Intro to Turf PedigreesWhat You Should Know About American Turf Pedigrees
By Valerie Grash, Hello Race Fans Contributing Editor
Updated with 2016 freshman sires to watch
While America has long celebrated its dirt tradition in thoroughbred racing, the truth is that there’s a lot of great turf racing in this county, and if you watch enough of it, you know that turf races are usually run in a very different manner from dirt races. Notwithstanding turf sprints (and the anomalous front-running speedster such as Presious Passion and Get Stormy), turf racing typically places far less emphasis on blazing early speed, with more concern for position and pace, usually with a dramatic late rush to the wire. Whether due to training methods, physiology or inherent genetic material, turf horses are unique.
Obviously those horses that excelled on turf themselves appear to produce similar offspring—but not just through the sire. Oftentimes it’s just as important to consider the dam and her bloodline. So, who are the important turf sires to know, and which dirt runners have crossed well with strong turf pedigree mares to produce solid runners on grass?
The 20 top American turf sires to know (and why)
The two that immediately leap to mind are Giant’s Causeway and Dynaformer. The former won six Group 1 turf races in Europe before coming within a neck of winning the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic on dirt over Tiznow. The latter actually wasn’t superlative as a racehorse, although he did finish third in the 1989 Grade 2 Dixie Handicap on turf. Both have produced some seriously good dirt runners—Take Charge Brandi and Barbaro, respectively. Yet their progeny have excelled on turf, especially over longer distances. Giant’s Causeway’s American Grade 1 winners include Aragorn, My Typhoon, Red Giant and Internallyflawless, while Dynaformer can boast of Film Maker, Riskaverse, Gozzip Girl and Dynaforce. In 2010, Dynaformer’s son Americain captured the most prestigious staying race in the world, the Australian Group 1 Melbourne Cup. In addition to perennially topping the turf sires list, both Giant’s Causeway and Dynaformer share something else: a common ancestor, 1972 Epsom (English) Derby winner Roberto, whose presence in any pedigree is a strong stamina indicator—thus, Giant’s Causeway and Dynaformer progeny on grass usually do best running long.
These two sprinter/milers have had good success producing stamina-rich offspring, as well as horses that run on all three surfaces: dirt, all-weather and turf. Langfuhr has produced Grade 1 turf winners Wando, Jambalaya, Lang Field and Interpatation, as well as turf queens Sabellina and The Niagara Queen, while El Prado (who also sired Rachel Alexandra’s sire Medaglia d’Oro) counts among his offspring Grade 1 turf winners (now top sires) Artie Schiller and Kitten’s Joy (see below). What Langfuhr and El Prado also share: both are by sons of the great Northern Dancer, whose tremendous impact on turf pedigrees we explore in our All Signs Point North post.
With the loss of El Prado in 2009, his sons have more than taken up their sire’s turf dominance. In no-small part due to owner/breeder Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s aggressive home-breeding and racing campaign, Kitten’s Joy has sat atop the leading turf sires list since 2013 with such stalwarts as 3-time Grade 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf victress Stephanie’s Kitten, Grade 1 Arlington Million victor Real Solution, Grade 1 Sword Dancer winner Big Blue Kitten, and Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint victor Bobby’s Kitten. Whether going short or long, on rain-affected turf or rock-hard grass, Kitten’s Joy progeny always rock. Sire of Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Kentucky Oaks winner Plum Pretty, Medaglia d’Oro is also just as adept at getting turfsters. Among the best are 2-time Grade 1 winner and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf runner-up Marketing Mix, Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf winner Mshawish, and Grade 1 Just a Game victresses Coffee Clique and C.S. Silk, as well as 6-time Grade 1-placed Al Khali. Less ballyhooed than the other two in terms of stud success, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Artie Schiller has produced solid turf winners like Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile runner-up Mr. Commons, Australian Group 1 Rosehill Guineas winner Laser Hawk, and Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks third-place finisher My Conquestadory.
Both Smart Strike and City Zip were dirt runners who just happen to produce marvelous grass horses when bred to mares with strong turf inclinations. For example, in addition to siring dirt champion Curlin, Smart Strike is the sire of champion turf male English Channel. English Channel’s damsire is the champion turf male Theatrical and his second dam Committed was a turf champion in her own right, having twice won the prestigious French Group 1 Prix de l’Abbaye. By Theatrical, Committed also produced two American graded stakes winners on turf, Pharma and Hap, so there was strong indication that their full sister Belva could produce a good turf runner (and she did in English Channel). Interestingly as well, Smart Strike’s dam Classy ‘n Smart also birthed (by sneaky-good turf sire Danzig) Canadian Triple Crown victress and Hall of Famer Dance Smartly who, among her turf wins, captured the 1991 Molson Export Million (now Woodbine Mile), so maybe there’s some genetic turf material inherent in Smart Strike.
