05/30/2016 11:38AM

Sparkman: American breeders need to wise up on turf pedigrees

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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.