Deafening Silence

By Barbara Bayer -- The death of Sunday Silence was felt around the world. For those who vividly remember his racing days, there is great sadness. For Japanese racing fans, who for the past nine years have encountered his name time and time again on radio and television broadcasts, in racing sheets, and in newspapers as the sire of yet another winner, his death has left a huge hole. Racing in Japan revolved around Sunday Silence. He changed it. His name permeated it. He has been the central pillar of Japanese racing, its leading sire for eight years. That pillar is now gone.

For the Shadai breeding conglomerate, which owned 25 of the 60 shares in Sunday Silence, he was truly its central pillar. In 11 years at stud, he covered over 2,000 mares. In recent years, with a stud fee of ¥30 million (the only sire in Japan at the time of his death whose fee exceeded ¥10 million) and an annual book of close to 200 mares, Sunday Silence ensured his owners a steady flow of revenue.

"We'll get through this though. We'll be OK," Shadai president Teruya Yoshida assured.

The son of the farm's founder, the late Zenya Yoshida, puts up a brave front, brushing off the loss as an inevitable fact of life. "Living creatures, they die. It can't be helped. Really, we have to be satisfied with things as they are. Sunday left us many outstanding horses. He was with us for 11 years. He was an incredible horse."

Owners and breeders coveted him. Jockeys vied for rides upon his sons and daughters. Trackmen flaunted his name in their forecasts, and fans organized their bets around him. "Sunday Magic" they called it.

Since 1994, that magic saw 810 horses win 1,340 races. There were 143 graded race victories, including 28 grade I events. An incredible 11 Triple Crown races, including three Nippon Derbys. Collectively, owners reaped ¥36 billion in prize money.

"He was in a class of his own," racing journalist Yosuke Okuno said. "Japanese breeding has a relatively short history and you can count the number of Japan's super sires on one hand." Northern Taste, another of Shadai's stallions, was champion sire for 11 years, the record. "Just when they were saying there'd be no one like him, along came Sunday Silence."

Now, over 10% of the horses racing in Japan carry his name in their bloodlines.

The reasons for his success are many, his physical and mental strength most cited among them. Okuno cited another--excellent timing.

"Sunday Silence came along just as Japanese racing itself was making great progress. His offspring debuted at a time when Japanese jockeys had attained a skill level that could handle the type of horse his progeny often are--strong, temperamental horses."

With the improvement in riding skills, as well as better training and pre-training methods, the offspring of Sunday Silence entered a racing world much more capable of bringing out their best. "It's quite possible," Okuno said, "that, had it been some years earlier, Sunday Silence would not have enjoyed the success as a sire that he did."

Those at Shadai undoubtedly took strength from Sunday Silence, and not only in economic terms. But Sunday Silence's influence reached much further. It reached to the breeders and, in general, affected the entire Japanese racing industry.

"Japan has for years had an aim toward raising the level of its racing," Okuno said. Now, "their god is gone. And the rest of the Japanese breeding industry is going to have to make a lot more effort to get the results now that they'd gotten with him."

Japan, and Shadai in particular, look to the sons and daughters of Sunday Silence to take up where he left off. There are 48 Sunday Silence-sired stallions in Japan. Shadai lists 13 among its 40 stallions.

Though the last of Sunday Silence's sons and daughters will not debut until 2005, they will carry on his name for generations to come. And though his name may not enjoy the mention it does today, the "Sunday Magic" will go on.

Japan is betting on it.

Barbara Bayer is The Blood-Horse's correspondent in Japan.