Friday, October 2, 2009

In remembrance of a great racing matron: Goulash, dam of Ashado

It's been a rough few weeks among the American stallion ranks. Thursday, the matronly side of the breeding business recognized a notable loss when it was announced that Goulash, dam of champion Ashado and four other other blacktype foals, had died on Wednesday.

The 16-year-old mare was euthanized due to founder and will be buried at Kentucky's Taylor Made Farm. She had not been bred in 2008 or 2009 due to her declining health.

Apart from being a great broodmare, Goulash was a fine runner in her own right. The bay daughter of Mari's Book out of the Blushing Groom mare Wise Bride was bred in Florida by Haras Santa Maria de Araras and won half of her 12 lifetime starts, including the Las Ninas Stakes at Fairplex at age 3 for trainer Ted West and co-owner Scott Gunther, who had claimed her from the breeders at a price of $50,000. Goulash was three other times stakes-placed, including the Grade 3 Linda Vista Handicap at Santa Anita and earned $162,975.

Her sons and daughters would achieve far more, and four of them would make the Goulash-Saint Ballado mating one of the more successful repeat-performances in the breeding shed of the last few decades.

Taylor Made both consigned Goulash to the 1998 Keeneland January sale on behalf of West and Gunther, and bought her for $100,000 for Aaron and Marie Jones in the name of Courtesy Bloodstock. According to The Blood-Horse Authoritative Guide to Breeding Thoroughbreds, Goulash had been selected by pedigree guru Les Brinsfield as being especially suited to a stallion at Taylor Made in which the Joneses owned a significant interest: Saint Ballado (Halo-Ballade, by Herbager), a Grade 2 winner, splendid sire, and full brother to Canadian Horse of the Year and four-times champion Glorious Song, and to Eclipse champion 2-year-old Devil's Bag.

"Due to the potential that Les saw in her, we actually bought Goulash for Mr. Jones specifically to breed her to Saint Ballado," said Duncan Taylor, president of the farm.

Said Brinsfield of the mating: "One thing that I look for is the opportunity to breed a stallion back to mares from his own family, and since Saint Ballado had one of the strongest female influences in Almahmoud already in his pedigree, I wanted to be able to double- or triple-up on Almahmoud."

Dam of Cosmah and Natalma (in turn dams of noteworthy runners and sires Halo and Northern Dancer, respectively), Almahmoud is quite prevalent in thoroughbred pedigrees thanks to those prepotent sires. By finding mares carrying different descendants of that taproot mare, Brinsfield sought to obtain additional strains of Almahmoud without inbreeding to Northern Dancer and Halo. In theory, that focuses the influence on Almahmoud herself, not on the grandsons.

"In sending Goulash to Saint Ballado," said Brinsfield, "not only do you triple Almahmoud, but there's no doubling of Northern Dancer and Halo."

The mating does double-up on Cosmah, for she is the dam of Maribeau, dam-sire of Mari's Book, and also tacks on an additional strain of Almahmoud's sire, Mahmoud, through his son Cohoes, sire of Saint Ballado's second dam, Miss Swapsco. Which leaves me to wonder whether it was really the tripling of Almahmoud or the quadrupling of Mahmoud that did the trick, if the linebreeding was the secret at all.

Whatever it was, in a business in which the recipe for breeding success calls for mixing two parts "best" with one part "hope," the resulting foal was never a failure when Saint Ballado and Goulash were paired.

The first on the ground was a 1999 filly dubbed Ballado's Halo. She was three times a winner and modestly stakes-placed twice at Turfway Park, earning a little over $80,000. Her first two foals to race are both winners for their connections.

A year later, the second of three consecutive foals born to the pair was brought into the world -- this one, the first colt. Named Saint Stephen, he would prove talented and versatile, winning seven of his 28 lifetime starts, including the Native Diver H.-G3 on the main track at Hollywood Park and the Henry Clark Stakes at a mile on turf at Pimlico. He was eventually retired in 2007 and went to stud in 2008 at Bar None Ranches Ltd. in Alberta, where he stood for a fee of $3,000 Canadian in 2009.

The third foal, and second filly, was the real standout.

That dark bay filly, born Feb. 4, 2001, would be named Ashado. And when she went to the track at age 2, she was brilliant virtually from the word "go."

Ashado won four of six her juvenile season, including three graded-stakes: The Spinaway-G1, Schuylerville-G2 and Demoiselle-G2. Only Halfbridled -- who relegated her to second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies -- stood between Ashado and the juvenile championship.

Halfbridled would never win another stakes race. Ashado, during her 3-year-old campaign particularly, would rarely lose.

