Pedigree notebook: Earls Rock built upon legends ancient and modern

February 7th, 2023

There’s a lot of pedigree coverage for contenders on the Kentucky Derby (G1) trail, but what about all the other divisions in Thoroughbred racing? This is a space to highlight a wider range of pedigree musings.

Earls Rock — Thunder Road (G3)

When Earls Rock speared through under an inspired Flavien Prat in last Saturday’s Thunder Road (G3) at Santa Anita, the Phil D’Amato trainee signaled that he’s starting to fulfill his early promise. The lightly-raced gelding is making up for lost time after missing the bulk of the past two seasons.

On the surface, Earls Rock wouldn’t appear to be the stuff of a pedigree profile. The Irish import is the first graded winner for sire Fascinating Rock, whose stud career lies more in the jumps sphere now since his move to County Carlow. Yet Fascinating Rock was a high-class horse on his day, and in his optimal rain-softened going, for trainer Dermot Weld. Twice he beat the celebrated mare Found, in the 2015 Champion (G1) and 2016 Tattersalls Gold Cup (G1).

The first intriguing thing about Earls Rock is how his pedigree curates a multiplicity of strains of Northern Dancer, with his sire and dam each sporting three different crosses. Piling on the breed-shaping 1964 Kentucky Derby winner isn’t a novel idea, especially given his proliferation through the gene pool. But the overt frequency of his presence here is noteworthy.

All four of Earls Rock’s grandparents hail from the male line of Northern Dancer, as do six of his eight great-grandparents.

Newtown Anner Stud bred both Earls Rock and his sire. Fascinating Rock, by Fastnet Rock, descends from the Danzig branch of Northern Dancer, via his dual-hemisphere stud sensation Danehill. Fastnet Rock is also out of a Northern Dancer-line mare, for his dam is by Royal Academy, a son of the great Nijinsky II. Fascinating Rock inherits a third Northern Dancer factor from his own dam, who is by the Nureyev stallion Polar Falcon.

Four-cross pedigree of Fascinating Rock, sire of Earls Rock (Courtesy of Brisnet)

Earls Rock’s dam, the Godolphin castoff Ajaadat, carries the Storm Bird/Storm Cat branch through her sire Shamardal, by the “Iron Horse” Giant’s Causeway. Ajaadat’s dam, Taarkod, is by Singspiel, thus bringing in the line of supersire Sadler’s Wells, via In the Wings. Taarkod introduces a Northern Dancer son not seen quite so often these days, the redoubtable Unfuwain, who appears as her own damsire. Taarkod’s dam, the Unfuwain mare Zahrat Dubai, captured the 1999 Nassau (G1) and placed third in the Oaks (G1) at Epsom.

There’s some additional duplication going on further back in Earls Rock with the pairing of Royal Academy/Storm Cat, as well as Nureyev/Sadler’s Wells. Royal Academy and Storm Cat are closely related on their dam’s side. Similarly, the combination of Nureyev and Sadler’s Wells doubles up on their maternal relationship — an angle that crops up with regularity. (Ajaadat has her own duplication of a key female, champion Glorious Song, who factors in the pedigree through her sons Singspiel and Rahy.)

Four-cross pedigree of Ajaadat, dam of Earls Rock (Courtesy of Brisnet)

But keep digging through Earls Rock’s own female line, and you’ll unearth a 19th-century treasure. Zahrat Dubai’s dam, German classic winner Walesiana, traces back to a family cultivated during the old Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Earls Rock is a direct matrilineal descendant of one of the greatest racemares of all time — Kincsem. Undefeated through a 54-race career that would be unthinkable today, the Hungarian star collected prestigious races all over Europe, as far afield from her homeland as the 1878 Grand Prix de Deauville and Goodwood Cup.

So if Northern Dancer furnishes most of the pillars of Earls Rock’s ancestry, you might say that it rests on the bedrock of Kincsem.