09/02/2004 11:00PM

Grindstone's got his trophy horse now


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Last weekend's racing results had a distinct Overbrook flavor, which was accompanied by more than a hint of catnip. The nip of the Cat was felt twice in Grade 1 stakes, as daughters of Overbrook's star stallion Storm Cat won at the country's two most prestigious resort meetings: Champion juvenile Storm Flag Flying defeated champion Azeri in the Personal Ensign on Friday at Saratoga, and Sweet Catomine, a maiden entering the race, won the Del Mar Debutante on Saturday.

Success of this sort is expected from Storm Cat. After all, he is the headline maker at Overbrook Farm year after year. But W.T. Young's Kentucky Derby winner, Grindstone, showed that Storm Cat is not the farm's only stallion who can deliver fireworks.

On a gloomy Saturday, Grindstone's son Birdstone, making his first start since winning the Belmont Stakes over Smarty Jones, won the Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga. Then, across the continent, Grindstone's son Organ Grinder won the Grade 3 Canadian Derby at Northlands Park.

Stakes victories are nothing new for Storm Cat and his offspring. His progeny include 117 stakes winners, and overall his racers have earned nearly $83 million. Success at the graded or group level is expected from Storm Cat's racers, with his progeny including at least eight champions and 28 horses who have won a Grade 1 or Group 1 stakes. With his lofty accomplishments, Storm Cat has a task in matching what has already been achieved.

For Grindstone, however, the weekend's returns are not old hat.

Out of the Storm Bird mare Dear Birdie, Birdstone is Grindstone's first Grade 1 winner, but Birdstone has managed the feat three times now, and he can lay claim to being the best stayer among the current crop of 3-year-olds.

Birdstone comes along at a time when Grindstone truly needed a top horse. Though he was a classic winner and initially a sire of yearlings that were well-received at the sales, Grindstone had quickly declined in popularity without a marquee racehorse.

Overbrook's Ric Waldman said: "We've dropped his fee [to $5,000 in 2004], with the idea to keep his fee in line with or a bit below the demand curve of the market and give mare owners a reason to breed to the horse. Conversely, when a stallion is doing really well, our approach has been to price the stallion strongly enough that the market has a self-regulating effect on his book. These principles are employed with every stallion I've managed."

And they neatly apply to both Storm Cat and Grindstone.

With two runners from his fourth crop, Grindstone has found the means to greater acceptance as a stallion. The same day as the Travers, Grindstone's son Organ Grinder won the Canadian Derby at 1 3/8 miles. A good staying 2-year-old like Birdstone, Organ Grinder was second in the Grade 2 Grey Stakes last year.

Because of these successes, Waldman said: "We'll have the luxury of greater selectivity for his book next year than we have in the past, because we'll be able to breed to him more aggressively than we have since he's had runners. Also, he's beginning to seem like a natural fit for Storm Cat mares, and we've probably crossed them much less than we should have."

Horses out of Storm Cat tend to be fairly precocious, strong-bodied, and fast, with a great enthusiasm for racing. The stock by Unbridled and his sons tends to mature later and have more range and good stamina.

With horses like Buddha, who was bred on a cross of an Unbridled son with a Storm Cat mare, there has been considerable interest in trying the cross again.

Waldman said, "When you do think of how the Unbridled-Storm Cat cross can complement each line, so long as you take care with the front legs, it seems a natural."

Grindstone showed his talent early as a 2-year-old, but his success was rooted in stamina. Waldman called his Derby victory "the sort of finish that only a pure stretch-runner can make."

Being a medium-sized horse, "Grindstone is not a typical Unbridled line sire," Waldman said. "But having said that, he did cross well with Storm Bird," the sire of Storm Cat, to produce Birdstone.

Although Overbrook is well-stocked with daughters of Storm Cat that could go to Grindstone, Waldman said, "The breeder who has a Storm Cat mare would be guilty of looking at too small a picture if he didn't also consider other sire lines for those mares" in the quest to produce the best possible combination of traits with the least number of flaws.

Waldman concluded: "That's the wonder of the inexactness of breeding, how it forces breeders to think through what they're doing and not follow a cookie-cutter pattern."