The phrase 'breed the best to the best and hope for the best' has long been used by many thoroughbred producers. All too often it soon becomes apparent that the dreams of stardom have been dashed but there are, of course, many Group 1 performers who are the product of Group 1-winning parents.
One example from 2016 is star juvenile Rhododendron, a daughter of Derby hero and prolific champion sire Galileo (by Sadler's Wells) and of the triple Group 1 ace Halfway To Heaven (by Pivotal).
The Aidan O'Brien-trained bay was bred by Orpendale, Chelston & Wynatt and she achieved her top billing with an impressive two and a quarter-length defeat of Hydrangea in the Group 1 Dubai Fillies' Mile at Newmarket in October.
She beat that same filly by a head in the Group 2 Debutante Stakes at the Curragh in August, finished a short-head and one and three-quarter lengths behind Intricately and Hydrangea in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes in September, and her only other outings were in maidens at the Curragh and at Goodwood, the latter an odds-on success.
Rhododendron is a leading classic contender for 2017, but although we already knows that the mile is no problem to her, and staying 10 furlongs looks a shade of odds-on, there is a chance that she may be more of a Guineas and Prix de Diane one than an Oaks filly.
Her dam's Group 1 treble came in the Irish 1000 Guineas, Nassau Stakes and Sun Chariot Stakes – all over a mile – and her full-brother, Flying The Flag, got his best win in the Group 3 International Stakes over 10 furlongs at the Curragh. He was unplaced both times he tried farther.
Halfway To Heaven is by a Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes winner whose progeny have got their Group 1 wins anywhere from five-furlong sprints up to 12-furlong classics, and she is out of Cassandra Go (by Indian Ridge), a Group 2 King's Stand Stakes and Group 2 Temple Stakes winner who chased home Mozart in the Group 1 July Cup.
That sprint ace is also the dam of the Group 3 Abernant Stakes and Group 3 Coral Charge Sprint Stakes winner Tickled Pink (by Invincible Spirit) and of Theann (by Rock Of Gibraltar), the six-furlong Group 3 scorer whose daughter Photo Call (by Galileo) is a Grade 1 star at eight and 10 furlongs in the USA, but has also had blacktype success at 11 furlongs and been placed at 12.
Cassandra Go's late half-brother Verglas (by Highest Honor) won the Group 3 Coventry Stakes and chased home Desert King in the Group 1 Irish 2000 Guineas before going on to a successful stud career, and her stakes-winning half-sister Persian Secret (by Persian Heights) became the dam of the pattern-winning sprinter Do The Honours (by Highest Honor) and of Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes third Seba (by Alzao), as well as being the grandam of Group 3 Desmond Stakes scorer Future Generation (by Hurricane Run).
The third dam of Rhododendron is the winning grey Rahaam (by Secreto) and that half-sister to Group 3 Prix Thomas Bryon winner and Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) third Glory Forever (by Forever Casting) is also a half-sister to the ancestor of some interesting horses.
That mare is Queen Caroline (by Chief's Crown), who was placed a few times, and she is the grandam of Remus De La Tour (by Stormy River), who is in his first season at stud at Haras de la Hermeraie in France.
He is a grandson of Verglas, so is inbred 4x3 to Rahaam's unraced dam Fager's Glory (by Mr Prospector), and both his Group 3 success and Group 2 placing came over 12 furlongs.
His three-parts sister Chill (by Verglas) won the nine-furlong Listed Prix Finlande and was runner-up in the 10 and a half-furlong Group 3 Prix Cleopatre before going on to produce Childa (by Duke Of Marmalade), a listed scorer who finished third in the Group 2 Prix du Conseil de Paris at Longchamp.
We won't know if Rhododendron will stay 12 furlongs until she tries it, and although it is certainly possible, it may be that she will be most at home over eight to 10 furlongs.
