01/03/2014 3:37PM

Sparkman: American runners are falling behind

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Japan's Orfevre surpassed a world record for earnings by a Thoroughbred.

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound? If a world record falls and no one notices, does it matter?

From 1923 (when Kentucky Derby winner Zev’s victory in the great international match race with Epsom Derby winner Papyrus propelled his earnings past those of 1893 English Triple Crown winner Isinglass) to 1990 (when Japan’s Oguri Cap sneaked past Alysheba to become the world’s leading money earner), Americans became accustomed to the idea that an American horse would naturally be the world’s leading money earner on the racetrack.

For the latter half of that period, we also could be pretty confident that the world’s best racehorses were born each year within our borders. Aided by his victory in the 1996 Dubai World Cup, Cigar briefly put America’s nose back in front on the money-earning list, but by 2000, T.M.Opera O had reclaimed the title for Japan.

It has become all too easy and customary for Americans to dismiss the earnings of Japanese horses, pointing to the inescapable fact that the average purse in Japan is almost three times the average purse in the United States, and seeming to accept that discrepancy almost as a badge of honor instead of the scarlet letter of shame it should be.

In fact, various American record-keepers, including this august publication, exclude Japanese earnings from the records of American sires, despite including those from Dubai, where average purses are very close to those in Japan.

Thus, we should not be surprised that not one but two world records for earnings by a Thoroughbred fell in 2013 without anyone on this side of the Pacific paying the slightest attention.

The first record was surpassed Oct. 6 at Longchamp in Paris, where 2011 Japanese Horse of the Year Orfevre ran second in the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. The $1,487,582 Orfevre earned for finishing second to the undefeated French filly Treve pushed his career earnings past the $16,200,337 T.M.Opera O had earned at the end of his career 13 years ago.

Orfevre added to his record in his only subsequent start, winning Japan’s season-ending weight-for-age championship, the Group 1 Arima Kinen, by an astonishing eight lengths and completing his career with a record of 12 wins, six seconds, and one third in 21 starts for world-record earnings of $19,005,276, according to The Jockey Club’s foreign-exchange algorithm.

Then, on Nov. 24, Gentildonna, who earned 2012 Japanese Horse of the Year honors by beating Orfevre by a nose in that year’s Japan Cup, became the first repeat winner of that event, again dropping her nose just in front at the wire, this time with Denim and Ruby in second place. The $2,507,346 she earned for that narrow victory pushed her career earnings to $12,978,745, well past those of the previous female Thoroughbred record-holder, Australia’s wondrous three-time Melbourne Cup winner, Makybe Diva.

Why should we care that two Japanese horses are now the world’s leading male and female Thoroughbred money winners? Well, one reason is that not a single American horse contested either the $6.5 million Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe or the $4.7 million Japan Cup.

In fact, the only American-bred horse in either race, Penglai Pavilion, who ran an unexpectedly excellent fifth at Longchamp, is American only by accident of birth, since he was sired by the great German sire Monsun and is out of the British-bred Maiden Tower, who had been imported by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s international breeding operation to be bred to Medaglia d’Oro.

And in truth, there were only two American-trained horses of 2013 who might have deserved a place in either the Arc or Japan Cup fields. One of those, Animal Kingdom, already was serving mares in Australia by the time the race was run, and the other, Point of Entry, was recovering from injury at Arc time and had just run in the Breeders’ Cup Turf prior to the Japan Cup. What other American horse proven on turf with a chance of staying 1 1/2 miles in a fast-run race would have had the remotest chance against top-class international turf horses in the Arc or the Japan Cup? None.

The other reason Americans should pay attention is that Orfevre and Gentildonna are paternal grandson and granddaughter of 1989 Horse of the Year Sunday Silence, who was exported as a stallion to Japan because American breeders inexplicably did not think he was good enough to stand in Kentucky.

According to comments from American breeders at the time, Sunday Silence, despite being the American racehorse with the best racetrack form since Spectacular Bid, was not sired by a horse they regarded as a sire of sires, despite the fact that his sire, Halo, had led the American sire list twice. Halo, of course, subsequently gained a rather impressive reputation as the sire of leading American sire Saint Ballado and seven-time leading Argentine sire Southern Halo, as well as 13-time leading Japanese sire Sunday Silence.

Sunday Silence proved himself the best sire in Japanese history, and he is the only Japanese-based sire to make any impact outside of Japan. His sons Fuji Kiseki, Silent Name, Hat Trick, Divine Light, and Deep Impact all have sired top horses in other countries.

