01/08/2007 12:00AM

Downthedustyroad rockets out of obscurity

Email

LEXINGTON, Ky. - By winning the Grade 1 La Brea, Downthedustyroad ended her 3-year-old season with a great triumph. The victory was not only her first Grade 1 but also her first stakes success after four stakes placings. The now 4-year-old filly also is the first Grade 1 winner bred by Tommy Walls, the only 2006 Grade 1 winner bred in Arkansas, and the first such winner for her sire, the Storm Cat stallion Storm and a Half.

This good-looking, fast filly, trained by Bob Baffert, has become a remarkable success at the top level, and she will present an unusual opportunity for buyers at the Keeneland January sale that begins Monday. Cataloged as Hip No. 1425, Downthedustyroad is consigned by Eaton Sales for Zayat Stables, and Eaton co-owner Tom Van Meter said that selling the filly at this point "is a great opportunity for Mr. Zayat to take a significant amount of cash off the table. Mr. [W.T.] Young told me many important things, and one of the wisest was that the best time to sell is when you have the least desire to sell. It's the perfect time to maximize this filly's value in the market. She's just had a Grade 1 victory and is sound and ready to race again."

The timing of events makes Downthedustyroad a standout on the sale's fourth day, when she will doubtless top the session.

But Downthedustyroad has not always been a star. On bare pedigree, she is by an unraced stallion and out of an unraced mare.

Her dam, however, had already produced a stakes winner.

"We always thought she was a nice filly," breeder Tommy Walls said. "But if we hadn't sold her, we wouldn't have reached this pinnacle of success as a breeder because we would not have gone to the West Coast with Downthedustyroad."

After Downthedustyroad won three of her first five starts and ran third in her stakes debut, Walls sold the filly to Zayat Stables, which took her to California and turned her over to Baffert, who made the bay filly a Grade 1 winner.

That fact, combined with at least eight other stakes winners, has caused a revolution in the fortunes of Storm and a Half, the sire of Downthedustyroad and a likely addition to the stallions in Kentucky.

Not only is Storm and a Half a son of the world's premier commercial stallion, Storm Cat, but Downthedustyroad is the fourth stakes winner from his second crop, now 4.

Out of the graded-stakes-winning Seeking the Gold mare At the Half, Storm and a Half is a half-brother to graded stakes winner Lu Ravi (by A.P. Indy) and to Half Queen, the dam of champion Halfbridled. The stallion is a full brother to Bayou Storm, the dam of stakes winner Bayou Breeze (by A.P. Indy).

Lengthy and well-balanced, Storm and a Half was not the three-legged duck among this group of athletes. He was a handsome and very strong colt who was purchased by Wayne Lyster, Leon Millsap, and Rich Santulli in a private transaction. They sent the colt through the ring and bought him back for $1.2 million at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 1998, when he rang up the third-highest hammer price of the year for a Storm Cat yearling.

When the partners put the colt into training, Lyster said, "Storm and a Half showed a tremendous amount of ability. It seemed impossible to breeze him three-eighths slower than 34-and-change because he really had the ability and used himself a lot in his work. He had the talent and the attitude to be a racehorse, and it's possible that's what kept him from racing because he was never seriously injured. He just kept having little problems every time he was close to a race.

"Rich Santulli owned half the horse," Lyster added. "Leon and I owned a quarter each, and when it was apparent we weren't going to get him to the races, Leon bought us out and took the colt to Arkansas to stand him as a stallion. And it has turned out great for him."

Standing Storm and a Half at McDowell Farm near Hot Springs, Ark., Millsap "supported the horse the first couple of years with 16 to 20 mares," farm owner Bill McDowell said.

With four stakes winners from each of his first two crops, Storm and a Half has been a benefit for breeders in Arkansas, and McDowell said that the young son of Storm Cat was so attractive to breeders that "we bred around 75 mares the first three years he was at stud. Then he went to 105 mares in each of the last two years."

One of those attracted to the son of Storm Cat was Tommy Walls, who bred Downthedustyroad. To date, the filly has 4 wins, 3 seconds, and 2 thirds from 10 starts, and has earnings of $282,050.

Downthedustyroad is the second stakes winner that Walls has bred out of Fair Majesty. The first was Princess Jen (by Stutz Blackhawk), the dam's third foal. As with Downthedustyroad, Walls sold Princess Jen when she was racing.

Walls has found this success from a mare he acquired in a horse trade.

"Her owners needed a saddle horse, and I had a good one," he said. "Fair Majesty was a 3-year-old and had bad knees. So we swapped."

Downthedustyroad is the fifth winner from six foals out of Fair Majesty.

"Downthedustyroad is the last foal the mare has had," Walls said, "and she is back in foal for 2007 to Father Steve, a son of Pulpit."

Although Walls sold the two stakes winners out of the mare, he has their half-sister Pine Penny, who is also a broodmare. Walls thought Pine Penny "would be as good a racehorse as Princess Jen, but she couldn't breathe. She is a big, strong mare and is in foal to Father Steve."

Walls and his wife live on their farm in Pearcy, outside of Hot Springs, where they currently have eight horses.