Not every horse given a name that evokes images of excellence, power or greatness lives up to its billing, but in the case of Churchill, the equine namesake has already bagged a championship title and set up the likelihood of an influential future, both on the track and at stud.
He was beaten on his debut, finishing a two and a half-length third over six furlongs at the Curragh in late May, but then reeled off five-in-a-row, including the Group 1 National Stakes at the Curragh and Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, and, on a mark of 122, he was crowned Europe's juvenile champion of 2016.
He beat Mehmas, who did not seem to stay the trip, by four and a quarter lengths in the first of those top-level wins, and those who followed him home in the Dewhurst were subsequent Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf runner-up Lancaster Bomber, Group 2 scorer Blue Point, subsequent Group 1 stars Thunder Snow and Rivet, and subsequent Group 1-placed South Seas.
All of Churchill's wins have been in blacktype company and over seven furlongs and, one as one would expect, he is a short ante-post favourite for the Group 1 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
He is a son of the phenomenal Galileo (by Sadler's Wells) so should have no trouble with the mile, but anyone who is thinking of backing him for the Group 1 Investec Derby, for which he is also ante-post favourite, may wish to pause.
It is not impossible that he will stay that distance, but his is a family of sprinters and milers and that raises both strong doubt about his ability to go beyond 10 furlongs and a chance that the mile is where he is will prove best.
Churchill is trained by Aidan O'Brien, he was bred by Liberty Bloodstock, and he is out of the Group 3 Grangecon Stud Stakes winner and Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes runner-up Meow (by Storm Cat), a filly who showed more speed and precocity than either of her best two siblings.
Orator (by Galileo) won a listed contest over a mile at Nantes and a minor contest over a quarter-mile farther, and Aloof (by Galileo) got her Group 3 success at nine and a half furlongs at Gowran Park and multiple pattern placings from eight to 10 to and a half furlongs.
Their dam is Airwave (by Air Express), whose Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes victory gave her the title of champion two-year-old filly in England in 2002. She went on to add the Group 2 Temple Stakes at Sandown, she was runner-up in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee Stakes at Ascot and third in the Group 1 July Cup at Newmarket.
She left Henry Candy's team and joined the Aidan O'Brien stable at the age of five and, on the second of three starts from that base, she won the Group 2 Ridgewood Pearl Stakes over a mile at the Curragh, so she stayed farther than her tragically ill-fated half-sister Jwala (by Oasis Dream).
That filly was all about speed, all five of her wins came over the minimum trip, and her finest hour came with Group 1 Nunthorpe Stakes success at York. A few weeks later, on her penultimate start, she finished one and three-quarter lengths fourth to Maarek in the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp.
Their unraced half-sister Vasilia (by Dansili) has produced three blacktype earners. Lasilia (by Acclamation) earned hers over five furlongs as a juvenile, and Dream Of Dreams (by Dream Ahead), who was runner-up to Sir Dancealot in the Listed Rockingham Stakes over six furlongs at York on his final start last season, finished third to Medicine Jack in the Group 2 Railway Stakes over the same trip at the Curragh several months before.
The most prolific of the trio is Silverheels (by Verglas), a five-time winner over a mile and who was placed in both the Group 2 Superlative Stakes and Group 3 Solario Stakes as a juvenile.
Airwave also has an unraced half-sister of interest, mainly because her two successful offspring have notched up a total of 18 wins between them. They are a long way below even stakes class, but Frequency (by Starcraft) has won eight times over six furlongs and three races over seven, while all seven wins for Sloop Johnb (by Bahamian Bounty) have come over five furlongs.
Churchill is clearly an exciting prospect and it is going to be fascinating to see what path his career takes. He looks like being a top-class miler in the making, one who may stay 10 furlongs rather than being a Derby colt, and while the latter is not impossible, the amount of speed throughout the distaff side of his family makes success at Epsom seem unlikely.
Those known as reverse shuttle sires – horses from the southern hemisphere who come north rather than the other way around – have not made as great an impact as their counterparts, but a growing number of them are making the grade and coming up with a string of Group 1 stars.