Deep Impact, Sunday Silence’s best son and widely considered Japan’s all-time best racehorse, is the sire of Gentildonna, whose Japan Cup victory assured Deep Impact of a second consecutive Japanese sire championship. In fact, sons of Sunday Silence totally dominate the Japanese leading-sire list, with only King Kamehameha, by Kingmambo, Symboli Kris S, by Kris S., and Kurofune, by French Deputy, interspersed among seven sons of Sunday Silence on the list of the top 10 leading sires in Japan in both 2012 and 2013.

Deep Impact, out of the beautifully bred top European racemare Wind in Her Hair, by Alzao, won 12 of 14 career starts and ranks fourth on the career earnings list at $12,825,285, just behind his champion daughter. Gentildonna is one of 37 stakes winners from 535 foals of racing age sired by Deep Impact, a list that includes Japanese champion Joie de Vivre, Japanese Derby winners Kizuna and Deep Brillante, and French classic winner Beauty Parlour.

Orfevre’s sire, Stay Gold, out of Golden Sash, by Dictus, was a tough, sound racehorse just short of top class who ran 50 times over six seasons and scored the best of his seven victories in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase in 2001. He has sired 25 stakes winners, including Orfevre’s full brother Dream Journey, Japan’s champion 2-year-old male in 2006 and champion older male in 2009, and Gold Ship, Japan’s champion 3-year-old male last year.

Orfevre and Dream Journey are sons of three-time Japanese winner Oriental Art, by Japanese champion Mejiro McQueen, another onetime holder of the world money-earning record. Perhaps we should take some comfort from the fact that their second dam, Electro Art, has a North American pedigree, sired by the Canadian-bred nine-time leading Japanese sire Northern Taste out of the American-bred Grandma Stevens, by Lt. Stevens, from an undistinguished branch of the same family that produced Ruffian, Fusaichi Pegasus, Coronado’s Quest, and Orb over here.

Gentildonna’s pedigree, on the other hand, is fairly typical of many relatively unfashionable European pedigrees of the past three decades, since the first three sires along her female line, Bertolini, Lyphard’s Special, and Junius, were all second-rate American-bred, European-raced horses who made little impression as sires in Europe.

Perhaps Americans are not yet very interested, but it is abundantly clear from international results spanning the past five years that our 40-year binge of selling our best horses to European and Middle Eastern breeders has finally achieved the inevitable. Regardless of exchange rates and purse differentials, we are no longer breeding the world’s best racehorses.

