Winchester Among World's Top Turf Horses

Winchester Among World's Top Turf Horses
Photo: Four Footed Fotos
Winchester, winner of the Secretariat Stakes (gr. IT) is part of an exceptionally strong contingent of European turf runners this year.

by Avalyn Hunter

Anyone harboring lingering doubts as to the weakness of this year’s American male turf division compared to its European counterpart should have had them demolished by the results of the Arlington Million and Secretariat Stakes (both gr. IT). Not only did Spirit One (FR) lead a European sweep of the top three spots in the Million, but Irish-based Winchester, a colt whose last start had been a well-beaten seventh in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby (Ire-I), had absolutely no trouble running down the pro tem leader of the American sophomore grass males, Tizdejavu, and drawing off to win impressively over fellow European raider Plan.

That said, it was still an impressive effort for Winchester, who ran the 10 furlongs faster than did the older males in the Million two races later. Racing for his breeders, Mr. and Mrs. Bertram Firestone, the Virginia-bred colt has always been regarded as having significant potential and is now a possible candidate for the Emirates Airline Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT) according to post-race comments by trainer Dermot Weld.

Should Winchester go in the Turf, he would give his sire Theatrical (IRE) a chance at becoming the first Breeders’ Cup Turf winner to sire a similar winner. Like his son, Theatrical began his racing career in Europe, winning the 1985 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes (Ire-II) and following up with a runner-up finish to Law Society in the Joe McGrath Irish Sweeps Derby (Ire-I). He was a better horse when transferred to the United States, however. After getting his feet under him with placings in the 1986 Oak Tree Invitational Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Turf, and Hollywood Turf Cup Invitational Stakes (all gr. IT), he broke through at age 5 with six grade I wins, culminating with a thrilling victory over a determined Trempolino in the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Turf. He retired to owner Allen Paulson’s Brookside Farms in 1988 as the champion turf male of 1987.

Theatrical is one of the best sire sons of French champion miler Nureyev, himself one of the best sire sons of Northern Dancer, and is the first foal of the Sassafras (FR) mare Tree of Knowledge (IRE), whose second foal, North of Eden (IRE) (by Northfields) is the dam of 1994 champion turf male Paradise Creek (by Irish River (FR)). With these family connections, it seems almost inevitable that Theatrical should have become a top sire of turf performers, and such has been the case. To date, he has sired 77 stakes winners, 22 of them successful at the grade/group I level; his best performers include multiple Japanese champion Hishi Amazon, 1993 Dubai Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (Fr-I) winner Madeleine’s Dream, and 1996 Budweiser Irish Derby winner Zagreb. He tends to transmit more stamina than do most other sons of Nureyev, not surprising given both his own prowess at 12 furlongs and the presence of the top stamina influence Sassafras as his maternal grandsire. As of this writing, Theatrical is still active at Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms, where he has stood since 2002.

Winchester is the second foal and second winner produced by Rum Charger (IRE), whose three wins from 11 starts include the 2002 Ballycorus Stakes (Ire-III). At her best over seven furlongs, Rum Charger is by 1995 First National Building Society Irish Two Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) winner Spectrum (IRE), a good miler with enough stamina to win the 10-furlong Dubai Champion Stakes (Eng-I) but, like most other sons of Rainbow Quest, a disappointing stallion. Now in South Africa, Spectrum is probably best known as the sire of Golan (IRE), winner of the 2001 Sagitta Two Thousand Guineas and the 2002 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (both Eng-I).

Rum Charger was the best racer produced from stakes-placed Park Charger (GB), a daughter of the dual Guineas winner Tirol (IRE). Like Spectrum, Tirol has been a stud disappointment, though he is the sire of two high-class fillies in Miss Tahiti (IRE) (1995 French champion juvenile filly) and Tarascon (IRE) (1997 Irish highweighted juvenile filly and winner of the Airlie Coolmore Irish One Thousand Guineas (Ire-I) at 3). Tirol was sent to India for the 1999 season and died in 2003.

Park Charger is out of Haitienne, a winning daughter of Green Dancer and the Habitat mare Hamada and a full sister to French juvenile stakes winner Harifa. As Green Dancer was a winner of the Poule d’ Essai des Poulains (Fr-I) and Habitat a champion miler in Europe, it can be seen that the bottom half of Winchester’s pedigree is loaded with influences for miler speed, although Green Dancer also contributed more stamina than might have been expected from his own race record. The question now is whether Winchester is more his father’s son than the scion of his miler ancestors; if he is the former, he may be a legitimate threat to take down the biggest prize in American turf racing.

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