring Dance, Mindful and others -- to come to the fore and establish themselves. Then, as the imports became freer, these families began to fade away, being unable to hold their own against members of international elite families. Today, only the Our Liz (grandam of Aurelie) family has more than 100 mares in India, most of them descendents of Aurelie with very few new imports. In terms of numbers, the international tap-roots predominate -- Pretty Polly (160), Simon's Shoes (131), Mumtaz Mahal (125), Schiaparelli (121), Marchetta (117) and Our Liz (105). These figures have been taken from Vol. XVI of the Indian Stud Book and the current numbers will be different but not radically so.

The top five families for the year 2012-13 were:-

Rank Sire Starters Winners Wins Stakes Earned
1 Pretty Polly 166 69 132 Rs. 6,11,36,737
2 Schiaparelli 121 51 86 Rs. 4,98,33,043
3 Tillywhim  40 17 35 Rs. 3,95,28,828
4 La Troienne 72 29 57 Rs. 3,73,29,775
5 La Troienne 87 37 72 Rs. 3,63,39,996 

The Pretty Polly and Schiaparelli families have been having a battle royal over the past two decades. Schiaparelli has topped the table eight times while Pretty Polly has done so on six occasions. In the last five years, the two families have not been out of the first two spots and the honours are slightly in favour of the Pretty Polly family as it has annexed three Championships. Last year, the margin between the two was very narrow, Pretty Polly scoring by just about Rs. 5.5 lakhs. This year, Pretty Polly has triumphed comfortably. 

In the days of short rations, there were only a few mares in India who traced back to Pretty Polly. A cursory research threw up the names Sailing Through, Full Mouth and Aspiration. Sailing Through, a winner in England and India, was a prolific breeder and she is the ancestress of good horses like Darado, Paradis, Rhythm and Fun of the Fayre; Full Mouth became the dam of the Golconda 1000 Guineas winner Priceless Polly while Aspiration was of no account. When the restrictions were slightly eased in the '70s, the first mare, probably, from the Pretty Polly family to be imported arrived at the Usha Stud in 1977. She was Tina's Way. It was not the typical kind of mare that the late Maj Mehra looked for except that she was by the speed horse horse Palestine. Tina's Way's last foal was Eminence, the Indian 1000 Guineas winning daughter of Grey Gaston. This year, the chief earner for the Pretty Polly is Wind Stream who descends from Tina's Way:-

Tina's Way (ch 1970 by Palestine)
EMINENCE (ch 1981 by Grey Gaston) -- won Indian 1000 Guineas
Regal Grace (ch 1990 by Common Land)
!  ARTWORK (b 1996 by Razeen) -- won Mysore 1000 Guineas
!   !  RIGHT AGAIN (b g 2003 by Steinbeck) -- won Calcutta St. Leger
!   !  WIND STREAM (b g 2009 by Steinbeck) -- won Poonawalla Mysore Derby, Gr.1
!  MOON FOREST (ch g by Razeen) -- won Eveready Calcutta Derby, Gr.1
Distinction (ch 1994 by Razeen)
!  PSYCHIC STRENGTH (b g 2002 Steinbeck) -- won Poonawalla Mysore Derby, Gr.1   
PSYCHIC FLAME (b 2000 by Razeen) -- won McDowell Indian Derby, Gr.1
SUPREME PRINCESS (ch 2002 by Razeen) -- won Calcutta Oaks, Gr.3

Pretty Polly is the sixth dam of Tina's Way. In all, 39 Classic winners -- including Indian Derby winners Psychic Flame and Antonios -- in India go back to Pretty Polly and with numbers in its favour, it bound to be in the forefront in the coming years.

Pretty Polly is one of the greatest race mares to have graced the English Turf. John Randall and Tony Morris singled her out as the "Broodmare of the Century" in their book "A Century of Champions".

The mare Admiration visited the Isonomy horse Gallinule at Brownstown Stud in the year 1900. It was a marriage of convenience because Mr. Noble Johnson, manager of Maj. Eustace Loder's Eyrefield Lodge Stud in Ireland was a friend of Capt. Henry Greer who owned Brownstown Stud and the two nurseries were located close to each other near the Curragh. Admiration, purchased by Maj. Loder as a yearling for 510 gns, did not win in England. Sent to Ireland, she picked up two ordinary races on the flat, met no success over jumps and was retired to stud. Gallinule, a promising juvenile, was a chronic bleeder and later became a roarer. He raced until he was nine and after an unspectacular start as a stallion he later became the Champion Sire twice and the Champion Broodmare Sire five times.  