Danny Jimenez More than 1 year ago
To this day I still believe Easy Goer was a better race horse...I am doing a thesis on this...I will later report. Sunday Silence should have never been sold, the breeding industry in America gave up on him, like they have given up on so many good sires, check on the sires in Japan (most of them from the United States and or their bloodlines) Ex.Brian's Time,Forty Niner.Sunday Silence, etc..American Breeders need to spread the mares to more consistent Sires with "Proven" race records. Many factors as to why The breeding of superior American horses has declined, one the 1 1/2mile sire doesn't exist until recently with the Ramseys and (the Kitten's) and the need for more Gr.1 1 1/2mile races. Easy Goer still has passed on some superb genes (Lion Tamer,Corinthian, Will's Way) and Corinthian being the prototype sire for the missing "power" horse. Despite breeders all ready giving up on him(Corinthian), more High quality mares need to be direct his way and other "Ful resume sires". The other travesty is Lasix an the none pure American bred but all these factors may be fixed. In all, the last Dubia World Cup Champ is American and he won with authority and last time I checked that is the "World Cup" despite being a biased grown-Animal Kingdom.
seattle More than 1 year ago
It is for all horses or none. "But for anybody to claim that Citation, Kelso, Easy Goer, Forego, Dr Fager, John Henry, Skip Away, Pleasant Colony ALL were equal or superior to Noor,Beau Purple,Sunday Silence, Wajima,Big Spruce,Damascus,Interco,Mehmet,Formal Gold, and Akureyri, seems to negate the whole purpose of horse racing, where one horse runs against the other, head-on on the race track." So then Citation,Kelso,Easy Goer,Forego,Dr Fager,John Henry,Skip Away, & Pleasant Colony ALL were not equal or superior to Noor,Beau Purple,SS,Wajima,Big Spruce,Damascus,Interco,Mehmet,Formal Gold and Akureyri?
Easy Goer More than 1 year ago
Head to head scoreboard what? Superior what? Better horses what? Citation, Kelso, Easy Goer, Dr Fager, Forego, John Henry, Skip Away, and Pleasant Colony(All Behind or tied on head to head scoreboard) were all superior and better horses than Noor, Beau Purple,S.S.,Damascus,Big Spruce & Wajima, Interco & Mehmet, Formal Gold, and Akureyri.
seattle More than 1 year ago
Google Charles Justice book, "Greatest Horse of All". Citation, Kelso, Easy Goer, Dr Fager, Forego, John Henry, Skip Away, and Pleasant Colony(All Behind or tied on head to head scoreboard) were all superior and better horses than Noor, Beau Purple,S.S.,Damascus,Big Spruce & Wajima, Interco & Mehmet, Formal Gold, and Akureyri. Easy Goer DID Win outside of New York. They ran Easy Goer in 17 of his 20(vast majority) races in Florida or New York in many of the most historic, landmark championship races. Easy Goer did not lose by a nostril in Maryland or by a very rapidly diminishing despairing dire neck in the Classic in Florida because of where the races were run. One of the many factors & circumstances was Pat Day's self admitted "absolute rider errors", typically atrocious start stop, start stop, full of run, then take in hand,gear down,ease up,grab a hold riding, and getting totally outridden. And S.S. did not Lose 4 races in California(3 at Hol), including losing a G2 to Prized(Easy Goer beat Prized by 20 lengths), because of where those races were run. S.S. Beau Purple, Noor, Big Spruce, Interco, Akureyri. S.S & Northrn Taste Jpn forever.
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
One of the problems with these kinds of discussions is that anyone can build a case from their narrow point of view. But the only facts relevant here are that Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer on three different occasions, on three different tracks, in three different states. You continue to do what most East Coast Luddites do; they ignore what is right in from of them and then try to weasel in side points that cloud the main points. You say Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer in the Classic by a diminishing head. Rewind the video and you will see that Sunday Silence lost ground and was shuffled back towards the middle of the race. His quick turn of foot, something Easy Goer lacked, allowed him to catch up like a panther, I think as described by Joe Hirsch. Sunday Silence was never going to lose the race; you may want to think that, fine. Unfortunately the power of balance is tipped in favor of the opinions of a handful of mainly people east of the Mississippi or thereabouts; the Eclipse voters. But for anybody to claim the Easy Goer was equal or superior to Sunday Silence seems to negate the whole purpose of horse racing, where one horse runs against the other, head-on on the race track. Three of four wins by Sunday Silence against the stiffest competition, including Easy Goer, is enough to rest my case.
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
The comment attributed to Joe Hirsch was made describing the Preakness. In quick researching, Easy Goer appears to have one only one race outside New York (Swale). His only victory against Sunday Silence was at his favorite track: Belmont. Game on Dude and a few others are downgraded because they ran and won mainly in one state; no doubt the double standard continues to exist. Think Zenyatta versus Rachel Alexandra.
Easy Goer More than 1 year ago