At 3, Ashado won five of eight starts, all Grade 2 stakes or better, earning $2,259,640. She was victorious at the Grade-1 level in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Breeders' Cup Distaff, the latter in a Lone Star Park record 1:48 1/5 for 9 furlongs, cementing her as champion 3-year-old filly.

At age 4, despite proving far more beatable, Ashado secured the title of Eclipse champion older mare. She earned another $1 million-plus (retiring with $3,931,440) and all three of her wins from seven starts were Grade 1 stakes; the Beldame, Ogden Phipps Handicap and Go For Wand Handicap. After finishing third to Pleasant Home and Society Selection in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, she was retired for breeding, and was sold by Taylor Made to John Ferguson Bloodstock for a broodmare-prospect record $9 million at the 2005 Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale.

The pairing of Goulash and Saint Ballado was given a break in 2001 after she foaled Ashado, but Goulash herself still had work to do. She was mated to Storm Creek, and with the resulting foal -- a colt named Storm Creek Rising -- Goulash proved she could be a good producer, regardless of sire. Storm Creek Rising would win four of his 13 lifetime starts, place in sprint-stakes at Aqueduct and Belmont, and earn $164,712.

Though the historic significance of the Saint Ballado-Goulash mating was still an unknown when it came time for her to be bred back after foaling Storm Creek Rising in 2002 (Ballado's Halo had not debuted until age 3 that year, Saint Stephen didn't race at 2 and Ashado was just a yearling), Goulash and Saint Ballado were paired again for the foal of 2003. That son -- Sunriver -- would become Goulash's second Grade 1 winner.

Sunriver was a winner from two starts at 2, then finished third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby (behind the ill-fated Barbaro) on the Kentucky Derby trail and collected the winner's share in the venerable Peter Pan S.-G2 at age 3. But he came into his own when switched to the turf and given some serious distance, winning the Hollywood Turf Cup S.-G1 at a mile and a half, annexing Belmont's Bowling Green H.-G2 at 11 furlongs and finishing second behind Doctor Dino in the 12-furlong Man O'War S.-G1, also at at Belmont.

With $816,414 in earnings, Sunriver retired to Empire Stud in New York, where he suffered an untimely death on Aug. 27 this year, victim of an apparent heart attack or anyeurism, at the young age of 6. His first foals are weanlings of 2009, and the farm estimates that his 2009 and 2010 crops will total some 150 sons and daughters.

A few months after siring Sunriver, Saint Ballado died at Taylor Made in October 2002, and Goulash's production had waned since.

Her 2004 colt, a full brother to Storm Creek Rising named Turbulent Storm, went unraced. Her 2005 colt Blind Hero (Unbridled's Song), so-named because he lost his left eye at just three days of age, won two of three starts when he debuted at age 3 last year, but is unplaced from three starts in 2009. A 2006 Forestry filly, Sweet Mariage, is unraced. And, a 2007 Storm Cat named Drover has hit the board once from his two starts this year as a juvenile, earning $11,000.

Goulash's last foal is a 2008 colt by Unbridled's Song, who sold for $925,000 to Demi O'Byrne at this year's recently concluded September Keeneland yearling sale.

Apparently with most of her foals since Sunriver, the connections were trying to tap some of the Storm Cat-line success that was evident in Storm Creek Rising. Commercially, choices like Forestry, Storm Cat and Unbridled's Song make perfect sense.

But I have to think they might have missed the boat on getting a racehorse by overlooking Saint Ballado's full brother Devil's Bag, who was still standing at Claiborne Farm in 2003 and 2004 (dying in February 2005 due to a broken leg in a paddock accident), and since, by ignoring Devil His Due, five-times Grade 1-winning son of Devil's Bag. (Or, for that matter, Saint Ballado's horse-of-the-year son, Saint Liam, in his only year at stud before also dying from a paddock accident.)

While the brilliance of their foals either on the track or in the sales ring cannot compare, Devil's Bag sired more than 40 stakes winners, including G1 millionaires Twilight Agenda and Japanese Horse of the Year Taiki Shuttle, and Devil His Due's results of 78 percent starters and 57 percent winners from all foals actually exceed Storm Cat's lifetime totals of 73 percent runners and 52 percent winners. Devil His Due also has sired "the big horse" at least once -- Dubai World Cup-G1 winner Roses In May, who earned nearly $5.5 million.

In a business known for its fickle fates, few matings have been so consistently successful as Goulash with Saint Ballado.

I'd have gone back to that well -- or the closest watering hole to it -- every chance I got, at least after Ashado's championship 3-year-old season in 2004.

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