02/25/2005 1:00AM

Gaines's broodmare band small but powerful


LEXINGTON, Ky. - In the many tributes and commentaries on the late John Gaines and his contributions to Thoroughbred racing and breeding, none has focused principally on one of his greatest achievements: breeding top-class racehorses.

Truly, in the scope of his activity, his role as a breeder was quite small. Gaines told me in a discussion several months ago that he "rarely, if ever, had more than a dozen broodmares until the last 10 years or so."

Rather than concentrate on broodmares and the relatively slow and riskier business of breeding foals and making successful broodmares, Gaines put his time and capital into acquiring stallions.

His success in that sphere made him a major player in a shockingly short period of time, but from his small band of broodmares in the 1960's and 1970's, Gaines also bred some horses of considerable ability and lasting importance.

In typical Gaines fashion, he bought broodmares and broodmare prospects at the top of the market, acquiring a half-dozen mares and a race filly with very good form in 1962. That filly was Oil Royalty, who became one of the top older mares of 1963 and 1964 when she won the Beldame, Top Flight, Vineland, and Santa Barbara handicaps.

With the purchase of Oil Royalty, Gaines made his philosophy of breeding clear. "Joe Estes proved without any doubt that the best racemares have the greatest statistical chance of becoming the best broodmares," Gaines said.

Oil Royalty was a very high-class racemare, winning important stakes from ages 3 through 6 and earning $336,598. Gaines had paid $60,000 for Oil Royalty in a private purchase from her owner-breeder, Elmendorf Farm, and his new race filly earned $106,472 in 1963 alone.

As a broodmare, Oil Royalty was not a roaring success. Her five foals did not include any major winners, but her daughters Barbsie and Nancy Wynne produced two stakes winners apiece.

As Gaines was quick to point out, the other tenet in Estes's selection criteria was that "broodmares who have already passed the progeny test - that is, have already foaled significant racehorses themselves - are the most elite breeding stock available. If you have the money to buy them."

The most proven mare in the new broodmare band at Gainesway Farm was Cosmah, a daughter of Cosmic Bomb out of the great broodmare Almahmoud. Already the dam of champion Tosmah, Cosmah was the neutron bomb in the group of mares that Gaines acquired.

For Gainesway, she produced the stakes winners Fathers Image (by Swaps) and Halo (by Hail to Reason). Fathers Image was a mighty handsome horse who won a stakes but was even better known for almost winning stakes, finishing second in the Arlington-Washington Futurity and Jersey Derby, among other good races.

Both Fathers Image and Halo were very profitable sales yearlings for Gainesway, and Halo became an even more important racehorse than his older brother. Like Fathers Image, Halo hit the board in the Jersey Derby and Dwyer, but he also won the Lawrence Realization. Halo, a dark brown horse, continued to improve with age, and at 5 he won the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap.

That was high form, but Halo outdistanced even that high regard when he proved himself at stud. His best offspring include Devil's Bag and his full sister Glorious Song, both champions, as well as their successful full brother Saint Ballado. Halo sired two winners of the Kentucky Derby in Sunny's Halo and Sunday Silence, and the latter also won the Preakness and Breeders' Cup Classic and was Horse of the Year. Halo ended his days as a sire at Stone Farm as one of the best-regarded sources of stamina and classic ability.

Among Cosmah's daughters, Queen Sucree (by Ribot) was only a winner, but as a broodmare, she emulated her dam, producing four stakes winners. The best of those was her first, the Bold Bidder colt Cannonade. A good 2-year-old, Cannonade won the 100th Kentucky Derby and went to stud at Gainesway Farm.

After selling Gainesway in the late 1980's, Gaines was quiet for a while in the breeding business, then launched out again, acquiring a larger band of broodmares than ever before. The most notable of these was the grand producer Glowing Tribute.

One of the mares purchased in November of 1992 for Gaines-Gentry Bloodstock through agent Mike Ryan, Glowing Tribute, then 19, was an exceptional broodmare, and she sold in a dispersal of Paul Mellon's Rokeby Stables.

The purchase price of $460,000 was counted as somewhat high at the time of the sale, but it looked like a bargain when Glowing Tribute's son Sea Hero won the Kentucky Derby in 1993.