 The result of that mating was a strong, high mettled chestnut filly who grew up to be just under 16 hands. Maj Loder called her Pretty Polly, probably after the famous ballad. She was sent to England to be trained by Peter Gilpin at Clarehaven stables in Newmarket. Initially, Gilpin wasn't too impressed by the filly whom he considered a bit 'tomboyish', though he was recognised her tremendous power and quality. As a two year-old, Pretty Polly was unbeaten in 9 starts and by the autumn of 1903, Pretty Polly, the darling of punters, had become "Our Polly".

As a three year-old, ridden by William Lane, Pretty Polly extended her winning sequence to fifteen including the One Thousand Guineas at Newmarket and the Oaks at Epsom, that brought her up against St. Amant who had won the Two Thousand Guineas and the Epsom Derby. The colt, whom Pretty Polly had beaten twice at 2, was seeking the Triple Crown. So was Pretty Polly with the One Thousand and the Oaks already in her pouch. The 'great match' became a 'no contest' as Pretty Polly won the 1904 St. Leger easily and St. Amant failed to figure in the frame. Two days later at the same meeting, Pretty Polly also picked up the Park Hill Stakes.

Then came the fateful Paris soujourn. Maj Loder decided to send her for the Prix du Conseil Municipal. From the outset, the fates seemed to be conspiring against her. Her regular jockey had a fall and it was decided to engage the American-born Danny Maher. There was a storm over the south of England and her journey from Newmarket to Folkestone was wretched and she reached Paris less than 48 hours before the race. It continued to rain heavily and though the race day dawned clear, the going was heavy. Her main rival was considered to be the four year-old Zinfandel. Presto II (66/1) led throughout as Pretty Polly finished second, two and a half lengths behind. It was said that the riders of pretty Polly and Zinfandel were busy keeping tabs on each other and had under estimated the front runner. Her defeat stunned her many fans, many of whom were convinced that there was some telegraphic error.  Maher, however,was of the opinion that she was not a true stayer.

At 4, Pretty Polly was unbeaten in her four starts. She began by winning the Coronation Cup -- in which she again beat Zinfandel -- and in autumn he reeled of vistories in the Champion Stakes, the Limekiln Stakes and Jockey Club Cup in which she beat Maher's mount Bachelor's Button convincingly. Maher, though, maintained that with the services of a pacemaker, he would turn the tables on the great filly the following year in the Ascot Gold Cup. Pretty Polly's two lead-up races for the Gold Cup included a second Coronation Cup. However, Maher's words became prophetic for with a pacemaker, Bachelor's Button beat Pretty Polly by a length in the 1906 Gold Cup. A wart on her stomach, her jockey Dillon not following instructions and the attentions of the vast army of her fans upsetting her were the excuses made. Whatever the reason, a great career came to an end on a disappointing note. Perhaps, as Maher had said, she was not a true stayer. She however ended her career with 22 wins from 24 starts and placed 2nd twice.

At stud, Pretty Polly lived to a ripe age of 30. In all, she produced 10 foals of whom four were minor winners. Placid and equable in training, she became high-strung and pricky at stud and was not a good mother to her foals. Her own stud record was rather average -- disappointing in fact -- but her four daughters, all  by different stallions, eventually made their mark and raised her status as an extraordinary matron.


Great horses have great stories associated to their names and Pretty Polly has several anecdotes worth recounting.

While still a young filly at stud, she once got loose and ran along a narrow path which had a high stone wall on one side and a deep drop into a sand quarry on the other. Having done it once, she went off for another circuit before she was caught.

Just before moving to England, the two year-old colts of Eyrefield Lodge, all carrying 112 lbs were scheduled to have a rough gallop. It was thought that it would be a good idea for some of the fillies to see what it was all about. A lad weighing 140 lbs was atop Pretty Polly. He was powerless to stop her from taking part in the gallop and beating the boys comfortably.

Every time Pretty Polly returned to the Winner's Enclosure, the trainer's wife used to give her a lump of sugar. After she had won the Oaks at Epsom, King Edward VII was in the Winner's Enclosure and the lump of sugar was passed on to to the monarch. Pretty Polly did not reach for it till Mrs. Gilpin went up to her and patted her on the neck.

Pretty Polly was best friends with a cob mare called Little Missus who shared her stable. Little Missus went to all Pretty Polly's races and accompanied her to the start. While the hot day and the over enthusiastic attention of her fans seemed to have made Pretty Polly irritable and reluctant to go on the track for the Gold Cup, it is also a fact that for the ony time in her career, she was not accompanied to the races by Little Missus who, running a high fever, had been left at Clarehaven.