04/04/2002 12:00AM

Lamenting an untimely loss

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Honor Grades, the 14-year-old Danzig stallion who died unexpectedly last Sunday at Darby Dan Farm near Lexington, has left Darby Dan managing partner John Phillips and quite a few breeders wondering what might have been.

The stallion has seven crops to race, but only two of those - his current juveniles and 3-year-olds - are from his stay in Kentucky. Honor Grades initially stood at Bonnie Heath Farm in Ocala, Fla., before relocating to Darby Dan for the 1998 season. His brief career in the Bluegrass State appeared to be well supported by local breeders: Last year, according to statistics from The Jockey Club, Honor Grades bred 110 mares.

That's not surprising, considering his pedigree, a major factor in Darby Dan's decision to stand the horse. Honor Grades is out of the great Secretariat mare Weekend Surprise, who also produced classic winners and popular sires A. P. Indy and Summer Squall.

During his time in Florida, Honor Grades sired millionaire Grade 1 winner Honor Glide, who retired from racing earlier this week, as well as graded or group stakes winners Whata Brainstorm, Matriculate, Honor Bound, Gone Fishin, Epic Honor, Kalu, and Dr. Park. A number of his stakes winners raced in Australia and New Zealand, bred when Honor Grades shuttled to the southern hemisphere. And Honor Grades could have another stakes winner after Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, if stakes-placed Easy Grades crosses the wire in front.

"Obviously, his pedigree was as good as it gets," Phillips said. "He also was a well-conformed horse, he threw well-conformed horses, and his horses were a nice mix of both dirt and turf runners. For me, it was almost an instant no-brainer when he first started showing he was going to be prepotent as a sire."

Phillips credits the management of Bonnie and Kim Heath of Bonnie Heath Farm for showcasing Honor Grades's early potential, something Phillips had hoped Darby Dan could build on in Kentucky.

"We had invested a great deal of mares in the horse, and he was really popular," Phillips said. "For us, one of the saddest parts of his loss is that his current 3-year-old Kentucky crop is just now coming to the fore. It's like losing a bud that wasn't fully able to open yet. His horses ran well, they sold well, and his pedigree contribution to the breed could have been profound.

"As a small farm trying to compete with some of the giants, it was a real loss for us. It's sad emotionally, from the investment point of view, and for the breed when we lose an ascending sire like this."

Darby Dan hasn't received the final report on a necropsy of the stallion, and the cause of the horse's death was not determined as of Thursday.

In his father's footsteps

Stud plans for Honor Grades's best son, Honor Glide, haven't been finalized, but his owners are considering a range of possibilities - including sending the 8-year-old horse to stud in the southern hemisphere this year.

Honor Glide, winner of the Grade 1 Secretariat Stakes in 1997 and Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap in 1999, is a Bonnie Heath Farms homebred that the Heaths raced in partnership with Robert Schaedle III.

The Heaths sold Honor Glide to Schaedle for $31,000 through Dan Mallory, agent, at the 1995 Fasig-Tipton July sale.

"When he was foaled, our farm manager, Ken Breitenbeck, told me, 'Honor Grades has just had his first stakes winner born,' " Bonnie Heath said.

As it turned out, Honor Glide wasn't the first - His Honor was - but he has continued to be a favorite at Bonnie Heath Farms. The Heaths bought back into Honor Glide in 1999, after the horse came back to their farm for some rest and recuperation from the racetrack.

"We swapped Bob Schaedle a share in Honor Grades for 20 percent of Honor Glide, with the deal that if he won a stakes that year, we would buy 25 percent of him," Heath recalled.

After the Sword Dancer, the Heaths upped their stake to a quarter.

"We're going to be darned picky about where he goes to stud," Heath said, "because his happiness is the most important thing."

Record filly in Australia

Australia's three-day Inglis Easter yearling sale concluded Thursday with a sale-record filly price of $796,200 ($1.5 million Australian) for a daughter of Danehill-Sommes Sound (by Assert), a half-sister to Australian champion Assertive Lad. Demi O'Byrne, agent, bought the filly, who broke a 1989 record of $1.25 million Australian. The three-session auction grossed $34,478,113 for 404 lots sold, yielding a $85,341 average and a $58,388 median.