07/25/2001 11:00PM

Thunder Gulch good in long run


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Thunder Gulch has earned a mark of distinction as a stallion with the victories by his offspring Point Given and Tweedside in the Belmont Stakes and Coaching Club American Oaks. Few stallions have managed to sire the winners of both these races, which now stand virtually alone in American racing to suggest the versatility that lies within the Thoroughbred.

But siring the winners of these two 1 1/2-mile races from a single crop is an extraordinary that, and Thunder Gulch deserves full credit. A well-regarded horse named Man o' War accomplished this, not once but twice. So Thunder Gulch is keeping good company.

Aside from being chestnuts and winners of the Belmont Stakes themselves, Man o' War and Thunder Gulch don't appear to have much in common. Man o' War, the "streak o' living flame," was a big slab of horse with an immense presence, while Thunder Gulch was a little chunk who sold off the bargain shelf at the Keeneland July select yearling sale.

But in aptitude they were not so far apart. Both showed ability at 2 and improved greatly at 3. And both passed on the ability to race over long distances. For instance, the top racers by Thunder Gulch have shown their best form at nine, 10, and 12 furlongs, far longer than the typical event in American racing today.

Although a son of Gulch (a winner of the Metropolitan Handicap and a champion sprinter), Thunder Gulch did not race like the speedier elements in his pedigree, nor is he siring top stock in that mold. He came by his stamina quite naturally, and his family, particularly through his female line, showed its greatest distinction with feats of stamina.

Thunder Gulch was bred by Peter Brant, who purchased the stallion's second dam, Shoot a Line, with the specific purpose of breeding her to Mr. Prospector. A really high-class mare, Shoot a Line was by the stayer High Line and was arguably his best offspring, winning the Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks, and Park Hill Stakes. A strong galloper, Shoot a Line showed her best form in strong tests of stamina.

Very nearly the top filly of her generation, Shoot a Line was not very impressive physically. She was wiry and lightly built, but her small stature did not prevent her from very high racing class.

Her lack of commercial appeal (for producing big, pretty yearlings) may have been one reason she was sold to Brant, who acquired her privately in 1982 and imported her to the U.S. for breeding. Brant was in the midst of a major expansion in bloodstock at the time, acquiring top racemares for breeding and racing prospects, and he played a major role in acquiring Mr. Prospector and bringing him to stand in Kentucky at Claiborne Farm.

Shoot a Line's best racer was the Storm Bird mare Line of Thunder, who placed in the Cheveley Park Stakes, a Group 1 race for staying fillies, at the end of her juvenile season and failed to train on the next. A pony-sized mare, Line of Thunder stamped her son in her own mold, small and fairly attractive.

But he grew stronger in his second season of training and prospered beyond the dreams of pinhooker Jerry Bailey, who picked him up at Keeneland for only $40,000 because of his size.

Bailey tried to sell Thunder Gulch as a 2-year-old in training but bought him in at $125,000. That proved a sharp decision after the colt won his maiden and moved into stakes company. Sold privately to Michael Tabor, Thunder Gulch won the Remsen Stakes at 2, then graduated to classic successes in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont at 3, when he was the champion colt.

Since going to stud at Ashford, the American branch of Coolmore Stud, Thunder Gulch has served large books of mares and served one season in Japan. From the results of his first two crops, now 3 and 4, the stallion has sired horses who genuinely appreciate a strong gallop and do well at extended distances. In light of this, it is not surprising that his best offspring have come from mares by Turkoman (Point Given), Roberto (Tweedside), and Regal and Royal (Spain). These stallions all showed good form at middle distances and tended to breed that way. Mating their daughters to Thunder Gulch reinforces this type, perhaps adding to the rate of success.