Like his sire Carson City (another sneaky-good turf producer) City Zip was a dirt sprinter, so it’s no surprise he’s produced quality dirt sprinters like Grade 1 Forego winner Palace and Breeders’ Cup Sprint victor Work All Week. However, he’s also given us Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf winner (and 2014 Eclipse Champion Turf Female) Dayatthespa, as well as Grade 1 Maker’s Mark Mile runner-up Workin For Hops and 4-time Grade 2 turf winner City To City. His daughter Unzip Me finished third in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, while another Reneesgotzip deadheated for second in the 2013 edition. Always watch for City Zip’s progeny on turf, especially sprinting (and particularly with New York-based trainer Linda Rice).
It should be noted that City Zip’s dam Baby Zip also produced (via Northern Dancer sireline descendant Awesome Again) the champion dirt horse Ghostzapper, whose first crop included turf (and Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes) winner Stately Victor (his Dynaformer dam Collect the Cash won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Invitational on turf). Thus, Ghostzapper offspring may also excel on turf, if bred to a turf-rich mare.
Like Giant’s Causeway, these two sons of Storm Cat have had their fair share of turf runners. For Stormy Atlantic, these include 3-time Grade 1 winner Get Stormy, Grade 1 Jamaica winner Up With The Birds, and turf veteran Icy Atlantic, while the best of Tale of the Cat’s North American progeny is 2009 dual-Eclipse winner and 6-time Grade 1 victor Gio Ponti. Other sons of Storm Cat who are good at producing turf performers include lightly-raced Bernstein (Storm Cat out of La Affirmed, by Affirmed), sire of Grade 1 Just a Game victress Tepin, and Catienus (Storm Cat out of Diamond City, by Mr. Prospector), sire of 3-time Grade 1 turf winner Precious Kitten and English Group 1 Golden Jubilee runner-up Cannonball.
Not only do these two possess strong turf pedigrees from their sires, but their extraordinarily talented dams have produced other top grass performers. By European champion turf horse Blushing Groom, Rahy’s progeny include Breeders’ Cup Turf champion Fantastic Light and Grade 1 Manhattan victor Dancing Forever, but he’s particularly made his mark as a broodmare sire of such turf stars as Rahy’s Attorney. His Canadian and American champion dam Glorious Song also birthed champion grass horse Singspiel, sire of such Group 1 winners as Dar Re Mi, Lahudood, Eastern Anthem, and Folk Opera.
Breeders’ Cup Turf Mile-winning War Chant has produced some nice turf stakes winners, such as Chamberlain Bridge, Chattahoochee War, War Monger and Brilliant, as well as Sea Chanter, El Roblar, and Ballymore Lady. He’s out of multiple-Grade 1 (Breeders’ Cup Distaff et al.) champion Hollywood Wildcat, whose sire Kris S. (by Roberto) also produced the multiple-Grade 1 turf winner Prized—sire of turf performer Brass Hat, among others. Hollywood Wildcat also birthed Grade 1 Secretariat runner-up Ivan Denisovich, a three-quarter brother to War Chant.
As race horses, both these sons of Danzig proved themselves on dirt, with War Front being twice a Grade 1 dirt sprint runner-up while Grade 1 King’s Bishop winner Hard Spun ran second behind both Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby and Curlin in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. At stud, they’ve sired quality dirt winners, particularly Hard Spun (with Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong and Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks victress Questing among his most notable offspring). However, since both also possessed sneaking-good turf pedigrees, War Front and Hard Spun have sired progeny highly-prized in Australia, Japan and Hong Kong where turf racing dominates. War Front’s eye-popping $150,000 stud fee in 2015 is seemingly justified by progeny such as Grade 1 Maker’s Mile winners Data Link and Jack Milton, Grade 1 Man O’War runner-up War Dancer, Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks victress Summer Soiree, and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf runners-up Soldat and Giovanni Boldini. For Hard Spun, there’s Grade 1 Gamely victress Hard Not To Like, Grade 1 Arlington Million winner Hardest Core, and South African Group 1 Cape Derby victor Ertijaal.
