09/02/2002 11:00PM

Turf's the name of Ibn al Haitham's game


LAS VEGAS - He was born to race on turf, but Ibn al Haitham did not get that opportunity until his ninth start, which he won impressively. In his second race on grass last Monday, Ibn al Haitham won the Saranac Stakes, Saratoga's feature race on closing day.

Ibn al Haitham was so highly regarded at 2, he was considered one of Godolphin Stable's main hopes for this year's Kentucky Derby. Ibn al Haitham displayed promise from the start, but never delivered on that promise until the switch to turf.

In five starts at 2, Ibn al Haitham finished second three times and third once. Usually well bet, he was a maiden in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and tired to finish ninth at 94-1. Sent back to Dubai for the winter along with all the Godolphin runners, he finished third in his 3-year-old debut in the UAE Derby. Two months later, he finished a dull fifth in the Peter Pan Stakes, but really appeared to reach rock-bottom when he flattened out and finished sixth, beaten 21 3/4 lengths in a 1 1/16-mile maiden race at Belmont Park.

At 2, Godolphin's runners are trained in the U.S. by Eoin Harty, and at 3 are dispersed to various trainers around the world. Saeed bin Suroor took over training duties for Ibn al Haitham's 3-year-old campaign, but was sent to Kiaran McLaughlin after his disastrous maiden race at Belmont.

On Aug. 7, Ibn al Haitham finally made his turf debut in a maiden race at Saratoga at 1 3/8 miles. Well placed throughout the race, Ibn al Haitham ran the kind of race his connections always expected of him, winning by 9 1/2 lengths in a romp.

Off this maiden victory, Ibn al Haitham was the 4-1 second choice to 6-5 favorite Miesque's Approval in the Saranac Handicap at 1 3/16 miles. After getting the lead after a pedestrian half-mile in 49.76 seconds, Ibn al Haitham looked strong on the lead, and held on tenaciously to win by a half-length over Finality, who was a head in front of third-place finisher Irish Colonial. Miesque's Approval, in fourth position throughout, made a bid on the far turn but could not gain significantly in the last eighth-mile because of the slow early fractions.

Ibn al Haitham is by Zafonic, one of the many sons of Gone West who achieved fame on turf. Zafonic was champion at 2 in England and France, and champion 3-year-old in France. Zafonic's dam, Zaizafon (The Minstrel), was a Group 3 winner in England who also finished third in the Group 2 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. Zafonic is now a successful stallion and among his many winners is champion Xaar. Zafonic's full brother, Group 3 winner Zamindar, stands at Marablue Farm in Reddick, Fla.

Ibn al Haitham comes from a very successful female family. His dam, the Snow Knight mare Awaasif, was of the highest quality, winning the Yorkshire Oaks and finishing third in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Her accomplishments did not end with her racing career. As a broodmare, she produced the multiple group winner Snow Bride, who in turn, produced Lammtarra (Nijinsky II), who was undefeated in four starts. Lammtarra's all-too-brief career included victories in the Epsom Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Ibn al Haitham's second dam, the Northern Dancer mare Royal Statute, is also the dam of Akureyri (Buckpasser), who won the Fountain of Youth Stakes, as well as the influential Group 1 winner Konafa (Damascus), the dam of Korveya (Riverman). Korveya became a prominent broodmare, producing the champion siblings Hector Protector and Bosra Sham (both by Woodman). Korveya also produced Gioconda, the dam of multiple Group 1 winner Ciro. Current European 3-year-old sensation Act One (In the Wings) and Group 1 winner Brief Truce, who finished third in the 1992 Breeders' Cup Mile, hail from this distinguished female family.

With Zafonic as Ibn al Haitham's sire and Snow Knight as his damsire, it is amazing that Ibn al Haitham was not pointed for turf racing from the start. Ibn al Haitham now rates highly alongside other 3-year-old turfers such as Orchard Park, Chiselling, and Mr. Mellon.

Mr. Mellon back on grass

Mr. Mellon, an exquisitely bred son of Red Ransom, is returning to turf in Saturday's Del Mar Derby after finishing off the board in the Haskell Stakes on dirt. In his start before the Haskell, Mr. Mellon showed his affinity for turf in winning the Arlington Classic.

Mr. Mellon is out of the stakes-winning Summer Squall mare Mackie, a half-sister to Kentucky Derby winner Sea Hero and five other stakes winners. Mr. Mellon's second dam is the blue hen Glowing Tribute, who was the 1993 Broodmare of the Year. A return to turf should see Mr. Mellon fulfill his potential.