By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
All-weather racetracks are a relatively new phenomenon, having only been in existence for just over seven years. The Polytrack installed by Keeneland for its training track in September 2004 was the first of its kind in the United States. In 2005, the Polytrack main track at Turfway Park became the first all-weather surface racetrack in North America, followed by Woodbine in Canada and, in October 2006, by Keeneland’s main track. In 2007, Polytrack was also installed at Arlington and Del Mar. Since then, other synthetic surfaces have been developed and installed, namely Cushion Track (Hollywood Park, 2006 and Santa Anita, 2007), Pro-Ride (Santa Anita, 2008), and Tapeta (Golden Gate and Presque Isle, 2007).
Obviously, with such little historical perspective from which to draw conclusions, it’s difficult to garner insight into exactly how breeding factors into all-weather surface success. Because races run on all-weather surfaces typically result in significantly slower times than comparable-quality races on dirt surfaces, most dirt speed sires appear to be at a disadvantage. On the other hand, those stallions that produce good turf runners seem to be able to do the same for all-weather runners. Perhaps with greater study and a larger statistic pool, a better understanding of breeding influences will emerge, particularly from the broodmare side.
The best we can do now is create lists of top sires whose progeny win, like Bloodhorse.com has, but even that information doesn’t tell the entire story, as it tracks only winners (not the number of placegetters) and total money earned (which can be disproportionately represented by one high-earning horse), and, perhaps most importantly, treats all synthetic surfaces as the same by failing to separate runners by specific all-weather surfaces. Additionally, because of the state mandate on synthetic tracks, the list also is biased towards horses that stand stud in California.
That said, the lists are not entirely without value, particularly as the same names persistently reappear year after year. Who are they? The turf sires whose progeny also thrive on all-weather surfaces include Giant’s Causeway, Smart Strike, Stormy Atlantic, Tale of the Cat and Langfuhr, all of whom were discussed in a previous post. Are turf sires automatically going to have success on all-weather surfaces? Obviously not, but it does seem a high probability that they will. Take as an example Kitten’s Joy. An Eclipse Award-winning Turf Male, Kitten’s Joy never ran on a synthetic surface, but his progeny have excelled on itâ€”as well as on turf. His daughter Stephanie’s Kitten won the Grade 1 Alcibiades at Keeneland before capturing the Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. At three, Dean’s Kitten captured Keeneland’s Grade 2 Lane’s End; at four, he ran second in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. Derby Kitten won the Grade 3 Lexington on Polytrack before his third-place finish in the Grade 2 American Derby on turf, while Spooky Kitten ran second in the Woodbine Oaks before her runner-up finish going 10-furlongs on turf in the Wonder Where.
But what about more traditional dirt sires? Is there something about them or their offspring that permit synthetic success? Again, much more study needs to be undertaken. All we can trust are the number of winners and anecdotal impressions formed by keen observation.
Here are ten notable synthetic sires to know, in alphabetical order:
1. Candy Ride
(Ride the Rails out of Candy Girl, by Candy Stripes)
A champion miler on dirt in Argentina at three, Candy Ride won the Grade 1 Pacific Classic on dirt and the Grade 2 American Handicap on turf in California at four. Retired undefeated in only six career races, Kentucky-based sire Candy Ride has produced speedy sprinters/milers on dirt such as Grade 1 King’s Bishop winner Capt. Candyman Can from his first crop, birthed in 2006. He’s also sired Grade 1 all-weather runners such as Santa Anita Derby victor Sidney’s Candy, Santa Anita Handicap winner Misrembered, and La Brea victress Evita Argentina.
2. El Corredor
(Mr. Greeley out of Silvery Swan, by Silver Deputy)
Another miler, El Corredor won seven of 10 starts including the Grade 1 Cigar Mile at three and the 7-furlong Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Handicap at four. Not surprisingly, he’s produced nice dirt winners such as Grade 1 Frizette victress Adieu and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies third-placer finisher Backseat Rhythm (who ultimately found better success on turf, winning the Grade 1 Garden City Stakes). However, it’s on all-weather where his offspring have thrived, such as Grade 1 Blue Grass winner Dominican, Grade 3 San Rafael victor El Gato Malo (who broke both the stakes and track record for one mile in that race), Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet third-place finisher Toro Bonito and, most recently, Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks winner Crisp.
3. Empire Maker
(Unbridled out of Toussand, by El Gran Senor)
Grade 1 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker thrived on dirt, but his dam Toussand was a Grade 1 turf winner who also produced (by Mr. Prospector) Grade 1 Arlington Million victor Chester House. Thus, it’s no surprise that Empire Maker‘s progeny have performed well on synthetics, including Grade 1 winners Pioneerof the Nile, Country Star, and Mushka. His half-brother Chester House hasn’t done too bad either, with Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Ventura and Breeders’ Cup Marathon victor Muhannak.