What do all three of these Grade 1 winners have in common? Even with strong turf pedigree breeding, none of them was ever tested on grass. And at stud they’ve gone on to produce extraordinary performers on just about every kind of surface.
Five-time Grade 1 winner Lemon Drop Kid never raced on turf, but was brilliant running route distances up to and including 12 furlongs which is somewhat surprising given that his sire Kingmambo was a 3-time Group 1-winning turf miler in England and France. However, his Seattle Slew dam was a half-sister to the dam of stamina-rich Belmont Stakes winner A.P. Indy, hence the damside origins for Lemon Drop Kid’s stamina. Not surprisingly, he’s produced some dynamic dirt and synthetic stayers, including Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever and 2-time Grade 1 Pacific Classic victor Richard’s Kid. However, his progeny also excel on turf. Some examples include Grade 1 Gamely winner Citronnade, 2-time Grade 3 Arlington Handicap winner (and Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Mile third-place finisher) Cosmonaut, Grade 1 Diana victress Somali Lemonade, Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational runner-up Sea Queen, and multiple graded stakes turf winner (and Monmouth favorite) Kiss the Kid. Never discount a Lemon Drop Kid on turf, especially if they have previously only raced on dirt. Many can easily make the transition.
In his all-too-brief career, Grade 1 Florida Derby winner Scat Daddy raced entirely on dirt, so it’s not surprising he’s gotten some good dirt runners, including Grade 1 Arkansas Derby runner-up Frac Daddy, Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby winner Handsome Mike and Grade 3 Sunland Derby victor Daddy Nose Best. However, in addition to his 3-time Group 1 turf winning sire Johannesburg, his damline also features terrific turf performers, including his Grade 1-winning second dam Likeable Style who captured the Grade 3 Senorita on turf (and later produced Glendale Handicap victress Grat, dam of 2-time Tampa Turf Classic winner Old Time Hockey). So, it’s not surprising that all three of his aforementioned progeny later became graded stakes winners or placegetters on turf (Frac Daddy runner-up in Grade 3 Commonwealth Turf, Handsome Mike third in Grade 2 Del Mar Mile, and Daddy Nose Best winning the Grade 3 Colonel E. R. Bradley). In his first crop, Scat Daddy also produced English Group 2 winner Daddy Long Legs, 2-time American Grade 1 turf winner Lady of Shamrock, and Grade 3 turf winner Finale. Since then he’s also given us French Group 1 Prix Morny victor No Nay Never, as well as a host of Chilean winners including 3-time Group 1 winners Solaria and Dacita, as well as 2-time Group 1 victor El Bromista. In 2015, with his juvenile daughter Acapulco capturing the grassy Grade 2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot and his Grade 1-placed son El Kabeir winning the Grade 3 Gotham, it can truly be said that Scat Daddy has enjoyed international success on all surfaces at stud.
Grade 1 Super Derby victor Arch’s lightly-raced sire Kris S produced a host of top turf performers, including Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Prized, Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf winner Soaring Softly, English Group 1 St. James Palace victor Dr. Fong, and Grade 1 Gamely victress Hollywood Wildcat. Arch’s dam Aurora (daughter of the great Grade 1 Arkansas Derby-winning filly Althea) was a Grade 3 runner-up on turf, so it’s not surprising that Arch progeny have a predilection for the grass as well as dirt. He’s given us Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Blame, Grade 2 Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner London Bridge, Grade 1 Donn victor Hymn Book and multiple Grade 1 dirt winner Pine Island, as well as 2006 Canadian Horse of the Year Arravale, a filly who won both the Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks and Grade 1 E.P. Taylor on turf during her championship year. His other top turf performers include 2-time English Group 1 winner Les Arcs, Grade 1 Shadwell Turf Mile runner-up Grand Arch, Grade 2 Hollywood Turf Cup runner-up Temeraine, and 2-time Grade 2 Pan American victor Newsdad.
As regional stallions, Unusual Heat (California) and Freud (New York) have produced many state-bred turf winners as well as horses with a more national (and even international) presence.
