08/18/2002 11:00PM

A stallion without peer in Japan's history


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Since Sunday Silence had his first runners, racing in Japan has never been the same. These included his first champions, and every season since, he has towered over his competition like some fierce icon carved of ebony.

A nearly black son of Halo, Sunday Silence isn't just the top stallion in Japan and one of the most successful stallions in the world, the high-spirited horse is a symbol of the best in Japanese sport and international breeding and racing.

He has been the leading sire in Japan for the past seven years, and annually his stock earn between $25 million and $30 million; these are sums that represent more than the lifetime progeny earnings of some pretty useful stallions in America. No domestic stallion has ever had annual progeny earnings of more than $10 million, and Sunday Silence's annual progeny earnings are from three to six times the annual earnings of America's leading sire over the last decade.

Without any doubt, the purses in Japan are much richer than those anywhere else in the world. But even taking that into consideration, Sunday Silence is a titan. His offspring regularly earn more than twice the annual earnings of the stallion's nearest rival on the year-end tabulations.

For instance, last year Sunday Silence's progeny more than doubled the amount earned by the offspring of Tony Bin, a winner of the Arc de Triomphe who sired the leading 3-year-old colt and filly in Japan for 2001.

Even with such statistics, however, it is not easy to assess Sunday Silence's impact in the international sphere of racing and breeding.

Although he has sired a couple of group winners in Europe, he has never had a stakes winner in the United States, and racing in Japan is so insular that the international cataloging standards book, which dictates the allocation of black type in sales catalogs, recognizes only the group races of Japan as qualifying for the coveted black type.

Although there may be good reasons for Japanese horses to stay home (where else would they find such rich purses?), the result is that breeders and historians of bloodstock will have a devilishly hard time assessing Sunday Silence's quality as an international sire. He is an odd duck.

Yet this is hardly the first time people haven't known what to think of the dark horse with the stripe down his face. Bred in Kentucky by Oak Cliff Thoroughbreds, the colt was not in demand as a yearling or juvenile in training, and Arthur Hancock bid the colt in as a yearling and ended up owning him. But Sunday Silence went on to confound those who had snubbed him by winning nine of his 14 starts and earning nearly $5 million.

After the colt had proven his worth on the racetrack for Hancock, Charlie Whittingham, and Ernest Gaillard, Zenya Yoshida, the most successful Japanese breeder ever, bought an interest in Sunday Silence.

Then, after Sunday Silence's racing career was over, American breeders in the midst of the great bloodstock depression turned a scornful eye on Sunday Silence. His angular looks and relatively undistinguished female family did not suggest that he would make a great commercial success.

So Yoshida offered to buy out his partners, and for a sum in the neighborhood of $11 million, he owned the whole horse and took him to stand at Shadai Farm, the most eminent Japanese breeding operation, which is located on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Sunday Silence was one of several top-class international racers whom Yoshida purchased in hopes of replacing his great aging sire Northern Taste, a high-class son of Northern Dancer who was the best sire in Japan before Sunday Silence.

Although Yoshida died before any of Sunday Silence's stock raced, the breeder's vision in attempting to find an adequate replacement for Northern Taste succeeded beyond even his imperial dreams.

Sunday Silence is the best stallion ever to have stood in Japan, and it is very unlikely breeders there will ever find his equal.

In international terms, I believe that Sunday Silence was fortunate to have gone to Japan. He certainly wouldn't have had as many elite broodmares available to him in the United States as Yoshida provided for him at Shadai. Apart from being a Horse of the Year and an exceptional classic winner, Sunday Silence was a highly desirable cross for Northern Dancer-line mares, which included all the top daughters of Northern Taste whom Shadai had retained, and mares by Northern Dancer, as well as his sons and grandsons, dominated the books sent to the stallion.

As racetrack performances have since shown, Sunday Silence matched very well with these mares and was ideally suited to siring tough stock who excelled at racing on firm turf courses at distances of a mile and up.

Sunday Silence wouldn't have found those conditions commonplace in this country, and he almost certainly would not have had the level of success he has earned in Japan. This doesn't mean that he is any less of a world-class sire. He is simply performing in the sphere where his offspring are ideally


Forty Niner, a leading sire in the United States, was exported to Japan after his purchase by the Japanese Bloodstock Breeders' Association, and in stark contrast to Sunday Silence, he is completely at sea in Japanese racing.

A sturdy racer who was a champion at 2 and a close second in the Kentucky Derby at 3, Forty Niner has had very significant success in the U.S., where almost all his stock won on dirt courses, showing speed and early maturity much of the time. Despite these many fine qualities, the Japanese couldn't squeeze a good runner out of Forty Niner with a cider press. The stallion had not had a significant winner from his Japanese crops until Sunday Break, imported to race exclusively in the States, showed his class in the American classic prep races this spring.

Many other good stallions, especially those from the Mr. Prospector sire line, have been sold to Japan, and they too have generally floundered in the Japanese racing environment.

But Sunday Silence has flourished, and when the Japanese breeding industry lost this great animal, they lost much more than a horse.

They have lost their emblem of supreme excellence.