09/07/2004 11:00PM

Dirt dominates, but why not try them on grass?


LAS VEGAS - Dirt or turf? Years ago, horses were strictly bred for either dirt or grass, but after 30 years of crossing American-bred racemares with stallions who had an abundance of turf influences, nearly every Thoroughbred today has some grass in its pedigree.

Of course, dirt racing is where the money is in America, and owners and trainers can hardly be faulted for keeping their animals on dirt even though they may be better suited for grass. A major graded stakes winner on dirt who has a good pedigree equates to big bucks in the breeding shed, whereas that may not be the case in this country for graded stakes winners on grass. The sad reality is that most of our turf stars are sent packing for stud careers in Europe, Japan, Australia, or South Africa.

Otherwise, good runners such as Dynever and Royal Assault would already have a career on grass.

Dynever has always been one race away from becoming a star on dirt. Brilliant at times, he has also been a bitter disappointment. His sub-par efforts over sloppy surfaces can be excused, but what about the other poor efforts? His third-place finish behind the older Pleasantly Perfect and Medaglia d'Oro in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic suggested that, like the majority of Thoroughbreds who reach their peak at 4 or 5, his best was yet to come. In fact, Dynever's 4-year-old year started off with a bang when he was much the best in the San Bernardino Handicap at Santa Anita in April, winning by 4 1/2 lengths over Total Impact. His subsequent losses have been the result of tender hooves, according to his trainer, Christophe Clement, but the nagging question persists: Why not give Dynever a try on grass?

Dynever certainly has a strong T2 pedigree (turf from both his sire and damsire). His sire, Dynaformer, has been one of Roberto's most versatile sons at stud, along with the late Kris S. Dynever is out of a mare by European Horse of the Year Zilzal (Nureyev), whose only career loss was in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Gulfstream, where Zilzal became unglued in the high humidity.

It is always reasonable to try offspring by Dynaformer on dirt, since he has sired many good dirt runners such as Perfect Drift, Critical Eye, Starrer, and Blumin Affair. But their natural surface is grass, and the majority of Dynaformer's runners have succeeded on turf, such as Riskaverse, Vergennes, Film Maker, McDynamo, Sand Springs, Mystery Giver, Blazing Fury, Majestic Dy, and Ocean Silk.

But for owners and breeders in America, a victory by Dynever in the Breeders' Cup Classic would mean infinitely more than a victory in the Breeders' Cup Turf, and that is why Dynever may never race on grass. And that's too bad, because we may never see Dynever's best until he tries turf.

Nick Zito is the quintessential American dirt trainer, and he rarely runs his horses on grass unless they show absolutely nothing on dirt. But then, the majority of his horses are bred for dirt. Royal Assault is by Kris S., and he is definitely bred for grass.

Kris S. is the only other son of Roberto who was versatile enough to get quality stakes horses on both dirt (Hollywood Wildcat, Brocco, Arch, Adonis, Diamond on the Run, Kissin Kris, You and I, Rock Hard Ten, and Action This Day) and turf (Soaring Softly, Prized, Dr Fong, Midnight Line, Strategic Partner, Sharp Performance, and dozens of grass performers), so it was only natural for Zito to give Royal Assault every chance on dirt. But it's time for a change, Nick, and maybe grass will wake up the talent we have only gotten a glimpse of thus far.

After Royal Assault won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard, he was a well-beaten third in the Belmont Stakes, a non-threatening third in the Long Branch, fourth in the Haskell Invitational, and eighth in the Pennsylvania Derby on Monday, beaten 17 lengths by Love of Money.

Biloxi Palace one to follow

Get Wild, a son of speed influence Forest Wildcat, won a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race in his second start last Monday at Saratoga, but the horse who finished second to him may be the one to watch down the road, possibly in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

Biloxi Palace, a bay colt from the final full crop of the late Seattle Slew, was a lukewarm 8-1 in his debut despite his imposing pedigree. He is a half-brother to stakes winner Real Cozzy; his dam is a half-sister to 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Real Quiet; his second dam is a half-sister to stakes winner Nureyev's Best and Mangala (the dam of Allied Forces); and his unraced third dam is a full sister to 1969 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Majestic Prince and Crowned Prince, a 2-year-old champion in England.

Broodmares who have the Rasmussen Factor (inbreeding to a superior female within five generations through different individuals) have proven to be exceptional producers. Such broodmares include Angel Fever (the dam of Fusaichi Pegasus), Numbered Account (the dam of Private Account, Dance Number, and Polish Numbers), and Relaxing (the dam of Easy Goer, Cadillacing, and Easy Now). Biloxi Palace's dam, Mining My Business, also has the Rasmussen Factor since she is inbred 5x5 to the influential broodmare Gay Hostess.

In that maiden race Monday, Biloxi Palace looked like he was going to go by the pacesetting Get Wild in deep stretch, but even after Get Wild pulled away, Biloxi Palace made another move at the wire to lose by a half-length. Get Wild won this battle sprinting, but Biloxi Palace is the colt with the future.