(A loyal reader made a query about Sunday Silence and whether the horse’s color affected the perception of breeders. The response to that question, and a bit of further amplification, is below.)
The winner of the 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Sunday Silence (by Halo) is mostly remembered in the U.S. as the great challenger of 1988 juvenile champion Easy Goer (Alydar). The winner of a maiden at 2, Sunday Silence rose to prominence swiftly at 3, winning an allowance, the San Felipe, and then the Santa Anita Derby as his prep for the big event in Kentucky.
An exceptionally high-class racehorse who appealed greatly to fans for his volatile character and independence, the color of Sunday Silence didn’t affect his appeal to people. The horse had inherited the color of his sire, Halo, who had been a high-priced sales yearling sold to Charles Engelhard and later became a high-class racehorse and sire. Among racing fans, Sunday Silence had a tremendous following, but among breeders, the attitude was quite a lot more reserved. This wasn’t related to his coloring, which could be seen as an indication of inheriting quite a lot of the better Halo genetics; the drawback to Sunday Silence as a stallion prospect was 1) the breeding economics of the day and 2) the fairly obscure, non-commercial names in the bottom half of the pedigree that represented his dam.
The Reagan tax reform act of 1986 hit the horse business (and several other areas of investment) very hard because it changed the way that losses in horses, housing, real estate, and some other things could be written off against income on taxes. As a result, prices in those areas plummeted because so many people were bailing out, and horses were awash in the marketplace. People with the money to breed racehorses were very uncertain about how much it would cost them and how much it would impact their overall “wealth” to do so.
As a result, there was a serious depression in prices at sales and consequently in the private market for stallion shares. When, in 1990, Easy Goer was retired, he was not syndicated; he was retained as wholly owned by Ogden Phipps, his breeder. The same year, when Arthur Hancock tried to syndicate Sunday Silence and needed to do so for his own economic stability, he was able to get a positive response from only a couple of stalwart, essentially home-breeding operations, W.T. Young at Overbrook and Josephine Abercrombie at Pin Oak Stud. As a result, Zenya Yoshida, who already owned a quarter-interest in the horse, was able to offer enough money (about $11 million gross) to buy Sunday Silence outright and take him to stand in Japan at his Shadai Farm.
That changed the history of Japanese racing and breeding forever.
The second point of concern among breeders was the pedigree of Sunday Silence’s dam Wishing Well. She was a good racemare, winning a dozen races from 38 starts, but she had a pedigree that was contrary to fashion and familiarity. Her sire was the good Promised Land horse Understanding (who won the Stuyvesant Handicap but sired only two stakes winners). The sires of the next three dams were Montparnasse (Gulf Stream), Hillary (Khaled), and Free France (Man o’ War). Very few Kentucky stallions had such a pedigree and certainly no other highly successful stallion had a pedigree with so many unfamiliar names. Fear and uncertainty ruled.
Yoshida, on the other hand, was looking for a high-class racehorse who was an outcross for his great Northern Dancer sire Northern Taste (Northern Dancer) and for the many other Northern Dancer-line mares that were being purchased to breed in Japan. Sunday Silence fitted those requirements perfectly.
And so, history was made.
In fairness to all, up until his first crop came to the races in 1994, nobody — at least among the Kentucky commercial breeders — expected Sunday Silence to be a serious success. He was too rangy and lean and atypical of the “commercial type” that has come to dominate American racing and breeding.
Genetics and character predominated in the success of Sunday Silence and gave racing and breeding in Japan an unquestionable boost in excellence and in worldwide acceptance of that athletic ability. In a sad twist of fate, Zenya Yoshida did not live to see the horse’s great success, dying in 1993.
The Sunday Silence line is not well-represented outside of Japan, but one high-class grandson, by Sunday Silence’s important son Heart’s Cry, stands at WinStar Farm in Kentucky. The horse’s named is … Yoshida.