04/23/2009 12:00AM

Vertigineux's success focused in California

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Barbara D. Livingston
Vertigineux is the dam of Zenyatta (above), 2008's champion older mare.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Vertigineux's new Broodmare of the Year title has a distinctly California flavor. The Kris S. mare is the dam of two outstanding runners based in California, multiple Grade 1 winner Balance and, more recently, champion older mare Zenyatta. All of Balance's five stakes victories were in California, and Zenyatta is still based there with trainer John Shirreffs.

Both were bred by New York investment banker Eric Kronfeld. Kronfeld's association with the family goes back to 1979, when he purchased Vertigineux's dam, For the Flag, at the Saratoga yearling sale. He found several things to like about the Forli filly: She was good-looking and was a product of Bert and Diana Firestone's respected Newstead Farm breeding program. For the Flag ran in England and the U.S. but didn't stay sound; she retired at age 3 with one win in the States.

"She was incredibly fertile, in terms of producing winners, especially with horses from the Roberto line," said Kronfeld, 67. Crossed with Robellino, For the Flag produced multiple stakes winner Restrained. "By the time I bred Flag to Kris S., it was because of the nick. The Forli-Roberto nick was what I wanted. We all agreed the cross should produce a good horse."

Vertigineux was a good horse, but not immediately. A big filly, she arrived with what Kronfeld called "the most god-awful ankles" and did not start training until age 3 with trainer Michael Dickinson. She won 2 of 7 starts lifetime and retired with no black type. Her first foal, by Aljabr, was so ugly, Kronfeld said, that he sold her as a yearling with no reserve for $4,000. Named Where's Bailey, the filly nonetheless became a stakes winner.

"Surprised the heck out of both of us," Kronfeld said of himself and Don Robinson of Winter Quarter Farm in Kentucky, where Vertigineux boards.

Next, Kronfeld tried a Mr. Prospector cross with Vertigineux, and that proved golden. Mr. Prospector's grandsons Thunder Gulch and Street Cry crossed with Vertigineux got first Balance - a "magnificent-looking horse," as Kronfeld recalled - and then Zenyatta.

Kronfeld said he chose Street Cry for Vertigineux partly because he wanted to mate the mare to a horse that combined speed with toughness.

"Street Cry is from that wonderful English family of Troy and the mare Helen Street," Kronfeld said. "And as a racehorse he was superb."

Zenyatta benefited from the keen eye of David Ingordo, Kronfeld said. Ingordo advises California-based owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs.

"Zenyatta looked very like her mother, almost a clone: big, good-looking, like she'd take a long time to develop," he said. "It took a horseman to see the structure there that could produce something special."

Ingordo saw the potential, even through a terrible skin condition that Kronfeld and Robinson believe was a main factor in Zenyatta's $60,000 yearling price.

Vertigineux still boards at Winter Quarter, where she has a Bernardini filly by her side and is carrying a Henrythenavigator foal.

"We got some criticism once in The Blood-Horse," said Robinson. "Somebody wrote a letter to the editor and said, 'Why would a guy breed a mare like that?' It's funny how our industry is perceived, because this is the best producer, or certainly the most precocious producer I've ever seen.

"Credit Eric with all the matings," Robinson added. "He's been very astute. He's not about the marketplace, particularly. He looks at families, sometimes well back, and he's been very sharp at that."

For the Flag, who died earlier this year, is buried at Winter Quarter, where she remained as a companion to the late champion juvenile Rockhill Native after her breeding days were over. She was 31 and died about six weeks before Rockhill Native.

I Want Revenge boosts Barretts

I Want Revenge's recent Wood Memorial win and his place on the Kentucky Derby hopefuls' list has given the May 11 Barretts 2-year-old sale a boost. The Stephen Got Even colt, an earner of $816,000 so far, went through the 2008 auction unsold at $95,000. The auction also has produced Grade 3 Derby Trial candidates Gato Go Win, a $145,000 graduate, and Kensei, a $300,000 sale.

The May sale at Fairplex in Pomona, Calif., has 250 juveniles in the catalog, down from 320 last year. The 2009 auction also will feature about 15 additional horses, many from Florida, that consignors have supplemented to the sale.

Baker's taking heart from results at the April 20-23 Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s spring juvenile sale in Florida. Prices there generally were down, but its opening session posted gains in gross and average, and declines have settled at 20 to 24 percent, better than expected in the recession.

"I think people want to be in the game, but they don't want to spend a lot of money," Baker said, adding that markets for statebreds could be fairly resilient as buyers seek horses to run for purse supplements at their home tracks.

The sale takes place May 11 at 1 p.m. Under-tack sessions are May 7-8 at 10 a.m.