03/21/2013 5:00PM

With Verrazano, Halo line proves more than persistent

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Barbara D. Livingston
Early Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano, a son of More Than Ready, will try to give his sire his first major victory at a distance longer than 1 1/8 miles.

Twenty years ago, the long-term prospects for the male line of dual champion sire Halo did not look all that bright. His best son, 1989 Horse of the Year Sunday Silence, had been exported to Japan, widely viewed at the time as the dumping ground for failures and rejects. His other Kentucky Derby-winning son, Sunny’s Halo, was a failure as a stallion, and, although his champion son Devil’s Bag was a pretty good stallion, he showed no signs of siring the precocious, classic horse that excites commercial breeders.

The Halo male line in America suffered another serious blow seven years ago when 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, the best son of Halo’s leading sire son Saint Ballado, died after only one season at stud without leaving an obvious male heir.

Today, the late Sunday Silence is immortalized as the greatest sire and sire of sires in Japanese history, a horse so good that even less-accomplished sons like Silent Name and Hat Trick are making a positive contribution in the land of their father’s birth. Another unheralded son of Halo, the beautifully bred Southern Halo, became one of the greatest sires in Argentine history, and his best American son, More Than Ready, is the sire of current Kentucky Derby favorite Verrazano, who is exactly the type of horse that will make breeders salivate.

Halo himself survived a very unusual start to his stud career. The late Charles Engelhard purchased the Hail to Reason half-brother to Racing Hall of Fame member Tosmah for $100,000 at the 1970 Keeneland July selected yearling sale, despite the fact that the tempestuous colt flipped in the walking ring outside the pavilion.

Halo developed into a good grass horse at 3, winning the Lawrence Realization, which attracted a bid from English breeder Irving Allen. When Allen’s representatives discovered that Halo was a cribber (a horse that clings to objects with his teeth and sucks air into his stomach) – then considered a disqualifying flaw by old-fashioned English breeders – the sale was rescinded and Halo returned to the barn of trainer MacKenzie Miller. Halo improved further as a 5-year-old, winning the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap and Grade 2 Tidal Handicap, earning a place at Windfields Farm alongside his “cousin” Northern Dancer, a son of a half-sister to Halo’s dam.

Halo was no Northern Dancer as a stallion, but he developed into a terrific sire, with six champions and seven Grade 1 winners among his 63 stakes winners from 749 foals (8.4 percent).

Halo’s close relationship to Northern Dancer offered breeders many opportunities to inbreed to their shared grandam, Almahmoud, a combination that has resulted in innumerable top horses, including champions Serena’s Song, Fantastic Light, Ashado, Daiwa Major, and Singspiel, but one of the best racehorses to emerge from the direct cross of Halo and a Northern Dancer mare was Southern Halo.

Bred by Northern Dancer’s breeder, E.P. Taylor, out of 1977 Grade 3 Test Stakes winner Northern Sea from the great family of Lea Lark, Southern Halo clearly possessed plenty of racing ability. Purchased for $600,000 at the 1984 Keeneland July sale by Stavros Niarchos, he failed to place at 2 in Ireland but won 5 of 22 starts for trainer D. Wayne Lukas over the next two years in America. Southern Halo was beaten only a head by Clear Choice in the 1986 Grade 1 Swaps Stakes and finished second in the Grade 1 Super Derby to Wise Times, but he never managed to win a stakes race.

That résumé omission, combined with the fact that he was markedly back at the knee and upright in his pasterns, made him a marginal stud prospect in Kentucky, so Southern Halo was sold to Haras La Quebrada near Buenos Aires, Argentina. Southern Halo quickly proved himself the most successful sire of the modern era in Argentina, winning seven sire championships and siring 18 Argentine champions among his career total of 175 stakes winners from 1,828 foals (9.6 percent).

That overwhelming success led to Ashford Stud re-importing him as a shuttle sire in 1996, but he did not meet the same success in the land of his birth. Southern Halo sired Canadian champion Edenwold, but by far his most important North American-conceived offspring was More Than Ready. Out of the Woodman mare Woodman’s Girl, More Than Ready was bred by Woodlynn Farm and sold for $187,000 to Edward Rosen as agent for James Scatuorchio.

Exceptionally precocious for a contemporary racehorse, More Than Ready won his first five starts at 2, commencing with a 4 1/2-furlong maiden romp at Keeneland in April and ending with an equally easy triumph in the Grade 2 Sanford Stakes at Saratoga in July. His natural front-running exuberance played against him in longer juvenile events, and he disappointed in his last two starts.

More Than Ready won the Hutcheson Stakes with the same style early at 3, finished second in the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass Stakes, and hung on grimly for fourth in the Kentucky Derby. Trainer Todd Pletcher then transformed him into a come-from-behind sprinter-miler, finally getting that elusive Grade 1 victory in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop Stakes.

More Than Ready retired to Vinery Stud in 2001 and began shuttling to Vinery’s Australian division that same autumn. He has been successful in North America from the beginning, but his record in Australia is actually far superior to his achievements here. More Than Ready’s 51 Australian-conceived stakes winners include nine Group 1 winners, led by the great filly More Joyous, winner of 21 of 30 starts and earner of more than $4.4 million.

More Than Ready is a great sire in Australia and is certainly a very good one here. His 65 stakes winners from 951 North American foals age 3 and up (6.8 percent) include Grade 1 winners Regally Ready (out of Kivi, by King of Kings) and Buster’s Ready (Beatem Buster, by Honour and Glory), as well as Breeders’ Cup winners Regally Ready, Pluck (Secret Heart, by Fort Wood), and More Than Real (Miss Seffens, by Dehere).

Verrazano certainly looked like a horse who will develop into a Grade 1 winner in his Tampa Bay Derby victory March 9. More Than Ready gets winners on all surfaces, but has yet to sire a major winner at a distance longer than 1 1/8 miles. Those opportunities are very thin on the ground in the United States these days, and his female line certainly will not hurt Verrazano’s chances of going 1 1/4 miles or beyond.

His dam, Enchanted Rock, by Giant’s Causeway, had little chance to prove her stamina, running 10th in her only start, but she comes from a very high-class family that has consistently produced high-class middle-distance horses by stallions with far more speed than stamina for the past 50 years.

The late Robert Kleberg, owner of King Ranch, imported Verrazano’s fifth dam, Monade, by the miler Klairon, in 1964 after a championship career in Europe that saw her win Group 1-level events at distances from a mile to 1 1/2 miles and run second to Soltikoff in the 1962 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Monade produced Grade 1-placed stakes winner Pressing Date, by Never Bend, but her daughters and their descendants have established one of the best families in the contemporary international stud book. Her descendants include champion Queena (by Mr. Prospector), and Grade 1 or Group 1 winners Sadeem (by Forli), Chic Shirine (by Mr. Prospector), Too Chic (by Blushing Groom), and Brahms (by Danzig).

Verrazano is the second foal and second graded stakes winner produced by Enchanted Rock, whose first, El Padrino, by the recently deceased Pulpit, captured the 2012 Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes. She has since foaled current juvenile filly La Madrina, by Tapit, and an unnamed yearling filly by Pulpit and is back in foal to the same sire.

Kleberg’s granddaughter Emory Hamilton bred Verrazano and sold him at the 2011 Keeneland September yearling sale through her sister Helen Alexander’s Middlebrook Farm for $250,000 to Let’s Go Stable. Hamilton retained La Madrina for racing, and it will be interesting to see whether El Padrino’s full sister appears at Keeneland this fall.

If she does, buyers will be more than ready.