12/12/2014 5:02PM

Sparkman: Stakes winner a 'Turkish' treasure


In the provincial and too-often close-minded world of American Thoroughbred racing, the victory of Lawrence Cordes’s Turkish in the Grade 3 Valedictory Stakes at Woodbine on Dec. 7 was almost completely and irrevocably irrelevant. First, the Valedictory was run on Woodbine’s synthetic Polytrack, a surface that American trainers and horseplayers have successfully lobbied almost out of existence. Second, the race, which traditionally closes the Woodbine meeting, is at 1 3/4 miles, a distance representing a vanishingly small percentage of American races.

In the slightly larger, and, newly, slightly less provincial world of American Thoroughbred breeding, however, Turkish is a successful representative of a slowly emerging trend. After 40 years of selling our best-bred stock to buyers based abroad, and 20 years of avoidance of anything not derived from dirt racing, American breeders at last appear to be acknowledging the need to replenish the blood that has seeped away so profitably by returning descendants of some of those high-priced horses to these shores.

Turkish’s sire, Istan, is a son of American dirt horse Gone West, an outstanding international sire regardless of surface. Istan is out of British-bred Ronda, by American-bred European Group 1 winner Bluebird. Ronda is a granddaughter of Memory Lane, by Never Bend, a full sister to American-bred, European-raced champion Mill Reef. Turkish’s dam, Tresor, by American dirt sire Pleasant Tap, is American-bred but is the third consecutive generation of her female line to race in France since Turkish’s third dam, Trillion, by Hail to Reason, was exported by her owner-breeder, Nelson Bunker Hunt, and his occasional partner, Edward P. Stephenson, to race abroad in the 1970s.

Bred in Kentucky by Madrid-based businessman and horseman Dario Hinojosa, Istan raced for the first 20 of his 21 starts in the name of Hinojosa’s Darpat S L Stable after failing to meet his reserve at a hammer price of $275,000 at the 2003 Keeneland September yearling sale. He won his first start as a 2-year-old at about six furlongs at Chantilly on Oct. 8, 2004, but finished seventh, beaten 8 1/4 lengths, in the Group 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte in his only other juvenile outing.

Istan won allowance events at about seven and about six furlongs at Longchamp and Maisons-Laffitte from five starts at 3 in France but finished third, beaten a neck and 1 1/2 lengths by Nid d’Abeilles and Silent Name, respectively, in the listed Prix de Pontarme. Trainer Carlos Laffon-Parias shipped Istan to Monmouth Park for his sixth start at 3, but he ran fourth of five in the six-furlong City Zip Stakes.

Istan returned to the racetrack at 4 from Bill Mott’s stable the following January, winning a one-mile optional claimer impressively by three lengths over subsequent Grade 2 winner Wanderin Boy. He did not race again, though, until December, when he finished ninth in the Grade 3 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap.

Mott finally had Istan sound and healthy as a 5-year-old, and he won 5 of 11 starts racing over a variety of surfaces. He captured his first stakes event, the Budweiser Challenger Stakes at 1 1/16 miles at Tampa Bay Downs, and followed up with a 2 1/2-length win in the 7 1/2-furlong Artax Handicap at Gulfstream. Three starts later, he won the Governor’s Handicap at Ellis Park and then switched to the then-newfangled Polytrack surface at Turfway Park to win the Grade 3 Turfway Park Fall Championship Stakes, both at a mile.

Beaten a long way by Purim in the Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland, Istan subsequently scored his most impressive victory, stalking the pace and then blowing away multiple graded winner Sun King for an 8 3/4-length win in the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap at Churchill Downs, running the mile in 1:34.08.

That victory inspired his purchase by Airdrie Farm owner Brereton C. Jones, but he ran fourth in the Grade 2 Clark Handicap in his only start in Jones’s colors.

Istan was retired to Airdrie in 2008, and his pedigree was more attractive than his relatively modest race record. His dam, Ronda, was purchased by Hinojosa for about $51,000 through Chevington Stud at the 1997 Tattersalls October yearling sale, and she went on to become a high-class racemare, winning the Group 2 Falmouth Stakes and Group 3 Prix de Sandringham and running second in the classic German 1000 Guineas equivalent.

Ronda’s sire, Bluebird, by Storm Bird, was a $1.1 million Keeneland July yearling sale purchase in 1985 by the Coolmore partnership through BBA Ireland. The winner of the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, Bluebird was a successful sire in Europe and Australia, siring 79 stakes winners from 1,522 foals, including European highweighted sprinter Lake Coniston, Australian Horse of the Year Flitter, Group 1 winner Dolphin Street, and Grade 2 American Handicap winner Blues Traveller.

