Saturday was a good day at the farm. The cooler, softer weather was enjoyed by visitors who included racing folks, other horse people and a lot of very nice people just enjoying being in Kentucky on an early summer day. The horses are dappling out from the sun and the vitamins they’ve been getting from their yummy grass and their Triple Crown Senior Feed (even I think this smells yummy—its good beet pulp smells sort of like date bread). All goes well at Dream Chase Farm. Sometimes uneventful is good. And it leaves time for reflection.
I’m a pedigree geek. Every once in awhile as I watch the OF residents graze and think about the outstanding careers some of them had, I remember some equally magnificent, even older friends who came before them and whose proud heritage they carry. Today I’m thinking of Roberto (1969-1988), who passed along his gutsy ability on the grass to some of our most famous residents.
Foaled at Darby Dan Farm in Lexington, Roberto was by Hail to Reason out of Bramalea (by Nashua). Roberto crossed the Atlantic to compete successfully against the Irish and English at their own game on the grass, a feat not accomplished by many American horses in his day. At 2 he won the Anglesey Stakes and National Stakes in Ireland, earning the title of Champion 2 year old in Ireland. At 3 he won the Epsom Derby and Benson & Hedges Gold Cup in England, came in 2nd in the English Two Thousand Guineas, and won the Vauxhall Trial in Ireland. At 4 he won the Coronation Cup in England. Returning home, Roberto stood at Darby Dan. He sired 6 champions, among them Sunshine Forever, and top turf sires Dynaformer and Kris S.
Roberto’s influence on contemporary grass runners would be hard to overestimate. And Old Friends’ population of turf achievers fully reflects it.
1988 Eclipse Turf Champion Sunshine Forever comes first to mind. Sunshine looks very much like his sire Roberto. Sunshine was one of the soundest stakes winners of modern times, winning Grade 1 stamina races every two weeks for six weeks as a three year old, something the sturdy old time horses used to do, but a rare feat in his time or since. You can see it, too, in his legs, strong and straight with wonderful bone mass. In his decade at Old Friends, Sunshine has also proved the proverbial “healthy as a horse” (except for that one time in 2004 when he colicked and so Michael didn’t go to the Kentucky Derby with the owners of a horse named Giacomo…if asked whether he really just wanted his best buddy all to himself that day, I wonder whether Sunshine would nod his head?).
In the paddock next to Sunshine Forever is Prized, winner of the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Turf. He’s by Roberto’s son Kris S (so he’s Sunshine’s nephew, though equine family relationships are usually reckoned through the mother). Prized’s conformation may not be as flawlessly “correct” as Sunshine’s, but his long, strong legs took gigantic strides and his powerful frame made him a formidable athlete. Prized passed his athleticism to his son Brass Hat. He’s also the damsire (maternal grandfather) of Paddy O’Prado who hopefully will hand down that heritage at stud at Spendthrift Farm just down the road.
But they’re not the only ones in that corner of Dream Chase Farm who remind racing fans of Roberto’s greatness. Across the run from Prized and diagonally from Sunshine Forever lives You and I. He’s also by Roberto’s son Kris S, though a more modern looking, refined horse. You and I won the Cowdin Stakes at 2, the Riva Ridge Stakes at 3 and at 4 the prestigious Metropolitan Mile and the Brooklyn Handicap. He beat some of the best of his time, including future Derby winner Go For Gin, Our Emblem, End Sweep, and Key Contender. And of course he passed his fleetness to his spectacular daughter You.
Roberto’s heritage is also shared through Kris S by Kudos (whose damsire was Damascus—I’ll talk about Damascus another time). Racing for Jerry and Ann Moss, Kudos won the Grade 1 Oaklawn Stakes, the Grade 2 Californian Stakes and others. Like Prized and You And I, Kudos prevailed in stakes on both dirt and turf and won upwards of a million dollars.
Speaking of champions on surfaces besides the grass, Roberto contributed to the talent of some of the most highly regarded dirt and synthetic surface champions of more recent times, notably Zenyatta whose dam Vertigineux is his granddaughter (she, too, is by Kris S), and Barbaro whose sire Dynaformer was one of Roberto’s most successful sons at stud. 5-time Breeders’ Cup Steeplechase winner McDynamo is another son of Dynaformer.