05/30/2016 11:38AM

Sparkman: American breeders need to wise up on turf pedigrees

Benoit and Associates
Si Sage is a clear winner of the Whittingham Stakes Sunday at Santa Anita, leading a 1-2 finish of French-bred runners in the 10-furlong grass stakes.

The sorry state of American turf racing was on full display in the Grade 2 Charles Whittingham Stakes at Santa Anita on May 29. Half of the 10-horse field were bred abroad, and French-bred Si Sage and Patentar finished first and second ahead of the best of the American finishers, Montego Bay.

Twelve of the last 20 winners of the Breeders’ Cup Turf were bred abroad, as were 10 of the 17 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turfs since its inception in 1999, and American graded turf stakes like the Whittingham, especially over longer distances, are regularly captured by foreign-bred horses.

Most foreign racing, of course, is conducted on turf, so it is understandable that horses bred specifically for that context might have an advantage, but that advantage markedly increased when American breeders turned away from turf sires after the market crash of the late 1980s. In recent years, that pendulum has begun its inevitable swing back, particularly with the success of leading sire Kitten’s Joy and dual surface sires like Giant’s Causeway, Medaglia d’Oro, and War Front.

Though he was an inconsistent stallion, Johannesburg, who captured top-level races on both dirt and turf as both the American and European champion 2-year-old male of 2001, predictably sired top-class runners on both surfaces, and his Florida Derby-winning son Scat Daddy had emerged as a top sire on both surfaces before his untimely death last year. Johannesburg’s best son on turf was Sageburg (out of Sage et Jolie, by Linamix), who earned highweighted older horse honors in France in 2008 through his victory in the Group 1 Prix d’Ispahan.

Sageburg has not enjoyed the best of opportunities at stud. Nowadays he covers jumping mares at Garryrichard Stud in Ireland, and Si Sage is one of only two stakes winners on the flat by Sageburg. The other is a filly of similar ability, Peace Burg (Peace Talk, by Sadler’s Wells), winner of the Group 2 Prix de Sandringham and Group 3 Prix d’Aumale.

The pedigree of Si Sage (which means “so wise” in French), is also very similar to that of Peace Burg. Bred in France by Ecurie D, he is the second foal out of Sans Rien, by Poliglote, a son of Sadler’s Wells who won the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud and was a reasonably successful stallion both on the flat and over jumps in France and Argentina. Sans Rien, in fact, is full sister to the stakes-placed hurdler Sanglote and half-sister to the stakes-winning hurdler L’Unique, by Reefscape.

All of the black type under Si Sage’s third dam, Battani, by Top Ville, is also courtesy of racing over jumps, but she descends from one of the best families in the French Stud Book. Her dam, Boreale, by Bellypha, won the Group 3 Prix des Reservoirs, and ran second in the classic Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas). Boreale’s son River of Light won turf stakes in the U.S., and his half-sister Dibenoise, by Kendor, is dam of Group 1 Prix Ganay winner Corre Caminos, by Montjeu; Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner Recital, by Montjeu; and Group 2 winner Racinger, by Spectrum.

The next dam, stakes winner Princesse Tora, by Prince Taj, was half-sister to champion Carlemont, by Charlottesville, and second dam of champion Princess Lida, by Nijinsky II. The family only gets better in more distant generations.

Si Sage won 3 of 11 starts and placed in the listed Prix du Pont-Neuf in France before his importation. The Whittingham was his second win in 14 starts in the U.S., both at 1 ¼ miles over the Santa Anita turf course.

Si Sage’s pedigree carries six crosses of the ubiquitous Northern Dancer, two through Lyphard’s good son Bellypha, sire of Si Sage’s fourth dam, and grandsire of Sageburg’s broodmare sire, Linamix. That presumptive accumulation of the genes of the little giant of Windfields Farm, of course, does nothing to diminish Si Sage’s affinity for turf. Although he raced (and won) only once on turf himself and led the American sire list in 1971, the majority of Northern Dancer’s best and most influential offspring raced in Europe, and his male line descendants now totally dominate turf racing everywhere except in Japan.

Over the last few years, American breeders have wisely paid a bit more respect to turf-oriented sires, recognizing at last that when most of the world wants to buy turf horses, it might be a good idea to produce some for the marketplace. Perhaps in a few years, American-breds might win a few more of our own turf races as well as being competitive once again in European classics.

Chas More than 1 year ago
Great column...unfortunately, dirt racing is what drives the breeders and the owners in America...
There is such an opportunity to be more successful on the turf than the dirt, yet, it just goes right over their heads...
People will take the time and money to breed and develop dirt horses, but, instead will go after established European turfer's due to the lack of interest to put in that very same time and money...

Chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
More incentive to breed and run on grass surely would not hurt.
Richard Kennedy More than 1 year ago
Richard Kennedy More than 1 year ago
Edfie C, I Love your idea of a TURF TRIPLE CRIWN!! - Racetrack Rik
ItsmeEddieC More than 1 year ago
Good article and subject needs mto come to the forfront more often.
The 3 biggest problems with American breeding is this:
1 - We bred for DIRT & SPEED for too long and it's hurt turf and classic races.
2 - Owners have continually sold their horses to foreign interests for large lump sums of money. 
3 - The majority of Owners don't care about the hore racing industry.  All they care about is money
Kyri Freeman More than 1 year ago

On the other hand, on Monday the G1 Gamely at 1 1/8th on turf was won by Illuminant, who defeated runners bred in France, Ireland, and Great Britain. She's by Quality Road out of a Polish Numbers mare. http://www.pedigreequery.com/illuminant5

Frank More than 1 year ago
This is why as a bettor I almost exclusively bet only stakes races on the Turf.  Reason is a lot of bettors dont know how to handicap turf racing (because America's focus is dirt) and there is not as many turf races so the fields are usually larger thus better odds....

plus and this is the main reason -- the turf surfaces play much more consistent then dirt.
JasmineTedesco More than 1 year ago
Turf racing is a backwater, a sideshow in America. We run our major races on the dirt. Yet Sparkman decries the "sorry state" of American turf breeding. Amazingly, he has yet to write an article on the sorry state of European dirt breeding, who have not won a BC Classic on real dirt since the 100-1 Hail Mary to Arcangues almost 25 years ago - with Jerry Bailey on board. Their flagship dirt race, the Dubai World Cup, has more American winners than Euro winners.
WedgwoodIns More than 1 year ago
Perhaps, but by and large Dirt Racing is ignored in Europe whereas in the US, the are many graded stakes races on turf with significant purses. A great opportunity in the US but because of lack of breeding, US owners resort to brining in second-tier Europeans to win these races, which is an opportunity missed by NA breeders. THE DWC is an exception, and by the way, is not in Europe. It's in the Middle East.
John Murray More than 1 year ago
Time to add more relevance to the Belmont, like Canada, by putting this one leg of the TC on the green. Instead of the stagger-fests of late. Imagine a NA runner going to Europe and beating up the Euro's long on turf.

Love to handicap and watch the long and green GO LONG, GO GREEN!
ItsmeEddieC More than 1 year ago
John, while I like the concept I totally disagree with moving a triple crown race to the lawn.
Why not have a Triple Crown for Turf racing in the US like they have in Europe.
1st could be the Arlington Million.
then 2 weeks later, The Sword Dancer at Saratoga.
3rd race could then be later at Santa Anita or Keeneland during fall meet.
Or some king of combination of using big name tracks, but probably need to include a California track