Ronda’s dam, Memory’s Gold, by Java Gold, also produced stakes winner Silver Gilt, by Silver Hawk, and is the second dam of recent multiple Group 3 winner Purr Along, by Mount Nelson.

Despite that glittering pedigree tracing back to third dam Memory Lane and Mill Reef, Istan has not attracted very much patronage, siring only 73 foals in his three crops age 3 and up. He has done about as well as can be expected, given his opportunity, siring 2014 Grade 2 winner Istanford (out of Aerocat, by Tale of the Cat), 2014 Grade 3 winner Albano (Pocho’s Dream Girl, by Fortunate Prospect), and Grade 3 winner Mr. Bowling (Goldilock’s Bear, by Irish Tower), in addition to Turkish. Istan’s son Atigun has not won a stakes but finished a close third in the 2012 Belmont Stakes.

Turkish’s dam, Tresor, was nowhere near as good a racehorse as Istan, but her antecedents followed a similar pattern to Istan’s. Bred in Ohio by Ed Stephenson, Tresor showed very modest ability in three starts in the French provinces as a 3-year-old, finishing second in a maiden race at Le Croise-Laroche at about 11 furlongs for owner Eric Puerari.

Tresor produced her first two foals, both minor winners, for Puerari and his frequent partner Michel Zerolo’s Oceanic Bloodstock, but then was sold to France Pur Sang as agent for Brereton C. Jones for about $126,000 at the 2002 Agence Francaise Deauville mixed sale. Jones bred winner Philanthropy Lady, by Desert Style, and three other foals from Tresor before attempting to sell her, barren to Yankee Gentleman, at the 2007 Keeneland November sale. Jones bought her back in the name of Huntington Stable. Turkish is the first foal Tresor produced after that attempted sale. She has since produced winners by Istan and Proud Citizen.

Tresor is a half-sister to a much better racehorse in Treble, by Riverman, winner of the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary, and to Treble’s full sister Trevillari, dam of multiple stakes winner Tsigane, by Anabaa, and second dam of the great Treve, by Motivator, who scored her second victory in the Group 1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October. Another half-sister, Sine Labe, by Vaguely Noble, is the dam of European champion sprinter Tamarisk, by Green Desert.

Turkish’s second dam, Trevilla, by Lyphard, was a half-sister to the great racemare Triptych, by Riverman. Their dam, Trillion, by Hail to Reason, was another great racemare who earned championship honors for Bunker Hunt and Stephenson in both Europe and America. Trillion’s dam, multiple stakes winner Margarethen, by Tulyar, from the family of American Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox, is also the dam of Trillion’s stakes-winning full sister Margravine and of Doff the Derby, by Master Derby, the dam of European classic winners Generous and Imagine.

The superiority of American-bred racehorses that became evident to the world in the 1970s with the European victories of Nijinsky II, Mill Reef, Roberto, Allez France, Dahlia, and countless others was the result of generations of crossing the best imported European stallions, stallions like Sir Gallahad III, Bull Dog, Blenheim II, Nasrullah, Princequillo, and Royal Charger, none of whom raced on dirt, with tough, sound, speedy American dirt mares.

As in many other fields of endeavor, however, Americans eventually appeared to assume that our horses were better than everyone else’s simply by virtue of being American-bred. Over the last decade, though, it has become increasingly evident that American-bred superiority is restricted to only one surface – dirt.

Since American breeders turned to breeding almost exclusively for dirt in the early 1990s in response to the bloodstock crash of the late 1980s, that is hardly surprising. Declining European and Middle Eastern interest in American bloodstock and the higher prices garnered by European-breds, however, appears to have finally made an impression on American breeders, who have become much more active at the Tattersalls December and Arqana breeding stock sales in the past few years.

It was also refreshing to hear Bill Farish of Lane’s End acknowledge that it was time to bring back some of that exported American blood with the announcement of the importation and syndication of Frankel’s full brother Noble Mission this fall. That syndication reportedly was completed very quickly, yet another sign that perhaps American breeders are finally getting over their long-held allergy to grass and to horses bred and raced in Europe.

The English-bred Noble Mission, of course, is by Irish-bred Galileo, whose sire, Sadler’s Wells, and dam, Urban Sea, are both American-breds. Noble Mission’s Irish-bred dam, Kind, is by American-bred Danehill out of British-bred Rainbow Lake, by American-bred Rainbow Quest out of American-bred Rockfest, by Stage Door Johnny.

What goes around comes around.