11/23/2007 12:00AM

Niarchos family's saga of success

EmailNEW YORK - The dominance of the Maktoum-Magnier-Juddmonte triumvirate at the top end of the racing and breeding industries tends to deflect attention from the accomplishments of almost all other owner-breeders. That situation was redressed to a certain extent last week in London when the Niarchos family was feted as the recipients of the Cartier/Daily Telegraph Award of Merit.

Hardly a small outfit, the Niarchos family doesn't receive quite the attention as do their Arab and Irish adversaries, so the honor bestowed upon them is timely. The winners of no fewer than 121 Group 1 or Grade 1 races have been bred or owned by the Niarchos family. The first was Pipe of Peace in the the 1956 Middle Park Stakes, the most recent Light Shift in this year's English Oaks.

The "foundation sire" of the operation was, of course, Stavros Niarchos, the famed Greek shipping magnate. In 1952, the "Golden Greek," as he was dubbed by the media, developed the first supertankers that could transport oil in large quantities. The opening of the Suez Canal in 1956 opened the door to untold riches, which he eventually parlayed into one of the world's most successful Thoroughbred operations.

The Niarchos family has always had the keenest eye in selecting people to advise them. First up was Gordon Richards, the perennial British riding champion who trained Pipe of Peace in the 1950s, after which Niarchos wandered away from racing. He returned in the 1970s determined to be a success, starting with Dactylographer, who won the race now known as the Racing Post Trophy in 1977.

In 1978, Niarchos made news when he shelled out $1.3 million at the Keeneland July yearling sale for a son of Northern Dancer that would be named, appropriately enough, after the Russian ballet dancer Nureyev. The price at the time was the second highest ever paid for a yearling. Sent to Francois Boutin, Nureyev lived up to his reputation by crossing the line first in the 2000 Guineas, only to be justifiably disqualified for a cowboy-like ride by Philippe Pacquet. Placed last, Nureyev headed home to Chantilly but never raced again, having contracted a virus shortly after the Guineas from which he never fully recovered.

The Niarchos family's Thoroughbred saga really begins with Nureyev's arrival at Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard in Normandy, France, where he sired seven group race winners from a first crop of just 23 foals. Moved to Walmac International in Kentucky in 1987, he sired many of the late 20th century's greatest racehorses, among them Theatrical, Peintre Celebre, Sonic Lady, Soviet Star, Zilzal, Polar Falcon, Fasliyev, Stravinsky, Reams of Verse, and Spinning World.

But as this is a family story, it is fitting that Nureyev's best offspring was Miesque, a filly who ranks with the all-time greats of either sex. The best miler of her era, she was trained for Niarchos, like Nureyev, by Boutin. A two-time classic winner, Miesque was twice the winner of both the Breeders' Cup Mile and the Prix Jacque le Marois, a race sponsored by her owner's Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard. All told she won 10 Group 1 or Grade 1 races in three different countries, establishing a record rarely matched in the annals of Thoroughbred history.

Miesque was equally effective in the breeding shed, getting French 1000 Guineas and French Oaks winner East of the Moon. Her best son, Kingmambo, also trained by Boutin for Niarchos, won the French 2000 Guineas, the St. James's Palace Stakes, and the Prix du Moulin de Longchamp, yet was balloted out of the 1993 BC Mile by a supremely ignorant international selection committee. In the long run, Kingmambo took his revenge, siring 25 stakes winners to date, among them Divine Proportions, the European champion filly of 2004 who carried the Niarchos colors, Lemon Drop Kid, Japanese champions El Condor Pasa and King Kamehameha, Japan Cup winner Alkaased, Pacific Classic winner Student Council (who was scheduled to run in Saturday's Japan Cup Dirt), and this year's champion French juvenile Thewayyouare.

But there was life for Niarchos outside of the Nureyev-Miesque-Kingmambo dynasty. French 2000 Guineas winner L'Emigrant, Prix de la Salamandre winner Seattle Song, French Oaks and Prix Vermeille winner Northern Trick, Salamandre winner and leading British sire Common Grounds, plus Group 1 winners Shanghai, Exit to Nowhere, and Coup de Genie, among others, all ran under the Niarchos banner.

Stavros Niarchos died in 1996 and Nureyev passed away five years later, but the family carries on, led by his daughter Maria Niarchos-Gouaze. Racing as the Niarchos Family, they established a stranglehold on the BC Mile, winning in 1997 with Spinning World, 2002 with Domedriver, and 2003 with Six Perfections. Bago won the family their first Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 2004. Aldebaran, Denon, and Good Journey have all been Grade 1 winners for them in the U.S.

At the Cartier/Daily Telegraph Awards Dinner, Maria Niarchos-Gouaze was quick to give thanks where they are due.

"Firstly, I'd like to thank the horses, without whom we wouldn't have got this award," she said.

Foremost in her thoughts must have been Nureyev, Miesque, and Kingmambo, a Thoroughbred family that reflects the greatness of their human counterparts.