Updated: Tuesday, July 19, 2005 3:03 PM
Posted: Tuesday, July 19, 2005 3:03 PM
The strange case of War Emblem, the 2002 Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old now at stud in Japan, keeps getting stranger.
Purchased for $17 million by the Yoshida brothers to stand at their Shadai Stallion Station in Chitose, Hokkaido, the son of Our Emblem bore similarities to Sunday Silence, the 1989 Horse of the Year in North America who enjoyed unparalleled success at stud in Japan before his death in August 2002. The deal to bring War Emblem to Japan was struck less than a month after Sunday Silence died.
War Emblem and Sunday Silence each won the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness (gr. I) but failed in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). Both were dark-coated, nearly jet-black horses with a narrow white stripe running down their faces. Both had similar body types and were head-strong individuals.
Their similarities ended in the breeding shed.
Sunday Silence was an energetic and strong stallion, professional and prolific in every way. His foal crops were massive in number, and so was his success rate as a sire of stakes winners and champions. The son of Halo has been Japan's leading sire every year since 1995, when his first crop of foals turned three.
If Sunday Silence was the Cary Grant of Thoroughbred stallions, the role of War Emblem would be played by the mild-mannered character actor Wally Cox. Strutting and confident on the racetrack, War Emblem became docile in the presence of broodmares.
When the 2003 breeding season began, it quickly became apparent War Emblem was no Sunday Silence. He showed virtually no interest in covering mares and it was a struggle for the farm to get him to impregnate four mares in his first year at stud.
A settlement on a fertility insurance policy followed, after which Shadai bought back a portion of the horse from the insurers with hopes of turning things around in 2004.
Different methods were tried. War Emblem was isolated in a large paddock, then given an opportunity to pasture-breed some mares. Farm personnel and stallion behavioral specialists watched War Emblem carefully to determine if he was partial to a particular type of mare.
Sure enough, War Emblem's libido increased around smaller and older mares, and he seemed to favor grays or roans, farm personnel said. A bait-and-switch tactic was employed, using certain mares to arouse him, then substituting another mare while he was still in a state of excitement. This method worked for much of the 2004 breeding season, and War Emblem sired 30 foals of 2005. Eventually, however, he caught on to the trick.
This year was a disaster. Dr. Nobuo Tsunoda, who manages the Shadai Stallion Station, said he led hundreds of mares in to see War Emblem. His stall at the stallion complex is closest to the breeding shed, allowing him to have a bird's-eye view of all the proceedings. Despite that, as of July 9, War Emblem had covered only nine mares this year. Four of them have been pronounced in foal. Nevertheless, Tsunoda said he is encouraged about War Emblem's future.
"He wasn't interested in covering the mares this year," Tsunoda said through a translator, "but many times he got excited enough to breed. It satisfied him enough just to get aroused. I think next year he will want to jump them. I think his libido is improving."
There is a very good economic reason to keep trying. None of his 2004 foals was sold publicly, but eight from this year's crop were offered at the Japan Racing Horse Association's select sale of foals July 11-12 near Sapporo. All eight sold for an average of ¥40.5 million ($361,607).
So obviously, the stakes are high. That's why Shadai hasn't yet given up on the horse the Yoshida family hoped could one day take the place of Sunday Silence.
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