Exceed And Excel (by Danehill) has been one of the most successful of them, so far, and last season one of his Australian-born Group 1 winners got off to a quick and eye-catching start as a freshman in Europe.
The star of that first crop is the Darley-bred colt Thunder Snow and the Saeed bin Suroor-trained bay is already off the mark in 2017.
He made his debut at the end of May, and although only sixth behind Caravaggio in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot a fornight later, his four subsequent outings showed him to be among the best of his age.
He chased home War Decree in the Group 2 Vintage Stakes over seven furlongs at Goodwood in late July, failed by just a head to beat subsequent Group 1 winner Rivet in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes at Doncaster, and then finished a two-length fourth to champion Churchill in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.
It was his final start, however, that advertised his potential to be a major player at three as he beat South Seas by five lengths in the Group 1 Criterium International at Saint-Cloud, with the talented filly Promise To Be True back in third.
The ground was soft that day, it was fast for his winning debut and for his Goodwood second, and he finished the year on a rating of 118.
The merit of what he achieved in his five and three-quarter-length Group 3 UAE 2000 Guineas victory at Meydan on Saturday is open to question, especially as the eight-furlong contest is on dirt, but this talented colt is clearly in good heart and a serious candidate for Europe's mile classics.
Helmet's racing and pedigree profile suggests that most of his offspring will be sprinters and/or milers and that, with the right mares, he will get some who are effective at 10 furlongs.
Thunder Snow is the fourth foal and fourth blacktype winner out of Eastern Joy (by Dubai Destination) and he is a half-brother to three fillies of note, headed by Ihtimal (by Shamardal), who won the Group 2 May Hill Stakes at two, added both the Listed UAE 1000 Guineas and a runaway victory in the Group 3 UAE Oaks at three and was then third in the Group 1 1000 Guineas. Her final start was when finishing fifth behind Taghrooda in the Group 1 Oaks at Epsom.
The lightly-raced First Victory (by Teofilo) won the Group 3 Oh So Sharp Stakes, and listed scorer Always Smile (by Cape Cross) finished third in the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes and runner-up in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes last year, both races won by Alice Springs.
It is no surprise that Eastern Joy has become such a successful broodmare. Not only is she by a rising star in the broodmare sire ranks, but she is a half-sister to the Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) winner West Wind (by Machiavellian) and out of a high-class sibling to two classic performers.
Her dam is the Group 2 Sun Chariot Stakes winner Red Slippers (by Nureyev) and that mare is both a full-sister to Romanov and half-sister to Balanchine (by Storm Bird).
Romanov won the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes and Group 3 Rose of Lancaster Stakes, he was runner-up in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, and finished third in both the Group 1 Derby at Epsom and the Group 1 Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh.
Balanchine was Europe's champion three-year-old filly in 1994 when, after being short-headed by Las Meninas in the Group 1 1000 Guineas as Newmarket, she won the Group 1 Oaks at Epsom and beat the colts to take the Group 1 Irish Derby at the Curragh, joining Salsabil (1990) and Gallinaria (1900) as the most recent fillies to achieve that latter classic feat.
Balanchine disappointed at stud but her placed half-sister Subtle Breeze (by Storm Cat) is the dam of the Australian seven- and eight-furlong Group 1 scorer Trust In A Gust (by Keep The Faith), unraced Alleged Devotion (by Alleged) is the dam, grandam and third dam of several talented performers, and stakes-placed First Night (by Sadler's Wells) is the grandam of the Group 1-placed Australian Group 3 winner Havana Cooler (by Hurricane Run).
Thunder Snow is, therefore, a Group 1 winner from a family that has a strong recent tradition of producing Group 1 performers and, although he may not stay quite as far as did some of his most accomplished relations, he is a talented miler who may handle the 10 and a half furlongs of the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby).
