03/21/2003 12:00AM

Juddmonte making mark on U.S. classics


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Empire Maker's victory in the Grade 1 Florida Derby could hardly have been more emphatic, and its implications for the classics are there for all competitors to see. Bred and raced by Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, Empire Maker is the second Juddmonte-bred in the last four years to show first-row classic potential.

In 2000, the A.P. Indy colt Aptitude ran second in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont after placing behind Red Bullet and Fusaichi Pegasus in the Gotham and Wood Memorial. After adding a pair of Grade 1 victories at 4 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Hollywood Gold Cup, Aptitude went to stud at Juddmonte, where he stands for $25,000 live foal.

Aptitude and Empire Maker are two of the best American runners from Juddmonte's program of breeding horses with the goal of competing at the highest international level, although with Europe as a principal focus.

Over the past couple of decades, Juddmonte has purchased elite yearlings and broodmares at auctions, bred their broodmares to the best stallions, and sent the progeny, born in this country, to race in Europe before returning to the United States for careers as older horses, if that is merited.

Few of their runners remain in the U.S. for training and racing from the beginning. For instance, Eltish, a son of Cox's Ridge out of one of Juddmonte's best families began his racing career in England, winning group stakes at 2 and returning to his homeland and finishing second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He returned to England and made a return trip across the Atlantic for the Kentucky Derby the following year.

In the Derby, however, Eltish was unplaced, and the big bay may have been the catalyst in changing Juddmonte's approach to American racing. In the past few years, the operation has left a few youngsters with classic potential in the U.S. for training.

Grade 1 winners Honest Lady and Aptitude were in the early groups of Juddmonte-bred stock retained for racing in the U.S. from the beginning of their careers, and their successes have surely made that approach an important part of the Juddmonte program.

Certain bloodlines that Juddmonte had acquired showed a preference for American racing, and the change in policy reflected an appreciation of that reality.

And, in contrast to international competitors such as Coolmore and Godolphin, Juddmonte achieved immediate successes in its American classic program. Although all three operations purchase or breed Thoroughbreds of the highest quality, only Juddmonte keeps its prospects for the Triple Crown in the States. Coolmore is based in Ireland, and Godolphin ships its runners to and from Dubai each winter, returning its classic prospects to the U.S. or Europe in the spring.

In contrast, the Juddmonte approach is simpler, as the young racehorses go to Bobby Frankel in California, and they face fewer obstacles in shipping and climate change.

Empire Maker is one of four

Grade 1 winners out of the great broodmare Toussaud, a Grade 1 winner by El Gran Senor. Toussaud has been one of the success stories of Juddmonte's approach to racing and breeding. Although a group winner in England, the lovely bay mare blossomed when transferred to Frankel in California, winning the Grade 1 Gamely Handicap.

Of her first six foals, four are Grade 1 winners and a fifth is a winner at the Grade 2 level. Toussaud's second foal was Honest Lady, by Seattle Slew, and she helped jump-start the American-only program for Juddmonte. Overall, the offspring of Seattle Slew did not readily take to European racing. Not all of them appreciated turf racing, and the tempo of racing in Europe is so different from American racing that Seattle Slew's get found less than their share of success.

Seattle Slew was a first-class sire and was especially appealing to a homebreeding operation like Juddmonte because his daughters make such outstanding broodmares. Rather than abandon using Seattle Slew due to his relative lack of success in Europe, a solution was to keep breeding to him and keep his stock to race in the U.S.

Toussaud's first foal, Chester House, was by Mr. Prospector. Sent to race in Europe like most of Juddmonte's stock, Chester House was very talented, placing twice at the Group 1 level before returning to race in the U.S. He won the Grade 1 Arlington Million before an injury sent him into retirement, and he stands at Juddmonte for $20,000 live foal.

When Toussaud's next two foals also showed high-class form while racing in the U.S., the next - Empire Maker - was retained for the American classics program.

Like Seattle Slew, Unbridled - the sire of Empire Maker - had not experienced unusual success from his opportunities in Europe. In contrast to his status overseas, he was an important American classic sire at the time of his death in 2001, and continues to be.

Since Juddmonte was a shareholder in Unbridled, the decision to send Toussaud to him was straightforward. Garrett O'Rourke, farm manager at Juddmonte, said, "Unbridled adds a lot of the right qualities for a classic horse. He adds the stride length and scope that allows a horse to go a distance. As we saw in the Florida Derby, long-striding horses need to get into their stride early, and if you use that first furlong to get the momentum going, they can be very effective."

A big, handsome colt, "Empire Maker has a nice mixture of his sire and dam," O'Rourke said. "He has the size and scope of Unbridled with better bone and is very correct. The colt's head is the image of his mother, and he also has her hind leg."

Empire Maker also seems to have inherited some of his dam's intelligence and enthusiasm. O'Rourke said, "His temperament is all his mother, who is an endearing character and the sweetest mare. They won't, however, put up with any foolishness. But there is not an ounce of dishonesty in them."

With five stakes winners from her first six foals, there can't be much quit in them. And adding to the celebration at Juddmonte last Saturday, Toussaud produced a filly by Kingmambo a couple of hours following Empire Maker's win. Toussaud's yearling is a filly by Seeking the Gold, and the mare returns to A.P. Indy.