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The article below was published earlier this week at Paulick Report.


In a world gone wild, at least the designation of races makes a bit of sense, doesn’t it?

For the past three-day weekend, there were 31 races designated stakes, according to Bloodstock Research Information Services. Of those, four were graded, including the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup; 20 were restricted; four were listed or open; and a pair were purely non-black type because of purses below the minimum to qualify for the bold-face type that attracts notice in sales catalogs, as set by the guidelines of the International Cataloging Standards group.

At the high end of the stakes spectrum, the G1 Hollywood Turf Cup was won by the homebred Unusual Suspect, another in a long line of high-quality racehorses sired by the Nureyev stallion Unusual Heat.

In his race on Saturday, Unusual Suspect won the 12-furlong Hollywood Turf Cup by a neck from the Dynaformer horse Temple City, with Buenos Dias (by Peintre Celebre) three-quarters of a length farther back.

The sire, Unusual Heat, is an outstanding regional sire and a darned good sire of any description. A stakes winner himself, Unusual Heat has sired 26 stakes winners (a fairly good 5.5%) and has profited from the restricted opportunities in California, but the horse also gets plenty of solid performers in open company.

Nor does he cover the fanciest books of mares, but among those mates is Penpont, a New Zealand-bred mare who managed to win a race but who has left that form far behind with the results of her matings to Unusual Heat.

The mare’s first five foals have all earned more than $100,000 and include the Grade 1 winners Golden Doc A (Los Virgenes) and Unusual Suspect. Those two have combined earnings of more than $1.6 million.

That sort of performance and earning ability keeps the sire and dam in high clover. Surely it requires restraint on the part of owner-breeder-trainer Barry Abrams not to try the fashionable route of fancier sires and fancier dams for his winning combination. So far, he seems to have resisted, and Penpont has yet another foal by Unusual Heat in 2010.

On the other end of the “stakes” scale was the restricted and non-black type Billy Powell Claiming Handicap at Albuquerque, which was run for a purse of $10,000.

One might be forgiven for expecting the winner to be Bowlegged Luke (by Uncle Krusty out of The Slow Mare) and for expecting the horse to be bred and raised in somewhat austere circumstances. Au contraire, gentle readers.

The winner was the 5-year-old Pescadero, a son of leading Kentucky sire Tiznow out of a Hennessy mare, and Pescadero was bred in Florida by no less an operation than the Padua Stable of Satish Sanan.

The Billy Powell was the first time that Pescadero had won a stakes, even if he doesn’t get black type for it, and it was his ninth victory from 36 starts. Most of those victories have been at less exalted levels, but the horse has some willingness to be a racer, and he certainly has some interesting relations.

His dam, the 12-year-old Hennessy mare Storming Heaven, went through the ring at the 1999 Keeneland July sale for $850,000. The mare was a half-sister to Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Desert Stormer and by the hottest young son of Storm Cat at the time of sale. No doubt, she also looked the part of a top sales yearling.

That is not the same thing as being a top racehorse, however.

Bred in Kentucky by Wakefield Farm, Storming Heaven squeezed out a win from eight starts, earning $26,670. Her first four foals were a nonwinning filly by Unbridled’s Song, a multiple winner by Grand Slam, Pescadero, and a multiple winning colt by Vindication.

At the November sale in 2006 and back in foal to Vindication, Storming Heaven sold to Akita Bokujo for $125,000 and passed out of the U.S. breeding pool.

That’s probably a good thing because, given the choice and the advantage of hindsight, which would you want in your broodmare band: Storming Heaven or Penpont?