11/22/2001 12:00AM

Regional tastes can make or break a stallion


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Most people do not fully consider how owners and breeders influence the breed and in effect shape it in their image and after their inclinations. Just as people are said to choose dogs that reflect their own personalities and goals, so breeders shape the Thoroughbred and direct it to their ends.

The breed in Argentina is different from the breed in Japan or in Australia, and those differ from the breed here in the U.S. As owners and breeders choose certain qualities and reject others, they offer an advantage to certain lines and allow them to prosper.

Consider the results from three widely separate racing venues and how those environments offer different types of horses varied opportunities for success.

In Sunday's Group 1 Gran Premio Palermo, the high-class Guernika came home a winner by three-quarters of a length over the Southern Halo colt Lethal Weapon. They ran the 1,600 meters in 1:32.98, and Guernika - taking her record to six victories, three seconds, and a third from 10 starts - emphasized her ability against all ages and sexes in this important event.

Owned and bred by Haras la Quebrada, Guernika is a daughter of the Forty Niner stallion Luhuk, who now stands the Northern Hemisphere season at Graham Beck's Gainesway Farm outside Lexington, Ky. The talented filly is out of the Southern Halo mare Gouache, a multiple Group 1 stakes winner in Argentina.

The first two finishers in the Palermo highlight the importance of Southern Halo in Argentine breeding. A son of Halo, Southern Halo is out of a Northern Dancer mare, but he failed to win a major stakes in the U.S., and he was deported for stud duty abroad. Southern Halo has proved himself a landmark sire in his adopted country, with his offspring winning the laurels time and again, especially for races up to eight and nine furlongs.

After dominating the sire lists in Argentina, he was imported to stand the Northern Hemisphere seasons at Ashford Stud outside Versailles, Ky., and he has sired the good colt More Than Ready from his Kentucky crops.

Another son of Halo had an even more emphatic result in the Group 3 Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes in Japan, as offspring of Sunday Silence finished first and second in the race, and the third spot went to a son of Dance in the Dark, a son of Sunday Silence.

The best sire in the history of Japanese breeding, which is a major accomplishment considering the success of Northern Taste and a couple of other important Japanese stallions, Sunday Silence would have been no cinch to dominate American racing and breeding in similar fashion.

The sport here is predicated on success in the sales ring to a greater degree than in most countries, and every offspring of Sunday Silence that I've seen has looked very like its sire. They've been narrow, angular, and light of flesh and bone, with only a certain presence to recommend them.

In the ruthless yearling and juvenile sales markets, they'd have been chewed up, spat out, and probably stomped on for emphasis. That was the buyers' response to Sunday Silence when he went through the sales ring, and that was the reason people were leery of using him as a stallion.

Would he have had success here similar to his performance in Japan? Probably not. Breeders' reservations about the type of foals he was likely to sire would have dampened the quality of his book, and when they came out looking like Sunday Silence, the savvy market breeders would have run away.

Without the large books of top-class mares he has received in Japan (the Yoshida family previously stood the great stallion Northern Taste and have a horde of his daughters and granddaughters), Sunday Silence would have been battling uphill to become a major stallion.

But in Japan, he has bred such high-quality mares as the Northern Taste mare Dyna Shoot, dam of Admire Max, who won the Tokyo Sports Hai Nisai Stakes. Admire Max is unbeaten in two starts, and he is only one of many top prospects by Sunday Silence for next year's Japanese classics.

In Japan, the Sunday Silence stock also get to race on turf and run distances in excess of nine furlongs on a regular basis. Those conditions would not have been the norm had he continued in the U.S.

Instead, a different type of horse is best in America. The strong, fast, and willfully competitive types tend to do best here, and sires such as Bold Ruler, Mr. Prospector, and Storm Cat are the archetypes of the American sire.

In the Grade 3 Valley Stream Stakes at Aqueduct, Storm Cat proved again that he is the present power of American breeding. Once-beaten Forest Heiress (by Storm Cat's son Forest Wildcat) won the six-furlong sprint in 1:08 3/5 by three lengths over A New Twist, a daughter of Storm Cat, with another of his daughters, On Parade, in third.

Both Twist Afleet, dam of A New Twist, and My Flag, the dam of On Parade, are Grade 1 winners. During their racing careers, they were among the best runners in the country, and these are the mares who regularly fill the book of America's most popular stallion, Storm Cat.