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The following post appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.
BUENOS AIRES — The victor in the Group 1 Estrellas Classic on Saturday at San Isidro racecourse in Buenos Aires was the bay colt Star Runner, a son of the great US-bred and Argentine-based stallion Southern Halo, who died in November 2009.
The most influential and successful Argentine stallion of the past generation, Southern Halo was a son of Halo and the Northern Dancer mare Northern Sea. Bred by E.P. Taylor, Southern Halo sold for $600,000 as a yearling to Stavros Niarchos, who raced him in the U.S. Second in both the G1 Super Derby and Swaps Stakes as a 3-year-old in 1986 but not a stakes winner during his racing career, Southern Halo had to sail afar to find stallion success when Niarchos sold him for export as a stallion prospect.
As a premium stallion in the Argentine, Southern Halo made his mark from the beginning, and the Carreras de las Estrellas, renewed for the 21st time this weekend, have proven to be a showcase for the talents and versatility of the stallion and his offspring.
Star Runner earned the fifth Estrellas Classic trophy for his sire, who also won with El Compinche (1996 and 1998), Manpower (2003), and Fairy Magic (2007). Over the years, offspring of Southern Halo have won 17 of the previous grand premios that make up the Estrellas program, and the stallion has had a winner of each of the seven races that make up the bulk of the card: the Classic, Distaff, Sprint, Junior Sprint, Mile, Juvenile, and Juvenile Fillies.
None of the Estrellas is so closely linked to the giant reputation of Southern Halo than the Sprint, which went to offspring of the stallion six times in seven years from 1995 through 2001. Three of those were, moreover, the years that the wonderful Wally dominated speed in the Southern Hemisphere to a degree that is unrivaled. The extraordinary daughter of Southern Halo out of the Logical mare Welcome won the Sprint in 1995 through 1997, when she was pretty much the fastest thing to wear plates in the racing world.
In part due to the massive impression that Wally made, along with a series of champion juveniles, Southern Halo became associated with the speed to an inordinate degree. But as Star Runner and numerous other fine athletes like El Compinche and Miss Linda (Spinster Stakes) have shown, speed was a benefit of breeding to Southern Halo, not a limitation. Many of the stallions’ offspring have excelled at eight, nine, or 10 furlongs, as well as many at the shorter distances.
The combination of the stallion’s immediate success in Argentina, internationally recognizable pedigree, and the versatility in his offspring made Coolmore reach out and acquire Southern Halo as a reverse shuttle horse for their burgeoning operation in Kentucky at Ashford Stud in the early 1990s.
And just as he had with his initial mares in Argentina, Southern Halo scored a big hit early in the Bluegrass. The star he sired in Kentucky is one of lasting brilliance: More Than Ready. As a high-class 2-year-old, More Than Ready won five of his seven starts, including the Flash, Tremont, and Sanford. The dark brown colt added victories in the G1 King’s Bishop and G2 Hutcheson the following year but was not a star for the Triple Crown.
That disappointment, added to the rather academic attitude of sales buyers’ rejecting some of Southern Halo’s stock as imperfect, produced a cooling off of the love affair with Kentucky breeders that had so quickly sprung around the stallion.
Not so long afterward, Southern Halo was restricted solely to covering in the Southern Hemisphere, and his production of top racers in Argentina has continued. The stallion’s influence in the Northern Hemisphere has enjoyed a renewal of success as More Than Ready has steadily earned respect as one of the best stallions in the world.
Uniformly better regarded at his Southern Hemisphere shuttle base in Australia than in Kentucky, More Than Ready has done his part to make believers of Northern Hemisphere breeders too. In last year’s Breeders’ Cup, the stallion had both the Juvenile turf winners, and this weekend, his daughter Buster’s Ready won the G1 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont.
At approximately the same time that the filly was winning the Mother Goose, Star Runner was loading into the gate for the Estrellas Classic against 10 others. A big, strongly made colt with a very good hindquarter, Star Runner has the head and eye typical of his sire. In the darkening skies around Buenos Aires, Star Runner required a hood to be led into the gate, but then stood quietly. The powerful bay broke well and easily raced in fifth or sixth through the first half of the race. Coming round the single turn into the stretch at San Isidro, Star Runner began applying pressure to the horses ahead of him, and then there were none. Although carried wide into the stretch, Star Runner looked an easy winner from a long way out.
Only the Incurable Optimist horse Gran Diogenes, who had a bad start and was last for most of the race, proved a threat in the stretch. Gran Diogenes made a fabulous run through the final furlongs of the Classic, as both he and Star Runner pulled away from the field, leaving Vitaminado six lengths back in third. As Gran Diogenes gained feet with each stride, only Star Runner’s picking up the pace and continuing stamina allowed him to run out the winner by a length and a half.
Star Runner is the third stakes winner and most successful offspring of the Luhuk mare Star Brown. The mare has an unraced full brother to Star Runner named Star Power. With Star Runner’s good looks, quality form, and strong pedigree, he will doubtless be in demand as a stallion when his racing career is over, especially as a possible successor to his sire.