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Turning to Turf

It might be a bit too early to say that "The Winds of Change are Blowing Through the Nation," but with frequently expressed concerns about the durability and stamina of the U.S. Thoroughbred, there appears to be a move that indicates stallion masters and breeders are willing to at least consider standing or breeding to something other than stretching-out sprinter/miler dirt horses. Given the demographics of the U.S. population, this has meant embracing imports or domestic horses whose form is primarily on turf.

Last year saw two of the world's great stallion operations add such horses. Coolmore/Ashford introduced Cape Blanco (IRE) (TrueNicks,SRO)—the 2011 Eclipse champion turf horse, but bred and trained in Ireland—to their U.S. roster, and Darley boldly offered the Australian star Lonhro (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO). If this pair are taken as a litmus test, then U.S. breeders may be more open-minded than many would have suspected. Cape Blanco, who won a pair of group races over seven furlongs at 2, took the 12-furlong Irish Derby (Ire-I) and 10-furlong Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) at 3, and scored grade I wins at 10, 11, and 12 furlongs in the U.S. at 4. The proven stamina of the son of Galileo—a horse who by common consent would be considered the world's leading sire—did not deter breeders in the slightest, and he covered no less than 220 mares.

Lonhro, who was a multiple group I winner at 10 furlongs but was better as a miler, also had his challenges to overcome in terms of breeder perception, primarily unfamiliarity with a male line that features Sir Gaylord as its most recent U.S. runner (Sir Gaylord is back in the fifth generation of the pedigree, as Lonhro descends from that half brother to Secretariat through Epsom Derby winner Sir Ivor; the great New Zealand sire Sir Tristram; that horse's excellent son Zabeel; and Australian Horse of the Year Octagonal, but is out of a mare by a son of Mr. Prospector). The leading sire in Australia in 2010-2011 and sire of Australia's most recent juvenile champion, the brilliant Pierro, Lonhro attracted 102 mares at $30,000 in 2012.

Cape Blanco's sire, Galileo, will have another son at stud in the U.S. this year in Midas Touch (GB) (TrueNicks,SRO), who will stand at War Horse Place for $10,000. A winner over a mile at 2, he won the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (Ire-II) and was second in the Irish Derby (Ire-I, to Cape Blanco), the St. Leger (Eng-I), and Great Voltigeur Stakes (Eng-II) at 3. His dam is a stakes-winning and multiple group-placed daughter of another standout European classic sire, Darshaan. The second dam was also a multiple group winner, and is a half sister to French 2,000 Guineas (gr. I) winner and useful sire Aussie Rules.

Midas Touch's grandsire, Sadler's Wells, also has a first year representative in Bullet Train (GB) (TrueNicks,SRO), who goes to Wintergreen Stallion Station for $7,500. He's out of Kind, a stakes-winning daughter of Danehill who is best-known as the dam of Frankel, the horse who might just be what bloggers in some circles are inclined to call the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time), making Bullet Train a three-quarter relative to Juddmonte's phenomenon. Bullet Train was a winner over a mile on his only start at 2, and took the Totesport.com Derby Trial (Eng-III) at 3. Subsequently he spent his 4- and 5-year-old seasons in the service of his superstar sibling, and his sterling pacemaking efforts played a major part in the Frankel success story.

Of course we should note that the Sadler's Wells line has already developed a branch all of its own through El Prado, who, if not a stayer, was a turf runner, and who is already represented by Medaglia d'Oro (TrueNicks,SRO), Kitten's Joy (TrueNicks,SRO), and Artie Schiller (TrueNicks,SRO) as sires of grade I winners. El Prado's son Paddy O'Prado (TrueNicks,SRO), a grade I winner over 10 furlongs on the turf and also second in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on all-weather and third in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) on dirt, kicked off his stud career at Spendthrift last year with a book of 142 mares.

