07/27/2013 11:00AM

John P. Sparkman: Lure lives on through Orpen

Michael J. Marten
Lure, who won the Breeders’ Cup Mile for the second straight year in 1993, is part of this year’s Racing Hall of Fame class.

The list of candidates for the title of best American racehorse never to earn a championship can be as long as one’s racing memory.

The author’s personal list will always start with Gallant Man, who split eight meetings with 1957 Horse of the Year Bold Ruler and beat 1958 Horse of the Year Round Table in their only three meetings but never won the right race to nail down a championship against that epochal crop of racehorses.

Some stars of the past like Native Diver and Best Pal have been denied championships partly by geography, but the case for dual Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure is somewhat different.

Lure’s first Mile win in 1992 was something of a surprise at the end of an up-and-down 3-year-old season, but his second, his sixth win in eight starts at 4, was simply a case of bad timing. Kotashaan clinched Horse of the Year honors later that same day with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, and Lure was left without an Eclipse statuette again.

Lure’s luck in the breeding shed was even worse. Retired to his birthplace, Claiborne Farm, in 1995, he proved to be subfertile, and Claiborne was forced to cash in fertility insurance after one season at stud. Purchased by John Magnier’s Coolmore Stud from the insurance company, Lure sired only 133 foals in nine crops. Naturally, breeders sent few good mares to Lure after that first season, but his Grade 1 winner, England’s Legend, from his first Coolmore season, and Group 1 winner Orpen, from that frist Claiborne crop, showed just how tragic his subfertility was for the breeding industry.

Bred and raced by Magnier, Orpen won the Group 1 Prix Morny in 1998 and has become an important international sire, most recently through the exploits of his 2-year-old daughter Vorda, who captured the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin on July 21 at Maisons-Laffitte in Paris.

By Danzig out of Grade 1 winner Endear, an Alydar half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Tiller and two other stakes winners from an outstanding family, Lure won the first of his three starts at 2. Pointed toward the Kentucky Derby early at 3, he dead-heated for the win with Devil His Due in the Grade 2 Gotham Stakes but was not entered in the Derby after defeat in the Grade 2, 1 1/16-mile Lexington Stakes.

Lure ran once more on dirt before trainer Shug McGaughey switched him to turf, where he immediately romped by 10 1/4 lengths in an allowance race at Belmont. Beaten in the Grade 3 Kelso Handicap on soft turf he never handled well, Lure got the firm course he needed at Gulfstream Park at the Breeders’ Cup. Blazing away on the front end, he kept right on going to the wire, setting a course and Breeders’ Cup record of 1:32.90 for the mile.

At 4, Lure won six races at a mile to 1 1/8 miles but was second in both attempts at longer distances. His Breeders’ Cup Mile win at Santa Anita was another tour de force, as he led all the way to win by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:33.58.

Lure was almost as good at 5 until his final race, winning three graded stakes, including the 1 3/16-mile, Grade 1 Caesars International, and finishing second in three others before failing to fire as the 9-10 favorite for a third Breeders’ Cup Mile win, finishing ninth.

Orpen showed flashes of Lure’s brilliance at 2, winning his first start at Goodwood, then traveling to France for a comfortable victory in the Morny, running the 1,200 meters (5.96 furlongs) in a snappy 1:10.50. At 3, however, Orpen showed signs of temperament. He refused to settle when favored in England’s 2000 Guineas but showed at least a modicum of his ability in the Irish equivalent, finishing third behind stablemate Saffron Walden.

After another disappointing display at Royal Ascot, trainer Aidan O’Brien tried Orpen in blinkers for the Prix Maurice de Gheest but to no avail. Orpen appeared to have fallen out of love with racing.

Few horses could have boasted a better “stallion’s pedigree” than Orpen when he went to stud at Coolmore in 2000. His older half-brother Jules, by Forty Niner, had won the Grade 3 Nashua Stakes and later became a periodically successful sire in Florida and Brazil. During Orpen’s first season at stud, Bluemamba, by Kingmambo out of Orpen’s half-sister Black Penny, by Private Account, won the Group 1 French 1000 Guineas.

That kind of success was only to be expected from the offspring of Orpen’s dam, Bonita Francita, by Devil’s Bag, a winning three-quarter-sister to French Group 3 winner Coup de Folie, by Halo. Purchased for $825,000 as a yearling by Stavros Niarchos, Coup de Folie (meaning “Stroke of Madness”) was inbred 3x3 to foundation mare Almahmoud and became the dam of European highweights Machiavellian and Coup de Genie (“Stroke of Genius”), both by Mr. Prospector; the granddam of highweights Denebola, by Storm Cat, and Way of Light, by Woodman; and the third dam of European champion Bago, by Nashwan, plus current French Group 1 winner Maxios, by Monsun.

Machiavellian developed into one of the world’s best sires, with Zenyatta’s sire, Street Cry, as his heir, but he was well down the pecking order of sires in his immediate family, which includes no less than Northern Dancer, Halo, and Danehill.

Orpen has developed into yet another leading sire from the fabulous family descending from his fourth dam, Almahmoud, by Mahmoud. Shuttling between various locations in the Southern Hemisphere and Europe, Orpen has sired 76 stakes winners from 1,838 foals ages 3 and up (4.1 percent), which is not an outstanding strike rate. He has been a star in Argentina, however, where he led the sire list in 2011.

Orpen’s best son, Lingote de Oro (out of Laika, by Old Trieste), earned Argentine horse of the year honors in 2011 after winning the Argentine Breeders’ Cup Classic equivalent, the Group 1 Estrellas Classic. Orpen sired two more Argentine champions the following year in La Laguna Azul (La Laguna Verde, by Candy Stripes) and Dona Ley (Dona Polenta, by Candy Stripes) and is responsible for the Argentine-bred South African champion 2-year-old male Rocks Off (Lava Gold, by Java Gold).

Orpen has not been quite as successful in other venues, but his Australian-bred star War Artist (Royal Solitaire, by Brocco) won group races in South Africa, France, Germany, and Dubai, and he has sired four highweights in Italy, where he has spent his European seasons in recent years. Orpen’s best European runner has been 2004 French 1000 Guineas winner Torrestrella (Sea Ring, by Bering), but Vorda has the potential to match that Group 1 victory.

Vorda is the second foal out of Velda, by Observatory, a winning daughter of Viavigoni, by Mark of Esteem. Viavigoni produced nothing of note but was a half-sister to Italian Group 3 winner Verardi, by Mill Reef. Vorda’s third dam, Val d’Erica, by Ashmore, was a much better filly, winning both the Group 1 Italian Oaks and the Italian 1000 Guineas and running second in the Group 1 French Oaks.

The champion filly of her generation in Italy, Val d’Erica descends from the great family founded by her seventh dam, Pretty Polly, still widely considered the best filly ever to race in England.

Though she is unbeaten in her two starts to date, Vorda is unlikely to match the record of Pretty Polly, who won 22 of 24 starts from 1903-06 and founded a family that includes such turf luminaries as Brigadier Gerard, Donatello, Nearctic, Luthier, St. Paddy, Northern Taste, and, more recently, 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic winner Unrivaled Belle, 2012 Travers winner Alpha, and 2013 French classic winner Style Vendome.

Lure’s record of 11 wins and six seconds from 18 starts on turf is far better than that of many grass champions, and he will be rewarded with induction into the Racing Hall of Fame on Aug. 9 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. His fertility issues blighted an otherwise-promising stud career, but his best son, Orpen, has ensured that Lure’s genetic legacy will live on for a few more generations.