06/03/2011 2:46PM

Unusual Heat gets fight for top spot among California sires


INGLEWOOD, Calif. – The race for leading stallion in California is not a foregone conclusion this year.

In recent seasons, Unusual Heat has been the dominant sire by progeny earnings. He is the current leader, but is being closely pursued by Benchmark and Kafwain, who have been boosted by the success of graded stakes winners in California and the Midwest.

The stallion with a breakout racehorse on the national level may have an edge in the race for the title.

Through Thursday, Unusual Heat led all stallions with earnings of $1,283,923, with the stakes-placed Jax El his leading earner at $161,410 this year. Benchmark was second with $1,228,426, boosted by the success of Bench Points, who has earned $133,680 and won the Grade 3 Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes at Hollywood Park last month. Kafwain was third with $1,206,409, aided greatly by the $330,000 earned by Daisy Devine, winner of the Grade 2 Fair Grounds Oaks in March.

Unusual Heat is on a three-year winning streak as the state’s leading stallion, with progeny earnings of $5,827,513 in 2008, a record for a California sire; $5,184,194 in 2009, and $4,342,128 in 2010.

Not surprisingly, Unusual Heat is the most expensive stallion in the state, at $20,000, with Benchmark ($4,000) and Kafwain ($5,000) priced considerably lower.

Unusual Heat, 21, is standing his first season at Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif., this year, while Benchmark, 20, is standing his first season at Ballena Vista Farm in Ramona, Calif. Kafwain is 11, the youngster in the group, and stands at Tommy Town Thoroughbreds in Santa Ynez, Calif.

Bench Points could be the prominent horse that Benchmark needs to challenge Unusual Heat.

Bench Points is being considered for two six-furlong races for 3-year-olds in early July – the $150,000 Jersey Shore Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 2 or the $200,000 Carry Back Stakes at Calder on July 9, trainer Tim Yakteen said.

Seventh in the Santa Anita Derby over 1 1/8 miles in April, Bench Points is expected to race in sprints for the foreseeable future. Ballena Vista breeding manager Craig Allen, understandably, is rooting for the horse to succeed on a national basis. So far, Bench Points, the champion 2-year-old California-bred male of 2010, is unbeaten in five career starts around one turn, including two stakes for statebreds last summer at Del Mar.

“He’s been phenomenal at one turn,” Allen said. “He won a graded stakes, and it’s possible that the there is more big money for him. He always tries.”

Allen said that Bench Points’s dam, Mo Chuisle, is at Ballena Vista this spring and will be bred to Benchmark. Bench Points was bred by former Southern California Thoroughbred trainer Gary Rocks, but Mo Chuisle is now owned by prominent owner Gary Broad, Allen said.

Allen said that Benchmark will “breed more than 60 mares this year.” The stallion previously stood at River Edge Farm in Buellton, Calif., but was moved along with three other stallions to Ballena Vista after River Edge ceased as a breeding operation last year.

“He’s doing really well at age 20, getting a high number of mares in foal,” Allen said. “I think that overall, this season went about as we expected. It didn’t exceed expectations, but wasn’t a disappointment.

“He remained very popular.”

Benchmark may have another prominent runner on the horizon. Points Offthebench, a 2-year-old full brother to Bench Points, worked three furlongs in 36.80 seconds at Santa Anita on Friday. Trained by Yakteen, he is expected to debut this summer.

“He’s coming along nicely,” Yakteen said. “He’s got some big shoes to follow.”