07/01/2004 11:00PM

Niigon brings long-range plan to fruition


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Nearly three years after his death, Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled still shines a bright light on racing and breeding. Already the sire of winners of the Kentucky Derby (Grindstone), Preakness (Red Bullet), Belmont (Empire Maker), Coaching Club American Oaks (Banshee Breeze), and Travers (Unshaded), Unbridled extended his dominion over the most important middle-distance events for classic colts and fillies when his son Niigon won the Queen's Plate at Woodbine on June 27.

Niigon (an Ojibwa word pronounced nee-gon and meaning "gateway to the future"), was getting his proper distance for the first time in the 10-furlong Canadian classic. From the next-to-last crop by champion and classic winner Unbridled, Niigon and the other sons and daughters of Unbridled are the future of this branch of the Mr. Prospector line.

To date, they are carrying on well, with Unbridled's grandson Birdstone winning last month's Belmont. Although neither Red Bullet nor Empire Maker has a runner yet, Unbridled's Song - from Unbridled's first crop - has sired 28 stakes winners, including Unbridled Elaine (Breeders' Cup Distaff), Songandaprayer (Fountain of Youth), and Buddha (Wood Memorial).

The Unbridleds have size and ability, and they excel at a distance.

Trainer Eric Coatrieux said, "We always knew Niigon would handle classic distances," even after the colt had shown the precocity to run third in the Grey Stakes at 2.

"He did show talent as a 2-year-old, but I wanted to make sure he wasn't going to learn to sprint," Coatrieux said. "So I made him go two turns as soon as possible, and that may be why he took a little longer to start winning, but on a positive note that taught him to run relaxed."

Coatrieux himself has had considerable exposure to the classics. He said: "I came to the Derby four times: the first time in 1995 with Talking Man while working for Roger Attfield, again in 1998 with Worldly Manner and Aljabr for Godolphin Stables, the following year with China Visit and Curule, finally in 2000 with Street Cry and Express Tour. I was then working as Tom Albertrani's assistant with the Derby horses, and I also spent a summer in New York with Godolphin in 1999."

With this background, Coatrieux was just the man for Chiefswood Stables, owned by Robert Krembil and his son, Mark.

"Robert and Mark Krembil made it clear to me that they were in this game to try and compete in the classic races, whether it is in Canada or the U.S., and most of our horses are bred with that in mind," Coatrieux said. "As far as Niigon is concerned, the main target was always the Queen's Plate."

The Krembils began to get seriously involved in breeding and racing their own stock in the late 1990's, and the dam of Niigon was part of a group of horses purchased in 1998, according to their bloodstock advisor Jim Schenck.

Their first major purchase was a group of horses from Richard Maynard, who had acquired most of them privately from Sam-Son Farm.

Schenck said: "It was a pretty complex deal, and Maynard asked me to do the leg work to put it together. There were seven mares and two foals. We had to pay the stud fees and unwind a couple of foal-share agreements. There were some other nice mares, but the mare who had the most potential to produce a nice horse was Savethelastdance," the dam of Niigon.

She was stakes placed and by a great sire, Nureyev. As both a complicating factor and an item of additional value, Savethelastdance was in foal to Rahy on a foal-share with Three Chimneys at the time.

In cooperation with Maynard, the Krembils "made a very good offer to buy out the foal share," Schenck said. Dan Rosenberg, Three Chimneys's general manager, accepted. "And that was basically the final piece of getting the whole deal together."

As a result, the Krembils had a small broodmare band and shortly began shopping for seasons.

"The idea of breeding Savethelastdance to Unbridled was Mr. [Robert] Krembil's," Schenck said, adding that Krembil liked Manistique, a Grade 1-winning daughter of Unbridled who raced in Southern California in the late 1990's. "He wanted to duplicate that cross. We were unable to get a live-foal season, but he stuck his toes in the ground. This was what he wanted to do, and we went out and bought a no-guarantee season privately. And Niigon was the result."

The colt was foaled in Canada on the farm where Mark and his wife, Stacy, live.

"Stacy helped to foal this colt," Schenck said, "so you can imagine how emotional the Queen's Plate victory was for her. Mr. [Robert] Krembil was really attached to this horse from the beginning, and he thought it could be the one who could win the Queen's Plate for him, which was the goal."

Savethelastdance has a yearling filly by Rahy, was not covered in 2003, and is currently in foal to Seeking the Gold on a March 21 cover. Schenck said when he presented the mare to Bernie Sams, who sells stallion seasons at Claiborne Farm, last winter, she didn't look like the sort of mare who should be going to Seeking the Gold. "But Bernie went out on a limb, gave us a live foal season, and she's now dam of a Queen's Plate winner."

The Krembils currently have 19 mares, and, Schenck said: "We're probably going to continue to buy well-bred yearling fillies and nice young broodmares. The long-term goal is to have 20 nice broodmares and to produce horses that can compete in the classics."

With Niigon, the future is now.