11/26/2004 1:00AM

Kris helped make 1970's a great decade


NEW YORK - The death this week from heart failure at 28 of the great miler and influential stallion and broodmare sire Kris recalls a period when the world seemed to have a plethora of exceptionally fine horses.

Foaled in 1976, Kris was only one of a great generation that included Brigadier Gerard, Mill Reef, Roberto, Shirley Heights, Troy, and Dunfermline, and those just from Britain alone. In France we had Allez France, Pawneese, Dahlia, Trillion, Three Troikas, Sassafras, Lyphard, Irish River, Blushing Groom, Green Dancer, and Riverman.

From Ireland, courtesy of the incomparable Vincent O'Brien, there was Nijinsky, The Minstrel, and Alleged, while here at home we had Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, Spectacular Bid, Forego, Shuvee, Susan's Girl, Chris Evert, Ruffian, and Davona Dale.

The nostalgic haze of a time long passed may have added some luster to these names, but the accomplishments of the horses attached to them bear out their brilliance.

By Sharpen Up, Kris played a major role as the 1970's were ending, and continued to make his mark for the three decades that followed. Bred and owned by Lord Howard de Walden and trained by Henry Cecil, he won 14 of his 16 starts, was European champion miler at 3 and 4, champion British-based sire with his first three crops from 1985 through 1987, and became one of late 20th century's most important sires of fillies, through which his reputation is likely to live on for years to come as a broodmare sire.

Kris was not the very best racehorse of his era, nor of his generation. His two losses were narrow ones to Tap on Wood in the 2000 Guineas and, a year later, to Known Fact in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Five-length victories as a 3-year-old in both the Sussex Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes had some observers comparing him to Brigadier Gerard. While he wasn't quite that good, he did accomplish a good deal more than did the "General" at stud.

Kris's career in the paddock got off to a sensational start. His first crop included Oh So Sharp, winner of the British filly triple crown by dint of her victories in the 1000 Guineas, English Oaks, and St. Leger. That same crop included Sure Blade, winner of the St. James's Palace and the Queen Elizabeth II when they were still Group 2 stakes.

The third crop of Kris was notable for the presence of the filly Unite, like Ouija Board the winner of both the English and Irish Oaks. A year later, Kris got Common Grounds, the Group 1 Prix de Salamandre winner who remains an important influence in Britain to this day.

Kris was unable to sustain the early promise he had displayed at stud, perhaps because he never really produced a major stallion himself. All told he is the sire of 11 Group 1 winners who won 15 Group 1 or Grade 1 races, among them San Juan Capistrano winner Single Empire.

As a broodmare sire, Kris numbers the outstanding Doyen, the best older horse in Europe this year at 1 1/2 miles.

The 1970's will be remembered not only as racing's most recent golden age, but also as the decade when European and Arab interests began their long drive to retake control of the world's best Thoroughbred bloodstock.

That fact is borne out by a perusal of the list of sires who have produced Group 1 or Grade 1 winners worldwide this year. Atop the standing is the late Danehill, followed by Sadler's Wells, Sunday Silence, Kingmambo, Lando, Desert King, Spinning World, Selkirk, Storm Cat, and Zabeel. Of that group, only Storm Cat has made an appreciable impression in North America.

Danehill has eight Group 1 winners this year who have won 10 Group 1 races in Europe and Australia. His 63 Group 1 runners have earned $7.3 million. Sadler's Wells has six Group 1 winners while his 39 Group 1 runners have earned $6.6 million. Sunday Silence, most of whose progeny race in Japan, also has six Group 1 winners. His 46 Group 1 performers have earned $12.9 million.

The leading "American" sire on the list - a stallion whose progeny race exclusively or nearly exclusively in the United States - is Pleasant Colony. His two Grade 1 winners, Pleasantly Perfect and Colonial Colony, have won three Grade 1 races, while his total of three Grade 1 performers have earned $5.1 million. Awesome Again has two Grade 1 winners who have won four Grade 1 races. Those two winners, Ghostzapper and the recently imported Wilko, are his only Grade 1 performers. They have earned $3.1 million.

From this it is clear that the world's most influential stallions are producing a minimal effect on American racing. How much longer the American racing and breeding industries will allow this situation to continue before taking some kind of action to reverse the trend remains a mystery.