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Breeding for Turf Horses

As Matt noted yesterday, there is a HUUUUGE disparity between European and American bred horses on the turf right now. Personally, I think this is due two the two different foci that North Americans and Europeans have. Traditionally, we (Americans) are aiming for our Classics, the vast majority of which are on dirt/synthetic (for the duration of this article, I'll just say dirt when I really mean non-turf). You can see the current list of North American Graded Stakes here. Secondly, EVERY MAJOR EUROPEAN RACE IS ON THE TURF. That makes it pretty easy to focus on that. Add in the fact that North American racing keeps focusing on shorter and shorter distances and you end up with a different class of horse in Europe that runs long and on the lawn, and subsequently produces mediocre Europeans that can still dominate their weaker American counterparts. Mediocre in this case is defined as a good Allowance-type horse, which is by no measure actually mediocre. But when talking about dropping in class from stakes in Europe, you're still looking at a horse that is just as good as the "elite" talent in North America. So while it isn't dropping that far, you begin including a large number of racehorses pretty quickly.

Much more analysis after the jump.

By looking at the major events on the schedule, you can get a great idea of what the best horses are striving for. For example: could you imagine the different racing landscape if the Triple Crown was run on turf? Or how about if the Derby was 2 miles? What if Races less than a mile could not receive graded stakes recognition? It completely changes the landscape of racing. But we live on this planet, so the following is what we see.

In North America, Graded Stakes break down like this:

Grade Races Turf %
G1 112 33 29.5%
G2 155 52 33.5%
G3 211 77 36.5%
TOTAL 478 162 33.9%

In Europe (and for my stats I only pulled Britain, Ireland, and France) Group events look like this:

Group Races Turf %
G1 71 71 100.0%
G2 79 79 100.0%
G3 169 169 100.0%
TOTAL 319 319 100.0%

Heck, the only racecourse in the three countries where the Group races are run that even has a dirt track is Deauville, France, and exactly zero graded stakes events are run on the dirt. On our side of the Atlantic, you file your runner in a relatively small niche if you settle on being a turf horse. And it is a niche where there are still large purses to be had, but many fewer opportunities to compete. Whereas in Europe, if you do not have a turf horse, you don't have a racehorse at all.

If you look at the best American Turf horses, it's a pretty small list. In fact, when you dig into the better turf runners, you find a boatload of European bloodlines represented in the pedigree. So let's look at four Americans and four Europeans. The sire's ranking is worldwide. Granted, Japanese sires are skewed since few of them run outside of the country and the purses are so high, so they occupy 8 of the top 10 slots.


Gio Ponti - 29 Starts: 12 - 10 - 1, $6,169,800. Eclipse Champion Older Male & Champion Turf Male, 2009. Eclipse Champion Turf Male, 2010. Basically as good as you can get, stateside.


  • Sire: Tale of the Cat (Storm Cat). #74 on the Turf Sire Rankings. However, half of his earnings are from Gio Ponti and he only has one other SW on the turf. Seems like kind of a fluke.
  • Dam: Chipeta Springs (Alydar). Dam is UnGr Stakes placed. Producer of 3xStakes winners (Gio Ponti; Bon Jovi Girl, f (by Malibu Moon), UnGr SW, GII placed, winner of $518k; Fisher Pond, c (by AP Indy), GIII winner, $251k). Very strong pedigree. Not necessarily a turf pedigree though.

Brilliant Speed - 14 Starts: 3 - 3 - 4, $1,047,750. G1, G3 winner.


  • Sire: Dynaformer (Roberto). #45 on the Turf Sire Rankings. The Quintessential American Turf Sire. You know if you breed to him, you get a turf horse.
  • Dam: Speed Succeeds (Gone West). Dam is unraced. Producer of 1xStakes winner (Brilliant Speed); 1xGII placed (Souper Speedy (by Indian Charlie)) the race was NOT a turf race. Dam has only had three foals, but 2 are superb. Gone West is the sire of 6 of the top 150 North American Turf Sires (Speightstown, Mr. Greeley, Grand Slam, Johar, Proud Citizen, Elusive Quality). Definitely a turf pedigree.

Acclamation - 28 Starts: 9 - 2 - 6, $1,628,048. 4xG1, 2xG2 winner. Eclipse Champion Older Male, 2011.


