Updated on 09/17/2011 11:49AM

Supermares' common ground


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The two best older mares in the United States - Azeri, the Horse of the Year, and Ipi Tombe, the African-bred giant-slayer - do not appear to be on a collision course at the races.

Azeri is being managed with the prudence of a political candidate, and last weekend she once again proved herself the best of California's racemares. On the other hand, Ipi Tombe has taken all courses and competition head-on. Her international regard has risen with every success, and her start this weekend in the Locust Grove at Churchill Downs is awaited with great anticipation as a stepping-stone to her participation in the Grade 1 Arlington Million.

Ipi Tombe tackled colts as the required path for reaching the top level. After her native Zimbabwe proved too small to hold her, she moved to South Africa, where she thrashed fillies and then dusted colts in the Durban July Handicap.

Originally owned by a group of 22, Ipi Tombe attracted the attention of American interests. And after victory in the Durban July gave her the seal of approval at a very high level, WinStar Farm and Team Valor acquired a majority interest in the swift filly, and she went to compete in Dubai over the winter, winning both her starts there, including the Dubai Duty Free, once again defeating colts.

Despite their differing paths to the top, Azeri and Ipi Tombe have a great deal in common. Each possesses a splendid career record, with Azeri having lost only once in 14 starts and Ipi Tombe winning 11 of 13.

In addition, each mare is by a chestnut son of the great Mr. Prospector. Azeri's sire, the 19-year-old Jade Hunter, has by far the highest reputation of the two. Azeri is his best racer, but the stallion has sired 34 stakes winners in addition to the champion.

A multiple Grade 1 winner whose successes included the Gulfstream Park and Donn handicaps, Jade Hunter has sired four horses who have won at the top level. In addition to Azeri, these are Yagli, Stuka, and Diazo. Raced by Allen Paulson and initially standing at stud on his Brookside Farm in Kentucky, Jade Hunter had good opportunities in terms of the quality of his mates, as well as a respectable volume of them.

Over all, the stallion had done well, siring about 5 percent stakes winners to foals (including 2-year-olds of 2003), and his stock tend to improve with age, which will improve his stakes percentage statistic somewhat over time. Jade Hunter was moved to John Sikura's Hill 'n' Dale Farm last year and stands for $10,000 live foal.

Likewise the product of a successful international operation (Sheikh Mohammed's Darley Stud Management), Manshood, the sire of Ipi Tombe, showed nothing like the racing ability of Jade Hunter. In fact, Manshood was unraced, but as a son of Mr. Prospector and the champion mare Indian Skimmer, he found a place at stud. . . in Zimbabwe.

There, Manshood obviously lacked the support of a broodmare band even faintly comparable to the group that Allen Paulson had collected through the years. Yet without even the best pool of mares in Africa, Manshood has managed to make a very promising start to his stud career.

As a result of his early stud results and amid increasing political strife in Zimbabwe, Manshood was purchased by the golfing star Gary Player. Player syndicated him and brought him to Gary Player Stud Farm near Colesberg, South Africa.

The 12-year-old Manshood, basking in the glory of an international star, as well as leading sire credits from Zimbabwe, is scheduled to stand for 20,000 rand (about $2,600) in South Africa this season. His stud fee is one of the better ones among current South African sires. If he continues to produce horses of approximately Ipi Tombe's caliber, who knows what the future holds for him.

Despite their similar ability as elite racehorses (and relationship through sires of the same line), Azeri and Ipi Tombe appear unlikely to meet on the racecourse. Given that most owners prefer not to meddle with near-perfection, the mares' performances on dirt and turf will probably keep them on differing tracks, and we will savor the comparisons only in our minds.