Updated on 09/17/2011 3:03PM

Stars reflect Luro's legacy


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Blame it on Horatio Luro, all these South Americans running roughshod over our poor, helpless North American Thoroughbreds.

Examples are endless, from the days of Kayak II way back when to just last weekend at Hollywood Park, where the Argentine mare Star Parade won the Milady Handicap and the Chilean stallion Total Impact took the Gold Cup.

Stir in the sprint/middle-distance dominance of Brazil's brilliant Pico Central in this year's Metropolitan Mile and Carter Handicap, and you have ample evidence that the difference between hemispheres is negligible when it comes to the production of quality Thoroughbreds.

It was Luro, a native of Argentina, who pioneered the importation of Argentine Thoroughbreds to North America in the mid-1930's. As related by Joe Hirsch in his entertaining biography of Luro, "The Grand Senor," leading American horsemen of the era were abjectly ignorant of Luro and gave him very little encouragement. Luro decided to roll the dice, pooled a small stake with a Cuban horseman, Antonio Silver, and bought four horses in Buenos Aires for about $7,000.

"The horses would travel to New York by boat and passage was booked on the Western World, which accepted both cargo and passengers traffic," Hirsch wrote. "It was decided to put the horses on deck for the 17-day voyage and wooden stalls were built to accommodate them. The horses were attended by Silver and an American jockey traveling back to the States, Francis Masheck, while Luro charmed the lady passengers with his courtly manner and his zestful tango."

From their small catalog of runners, Luro and Silver ended up winning high-profile handicaps in Chicago and California with Cascabelito and Amor Brujo. Eventually, according to Hirsch, the horses were sold, turning the $7,000 investment into an $85,000 profit.

With that, Luro's career was on its way, and the South American bloodstock market became ripe for raiding by enthusiastic North American buyers. By 1939, when Kayak reigned as America's champion older male for Charles Howard, the trend was in full bloom. Luro went on to win two Kentucky Derbies (with Decidedly and Northern Dancer) and take a place in the Hall of Fame and become an American racing institution.

The trend of South American importation waxed and waned with the relative strength of international economies, but then came December of 1966, when Bull Hancock rocked the bloodstock world of the Western Hemisphere by importing the Argentine superstar, Forli. Hancock carved up Forli into a $960,000 syndicate that included Paul Mellon, Leslie Combs, and James Cox Brady, among others, and sent him to Charlie Whittingham for training. Whittingham, as every schoolchild knows, was Luro's finest disciple.

Even Whittingham could not rescue Forli from his shins, though. After winning two of three starts in 1967, Forli was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm, where he sired Forego, along with many others of serious talent.

The years since have resounded with South American stars, including champions like Bayakoa, Paseana, and Riboletta, as well as major winners such as Mat Boy, Dulcia, Gentlemen, Siphon, Lido Palace, and Sandpit. The latest of these could emerge this weekend at Hollywood Park, in Sunday's closing-day Sunset Handicap, when Argentina's 2002-03 Horse of the Year Freddy is scheduled to make his American debut.

Like Forli, Freddy won the Premio Carlos Pellegrini in Buenos Aires to stamp himself as the best of his generation. Pellegrini winner Practicante won the 1972 San Juan Capistrano at Santa Anita, while Pellegrini winners I'm Glad, Algenib, and Potrillon also made an impact in the States.

Don Burke, Freddy's trainer, has been nursing Freddy along for more than a year, waiting out a knee problem that surfaced last summer.

"The Sunset might not be the ideal spot," Burke said. "But I'm kind of at the point where I've trained him so much we've got to run him."

Because Burke learned his trade working for trainers like Whittingham and Richard Mandella, South Americans pose no mystery.

"Acclimation is the key," Burke said. "The only time they're under saddle down there, they either work or race. Here, they need to learn how to relax. And even though the concussion level at the tracks is hard down there, I think training every day on North American tracks is a lot more taxing. They need to get used to that, just like Europeans."

Of all the good horses he has been around, Freddy reminds Burke most of a blue-blooded Kentucky-bred named Prince True.

In the mid-1980's, Prince True won the Cinema, the San Juan, the San Luis Rey, and more than $600,000. As role models go, Freddy could do a lot worse.

"Sooner or later, we're going to have to find out how good he is," Burke said.

Sooner just might be Sunday.