The other stamina sire line that seems to be making inroads is that of Roberto, particularly through Dynaformer (who became one of the world's leading sires, despite winning over 12 furlongs on turf and starting his stud career in the bargain basement). Darby Dan—where Roberto was bred and raised, and where he stood his stud career—were actually the pioneers regarding re-importing the line, reverse shuttling the group I-winning miler All American (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO), a son of Red Ransom. In an earlier piece on this blog we've covered Dynaformer's sons Americain and Lentenor, who are both retiring to Calumet for 2013 (Americain reverse shuttling from Australia).

If you are going to go for a stamina source, Americain is about as good as it gets: rated No. 1 on the World Thoroughbred Rankings in 2011, although he also won first time out as a 2-year-old, and had top-class form at 10 and 12 furlongs. Lentenor, a brother to Barbaro, was also a turf horse, but more a miler than a stayer, winning the Kitten's Joy Stakes at 8 1/2 furlongs, and setting a course record for the same distance. His dam, La Ville Rouge, was a rare item: a Carson City that liked to go long on the lawn. We should note that Calumet is now guided by Brad Kelley, who purchased the majority of another staying horse, champion turf male English Channel (TrueNicks,SRO). Kelley supported English Channel strongly in his early years at stud, and was rewarded when the son of Smart Strike (TrueNicks,SRO) took high-rank among the 2012 second season sires, represented by nine stakes winners from his first crop of 3-year-olds. There is no doubt that Kelley will ensure that Americain and Lentenor get similar opportunities.

A third Dynaformer retiring for 2013 is Brilliant Speed (TrueNicks,SRO), who goes to Three Chimneys for $10,000. A winner on the turf at 2, he took the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) on the all-weather, and the Saranac Stakes (gr. IIIT) on the turf at 3, when he was also placed in five other stakes races, including a close second in the Jamaica Handicap (gr. IT), and thirds in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT). He added thirds in two more grade I events in 2012. There is a lot more speed on the distaff side of the pedigree, as the dam, a Gone West half sister to Canadian champion and multiple stakes winner Handpainted, is out of the speedy Deputy Minister mare Daijin, a sister to Touch Gold (TrueNicks,SRO), who despite winning the Belmont Stakes has sired some good sprinter/milers.

Still on the Dynaformer front, we shouldn't overlook Temple City (TrueNicks,SRO), who is by Dynaformer out of a Danzig half sister to Malibu Moon (TrueNicks,SRO), and broke a course record when winning the 12-furlong Cougar II Handicap (gr. III). He retired to Spendthrift in 2011 and has covered over 100 mares in each of his first two seasons.

There is another Dynaformer among the ranks of the U.S. turf horses in three-time grade I winner Point of Entry. Adena Springs principal Frank Stronach purchased a majority interest in the horse last month, so it seems likely that he will retire to Kentucky at the conclusion of his racing career.

Of course we also anticipate 2014 seeing the retirement of the 2011 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) victor, Animal Kingdom (TrueNicks), by the Brazilian-bred Blushing Groom line horse Leroidesanimaux (BRZ) (TrueNicks), out of a German-bred staying mare. He's going to stand his Southern Hemisphere seasons at Arrowfield, but is undeclared as far as the Northern Hemisphere is concerned.

Other new stallions who excelled on the turf include multiple grade I winner Get Stormy (TrueNicks,SRO), who retires to Crestwood Farm; Canadian champion turf horse Musketier (GER) (TrueNicks,SRO), who begins his stud career at Adena Springs Canada; and multiple graded stakes-placed Baryshnikov (TrueNicks,SRO), who will stand at Oak Lodge USA.

We're not quite at the stage of the cycle of European invasions that saw Bull Dog, Sir Gallahad III, Blenheim II, Mahmoud, Nasrullah, Royal Charger, and Khaled, or later, repatriated European-raced U.S. breds, such as Sir Ivor, Nijinsky II, The Minstrel, Lyphard, Green Dancer, Riverman, and Nureyev (as well as European-bred Caro), to name a few that come to mind, but we do think the chances of a foreign import or U.S. raced turf horse becoming a significant sire are much higher than they were a few years ago.

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