10/27/2005 11:00PM

Sunday Silence's legend runs on

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Churchill Downs
Sunday Silence, the 1989 Kentucky Derby winner, moved on to become Japan's greatest sire. Members of his final crop ran 1-2-3-4 in last Sunday's Kikuka Sho.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Whether from the thunder of his offspring's hooves or the roars of fans cheering for their favorite, Sunday Silence is still the king of Japan, some three years after his death at age 16.

A horse of uncommon presence and outstanding ability, Sunday Silence became Japan's greatest sire. Leading sire lists ever since the racetrack appearance of his first crop, Sunday Silence earned an amazing reputation in Japan. He did the unthinkable by becoming more revered and famous than his many celebrated offspring.

So it is no surprise that his loyal fans were thrown into mourning after his early death in 2002. But even with his last crop of juveniles coming to the races this year, the genetic contributions that made him such a great sire have continued their legacy.

On Oct. 23, Sunday Silence's son Deep Impact became only the sixth winner of the Japanese Triple Crown and the first since Narita Brian in 1994.

Now unbeaten in seven races after his success in the Kikuka Sho, the Japanese equivalent of the St. Leger, Deep Impact won the distance event by two lengths in 3:04.60 for the 3,000 meters over firm turf.

If anything further were needed to confirm the amazing dominance that Sunday Silence has exerted over breeding in Japan, note that the first four finishers home in the Kikuka Sho were all by Sunday Silence.

A dark, nearly black horse by the Hail to Reason stallion Halo, Sunday Silence was the same sort of dominating presence as a racehorse and showed great energy in his demeanor. He was also notable for his agility and quick change of pace, both characteristics of a horse best suited by firm or fast racing conditions.

The stallion was, as events proved, ideally fitted to racing in Japan. The racing there is primarily on turf, and because of climate conditions, a large portion of the races are run on firm turf, rather than the softer conditions that predominate much of the year in Europe.

Being from the Hail to Reason line of descent from Nearco, Sunday Silence carried no crosses of Raise a Native, his son Mr. Prospector, or even the great Northern Dancer in his pedigree. This made him an outcross to the predominant stallion influences elsewhere (these are all Phalaris-line horses, but that is rather distant).

His being an outcross seemed especially important to me when I wrote an essay on the prospects of Sunday Silence in Japan before his stock had reached the races. At that time, the influence of Northern Dancer was paramount in Japanese breeding, especially through that Kentucky Derby winner's son Northern Taste.

From the success of Northern Dancer lines in Japan, and from their predominance among the mares sent to Sunday Silence in his initial books as a stallion at Shadai Stud, it was clear that Sunday Silence had to match well with the Northern Dancer stock in Japan if he were to have any chance of significant success there.

Not only did Sunday Silence match well with the Northern Dancers, he excelled with them. In the Kikuka Sho, for example, not only were each of the first four under the line by Sunday Silence, but also three of the first four were out of mares from the Northern Dancer line.

Deep Impact is out of Wind in Her Hair, a daughter of the Lyphard stallion Alzao. The second horse, Admire Japan, is out of the Caerleon mare Biwa Heidi, and the fourth horse, Six Sense, is out of the Danehill mare Daneskaya. Only third-place finisher Rosenkreuz is from a different line, being a son of the Shirley Heights mare Rose Colour.

Like Rosenkreuz, Deep Impact was bred in Japan by Northern Farm. The unbeaten colt is owned by Kaneko Makoto Holdings Co. Ltd.

Deep Impact won the Satsuki Sho (Japanese 2000 Guineas) on April 17 and then crushed his opponents by five lengths in the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) on May 29.

A son of Sunday Silence with plenty of personality, Deep Impact was highly excited by the crowd and the noise in the Kikuka Sho. The colt fought for his head early on and appeared ready to tear away on the lead, but jockey Yutaka Take managed to calm the colt and settle him behind the leaders until the stretch in the test of stamina.

Showing the kind of pace that has been the trademark of Sunday Silence's offspring, Deep Impact swept his competition aside for the victory.

Based on his speed, courage, and staying power, Deep Impact is the sort of colt who once would have been at the top of American breeders' shopping lists as a stallion prospect. But as one Japanese source said, "It would take more than money to get this colt. It would take a war."