11/04/2005 12:00AM

Cal Cup star Unfurl the Flag a special breed

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Among the sires of most renown in California, can any stand higher than Bertrando? The star stallion at River Edge Farm, Bertrando has consistently produced fast and competitive racehorses, and his offspring are littered throughout the card of the Cal Cup races.

Among his better runners are such competitors as Bilo and Chief Storm Cloud. None, however, can hold out any higher accomplishments than Bertrando's gelded son Unfurl the Flag, who won the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap earlier this season.

Furthermore, Unfurl the Flag, a 5-year-old out of the Storm Cat mare Escape the Storm, has one of the more distinctive and unusual pedigrees on the California Cup card because of the volume and relative closeness of some of the inbreeding in his ancestry.

Unfurl the Flag is inbred 3x3 to the important sire Relauch. Bertrando, the Eclipse Award winner as older horse in 1993, won more than $3.1 million and was the best racehorse sired by Skywalker. Skywalker won the Breeders' Cup Classic, earned more than $2.2 million, and proved a thoroughly useful stallion at stud in California and in Kentucky.

Skywalker was the best son of Relaunch, and this is the strongest line of descent from the In Reality male line. This is also the male line of Man o' War through War Relic, Intent, Intentionally, and In Reality to Relaunch.

In the realm of Thoroughbred breeding that today is swamped by Phalaris, the line of Man o' War, which traces back to the Godolphin Arabian, is a rare line of male descent, and its best young hope at present is the high-class racer Officer, another son of Bertrando whose first foals will race in 2006.

Since Unfurl the Flag is a son of Bertrando, he is a member of this line, but it is unusual to see another cross of Relaunch in the gelding's pedigree. This line of Relaunch comes through Escape the Storm, the dam of Unfurl the Flag.

By Storm Cat, Escape the Storm is out of the stakes-winning Relaunch mare Great Escape. Great Escape won 10 races from 40 starts, verifying her soundness and enthusiasm for racing, and she won stakes at 3, 4, and 5.

Escape the Storm, unraced, was the third foal of her dam, but the filly was such an outstanding individual that she sold for $400,000 at the Saratoga select yearling sale, just as the yearlings of a promising young stallion named Storm Cat began to escalate in value. The chestnut Escape the Storm brought the sixth-highest price for a Storm Cat yearling in 1995 and had been bred on a $35,000 stud fee.

Great Escape's next foal, by international champion Strawberry Road, did not sell for such a large sum, but the chestnut named Just Call Me Carl won stakes at 3, 5, and 6 - and earned $525,708. He is the only stakes winner from Great Escape, and she is one of three stakes winners out of her dam, the Bold Bidder mare Great Finesse.

As stakes winners, both Great Escape and Skywalker are excellent sources for inbreeding to Relaunch, since they are among the most successful offspring of their sire. Perhaps this factor suggested the possibility of using inbreeding that is a bit closer than commonly seen.

Alternately, several of the more successful horses in this family show relatively close inbreeding. Relaunch's sire, In Reality, was inbred 3x3 to Man o' War's son War Relic and also carried a cross of Discovery, a grandson of Man o' War's sire, Fair Play.

As a further treat for those with a fancy for inbreeding, Unfurl the Flag also has three crosses of Bold Ruler in his fifth generation through the first-class sons Secretariat, Bold Bidder, and Boldnesian. And once past the fifth generation, this pedigree lights up like a Christmas tree with duplicated lines of horses such as Nasrullah, Sir Gallahad III and his full brother Bull Dog, and Fair Play.

As fascinating and interesting as the repetitions of names are to students of pedigrees, how much does it really matter? In the practical business of mating stallions and mares, many breeders have little time for such considerations.

"The mother needed a horse with a little more size," said Russell Drake, farm manager at River Edge. "And matching the physical types was more of the decision than pedigree. Escape the Storm has a lot of nice qualities but needed a horse who would give her a little more height. She's also a little shorter-backed than Bertrando.

"We breed a lot of mares to Bertrando and know what we can count on from certain types," Drake added. "He can stretch them out a little bit. Also, I like to send him a mare with a little stronger hindquarter than he has. Officer's mother was that way, and so is this mare. A lot of it is pure luck, but she has a beautiful yearling this year."

Escape the Storm has a 2-year-old filly and a yearling filly who are both full sisters to Unfurl the Flag. The mare was bred to Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker this year.