As far as the downplaying and denigrating of Easy Goer. Head to head records, 3-1, 4-1,2-1,etc. Citation lost 4 of 5 to Noor. Kelso lost 3 of 4 to Beau Purple. Dr Fager lost 2 of 4 to Damascus. Forego lost 2 of 3 to Big Spruce & Wajima. Skip Away lost 4 of 6 to Formal Gold. John Henry lost 2 of 3 to Interco. Pleasant Colony lost 3 of 4 to Akureyri. I suppose all these horses were being "dominated"? NONE of these horses listed that were "dominated" lost 2 of them by a snout and very rapidly diminishing neck. In Charles Justice's 2008 book "The Greatest Horse of All", he studied and ranked the greatest horses by age based on statistical analysis using objective reasoning, many unbiased stat categories, which are far superior to pure biased opinions. Easy Goer ranked the #2 Greatest 3 year old of all time behind only Secretariat, and ahead of many great champion 3 yr olds. And Dr Fager,Kelso,Forego,Citation,Skip Away,John Henry all ranked high in other age categories being so called "dominated"(tied or behind on head to head).
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
Using your own analysis, if Easy Goer was ranked #2 greatest that means Sunday Silence therefore is at least number 1. Sunday Silence defeated Easy Goer 3 times out of 4 major races. He beat Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby, and in Maryland in the Preakness, and in Florida in the Breeder's Cup Classic. Easy Goer defeated Sunday Silence in his home track, in his home state, New York. I believe Easy Goer never won outside New York. I never heard of Charles Justice and don't know the basis for his objectivity that you claim. But statistics don't always get to the main points: that Sunday Silence was superior to Easy Goer. He showed that not on print in books but on the race track, at least 3 of 4 times. That fact alone speaks louder than whatever spin the spin meisters come up with. And so far Sunday Silence has proven to be a superior stallion, as well.
Easy Goer More than 1 year ago
Seattle's and Jacob's quotes are from pedigree and breeding experts Anne Peters and Avalyn Hunter. "Dominated"? "Dominated"? That couldn't be farther from the truth. You call a snout and very rapidly diminishing desperate collar "dominant". And Easy Goer's Test of the Champion Belmont was what? Supreme, commanding, extremely authoritative. That is true, S.S. and North Taste are the two best sires in Japanese history. Japanese horses are 0(ZERO) for 15 in the Breeders Cup. And not ONE son or daughter of S.S. won ONE G1 race in Europe and the USA!
seattle More than 1 year ago
I'd agree Jacob. I'd agree with Breeding experts Avalyn Hunter and Anne Peters also. "Brilliant Miler speed over great stamina stoutness has been a classic formula in American breeding. There are numerous reasons the early death of Easy Goer, who combined blistering speed over a mile with thoroughly brilliant stamina. He sired some first-rate horses nonetheless, his 9 stakes winners from only 136 foals(only 101 started) being headed by multiple grade I winners My Flag(dam of Storm Flag Flying),Will’s Way(sired Lion Tamer) and Furlough. And top class graded stakes winning horses Relaxing Rhythm & Composer. Only 8 when he died, Easy Goer left behind Only 53 producing daughters who have compiled an excellent record producing 23 stakes winners, including 2002 champion juvenile filly Storm Flag Flying and grade/group I winners Magical Fantasy(4 G1 wins), Monba, Corinthian(G1 Met Mile,G1 BC Dirt Mile) , Astronomer Royal, and, of course, Funny Moon. Given Easy Goer’s own superb pedigree and the quality of mates he received during his few seasons at Claiborne, there is every reason to believe that he would have made an even more significant contribution as a broodmare sire had he lived longer." Breeding expert Anne Peters- " Had Sunday Silence retired in Kentucky, it's almost certain he would have tanked commercially and been exported in disgrace(presumably by the mares-or lack thereof- he would have been bred to), but he found his perfect gene pool and thrived instead." Best sires in Japan's history-SS,Northern Taste,Tesco Boy,Hindostan,Kumohata.
seattle More than 1 year ago
Breeding Experts Anne Peters and Avalyn Hunter are biased, but Sparkman is not biased?? What??? Lol. Whatever. Dominated? You call a nose and neck "dominated" and you only call SS "losing" the Belmont. If a nose and neck is "dominating" what was 8 lengths? EG(ran 16 of 20 races in NY and FL) didn't lose by a nose and neck in 2 races in MD & FL because of what state they were in. Just as SS didn't lose 3 times at his "Home" track at Hollywood Park because of what state they were in. EG & SS were both great horses. Many many circumstances and factors between 2 great horses in their races. SS was a great Hall of Fame champion and great sire in Japan(the best Jpn sires ever-1-SS,2-Northern Taste,3-Tesco Boy,4-Hindostan,5-Kumohata). EG was a great Hall of Fame champion, who died very young(136 foals,101 started) . There are numerous reasons the early death of Easy Goer, who combined blistering speed over a mile with thoroughly brilliant stamina. He sired some first-rate horses nonetheless. Given Easy Goer’s own superb pedigree, race record, talent, ability, speed-stamina combo, constitution and the quality of mates he received during his few seasons at Claiborne, there is every reason to believe that he would have made an even more significant contribution had he lived longer."
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
The old way to settle who was the superior horse can be seen in the rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. In 3 of 4 head-on matches, Sunday Silence defeated Easy Goer. He beat him in 3 different states: Kentucky, Maryland, and Florida. The one time Easy Goer defeated Sunday Silence was at Belmont, in his back yard, home state of Easy Goer. Those 4 races are the most important facts to consider in judging the superior horse: Sunday Silence. He has also proven to be a superior stallion, as well.
