12/14/2007 1:00AM

Focus on staying power is a positive step

EmailLEXINGTON, Ky. - With his victory in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup at 12 furlongs, the Saint Ballado colt Sunriver has both improved his race record and his prospects as a stallion with an important success at the premier level.

Sunriver is also a colt who points up the need for and the wisdom of the recently announced move by Breeders' Cup Ltd. to add a further dimension to the American racing program by enlarging opportunities for horses who race best at 1 1/2 miles or more.

In adding three more races to the Breeders' Cup Friday schedule for 2008, the organization included the Breeders' Cup Marathon at 12 furlongs on dirt as a complement to the Breeders' Cup Turf at the same distance.

Along with adding this race to the prestigious Breeders' Cup program, the group has persuaded several of the country's racing secretaries to write a series of races around 12 furlongs on dirt as preps for the race.

The new Breeders' Cup event, along with the supplemental preps for it through the year, would be a major step forward in reforming the racing calendar to fit the needs of horses and horse owners.

There are hundreds, and most probably thousands, of Thoroughbreds in training who are best suited to a test of stamina, but the typical one-size-fits-all American racing schedule is a disservice to the horses who are not suited to six furlongs and to their owners, who cannot find appropriate races for their stock.

Saying that every horse has an optimum racing distance and style might seem simplistic, but every year many horses suited to distance racing are forced to race at inadequate distances for their natural aptitudes. In this regard, the European scheme of the sport has long surpassed the American program in providing a wider variety of distances so that horses can seek their best conditions.

Horses in the States who need longer distances to excel include such classically pedigreed animals as Nite Light, winner of the Coyote Lakes Stakes at Aqueduct at 1 1/2 miles. Nite Light is by Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch and is out of Kentucky Oaks and Coaching Club American Oaks winner Lite Light.

While it is hard to imagine a more classic pedigree than that of Nite Light, the second-place horse in the Coyote Lakes was Successful Affair, by the high-class sprinter and miler Successful Appeal.

As a sire, Successful Appeal has proven a good sire of fast horses, and some of them stay very well, including Closing Argument, second in the Kentucky Derby.

In the context of pedigree, Sunriver lies somewhat between these two examples. He comes from horses with classic connections but not classic performance. Sunriver's sire, Saint Ballado, is a beautifully pedigreed horse by classic sire Halo (sire of Kentucky Derby winners Sunday Silence and Sunny's Halo), and Saint Ballado is a full brother to champion juvenile Devil's Bag and champion older mare Glorious Song. They are out of the exceptional broodmare Ballade, a daughter of French Derby winner Herbager.

Saint Ballado has some excellent classic influences in his immediate family, but the dam of Sunriver, the graded-stakes-placed mare Goulash, is by the Northern Dancer stallion Mari's Book and is out of a mare by Blushing Groom, who was a juvenile champion in France and a classic winner at a mile.

There is plenty of quality in Goulash's pedigree, but much of it gives the impression of high-class miler speed. And Goulash herself showed her best form in races up to an extended mile.

From this mix of speed and classic stamina, Sunriver has matured to his present status as a Grade 1 winner. Frank Taylor of Taylor Made Farm works closely with Sunriver's breeder, Aaron Jones. And Taylor noted that Sunriver was a good dirt horse last year who ran third to Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro in the Florida Derby and then ran third in the Belmont Stakes.

A turning point came this year when trainer Todd Pletcher breezed Sunriver on turf, and "the breeze was awesome," Taylor said. "I don't know if it was the surface or the timing was just right as he matured, but he's been really good."

Sunriver now has 6 wins from 17 career starts, with earnings of $816,414. The colt was bred in Kentucky by Aaron and Marie Jones, and he is the fourth stakes horse from four matings of Goulash to Saint Ballado.

The best of the group is champion Ashado, who sold for $9 million as a broodmare prospect at the Keeneland November sale in 2005. Sunriver, who won the Grade 2 Peter Pan last year and ran third in the Belmont Stakes, has now joined his famous sister as a Grade 1 winner. The mare's third graded winner is their full brother Saint Stephen. Goulash has a 2-year-old by Unbridled's Song named Blind Hero, a yearling filly by Forestry who sold for $600,000 at the Keeneland September sale this year, and a weanling colt by Storm Cat. The mare is back in foal to Unbridled's Song.