Promise To Be True has twice been a beaten favourite in Group 1 contests, first when only fifth to Intricately in the Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh and then when third to Thunder Snow and South Seas in the Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.
That might sound like she has been a somewhat disappointing performer, but that would not be a fair assessment of this 112-rated classic prospect.
She started off her career in style, beating four rivals to take a seven and a half-furlong Tipperary maiden at the end of June and then following that with defeat of Take A Deep Breath in the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes at Leopardstown.
Between the aforementioned defeats she was runner-up in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac over a mile at Chantilly, beaten just three-parts of a length by Wuheida, the only time that she has not been favourite.
Promise To Be True is trained by Aidan O'Brien, she was bred by Orpendale, Chelston & Wynatt, and as one might expect of a daughter of Galileo (by Sadler's Wells), she represents a top classic family. It is also one that features a fascinating mix of speed and stamina.
She is one of three winners out of Sumora (by Danehill), a mare whose best win came in the Listed St Hugh's Stakes over five furlongs, and she is a full-sister to Maybe, Europe's juvenile filly champion of 2011.
Maybe also won the Group 3 Silver Flash Stakes, in her case after victory in the Listed Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot, and to those she added both the Group 2 Debutante Stakes and Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes. She was only third in the Group 1 1000 Guineas, behind runaway winner Homecoming Queen, and she was beaten by less than four lengths when fifth to Was in the Oaks.
Her dam's three-parts sister Dancing Rain (by Danehill Dancer) took both the Group 1 Oaks at Epsom and the Group 1 Preis der Diana (German Oaks) at Dusseldorf, a unique double, and then added the Group 2 Qipco British Champions Filles' and Mares' Stakes at Ascot.
Their dam, Rain Flower (by Indian Ridge), did not race but was always a candidate to produce one or more high-class offspring because she is out of Rose Of Jericho (by Alleged). That mare was also unraced, but in addition to being the dam of leading Irish sprinter Archway (by Thatching) and of high-class Japanese colt Shinko King (by Fairy King), she was responsible for Dr Devious (by Ahonoora).
He won the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes and Group 3 Vintage Stakes as a juvenile before going on to take both the Group 1 Derby at Epsom and Group 1 Champion Stakes at Newmarket. Although never a major sire, his tally of stakes winners did include Group 1 scorers such as Collier Hill and Kinnaird, and he could be described as being a three-parts brother to Rain Flower.
If she has trained on from two to three then there is every reason to hope that Promise To Be True could become one of the top fillies of her age group. We already know that she stays a mile, and having done that at two suggests that she can handle 10 furlongs at three.
Whether or not she will manage the full Oaks distance, however, will depend on what she got from her dam: was it her sprinter's speed, or the family's middle-distance aptitude?
Invincible Spirit's position as one of Europe's outstanding stallions is well-established and his classic prospects for 2017 include National Defense, last year's juvenile champion colt in France.
The grandson of Green Desert (by Danzig) is trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, he was bred by Ecurie Des Monceaux and Meridian International Sarl, and he earned an official rating of 118 after his four and a half-length defeat of Salouen in the Group 1 Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Grand Criterium) over a mile at Chantilly in October.
That performance, which gave his sire the 15th individual Group/Grade 1 winner needed to place his name on the list of internationally protected names, came just over six weeks after his impressive six-length debut success over the same trip at Deauville.
Between those two wins he finished third to Akihiro and High Alpha in the Group 3 Prix des Chenes at Chantilly. The first-named is an Andre Fabre-trained, twice-raced son of Deep Impact (by Sunday Silence), and the runner-up, who was a three-length listed scorer on his previous start, finished fourth to Frankuus in the Group 3 Prix de Conde over nine furlongs at the same venue on his only subsequent outing.
National Defense, who made €280,000 at the Arqana August Deauville Yearling Sale, is the third foal and third winner out of an unraced mare called Angel Falls (by Kingmambo).
