By Andrew Caulfield
Not for the first time, the Dubai World Cup meeting must have left a few of America’s older breeders fighting the urge to kick themselves. This urge to don a hair-shirt dates back to 1990, when it was announced that 1989’s Horse of the Year Sunday Silence was being retired to the Stone Farm of co-owner Arthur Hancock III. The response–or lack of it–from local breeders was such that Zenya Yoshida was able to increase his stake in this great racehorse and Sunday Silence left Stone Farm for Shadai without standing a single season.
To Japanese eyes, Sunday Silence’s exploits in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness S. and Breeders’ Cup Classic were of greater importance than the fact that his first two dams were daughters of two unglamorous stallions in Understanding and Montparnasse. And how right they proved to be. With 13 consecutive sires’ championships in Japan, Sunday Silence enjoyed a degree of dominance which entitles him to be mentioned in the same breath as Ireland’s Sadler’s Wells or Australia’s Danehill.
In the eight years since his last championship, the title of champion sire has gone on six occasions to one or other of his sons, with Deep Impact establishing himself as his true heir with four consecutive championships. The sport at Meydan provided a few reminders of Deep Impact’s talents, with Real Steel taking the G1 Dubai Turf and Last Impact finishing third in the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic.
However, it hasn’t only been Sunday Silence’s sons which have safeguarded his legacy. Even though the top ten positions on Japan’s leading sires’ lists have long been monopolized by Sunday Silence’s sons, his broodmare daughters have also managed to make an enormous impact. After being runner-up on the broodmare sires’ table in 2005 and 2006, Sunday Silence has achieved a remarkable sequence of nine straight championships.
Consequently, it came as no surprise to see the G2 UAE Derby fall to Lani, a Tapit colt with a dam by Sunday Silence. A creditable third place went to another Japanese challenger in Yu Change, this one a colt by Sunday Silence’s G3-winning son Swift Current.
Lani’s victory–his third from five starts on dirt–appears to have booked the colt’s ticket to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby, a race Sunday Silence won comfortably from Easy Goer in 1989. The 100 points Lani earned with his defeat of the filly Polar River places him second on the list behind Gun Runner and there are now three sons of Tapit in the top five positions.
Later in the program at Meydan it took Postponed, winner of last year’s King George, to prevent the Dubai Sheema Classic falling to Duramente, last year’s Japanese 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner who is another with a dam by Sunday Silence.
There has been plenty of other international success for Sunday Silence’s broodmare daughters. With help from the comparatively small number of daughters sired to southern hemisphere time, their progeny feature such as More Joyous (an eight-time G1 winner in Australia), Karakontie (a French classic winner who took the 2014 Breeders’ Cup Mile) and Tale of Ekati (Wood Memorial and Cigar Mile). The best of their Japanese winners include the Japan Cup winners Admire Moon (who travelled to Dubai to take the Dubai Duty Free), Rose Kingdom and Screen Hero (sire of last year’s G1 Hong Kong Mile winner Maurice).
To return to Lani, I commented in my recent notes on Cupid that “a few of the Tapits seem to combine the odd quirk with their considerable talent.” Lani is another example, as was made clear in the TDN’s report on the colt’s UAE Derby success:
“The Meydan staff has been very kind to us, allowing us to take the best care of Lani as possible,” commented winning trainer Mikio Matsunaga. “He can be very troublesome so we really appreciated the allowances given to us by the track staff [who allowed him to be saddled away from the crowds].”
He probably also needs to continue improving, if the Racing Post’s ratings are an accurate guide. Lani is rated 107, which leaves him with some ground to make up on the best of the Americans. The highest rated–the filly Songbird on 119–has been ruled out of contention but she is followed by Nyquist (116), Mohaymen (115), Mor Spirit (114), Danzing Candy (114), Destin (113), Exaggerator (112) and Gun Runner (110).
It is going to be fascinating to see how Lani’s temperament stands up to the demands of further international travel and all the hurly burly associated with the Kentucky Derby.
One thing about which there is no question is that Lani is bred well enough to win a Kentucky Derby, as is highlighted by the first three generations of his pedigree. Tapit, of course, is a grandson of A.P. Indy, a Belmont S. winner, and Unbridled, a winner of the Kentucky Derby. Add in Lani’s broodmare sire Sunday Silence, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and you have a total of three winners of Triple Crown events, all of whom went on to take the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Obviously, all three of these American heroes were dirt horses, as were Tapit and his sire Pulpit, but Lani’s dam Heavenly Romance was essentially a turf performer (she did win one of her three starts on dirt, over a muddy mile and an eighth early in her second season). Heavenly Romance possessed considerable talent, plus the toughness to match. She packed 33 starts into her four years on the track, including 12 as a three-year-old and ten the following year. Undoubtedly her finest moment came in the Tenno Sho (Japanese G1) over a mile and a quarter in the fall of 2005. Sent off at 75-1, she shocked the many admirers of Zenno Rob Roy by beating this champion son of Sunday Silence by a head, with the likes of Heart’s Cry and Hat Trick further back.
Heavenly Romance was bred to stay quite well. Her dam First Act was a member of Sadler’s Wells’s first crop, which produced a stunning proportion of high-class performers. First Act wasn’t one of them – she never raced–but there was no fault to be found with her bloodlines. This three-parts-sister to the Irish St Leger winner Dark Lomond was out of Arkadina, a smart but luckless Ribot mare who was second in the Irish 1,000 Guineas and Oaks and third in the Epsom Oaks.
Arkadina was also extremely well-connected, as she was a sister to the high-class stayer Blood Royal, as well as being a three-parts-sister to Graustark’s high-class son Gregorian. As if that weren’t enough, she was also a half-sister to the very talented American fillies Ivory Wand (Test S.) and Truly Bound (Fair Ground Oaks and Ashland S.).
This is a magnificent female line tracing to the champion mare Vagrancy through her classy grand-daughter Natashka (Monmouth Oaks and Alabama S., and now fourth dam of Lani). Another Sadler’s Wells mare from the Natashka family produced the top American turf winner Grand Couturier and Natashka’s descendants have also produced top winners to sons of Seattle Slew and Fappiano, one being Unbridled, sire of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Anees.
As a member of this illustrious family, Heavenly Romance had every right to succeed as a broodmare and she is doing exactly that. After starting her broodmare career in Japan, her owners must have concluded that she would have far more options outside of Japan and she was sent to the U.S., where she was covered by Smart Strike in 2010. That mating resulted in Amour Briller, a late-foaled mare who has won a trio of races classified as G2 in Japan. Among them were the Nagoya Grand Prix over 1 9/16 miles late last year and the Empress Hai over 1 5/16 miles earlier this month. Her career has been the reverse of her dam’s in that she has spent most of her career on dirt, having finished only ninth in two starts on turf.
Heavenly Romance’s other stakes winner, the Japanese-bred but American-foaled Awardee (by Jungle Pocket), was switched from turf to dirt only in the fall of last year, as a five-year-old. Remarkably he is now unbeaten in his three dirt races, including the G3 Sirius S. over a mile and a quarter. The mare also has a two-year-old filly by Distorted Humor.