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Sparkman: Even in Hong Kong, Northern Dancer is king
The post-World War II internationalization of Thoroughbred racing began officially in 1952 with the inauguration of the Washington, D.C., International at Laurel Racecourse. First won by English-trained Wilwyn, the International was the first annual event specifically designed to attract horses from both Europe and the U.S.
Laurel’s late owner John Shapiro, the inventor of the International, would hardly recognize the international landscape of Thoroughbred racing in the 21st century, an era characterized by huge, multi-race events that attract top horses from all over the globe. Not least among those international events is Hong Kong’s International Races festival held last weekend at Sha Tin.
The four-race international Group 1 sequence – the 2,000-meter Hong Kong Cup, 1,600-meter Hong Kong Mile, 1,200-meter Hong Kong Sprint, and 2,400-meter Hong Kong Vase – offers more than $10 million in total prize money, sufficient to attract horses from all over the globe, including America. The four 2015 races included horses from Japan, Hong Kong, America, England, Australia, France, Ireland, and New Zealand, a pretty thorough representation of the global industry.
The two American representatives, Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mongolian Saturday and BC Turf Sprint third-place finisher Green Mask, were out of luck in the Sprint, finishing fifth and eighth, respectively, and Japanese runners dominated the day by taking the two richest races, the $3.2 million Hong Kong Cup with A Shin Hikari, and the $3 million Hong Kong Mile with Maurice. Regardless of the country where the winners were trained or born, however, their pedigrees reflect the global nature of 21st-century racing.
Bred in Japan by K.K. Eishindo, A Shin Hikari is one of 73 stakes winners to date by Deep Impact, who is certain to be leading Japanese sire for the fourth consecutive year this season. That leaves Deep Impact, who is generally considered to be Japan’s greatest racehorse, nine short of the record 13 consecutive Japanese sire championships earned by his sire, 1989 American Horse of the Year Sunday Silence.
Deep Impact’s pedigree is emblematic of the tactics Japanese breeders used, beginning with top breeder Zenya Yoshida in the 1970s, to upgrade their stock to international standards. Deep Impact’s dam, Wind in Her Hair, by Alzao, is a Group 1-winning mare from the great English family descending from 1936 1000 Guineas runner-up Feola that includes American Hall of Famer Round Table, among many others.
A Shin Hikari’s dam, Catalina, by Storm Cat, is an American-bred, purchased for $135,000 by Eishindo’s agent, Kay Shigeta’s Silky Green, at the 1996 Keeneland April sale of 2-year-olds in training. Raced in the U.S., Catalina won three races and $55,250, and is from the great American family of foundation mare Lea Lark, by Bull Lea.
A Shin Hikari is bred in the purple by any international standard, but the pedigree of Hong Kong Mile winner Maurice is considerably more Japan-centric. His sire, Screen Hero, was one of the best sons of the American-bred Grass Wonder, the champion Japanese 2-year-old colt of 1997 who trained on to win two editions of the Group 1 Arima Kinen, Japan’s year-end championship where the entries are decided by a popular vote. By Silver Hawk out of Ameriflora, by Danzig, Grass Wonder was a full brother to American Grade 1 winner Wonder Again from the great Darby Dan family tracing to the Swaps mare Soaring.
Grass Wonder was only moderately successful as a stallion, and Screen Hero was one of two Group 1 winners he sired, earning champion Japanese older horse honors in 2008. Screen Hero’s dam, Running Heroine, provides the requisite cross of Sunday Silence for a top contemporary Japanese runner, and her dam is by Northern Taste, Zenya Yoshida’s first great Japanese leading sire imported from America.
Maurice’s dam, Mejiro Frances, is by 1994 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Carnegie, and Mejiro Frances’s dam, Mejiro Monterey, is by Mogami, a French-bred stakes winner with an American pedigree, but Maurice’s female line has been resident in Japan since his eighth dam, Devonia, by 1916 Kentucky Derby winner George Smith out of the French-bred mare Deviniere, by Rabelais, was imported in the 1920s.
Hong Kong Sprint winner Peniaphobia’s pedigree is the most purely European of any of the four weekend warriors. His sire, Dandy Man, was one of eight stakes winners from the exceptional single crop sired by Mozart, a son of great American-bred global sire Danehill out of Victoria Cross, by Spectacular Bid out of Broodmare of the Year Glowing Tribute.
A durable sprinter who won 6 of 30 starts over five seasons in training, including the Group 3 Palace House Stakes, Dandy Man has sired only three stakes winners to date from three crops of racing age, but, in reality, has enjoyed a very limited opportunity. Dandy Man also has sired English Group 3-winning sprinter Extortionist, but Peniaphobia is easily his best runner. Peniaphobia won 3 of 4 starts at 2 in England before his sale to Hong Kong, and had finished second in the Sprint last year as well as in the Group 1 Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai earlier this year.
Peniaphobia’s dam, Umlani, by Nureyev’s son Great Commotion, was unraced but has also produced the Group 3-placed gelding Safari Sunset, by Fayruz. Umlani’s dam, Travel Magic, by the American-bred 1980 Epsom Derby winner Henbit, produced nothing of note, but is a full sister to stakes-placed Hawaiian Peace, and a half-sister to two stakes winners. Peniaphobia’s fourth dam, stakes winner Peace, by Klairon, was one of Juddmonte Farms’ first great foundation mares, producing five stakes winners, including Group 1 winner Quiet Fling, by Nijinsky II. Peace’s descendants include Juddmonte-bred Group 1/Grade 1 winners Byword, Proviso, Wandesta, Midships, and Zambezi Sun.
Hong Kong Vase winner Highland Reel is the 11th Grade 1/Group 1 winner from Galileo/Danehill cross whose best and most famous representative is Frankel, but his pedigree, too, includes an international twist. Highland Reel’s dam, Hveger, was bred and raced in Australia, where she ran second in the Group 2 South Australian Oaks. Hveger is a full sister to one of Danehill’s many Australian champions, Elvstroem, who won the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free in the UAE as well as the Group 1 Victoria Derby in Australia. Hveger is also a half-sister to another globe-trotting Australian-bred star, Haradasun, by 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, who earned champion 3-year-old colt honors in Australia before transferring to Aidan O’Brien’s stable in Ireland, for whom he won the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Their dam, Circles Of Gold, by Marscay, was a top-class filly in Australia, winning the Group 1 AJC Australian Oaks, and running second in three other Group 1 events. Highland Reel’s female line has been resident and extraordinarily successful in New Zealand and Australia since his ninth dam, Eulogy, by Cicero, was imported about 100 years ago. Highland Reel’s fourth dam, Gold Vink, by Gold Sovereign, produced multiple Group 1 winner Bit of a Skite, by Showoff II, and Group 2 winner Shagolvin, by Sharivari, and is also tail-female ancestress of Group 1 winners Starspangledbanner, Polar Success, and Markus Maximus.
Despite all these international twists and turns, the six-cross pedigrees of all four of the Hong Kong winners are pretty much standard-issue contemporary international crosses. All four are inbred to Northern Dancer, and all but A Shin Hikari carry three or more crosses of the little giant of Windfields Farm. And despite the pedigree of Maurice being the least American on the surface, he is inbred 5x5x4x5 to Northern Dancer, and also carries three crosses of 1960 American champion 2-year-old male Hail to Reason.
Even in Hong Kong, Northern Dancer still rules the world of Thoroughbred racing.