A rather unexpected winner of the dramatic Prix de Diane, the French Oaks, was the filly Senga, trained by Pascal Bary and bred by Flaxman Holdings of the Niarchos family. The first Gr. 1 successful progeny of the single horse that beat the excellent Zenyatta, Blade, was foaled in the United States but he has more in common with U.S. breeding than just the place where he was foaled.
Senga is historically the thirteenth winner of the Prix de Diane who was foaled in the United States. The first U.S. winner of the French Oaks was Pistol Packer in 1971, beaten just once in the Arc where she lost to Mill Reef. Pistol Packer was the daughter of the U.S. based Gun Bow but her dam George’s Girl was foaled in Europe. Two years later another American triumphed in the Oaks, the legendary Allez France, whose sire Sea Bird came from France. The 1980 winner Mrs Penny, too, was foaled in the United States but both her parents came from England and Mrs Penny came to the United States in utero of her dam.
The 1984 winner Northern Trick is a quite different story. The Northern Dancer's daughter was bought as a yearling by Stavros Niarchos himself and sent her to training in France, where she won the Prix Vermeille and was the runner-up in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Her sire Northern Dancer was then the main attraction for European breeders at the U.S. auctions and it is from this period that the biggest achievements of the U.S. bred horses on the European racecourses come.
Two years late the French Oaks was won by Lacovia who came, same as Northern Trick, of American parents and same as in the case of Northern Trick, the first European bred horses can be found as far as in the third generation of her pedigree. The 1987 winner Indian Skimmer came of Northern Dancer’s line, Lady in Silver, winner of 1989, was the grand-daughter of the Epsom Derby winner Roberto, but her dam came from Europe.
In 1992 the French Oaks was won by Jolypha, bred at Juddmonte Farms, full sister to the champion Dancing Brave, whose first two generation of pedigree are occupied by U.S. bred horses, but her sire Lyphard was successful in France.
Two years later, another filly bred by Stavros Niarchos’s Flaxman Holdings won the race – East of the Moon, the daughter of the two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Miesque, another jewel from Flaxman’s breeding. Same as in the case of Senga, the breeder used a sire of American blood to the successful family and the result was a classic winner.
In this century, Oaks was won only by four mares bred in the United States. The 2000 winner Egyptband bred by Wertheimers is the daughter of the French listed winner Egyptown, who spent a part of her racing career in the United States, where her connection with Dixieland Band produced the above mentioned Egyptband.
In 2003 it was Juddmonte Farm who celebrated again, whose Nebraska Tornado was born out of the connection of Storm Cat with English bred Media Nox, Gr.3 winner in France, who continued in her racing career in the United States, where she won the Buena Vista Stakes (Gr.2). The list is closed by the 2005 winner Divine Proportions, another star of Flaxman Holdings, the daughter of Kingmambo out of the listed French bred winner Myth to Reality.
But let us return to this year’s winner. If we look closely on her pedigree, we will find virtually no European influence in it. While all of her predecessors who were foaled in the United States and then won the Prix de Diane, bore in their pedigrees slightly less pronounced European influences, Senga’s pedigree is different. In the first four generations we will not find a single horse bred in Europe, all come from North America and there is a single European in the fifth generation – Princequillo, foaled in Ireland in 1940, who fled German bombs with his dam to the United States. Moreover, in the first three generations of the pedigree we will not find a sire who ran on turf – all were dirt specialists. An exception is the family which has no doubt a large share in Senga’s triumph in the classic race and that belongs to pillars of breeding activites of Niarchos’s Flaxman Holdings. Stavros Niarchos bought its founder Coup de Folie from E. P. Taylor in 1983 for USD 825,000 and rewarded him by a number of great horses, including nine Gr.1 winners that came out of her family so far. The last one, Senga, is a proof that although the U.S. blood with the exception of War Front's progeny is not too attractive for European breeders today, but is sufficiently strong and able to produce top horses for European races.