By Alan Porter
One of the great charms of Thoroughbred racing is that it has always been possible for a good horse to emerge from almost anywhere. I suspect, however—because of the ongoing compression of the breed, and the diminishing gap between the best and the rest—that this is going to become an increasingly likely occurrence. One example that popped up last weekend was the Chilukki Stakes (gr. II) winner Rolling Sea, who is by a sire who currently stands for $2,500 and out of a mare whose final appearance on the racecourse saw her finish fourth in a $6,500 claimer at Finger Lakes.Despite this modest background, Rolling Sea’s win was certainly no fluke. Admittedly, she did have to drop down to $25,000 maiden claiming to score her first win at 2, after finishing off the board in Illinois-bred maidens on her first two starts. But she came right back off that win to take the Pat Whitworth Illinois Debutante Stakes, and from that point on her career has charted a steady rise towards the top. At 3 she added another state-bred event, the Purple Violet Stakes, and gained her first graded black type with a third in the Arlington Breeders’ Cup Oaks (gr. III). This year at 4, she hit a purple patch early in the year, waltzing through two allowance races and the Fortin Handicap by a total of 23 lengths. Then after a third in the Sixty Sails Handicap (gr. III), she gained graded brackets with a decisive score in the Allaire DuPont Breeders’ Cup Distaff Stakes (gr. II). Off the board in the Fleur de Lis Handicap (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, she destroyed the field in the Central Iowa Stakes at Prairie Meadows, tallying by almost 11 lengths. Her only start prior to the Chilukki was an unplaced effort on Keeneland’s all-weather surface in the Juddmonte Spinster Stakes (gr. I).
Rolling Sea is a daughter of the lightly-raced Fappiano horse, Sefapiano. A $275,000 yearling purchase by his co-breeder Farid Sefa, Sefapiano didn’t reach the races until the age of 3, when he took a maiden special weight at Turfway Park on his debut. Second in a pair of allowance sprints at Keeneland, Sefapiano ended his career — which spanned little more than 11 weeks — with a 2 1/2 lengths win in an allowance at Churchill Downs.
The glimpses of talent that he had shown at the track, combined with a more than respectable pedigree — he was out of million-dollar earner Sefa’s Beauty — were sufficient to qualify Sefapiano for duty in a regional program, and he retired to stand at Sefa’s Farm in Michigan. Even there he found it hard to attract mares, and his first four crops produced only 39 foals. Those crops, however, found Sefapiano rapidly establishing himself as one of the biggest fish in his relatively small pond, as 36 of those 39 foals found their way to the races, and 35 of them won. More astonishingly, they effectively cleaned up the black type available in the state-bred program, with no less 11 of them winning black-type events (for a better than 28% stakes winners to foals figure). His early efforts earned Sefapiano some bigger and better books of mares, and a move to the majors, in the shape of a transfer to Dixiana Farm in Lexington, Ky. Sefapiano never really caught on in Kentucky, and now stands at Moon Lake Equine Center in Elm Grove, La., at a fee most recently advertised as $2,500. He did show that he could reward better opportunities, however, and in addition to Rolling Sea, he is now represented by three other graded winners in Humoristic, winner of back-to-back renewals of the Violet Stakes (gr. III); Austin’s Mom, who captured the grade III Affectionately Handicap; and the Essex Handicap (gr. III) victor Jonesboro.
It’s true that Rolling Sea’s dam, Almost Sma, departed the racetrack at a rather lowly level, but she did have some modest credentials as a broodmare. She scored one of her two victories in a maiden special weight — albeit for state-breds — at Aqueduct, and more importantly, she was by Cure the Blues, a sometimes brilliant runner, solid sire, and good broodmare sire. Almost Sma’s dam, Glitzy Gal, a daughter of Commemorate, ran five times without earning a check, and bred six winners from eight runners, only one of which--Lend Me A Buck, who took third in the Juvenile Stakes at Woodbine — earned any black type. Glitzy Gal was half sister to the Canadian multiple listed winner Starry Val, and to French black-type winner Such Charisma, but the pedigree doesn’t get really interesting until we come to the fourth dam, Northern Dancer’s daughter Victoria Star. From the immediate family of European champion Storm Bird, grade I winner Northernette, and stakes winner and foundation mare Ocean’s Answer, Victoria Star was bred very similarly to all three of those horses. Victoria Star was only a minor winner, but at stud she produced the graded stakes-placed brothers (by Buckpasser) Cogency and Bucksplasher (subsequently a useful sire in Florida, most notably of the 1998 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I) hero, Buck’s Boy), grade I-placed Potentiate (by Foolish Pleasure), and the stakes-winning Roberto filly Stellaria, dam of English champion 3-year-old miler Observatory and multiple group winner High Praise.
In searching Rolling Sea’s background for an explanation as to what caused the upgrading in performance over her recent family, one immediately lights on the 4 x 4 cross of the superlative Dr. Fager. He appears as broodmare sire of both of Rolling Sea’s grandsires — Fappiano and Cure the Blues — two horses whose running styles were reminiscent of Dr. Fager.
One of the great charms of Thoroughbred racing is that it has always been possible for a good horse to emerge from almost anywhere. I suspect, however — because of the ongoing compression of the breed, and the diminishing gap between the best and the rest — that this is going to become an increasingly likely occurrence. One example that popped up last weekend was the Chilukki Stakes (gr. II) winner Rolling Sea, who is by a sire who currently stands for $2,500 and out of a mare whose final appearance on the racecourse saw her finish fourth in a $6,500 claimer at Finger Lakes.