The eldest of the trio is Cascading (by Teofilo), whose only win came in a 12-furlong Epsom maiden and who earned her blacktype when a three-quarter-length third in a listed contest over that same trip at Newbury, and the one in the middle is Andalouserie (by Poet's Voice), a seven and a half-furlong winner in France.
The mare's current two-year-old, a son of Makfi (by Dubawi), was the subject of a €110,000 private sale transaction at Deauville in October, and Angel Falls is due to visit Shalaa (by Invincible Spirit) after she has her Siyouni (by Pivotal) foal this year.
Angel Falls is out of the Group 3 Prix d'Aumale winner Anna Palariva (by Caerleon) and that makes her a half-sister to three stakes winners, headed by the Group 3 Prix de la Grotte winner and Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas runner-up Anna Salai (by Dubawi).
The prolific Iguazu Falls (by Pivotal) won the Listed Surrey Stakes at Epsom, was twice Group 3-placed in England as a juvenile and has been third in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort Stakes at Meydan, while Advice (by Seeking The Gold) is a pattern-placed four-time listed scorer in France.
Their lightly-raced and placed half-sister Anemometer (by Sunday Silence) has also done her part for the family as she is the dam of the Australian-bred Grade 1-placed South African listed scorer Dubai Gina (by Dubai Destination).
All of this suggests that National Defense could be a leading mile to 10-furlong performer in 2017, and as he is based in France he could be a candidate to try for the classic double of Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) and Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby).
Whether or not he will stay beyond the distance of that latter classic remains to be seen, and although his third dam is the Group 3 Park Hill Stakes winner Anna Of Saxony (by Ela-Mana-Mou), progeny of Invincible Spirit who are effective at 12 furlongs and beyond are rare compared to the number he gets from five to 10 furlongs.
In addition to the lightly-raced and aforementioned Anna Palariva, Anna Of Saxony is the dam of the Group 3 Queen's Vase third Ancestor (by Polish Precedent), of listed-placed stayer and prolific National Hunt scorer Aachen (by Rainbow Quest), and of one-time winner Anna Amalia (by In The Wings), who is the dam of the Listed Cheshire Oaks winner Anipa (by Sea The Stars) and of the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes heroine Ave (by Danehill Dancer).
The fourth dam of National Defense is the unraced Anna Matrushka (by Mill Reef), whose offspring also include the Group 2 Prix Hubert de Chaudenay winner Pozarica (by Rainbow Quest) and the dual middle-distance Group 2 scorer Annaba (by In The Wings).
The mare is also the grandam of the Group 1-winning miler Anna Monda (by Monsun) and her unraced daughter Accessories (by Singspiel) has produced the notably quick Australian pattern stars Bullbars (by Elusive Quality), Helmet (by Exceed And Excel), Epaulette (by Commands) and Pearls (by Exceed And Excel).
The middle pair of that quartet are, of course, reverse shuttle stallions, with Helmet having sired Group 1 scorer Thunder Snow among his first crop and Epaulette proving popular at the yearlings sales in 2016.
If you go back another generation of the family then you will find another mix of speed and stamina, with fifth dam Anna Paola (by Prince Ippi) having won the Group 2 Preis der Diana (German Oaks), her classic-placed and pattern-winning daughter Anno Luce (by Old Vic) being the dam of the brilliant hurdler Annie Power (by Shirocco), and others on the page including Group 1 Irish Derby third Annus Mirabilis (by Warning), the seven to nine-furlong horse Autumn Glory (by Charnwood Forest) and ill-fated juvenile Group 3 scorer Piping Rock (by Dubawi).
All of National Defense's juvenile starts were over a mile, which is something that we often associate with potential middle-distance horses. It is not impossible that he will stay beyond the 10 and a half furlongs of the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, a race his sire has already won before with Lawman, but it is more likely that the influence of his sire will cap his range at that classic distance, and he could be among the season's leading eight to 10-furlong horses.