01/11/2008 1:00AM

Irish Cherry joins the ranks of elite mares


Irish Cherry already has foaled two Grade 1 winners - Spun Sugar and Daaher. She also has a yearling colt by Storm Cat, and is in foal to Ghostzapper.P

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Irish Cherry was the topping on the Keeneland January sale, selling Monday for $2.7 million to the Southern Equine Stable of Mike Moreno and trainer Eric Guillot on the first day of the week-long sale.

The dam of Grade 1 winners Spun Sugar and Daaher, Irish Cherry was sent to the sale in wonderful condition, lit up the sales ring in spectacular fashion, and was consigned by Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency, which will board the mare.

"We sent Irish Cherry to Hill 'n' Dale like all our horses because we like doing everything through one guy," Guillot said. "It simplifies the operations side of our business."

Southern Equine has become an important buyer at breeding stock and yearling sales over the past few years, and this relatively new breeding and racing operation has acquired a large and select group of stock. In addition to Irish Cherry, Guillot said that Southern Equine owns the high-profile broodmares Madcap Escapade, Brandy Rose, and Better Than Honour; Grade 1 winners Point Ashley, Diplomat Lady, and Spoken Fur; and Crystal Current, a full sister to last year's Hopeful Stakes winner, Majestic Warrior.

Moreno and Guillot have been associated for several years. "As our business grew," Guillot said, "we expanded our racing across the country. We have about 150 head in Louisiana, 50 in Kentucky, and 50 in California, and the exact number changes almost every week with buying and selling."

The racing operation of Southern Equine has produced such talented horses as Salute the Sarge, a graded winner last year as a juvenile, and the breeding side of the business is increasing the emphasis on quality.

The acquisition of broodmares such as Irish Cherry will allow Southern Equine to produce elite young racing prospects of a very high order. A relatively young mare at 14, Irish Cherry has produced two Grade 1 winners from her first four foals, an outstanding accomplishment.

A daughter of the useful Bold Ruler-line stallion Irish Open, Irish Cherry is out of Eston, a daughter of the Habitat stallion Ancestral. Despite a pedigree that is not greatly familiar to the general public in the first generation or two, Irish Cherry has proven herself first as a solid racehorse and now as an outstanding broodmare.

In three seasons of racing, Irish Cherry won 6 of 14 starts, including two stakes, and earned $147,280. The mare is one of two stakes winners out of her dam, and it is significant that both are by Irish Open.

This son of Irish Tower (by the Bold Ruler stallion Irish Castle) won 17 races and placed in 15 more in four seasons of racing, and his racing aptitude and record show the speed and soundness consistent with an old-fashioned racing campaign from the 1940s or 1950s.

But Irish Open raced in the 1980s, and this old-fashioned racehorse apparently provided some strengthening qualities to the broodmare Eston, as both of their stakes-winning daughters have produced stakes winners.

Irish Cherry is the best of the two and justifiably the most famous. Few mares produce two stakes winners, and fewer still are dams of two graded winners. The dams of two or more Grade 1 winners tend to be the queens of Thoroughbred breeding, similar to such legends as Somethingroyal, Grey Flight, and their modern-day counterpart Toussaud.

A successful racing career marked Irish Cherry as a top broodmare prospect, and the outstanding results of her offspring on the racetrack have elevated her value by a factor of 50 or 100.

And in the flesh, even if she hadn't produced Spun Sugar or Daaher, Irish Cherry would be a most attractive broodmare.

The bright chestnut is a good-looking mare with plenty of power and substance.

Standing slightly more than 15-2 hands, Irish Cherry has considerable length through her body, and she shows great muscular development in her shoulders and hind quarters. She has good balance, good bone and feet, and an intelligent head with a bright, dominant eye.

As a proven producer of top-class racers, Irish Cherry will be a mare of significance in breeding over the coming years. She has a yearling colt by Storm Cat and is in foal to Horse of the Year Ghostzapper on a May 6 cover. That means her foal should be born sometime in early to mid-April.

Guillot said that the new owners' first concern is to "get a good foal on the ground, evaluate the mare's condition, and send her back to a top stallion" who will be chosen over the next few months.