For Unusual Heat who had modest success racing in Ireland before returning to North America, his damline pedigree (highlighted by his dam herself, who was not only champion 3-year-old in both Sweden and Denmark, but also 1983 Swedish Horse of the Year) was certainly not fashionable to most American breeders. Yet, this perennial top-producing stalwart (since 1999) has enjoyed amazing success with his turf progeny, most notably 3-time Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap victor Acclamation (who entered stud in 2013), Grade 1 Hollywood Derby winner The Usual Q T, Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup victor Unusual Suspect, Grade 2 Sir Beaufort winner Gervinho, and Grade 1 Del Mar Oaks runner-up Bel Air Sizzle. In the now-passed era when California tracks featured synthetic surfaces, his progeny easily transferred their form from all-weather to turf. Now his progeny run (and win) mostly on grass.
Many folks forget that Freud (standing his entire stallion career since 2002 at Sequel Stallions New York) is a full-brother to Giant’s Causeway. Yet, unlike his more esteemed brother and more like Unusual Heat, Freud only won once in his entire 12-race career in Ireland and England. His progeny win on every surface. His dirt winners include Grade 1 Prioress winner Franny Freud and Grade 1 Vosburgh victor Giant Ryan, both sprinters. With a nearly 40% winning percentage on turf, Freud’s stakes-winning runners include Grade 3 Fort Marcy victor Lubash, Grade 3 Beaugay winner Hessonite, Grade 2 Mrs. Revere runner-up Effie Trinket, and Grade 2 W. L. McKnight runner-up Logic Way. There is also a host of restricted New York-bred stakes winners as well, so don’t ignore Freud progeny on turf.
Up-and-Coming Turf Sires
Who are the young sires to watch for on turf? Obviously, sons of Giant’s Causeway, such as Shamardal, Aragorn, First Samurai and Heatseeker should be considered. Out of a full sister to Grade 1 Dubai World Cup winner and proven turf sire Street Cry, Shamardal already has dual-Group 1 winners in France (Loup de Vega) and in Australia (Faint Perfume), not to mention Dan Excel, a Group 1 winner in Hong Kong and Singapore. Newer Giant’s Causeway sons now at stud include 2-time Grade 1 dirt winner Giant Oak (whose progeny are juveniles in 2015) and Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner Eskendereya whose first-crop included Grade 2 Natalma runner-up Isabella Sings.
Smarty Jones is another sire whose offspring could end up performing well on turf. His sire Elusive Quality has produced excellent turf runners, such as Raven’s Pass. His second dam is by Foolish Pleasure, who has excelled as a damsire of turf runners; his son Scenic has many produced Group 1 sprinters, middle distance runners and extreme stayers, including Melbourne Cup winner Viewed. His third dam is by the terrific turf sire Herbager, so with the proper cross, Smarty Jones’ progeny on turf are to be watched. Already Smarty Jones has produced Better Life, a 3-time Group 1 winner in Singapore, as well as 2-time Tampa Turf Classic victor Old Time Hockey and listed Florida Oaks runner-up Holidaysatthefarm.
Sometimes juvenile turf winners fly under the radar if their sires’ best races were on dirt, or if their sire’s breeding doesn’t scream “turf.” Case in point: Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby winner Pioneerof the Nile who actually broke his maiden at Saratoga as a juvenile, going 1 1/16 miles on the grass, a fact most handicappers forget. His first winner (out of a Theatrical mare) was River Dancer going 6 furlongs over the Belmont inner turf; she subsequently finished second in the Grade 2 With Anticipation on turf. Since then, his turf winners include Grade 2 Del Mar Derby winner Midnight Storm and listed Kitten’s Joy runner-up Courtier.
Freshman Sires to Watch in 2016
In terms of unmistakable turf credentials, Get Stormy, Calimonco, and Dominus top the list of promising first-crop grass sires for 2016. A fan favorite with his wide white blaze and wire-to-wire running style, Get Stormy (Stormy Atlantic) was a 7-time graded stakes turf winner, including Grade 1 victories in the Maker’s Mark Mile, the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic and the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap. Get Stormy’s first winner, Get Sassy won over Presque Isle’s Tapeta surface, indicating that his progeny may also find all-weather surfaces to their liking. Well-bred Calimonco (Storm Cat) took awhile to mature: not breaking his maiden until late in his 3-year-old campaign, he was twice Grade 2-placed on turf at age 5, and then won the listed Sidd Finch Stakes at Santa Anita on the grass as a 6-year-old. Don’t expect precociousness from Calimonco’s progeny! However, his bloodline is a tantalizing draw for breeders given that his dam Sweet Life was not only a Grade 1 runner-up going 10 furlongs on turf, but that she has also produced as a broodmare two millionaire full-sisters to Calimonco, Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Life is Sweet and 3-time Grade 1 winner Sweet Catomine. Like many colts whose owners catch Derby fever, Dominus (Smart Strike) started his career on dirt and spent his entire 3-year-old campaign on the stuff, winning the Grade 2 Dwyer and running third in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy before an off-the-board finish in the Grade 1 King’s Bishop. After nearly a year off, he returned to win going 7 furlongs on dirt before attempting turf—in his first grass effort, he won the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch in wire-to-wire fashion. Dominus’ dam Cuando was five times graded stakes-placed on turf at distances between 9 and 12 furlongs; her half-sister Honey Ryder was a 2-time Grade 1 turf winner and Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf runner-up, who also twice finished second behind males in open company Grade 1 events (behind English Channel in the Grade 1 United Nations and behind Jambalaya in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf).
