Perennial leading California sire Unusual Heat, the all-time leading sire by California progeny earnings, died May 17 at the age of 27 due to complications from arthritis-induced laminitis.
"It is with a very heavy heart that I have to report the passing of Unusual Heat today," said Harris Auerbach, managing partner of the Unusual Heat Syndicate. "He gave so much to racing, breeding, and Thoroughbred retirement here in California. He provided the impetus for Cal-breds to be at the forefront of California racing with runners that filled fields and raised the quality standard of the state-breds during his era. He was also the driving force behind the creation of CARMA, which has led to millions of dollars of funding for our retirees here in California."
"I will miss him sorely," said co-owner Madeline Auerbach. "He has been part of my family and life for the last 20 years. Being a part of him is a gift and a blessing that cannot be replicated. What his stature and presence has allowed me to do for retired Thoroughbreds is incalculable."
Bred in Kentucky by John T. L. Jones, Jr., Unusual Heat was the son of Nureyev and Danish champion mare Rossard. In 1991, he became one of the highest-priced horses ever sold at a Barretts yearling auction when he brought $250,000. He raced in Europe and the United States with trainers Dermot Weld, Richard Mandella, and Barry Abrams. He was a multiple listed stakes winner who finished with a career record of 6-2-2 out of 16 starts, with career earnings of $142,605.
Unusual Heat made his most significant impact in the breeding shed. Under the ownership and management of Madeline Auerbach and Abrams, he stood his first season at Walter Greenman's Farm near Hemet, Calif., before moving to Old English Rancho near Sanger, where he spent the bulk of his early stallion career. In 2010 he moved to John C. Harris' Harris Farms near Coalinga, where he spent the last six seasons of his career at stud. He covered 30 mares during his 19th and final season in 2016.
From a humble first crop of 15, Unusual Heat had 11 winners, with four of them winning their first start. To date he has sired 43 black-type stakes winners, 12 of which were graded stakes winners, with another 18 graded stakes-placed. His runners have amassed more than $54.3 million worldwide, with 157 runners earning at least $100,000 and 81 earning more than $200,000 out of just 570 starters. He led the California sire standings six times and for 13 consecutive years was the leading sire of Calfornia-conceived turf runners.
Unusual Heat was represented by 15 California champions, including two-time California horse of the year, 2011 Eclipse champion older horse, and six-time grade 1 winner Acclamation.
An important part of Unusual Heat's story is his impact away from the races and the breeding shed in California. His rise to stardom as stallion and the success of his runners gave Madeline Auerbach the impetus and the stature to start raising awareness about Thoroughbred retirement and taking care of the sports equine athletes after their careers were over.
Through her election to the Thoroughbred Owners of California board of directors, Auerbach was able to work with the California Horse Racing Board on the formation, certification, and funding of CARMA, the California Retirement Management Account funding for Thoroughbred retirement in California. Using Unusual Heat and his progeny as inspiration, under Auerbach's leadership CARMA has granted over $5 million to racehorse retirement, placement, and retraining since 2008.
Unusual Heat is currently represented by six sons at stud, five of them in California, along with Unusual Suspect in Australia. He is also making an impact as a broodmare sire, with seven graded stakes winners since 2015 including two grade 1 winners and 2017 Transylvania Stakes (G3) winner Big Score.
"He's been the perennial leading sire in California for over a decade and his influence on California breeding and racing through his sons and daughters will be prevalent for years to come," said Doug Burge, long-time president of the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association.