02/03/2011 2:53PM

Seeing shades of Zenyatta in her half-sister


LEXINGTON, Ky. − As the Thoroughbred world speculates about what a Bernardini-Zenyatta foal might look like, there are a handful of people in the sport who already have an inkling.

This possible hint of things to come is named Eblouissante, and she is Zenyatta’s 2-year-old half-sister by Bernardini – the closest thing available to the mating cross Ann and Jerry Moss are planning for their reigning Horse of the Year.

The man behind Eblouissante’s pedigree is her breeder and owner, Eric Kronfeld, who also bred Zenyatta. The Mosses have not given many details about why they selected Bernardini for Zenyatta’s first mating, but Kronfeld’s logic for pairing Bernardini with Zenyatta’s dam, Vertigineux, might shed some light on the cross’s appeal.

By A.P. Indy, Bernardini was an unproven sire, but like Zenyatta’s sire, Street Cry (another Darley stallion), he had impressed Kronfeld with his size and racing ability.

“I said, ‘Bernardini is one of the best horses I’ve seen recently, and his Travers at Saratoga was one of the best races I’ve seen,’ ” Kronfeld said. “And I think Quiet American broodmares are just the best things that ever were, ever, on the planet. So what Bernardini is, you have an A.P. Indy out of a Quiet American mare, and that nick fits perfectly.”

Winter Quarter Farm owner Don Robinson, who has managed Kronfeld’s mares for about 25 years, said he likes what he has seen of the Bernardini-Vertigineux cross so far.

“After Zenyatta, I don’t second-guess any of his matings,” Robinson said of Kronfeld.

Eblouissante, foaled on Jan. 27, 2009, was a dark bay or brown filly whom Robinson describes as “an absolute queen, just elegant.” And, for the record, no, she doesn’t do that dance, and she has no white markings. But there are some similarities between Zenyatta and Eblouissante.

“She has as much presence as any young horse I’ve ever been around,” Robinson said. “It scares me. She’s completely herself, very independent, but in a good way. She’s sweet, but not sugary. Very businesslike. She was definitely the dominant one, but in a kind way, with the other yearlings. I watched Zenyatta at Lane’s End several weeks ago when they first introduced her to the other maidens, and it’s the same thing. It’s not a kick-your-ass kind of dominance, but it’s like they just knew who the boss was. Eblouissante is very much that way.”

Eblouissante – which means “dazzling” in French – is in training with Mickey Preger Jr. at the Camden Training Center in South Carolina, where she is up to galloping 1 1/4 miles. She is already about 16.2 hands, and no one expects her to start until age 3, Kronfeld said. When she does head for the racetrack, it will be to Zenyatta’s trainer, John Shirreffs, in California.

“We’ll send her to John sometime, maybe Del Mar-ish or when they come back to Hollywood, whenever Mickey and John think the time is right, knowing she’s going to race next year,” Kronfeld said.

Robinson broke Eblouissante at Winter Quarter in Lexington, Ky., and sent her to Preger in Camden in early December. Preger also gave Vertigineux her early prerace training.

“Mentally, she’s a different type of horse,” Preger said of Eblouissante, the first Bernardini whom Preger has had in his barn. “Extremely intelligent, almost out-of-the-ordinary intelligent.”

Getting Zenyatta’s half-sister initially was nerve-wracking, Preger acknowledged, but Eblouissante has given her Camden caretakers no cause for concern. Preger’s five exercise riders take turns getting on her and report she is easy to handle.

“She’s a baby, but she has more the disposition of an older horse,” he said. “She takes in everything about her and has a real cool attitude. She’s just a really good-natured filly. Even if she wasn’t who she is, she’s just a different type of horse. She’s neat.”

Kronfeld, an investment banker who also owns the film, record, and television company Maverick Productions, has known the Mosses for 45 years. But he says they never discussed whether Bernardini might be the right sire for Zenyatta’s first foal. But the Mosses and their advisers visited Winter Quarter Farm several times, and they were impressed with Eblouissante, Robinson and Kronfeld said.

“Having seen the physical specimen, he knows what the cross can produce,” Kronfeld said of Jerry Moss. “And now, in the last six months, Bernardini has hopped up and, wow, what a first year. He’s now certainly a top-class sire. Whatever Zenyatta has will be a three-quarter brother or sister to Eblouissante. The nick is right, the physical specimen is right. If luck is on his side, sure, why not go with a sire that looks that good?”

Kronfeld decided to sell Vertigineux two years ago but let it be known he would agree to a sale only if the buyer let him keep her in utero Bernardini foal. Fetal gender testing had indicated the foal would be a filly.

“I don’t think I’d have felt so strongly if it had been a colt,” he said.

Coolmore Stud owner John Magnier agreed to the terms, and Kronfeld sold Vertigineux privately for a price he felt was “absolutely spot-on when the market was good.”

Kronfeld and Robinson said they hope Eblouissante eventually will carry on where Vertigineux left off in Kronfeld’s broodmare band.

“Every professional who has seen Eblouissante has said that she is the closest physical specimen to Zenyatta they have ever seen,” Kronfeld said. “They look like twins.

“There’s never going to be another Zenyatta,” he said. “So the best we can hope for is a good, stakes-winning horse. And let’s treat her that way.”

Kronfeld and Robinson said they are planning a trip to Camden this month to see Eblouissante, but Kronfeld is keeping his dreams about her on an even keel.

“I don’t want to jinx it,” he said. “Too many things can go wrong in this game. I’ve been ridiculously lucky in this game, I know.”