Updated on 09/15/2011 2:34PM

Super Quercus elevates sire's body of work


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Breeders think about the long term, about foals who will be born 11 months later, about young horses who won't race for at least two years after that, and about the ripening and improvement of their stock as they grow through their third, fourth, and fifth years. Such considerations prompt breeders to consider their decisions at great length and sometimes to ponder and worry about the choices involved.

Among the questions that intrigue breeders of good horses are considerations of how horses are shaped and how their conformation will influence their performances on the racetrack. Most will tell anyone interested to listen that sprinters have certain traits, just as stayers and middle-distance horses do.

Some will consider this more in terms of theory, while others will hold in their mind's eye a picture of the horse's ancestors when thinking of pedigree and performance. And surely Super Quercus, winner of the 1 1/2-mile Hollywood Turf Cup last Saturday, is an excellent study in pedigree and performance.

His sire is the bay stallion Hero's Honor, a major stakes winner on turf in the U.S. during the mid-1980's. A son of the great stallion Northern Dancer and the great broodmare Glowing Tribute, Hero's Honor could scarcely have had a more exceptional pedigree. His sire had 145 other stakes winners, and his dam produced seven stakes winners from 11 foals, including Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero.

Bred by Paul Mellon, Hero's Honor had plenty of appeal to breeders when he went to stud at Lane's End Farm, and on paper, most people would think "this horse can't miss" at becoming a successful stallion. In fact, however, he went down like a dose of castor oil.

Although there are some theoretical explanations for why the stallion failed, the documented reason is that far too few of his foals were fast.

The race does not go to anyone else.

Hero's Honor was not a complete disaster, and his 33 stakes winners make up about 9 percent of his total foals, which is a respectable ratio. Hero's Honor did significantly better with his foreign runners than with his stock in the U.S., and he was moved to stand at stud in France, where he died in 1998. Bred in France, Super Quercus began his career there, winning three of six starts and placing second in the others.

I believe that conformation played an important and practical role in determining where and how the offspring of Hero's Honor succeeded. As any sound judge of conformation will tell you, a horse can run only with the equipment that nature has provided. A horse with a wide, heavy body and shortish legs, for instance, will not be around at the end of the Ascot Gold Cup; the heavy horse will need to sprint if it is going to succeed at all.

In contrast, the stayer will tend to have legs and length, scope and quality. Many extreme stayers will be narrower than many people would consider ideal, but their form determines function, or at least their best opportunity to show their top level of ability.

And the body type of Hero's Honor strongly tended to mark his offspring for a career on turf and for racing over a reasonable distance of ground. Most didn't show much affinity for racing on dirt in their homeland, but those who went overseas for racing on turf showed better form. Stayers, like most other horses, can race on dirt or turf, but relatively few races in this country are suited for stayers. Europe, however, has much more variety in its sport, and horses of different types can perform at more suitable distances.

Since a stayer runs like a living wheel, with the legs functioning as spokes powered by the hindquarters and fueled by the heart and lungs, he will do best when he can roll along. A horse of this type won't burst out of the starting gate and won't find whipping around turns much to its liking. It doesn't have the muscle power to sprint from the start but needs to build up speed from the rhythm of its stride.

European racing, which typically begins with a more relaxed start and speeds up from there, is more suitable for this type of racer. A frequent trait of the turf racer, whether in Europe or America, is that it actually finishes its races faster than it starts them, and these horses actually have a measurable extra quantity of power or leverage in their hindquarters, which enables them to finish with such speed and energy.

Super Quercus, in winning his second Grade 1 stakes, came from last to first, and he showed that the importance of speed, in addition to having it, is being able to use that speed when it counts.