08/20/2001 11:00PM

Startac's return to turf clearly the right move

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LAS VEGAS - Startac's victory in Saturday's Secretariat Stakes was evidence that he just may be this year's best 3-year-old on turf.

Startac won two of his first four starts, all on turf, including a victory in the Generous Stakes. He was then tried on the dirt in the Turf Paradise Derby to see if a son of Theatrical could transfer his talent to the dirt. Although his opposition was questionable, Startac's last-to-first victory by nearly five lengths was breathtaking, and it seemed that Startac had found a new home on dirt. That was short-lived, however, as his Turf Paradise Derby victory was followed by three lackluster efforts on the dirt, culminating in a 10th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. The dirt experiment was finally over.

Startac came out of the Kentucky Derby no worse for wear, and trainer Simon Bray gave the colt a rest and mapped out a turf campaign for the remainder of the year. The Secretariat was the first race on Bray's agenda, and it was a tough spot to return after a three-and-a-half month layoff. Although Startac was a proven commodity on turf, he had never raced on a yielding course and had never raced beyond one mile on the turf.

Startac was bred to be a star on turf. His sire, Theatrical, was one of Nureyev's best runners, which include champions Pientre Celebre, Zilzal, Spinning World, Miesque, Soviet Star, Sonic Lady, and Mehthaaf. Without a doubt, Theatrical is Nureyev's best son at stud, and most runners from this sire line (Theatrical-Nureyev-Northern Dancer) have prospered on the grass. With few exceptions (such as Geri, Rize, Golden Treat, and Run Man Run), Theatrical's offspring have a decided turf preference.

Startac's dam, Tenga, is by Mr. Prospector, and is a prime example of what is called "class in the dam." Although she won only once in 15 starts, in the Prix de la Vallee d'Auge, her tail-female family is so strong that her value as a broodmare was never in question.

Tenga is a half-sister to stakes winners Jade Flush and Royal Danzig, as well as Royal Herat, the dam of stakes winner Chitka, stakes-placed Heartbuster, and winners Royal Affirmed and 2-year-old Siphina. Tenga's dam was Royal Strait Flush (who died in 1999 at age 18), an unraced full sister to the brilliant but ill-fated Landaluce, and a half-sister to stakes winner Clout.

Inbreeding of the highest order

The mating of Tenga to Theatrical was brilliant, and created a foal that is inbred to the influential broodmare Pange, 4x4. Inbreeding to a superior female within five generations through different individuals is called the Rasmussen Factor, after Leon Rasmussen, who advocated this particular type of inbreeding for more than 30 years as Daily Racing Form's bloodlines editor. Some prominent horses who have the Rasmussen Factor include Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Charismatic (inbred to Somethingroyal, 4x4); international leading sire Danehill (inbred to Natalma, 3x3); El Condor Pasa (inbred three times to the influential broodmare Thong, 5x5x4); $2.4 million earner Heritage of Gold (inbred to Glamour, 5x5); multiple stakes-winning turf filly Gaviola (inbred to Blue Canoe, 4x4); and Preakness winner Pine Bluff and his stakes-placed sister, Angel Fever, the dam of Fusaichi Pegasus (inbred to Almahmoud, 4x4).

Pange was an amazing broodmare, producing Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Prince Royal (Ribot), and Sensibility (Hail to Reason), who created her own dynasty as the dam of Tree of Knowledge (Sassafras), Tree of Knowledge, who was group-placed, is the dam of Theatrical, multiple Japanese group winner, Taiki Blizzard (Seattle Slew), and North of Eden (Northfields), who produced four stakes winners: champion Paradise Creek, Forbidden Apple, I'm Very Irish and Wild Event.

Theatrical colts 1-2 in Secretariat

Strut the Stage, a winner of four of five starts (all on turf), including the Charlie Barley and Toronto Cup Handicaps at Woodbine, looked like a surefire winner in late stretch until Startac caught him on the wire. Thus, the only two sons of Theatrical in the race finished first and second, and Sharp Performance, by Kris S. out of a Theatrical mare, finished a game third. Strut the Stage is out of the Red Ransom mare Ruby Ransom, a half-sister to multiple stakes winners Chief Bearhart and Explosive Red. His third dam, Myrtlewood Lass (Ribot), is a half-sister to the immortal Mr. Prospector.

* This year's 3-year-old turf stars have no distance limitations and should provide worthy challenges for older turf runners, such as Bienamado, Silvano, and Hap. Bienamado's non-race in the Arlington Million can be dismissed, as he has now demonstrated twice his distaste of yielding turf. Sligo Bay, who was scratched from the Secretariat because of the yielding course, will be a force to be reckoned with on firm ground.