  • Sire: Unusual Heat (Nureyev). #8 on the Turf Sire Rankings. Leading turf sire in California by earnings an 6 times. Acclamation makes up a quarter of his overall Turf earnings. Nureyev shows up 4 times as a Sire's sire of the North American Turf Sires top 150.
  • Dam: Winning In Style (Silveyville). Dam is unraced. Producer of 1xStakes winner (Acclamation); 2xUnGr Stakes placed: Always in Style (Lucayan Prince) $153k; Strut Your Stuff (Bold Badgett) $203k. Not an amazing female tail, but solid nonetheless. I think they got really lucky with this horse being as good as he is.

Winchester - 24 Starts: 6 - 6 - 3, $1,562,098. 4xG1 winner. Is US bred, but from two Irish bred


  • Sire: Theatrical (Nureyev). Irish Bred. #56 on the Turf Sire Rankings. Great turf runner here in the states.Winchester makes up just under half of his overall Turf earnings. Nureyev shows up 4 times as a Sire's sire of the Turf Sires top 150.
  • Dam:Rum Charger (IRE) (by Spectrum). G3 winner in Ireland. Enough said. Basically, Winchester doesn't have "IRE" as a foreign bred designator after his name, but he basically is just that.


Frankel (GB) - 9 Starts: 9 - 0 - 0, £1,373,309. 2010 Cartier Champion Two-Year-Old Colt in Europe. 2011 Cartier Horse of the Year and Champion Three-Year-Old Colt in Europe. The gold standard for any horse in the world.


  • Sire: Galileo (Sadler's Wells). #8 on the Worldwide ranking. One of the best sires in the world by one of the best sires ever.
  • Dam:Kind (Danehill). 13 Starts: 6 - 0 - 4, £72,402. UnGr SW. No more necessary here. Frankel is just that good.

Slim Shadey (GB) - 16 Starts: 3 - 1 - 0, $ 212,038. Won 1xG2.


  • Sire: Val Royal (Royal Academy). Val Royal is not in the top 100. Royal Academy does show up in the two of the top 93 sire's pedigrees though.
  • Dam: Vino Veritas (Chief's Crown). Dam is not a winner. Slim Shadey is her only progeny of note. He clearly is a freak genetically. However, he was clearly good enough to get to the track in Europe, which makes him a very good turf horse. He was racing over his head in Europe, but it was still stakes company.

Sanagas (GER) - 11 Starts: 7 - 1 - 0, $ 282,282. Won 1xG1.


  • Sire: Lomitas (Niniski). #44 on the Turf Sire Rankings. Sire of Danedream as well. A great sire.
  • Dam: Scota (Marju). Dam is not a winner. Dam has 5 other foals, none of note. Looks like Sanagas got most of her genes from his sire. Granddam is an UnGr SW and Group2 placed, but she has no notable offspring. Sanagas won 3 handicaps in a row in Germany before shipping to the states. She's a high quality horse, but on the low end of the high quality in Europe.

Sarafina (FR) - 10 Starts: 6 - 1 - 2, €1,685,054. Won 3xGroup1 and 2xGroup2 races in France. A dominant filly.


  • Sire: Refuse to Bend (Sadler's Wells). #97 on the Turf Sire Rankings. By the best European sire of the last 50 years in Sadler's Wells (who shows up in 6 of the top 100's pedigrees worldwide).
  • Dam: Sanariya (Darshaan). Dam is not a winner. Producer of 2xStakes winners: Sandagiyr, c (by Dr. Fong), G3 winner, $140k; Sanaya, f (Barathea), G2 winner, 180k pounds). Very strong producer.

Using the rankings here as a means to compare success on the turf we see this:

Europeans: Galileo (8th); Montjeu (15th); High Chaparral (20th)

Americans: Giant's Causeway (34); More Than Ready (36th); Dynaformer (45th)

That list in no way compares absolute quality, since European sires will have a huge advantage in number of starts on the turf. However, what it clearly demonstrates is that the turf is devalued in the states. But it is all about incentives. The incentives on breeding for a dirt horse are immense (Derby/Triple Crown, BC Classic, 66% of Graded Stakes Races). And since playing the odds is what breeding is all about, you maximize your chance for potential by emphasizing a speed horse that runs on the dirt. I don't think that Slim Shadey is necessarily a case of a pedestrian runner dominating the American circuit. I see it more as an affirmation that the European is a better turf horse, and horses that would be running in Handicap/allowance races overseas should ship here to maximize their earning potential by gobbling up all the victories in the turf stakes here. That in turn would lead to more of them staying here to breed, and would increase the overall quality of turf horses on our side of the pond.

The bottom line: Turf horses from Europe are one to two notches better than their North American counterparts. Except for Frankel. He's in his own universe.