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
Winning 3 out of 4 races in head-on races is close to dominating, whether by a nose or a length. Sunday Silence did not have to carry his track/state with him. Easy Goer, on the other hand, seemed to thrive only in New York. He did not defeat top level competition outside New York. He lost the Juvenile Breeders Cup and the Classic, which were both run outside New York. Some of the same people that criticize Zenyatta, for example, for not running much out of California, denigrating her, must think highly of Easy Goer's wins, even though they were all in one state: New York.
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
Your analysis is not fully thought out and may be overreaching. Storm Flag Flying is out of Storm Cat by My Flag; and My Flag's dam was Personal Ensign. It may have to do as much with the crossing as the fact that Storm Cat and Personal Ensign were powerhouses; Storm Cat as a stallion and Personal Ensign as a broodmare and as a race horse. What is not as clear is why the assumptions that Sunday Silence, who dominated Easy Goer, would not have access to the same mares, as did Easy Goer. Or if there was an exotic gene crossing that occurred in Japan that could not be found here. But without following Japan's racing and breeding in general, most would agree that Sunday Silence has been far more dominant as a stallion than Easy Goer. He has singlehandedly left his footprint on the future of Japan's race horses, to a great extent. Corinthian was a good horse, not great and ok stallion so far. Will's Way? Monba, are also all good horses but not at the level of Sunday Silence and his Grade 1 runners. Sunday Silence's influence most likely will have long-term impacts, as a sire. It is not as clear for Easy Goer; in part, due to his untimely passing.
Richard Cadena More than 1 year ago
The East Coast media pundits and maybe a few followers never gave Sunday Silence due credit, even after he dominated Easy Goer, hometown favorite, in all but one match-up, when he lost in Easy Goer's backyard. Sparkman got it right describing Sunday Silence's standing, the greatest since Spectacular Bid. Maybe a few of the same pundits/breeding experts influenced the sellers of Sunday Silence. But as in most things, they were wrong. Sunday Silence carried his greatness across tracks/states, not just in one state, as in the case of Easy Goer. And he carried it across oceans, as a stallion. Some less biased expert would need to analyze the gene pool and related breeding factors in Japan. Most likely Sunday Silence elevated that too, not the other way around.
Jacob Gabbani More than 1 year ago
Breeding expert Avalyn Hunter's words-July 29, 2009 article BH "Miler over Stamina Model": "Miler speed over stoutness has been a classic formula in American breeding. There are Many reasons to regret the early loss of Easy Goer, who combined blistering speed over a mile with thoroughly genuine stamina. He sired some first-rate individuals nonetheless, his 9 stakes winners from only 136 foals being headed by multiple grade I winners My Flag,Will’s Way and Furlough. And top class graded stakes winning horses Relaxing Rhythm & Composer. Only 8 when he died, Easy Goer left behind just 53 producing daughters who have compiled a great record producing 23 stakes winners, including 2002 champion juvenile filly Storm Flag Flying and grade/group I winners Magical Fantasy, Monba, Corinthian , Astronomer Royal, and, of course, Funny Moon. Given Easy Goer’s own superb pedigree and the quality of mates he received during his four seasons at Claiborne, there is every reason to believe that he would have made an even more significant contribution as a broodmare sire had be lived longer." Breeding expert Anne Peters-May 29, 2013 BH article "Ky Derby winners as sires": " Had Sunday Silence retired in Kentucky, it's almost certain he would have tanked commercially and been exported in disgrace(presumably by the mares-or lack thereof- he would have been bred to), but he found his perfect gene pool and thrived instead."
MICHAEL More than 1 year ago
Our most prestigious race today as far as breeding is concern is the MET MILE! give me a break!! Our last 4 hoty were 3 females and a miler. Wise Dan may repeat. None ever won an open G1 at 10 furlongs on dirt! And people wonder why this industry is circling the drain. Japan is racing their triple crown winners into their 4, 5 yr season. They send their best thoroughbreds to run in the most prestigious races in the world on turf and these races are 10-12 furlongs. That is how they fill their stands in Japan, that is how they get behind their great thoroughbreds (we have none, just sprinters and milers) and go crazy when they race overseas.
seattle More than 1 year ago
Northern Taste was an 11 time leading sire in Japan before Sunday S. He took over from Northern Taste. All I said was in context(% of stakes winners worldwide,average earnings index-AEI), N.Taste,Sunday(11%SW, just over 2.00 AEI),Southern Halo,etc were Not equal to Sadler's Wells(14%SW, 3.15 AEI), Danehill(14%SW, 3.17 AEI), Danzig(18%SW, 4.00 AEI), Northern Dancer(23%SW, 4.11 AEI), Mr. P(15%SW, 3.91 AEI), Bold Ruler(22%SW,7.86 AEI),Bull Lea(15%SW,4.37 AEI),Nasrullah(20%SW,5.81 AEI),Nureyev(17%SW,3.49 AEI),Nijinsky(18%SW,4.49 AEI),etc.