Look carefully at first-crop sires Creative Cause, The Factor and Coil for precocious turf winners. Even though none of them raced on grass, each did win on the all-weather surfaces once prevalent in southern California, plus they each have strong turf pedigrees. Creative Cause (Giant’s Causeway) broke his juvenile maiden over Hollywood Park’s all-weather surface before capturing the Grade 2 Best Pal and finishing second in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. The Factor (War Front) won the Grade 1 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar and ran second in the Grade 1 Triple Bend at Hollywood Park. Coil (Point Given) captured three of five races at Hollywood Park including the Grade 3 Swaps; he was also a runner-up in the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien at Del Mar. Coil’s damside in particular is brimming with turf runners. Not only has his Theatrical dam Eversmile produced a Grade 1 turf winning half-brother to Coil in Hollywood Derby victor Chiropractor, but Eversmile is also a half-sister to 6-time Grade 1 turf winner Possibly Perfect, the 1995 Eclipse Award-winning Champion Grass Mare.
If bred to mares with strong turf pedigrees, also look closely at first-crop turf runners by Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister, as well as by Belmont winner Union Rags. Bodemeister’s second dam Parade Queen was twice a Grade 3 winner on turf, while Union Rags’ course record-setting second dam Terpsichorist captured both the 10-furlong Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay and the 12-furlong Grade 2 Long Island Handicap after beginning her career on dirt.
First-crop sire Brilliant Speed (Dynaformer) was an interesting all-surface performer, especially during his 3-year-old campaign when he won the Grade 1 Blue Grass on Keeneland’s all-weather surface, finished a strong third in the Grade 1 Belmont and then hung on for a clear third-place finish against Euro invaders St. Nicholas Abbey and Sea Moon in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. All told, he was four times Grade 1-placed on turf. His breeding is also stellar, with his unraced dam being a half-sister to Grade 1 Selene runner-up Handpainted and Grade 2 winner Serenading, 2009 Sovereign Award winner for Champion Older Mare in Canada. His second dam, Grade 1-placed Daijin, is a full-sister to Grade 1 Belmont winner Touch Gold, and a half-sister to Canadian Triple Crown winner and 11-furlong turf world record holder With Approval.
Another well-bred first-crop sire with the potential to sire winners on all surfaces is Biondetti (Bernardini). A Group 1 turf winner in Italy as a juvenile, he finished fourth behind Uncle Mo in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on dirt. His dam Lyphard’s Delta, a 10-furlong Group 2 turf winner in England, has produced two half-sisters to Biondetti, Grade 1 turf winner Indy Five Hundred and 3-time Grade 3 turf victress Delta Princess, dam of 2-time Breeders’ Cup Distaff winner Royal Delta and Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II turf winner Crown Queen. This is the same family as another first-crop sire in 2016, Royal Delta’s full-brother Empire Way.
And What About Soft Turf?
American turf horses rarely run on grass listed as worse than “yielding” (softened by rain). Why? Most tracks are not equipped with proper drainage systems in their turf courses, thus if heavy rains saturate the ground, those races are usually taken off the turf and run on dirt (inevitably resulting in plenty of scratches). This is not the case in countries that run primarily on turf, and while their statistics may or may not hold true in the United States, it’s worth noting which American turf sires have performed well on wet turf courses abroad.
Thus, if there’s a little give to the grass, horses sired by the following may be inclined to perform well (obviously you should consider the result of any previous race too):
Belong to Me
More Than Ready