4. Milwaukee Brew
(Wild Again out of Ask Anita, by Wolf Power)
At stud in Canada, Milwaukee Brew is worth mentioning not only due to his progeny running successfully over Woodbine’s Polytrack, but also because his runners are showing up south of the border, and bear watching on all surfaces. He won back-to-back editions of the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on dirt, but his dam was a Grade 3 winner on turf. Among his multi-surface stars is Woodbine Oaks winner Milwaukee Appeal, runner-up in last year’s Grade 1 Alabama on dirt and third-place finisher in the prestigious Queen’s Plate against males. Another daughter, Ginger Brew, finished second in the Queen’s Plate after her Woodbine Oaks win. His winners on all-weather surfaces in the U.S. include Grade 1 Madison victress Dr. Zic and Grade 3 Arlington Oaks winner Peach Brew.
5. Northern Afleet
(Afleet out of Nuryette, by Nureyev)
A sprinter who successfully stretched out to nine furlongs, Northern Afleet was Grade 1-placed and raced mostly on dirt, plus his son Afleet Alex won two of the three jewels of the Triple Crown. However, turf influence is close-up in his damside. Thus, it makes sense that his progeny are flourishing on all-weather surfaces as well. Last year his daughter Negligee took out the Grade 1 Alcibiades; this year it was Evening Jewel capturing the Grade 1 Ashland. Obviously the big stakes winners capture all the headlines, but with Northern Afleet, it’s telling that his more modest winners are plugging away at Arlington and Presque Isle with regularity.
6. Red Bullet
(Unbridled out of Cargo, by Caro)
Yet another example of a dirt runner (Grade 1 Preakness, et al) who possesses a strong damsire turf pedigree (French Grade 1 winner Caro), Red Bullet is perhaps the most obscure sire on this list, yet statistics bear out his quality as a synthetics sire. His sprinter son Fatal Bullet was 2008 Horse of the Year in Canada after not only setting a new track record at Woodbine, but also capturing the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup Sprint over Turfway’s Polytrack and the non-graded Tom Ridge Labor Day Stakes over Presque Isle’s Tapeta surface, and finishing runner-up to Midnight Lute over Santa Anita’s synthetic surface. Interestingly, Red Bullet’s dam Cargo is a half-sister to Miss A. Bomb (Lemon Drop Kid), another consistent all-weather surface winner, including the Inaugural Stakes at Presque Isle and the Gowell Stakes at Turfway.
7. Sky Mesa
(Pulpit out of Caress, by Storm Cat)
Notwithstanding his abbreviated yet promising career (six races) on dirt, Sky Mesa has outdone himself at stud, producing talented omnisurface winner General Quarters. His all-weather winners tend to be precocious, including 2-year-old winners such as Grade 3 Arlington-Washington Futurity winner Terrain, Presque Isle Debutante winner Sky Haven and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies third-place finisher Sky Diva. He’s also produced Santa Anita Oaks runner-up Third Dawn and Grade 2 Raven Run victress Satans Quick Chick. Interestingly, Sky Mesa‘s dam is full-sister to Bernstein, a noted turf sire who has also produced precocious all-weather surface winners such as Grade 1 Kentucky Cup Juvenile winner West Side Bernie, Grade 2 Lane’s End third-place finisher Proceed Bee and Grade 1 Alcibiades victress Dream Empress.
8. Street Cry
(Machiavellian out of Helen Street, by Troy)
While Street Cry excelled on dirt, his stud record represents a classic example of turf breeding translated to all-weather surfaces. Both his sire and dam won exclusively on turf, and as a sire, Street Cry has produced stellar turf winners, particularly in Australia. In his very first crop he produced not only Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victor and Kentucky Derby champion Street Sense, but also one of the best synthetic runners around. Does Zenyatta ring a bell? His other Grade 1 synthetic winners include Triple Bend winner Street Boss, Norfolk victor Street Hero, Oak Leaf victress Cry and Catch Me, and Presque Isle Mile winner Summer Doldrums.
(Cee’s Tizzy out of Cee’s Song, by Seattle Song)
Two-time Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Tiznow has produced all-weather winners not only in California, but also throughout the Mid-West and Canada. His Grade 1 synthetic winners include Well Armed, Colonel John and Tough Tiz’s Sis, while others such as Slew’s Tizzy, Informed, Bear Now and American Lion have also won graded stakes. Many of the aforementioned also won on dirt, while other Tiznow progeny thrive on turf, such as Grade 1-placed Tizdejavu and Tizaqueena. A true omnisurface star producer.
10. Unusual Heat
(Nureyev out of Rossard, by Glacial)
The perfect example of a California-based sire who has found his niche, Unusual Heat had a modest career on turf, winning six of 16 starts, including the Grade 3 Amethyst Stakes in Ireland. By Northern Dancer son Nureyev out of the Danish-bred mare Rossard, who was also 3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year in Sweden, Unusual Heat doesn’t possess fashionable breeding. However, his progeny’s success has made him a hot commodity among California breeders. His graded stakes winners on all-weather surfaces include Grade 1 Las Virgenes victress Golden Doc A, as well as Grade 2 winners Lethal Heat (Hollywood Oaks) and Pretty Unusual (El Encino). There’s also a host of other graded stakes-placed and non-graded stakes winners, such as Bel Air Sizzle, Tucked Away, Acclamation, and Spenditallbaby. His progeny also excel on turf in California, like Grade 1 Hollywood Derby winner The Usual Q.T. and Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano runner-up Unusual Suspect.