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The news that champion turf horse Manila had died in Turkey on Feb. 28 was a reminder of the bay horse’s outstanding racing ability. A winner in 12 of his 18 starts, the bay son of the grand little Northern Dancer stallion Lyphard earned almost $2.7 million and won five Grade 1 races.

Retired to stud at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky after his 4-year-old season in 1987, Manila proved a disappointing stallion for the breeders who bought shares in him.

Too many are prone to say, “He was a turf horse,” as if that were an explanation for Manila failing to live up to expectations at stud. If so, then how do we revere such critters as Nasrullah, Royal Charger, Mahmoud, and Nijinsky? They never raced on dirt.

There were, however, physical indicators about Manila that pointed to the challenges which were facing breeders who wanted to use him successfully. First of all, he wasn’t a Lyphard. In type, the rangy, 16.1 hand tall Manila was a world away from the 15.1 hand Lyphard, who was a bundle of energy and one of the most beautifully formed and conformed horses imaginable.

Manila was a good-looking horse in his own right but took much more of his physical type from his broodmare sire, the high-class French-bred Le Fabuleux. Imported to stand at Claiborne Farm after beginning his career at stud in France with distinction, Le Fabuleux had extraordinary opportunities early in his stud career at Claiborne but mostly sired horses who needed a considerable amount of distance to show high class and who frequently showed better form on turf, where those longer distances were more frequently run.

In training, Manila was a horse of great quality, carrying enough weight to perform at a high level but certainly without carrying any extra condition. He was somewhat narrow through the body, although he had good length, and did not have a heavily muscled hindquarter. His bone was acceptable, but for a biggish horse, he showed plenty of refinement from his high-class sire grafted onto a notably bigger frame inherited from Le Fabuleux.

The result of this mixture of traits was a tip-top racehorse over classic distances who raced almost exclusively on turf, and as a mark of his distinction, Manila was elected to racing’s Hall of Fame in Saratoga last year.

But Manila was a much more specialized and finely tuned athlete than either his sire or his famous grandsire, Northern Dancer. Both of those stallions had traits that could translate in several different directions and still create a highly serviceable racer. And the problem with Manila is that he didn’t.

As a sire, Manila largely needed to replicate himself to produce a reasonable portion of successful offspring, and the chances of his finding exactly what he needed from his mates were correspondingly slim. When the needed qualities were there, Manila was able to produce some outstanding racers, such as Bien Bien (four G1s), Montjoy (G2 winner and five times G1 placed), and Time Star (Derby Italiano).

Manila did not sire enough of these good horses, and in 1996, he was sold to the Turkish Jockey Club to stand in Turkey.