02/25/2010 12:00AM

Breeders shrug at synthetic angle

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Handicappers are making use of growing statistics on so-called "synthetic sires." But don't expect those statistics to alter Thoroughbred breeding any time soon, breeders say.

So far, statistics show the most successful sires for synthetic-track runners are often the most successful sires on other surfaces - meaning the synthetic stats simply add luster to an already attractive record. In 2009, the five leading synthetic sires were Street Cry, sire of Zenyatta; Smart Strike, who ranked third on the 2009 general sire list; Bold Executive, Canada's long-fashionable sire; Empire Maker, a top-20 general sire whose top 2009 runner was Kentucky Derby runner-up Pioneerof the Nile; and A.P. Indy, another stallion whose success long predates synthetic surfaces.

The continuing debate over synthetic surfaces also has made breeders hesitant to dwell on synthetic-strip performance. The New York Racing Association's commitment to dirt and Santa Anita's decision to replace its second synthetic surface - perhaps with a dirt track - also have helped keep synthetic aptitude low on many commercial breeders' priority list.

"I can't say that synthetic performance has been a big factor in my decision-making," said Craig Bandoroff, owner of Denali Stud in Lexington. "I don't see a big transformation that in 10 years we're going to see all-weather tracks everywhere."

Bandoroff listed his main criteria for stallions as price range, physical conformation, and marketability, as well as more esoteric statistical ratings that analyze breeding nicks and similar information.

Still, there are some areas where a stallion's performance on the man-made surfaces will be weighed more heavily. Breeders selling or racing in California have Santa Anita's Pro-Ride, Hollywood Park's Cushion Track, Del Mar's Polytrack, and Golden Gate's Tapeta to consider, and Canada's Woodbine racetrack offers slots-enriched purses for runners that win over its Polytrack. Turfway Park in Kentucky also has a Polytrack surface.

So it's no surprise that two of the most accomplished synthetic sires, Unusual Heat and Bold Executive, are in locales that feature man-made tracks and high purses.

Unusual Heat arguably got the biggest boost from synthetics, but Craig Allen at Old English Rancho, which stands the horse, said Unusual Heat's position in second on the 2010 synthetic sires' list hasn't been his biggest calling card.

"Obviously, his offspring run well on synthetics," said Allen. "But he's not just a synthetic sire. This horse was the second-leading turf sire in this country the last two years. He's been right around 50 percent of his earnings on turf his entire career, and his first stakes winner was on dirt. I think they'll run on anything.

"We do promote the horse that way," he said of the synthetics angle. "That obviously is a marketing stance in California. But his career was taking off before the synthetic tracks were in place."

Chief Seattle leads the 2010 synthetic sires' table. WinRich Farms owner Thomas Wente, who stands the horse for $2,500 in Indiana, said Chief Seattle's recent successes on synthetic tracks have given him another marketing tool.

"He had two winners at Turfway last week, and then Bold Chieftain won the Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita," Wente said. "That colt's a turf horse who's really liking the Polytrack. Does it change anything with me? I'm in the Indiana program, and I don't have the Poly here. I mainly bought him because he was a proven horse. But 50 percent or maybe 60 percent of my mares are coming from Kentucky, and maybe they see those Turfway results."

Wente said he had never considered the synthetic angle until Chief Seattle's big weekend of winners Jan. 29-31. He said he believes the Chief Seattle's biggest draw is that "he's a proven horse, and he's standing for $2,500."

Still, some breeders hope synthetic success will add more value to turf sires, who have long suffered the reputation of getting late-maturing, distance-loving foals - not a recipe for quick sale ring profits in recent years.

"The nice thing is, if they can run on the synthetic, they usually run on the turf," Roach said. "Most of them are versatile like that, like Gio Ponti. Synthetics are something you've got to take into account when you do your matings, because we have more than we did five or 10 years ago, and they're at some nice racetracks that have good purse money. In the past, even if we liked them and thought their fees were good value, it was hard to sell yearlings by turf sires. Now synthetics give you more variety that should help those sires.

"It still doesn't level the playing field. If you're selling at Keeneland September, you're probably still better off with a traditional dirt sire than a grass or synthetic sire, but it's certainly better than it was 10 years ago."