Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Unusual Path to Acclamation

The 1990 Nureyev-Rossard colt as a yearling.
Havre de Grace, Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Azeri, Lady’s Secret, All Along, Moccasin, Busher, and Twilight Tear aren’t the only female Horses of the Year who have made their mark in the United States. Another, Rossard, is a most unusual source of stakes winners in this country, unusual because she carries a quaint country code after her name: (DEN) for Denmark, where she was foaled in 1980. Her grandson, Acclamation, picked up an Eclipse Award last night as 2011 champion older male.

Rossard had been an exceptional runner in Scandinavia. In 1983, she won the Denmark Derby, Swedish Derby, Danish Oaks, Swedish Oaks, Danish St. Leger and the Danish 1,000 Guineas for trainer Hans Adielsson. The filly won all Danish classics that season bar the 2,000 Guineas. She was named Horse of the Year in Sweden, as well as champion three-year-old filly in Denmark and Sweden.

She made eight starts the following season in North America, for Catherine T. Koffend and trainer Evan S. Jackson, winning three times, including the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Handicap at Belmont Park under Laffit Pincay Jr.

Rossard was a daughter of Swedish St. Leger winner Glacial, a Danish-bred son of Pardal. Pardal, a full brother (by Pharis) to Arc winner Ardan, had won the Jockey Club Stakes, Princess of Wales’s Stakes, Lowther Stakes, and the Great Yorkshire Stakes, all in England. Rossard’s dam was the British-bred Peas-Blossom, who was exported to Denmark after she had failed to win on the racecourse, a daughter of the Paul Mellon-bred stakes winner Midsummer Night. Rossard’s was a stout pedigree, and unheard of bloodlines in North America.

That being said, the success of this family is not unprecedented on the continent. This is the same female family as 1986 Canadian Broodmare of the Year Loudrangle. Light of Day (by Hyperion), Rossard’s third dam, was also the third dam of Loudrangle, who produced 1986 Canadian Horse of the Year Ruling Angel – another female Horse of the Year – and 1987 Canadian champion Tilt My Halo, and was granddam of two more Canadian champions: 2004 Horse of the Year Soaring Free, and 1988 champion three-year-old colt Regal Intention.

Rossard was retired to stud following her lone season of racing in North America, and she was subsequently bred to dual Arc winner Alleged. John T.L. Jones Jr. of Walmac Int’l purchased her from the 1985 Keeneland November sale consignment of Pegasus Stud for $300,000.

Crystal Springs Joint Venture and Jones (in partnership with Red McCombs one year) bred the mare’s first three foals: a 1986 colt by Alleged (Pitchfork); 1988 filly by Nureyev (Dot Dot Dash); and 1989 filly by Miswaki (Danish Prospector).

With three foals on the ground – one of which, Pitchfork, had raced, managing just a placing – Crystal Springs and Jones put Rossard, in foal to Walmac’s flagship stallion Nureyev, through the 1989 Keeneland November sale, where Jones bought out his partner for $320,000, probably more for the valuable Nureyev foal in utero than for the mare herself.

Nureyev, sire of Unusual Heat.
Rossard foaled a stout, near-black colt on January 1, 1990. Jones bred the mare back to Nureyev’s Grade 1-winning son Stately Don and sold her to Kirsten Rausing – the Swedish doyenne of Newmarket-based Lanwades Stud in England – for $55,000 at the Keeneland November sale that autumn.

A skittish Unusual Heat meeting me (my arm) for the first time.

Unusual Heat with his best childhood friend, Julie's Jazz.
When the Nureyev colt was a yearling, Walmac offered him at the now-defunct Keeneland July sale, where he was not sold for $185,000. A year later, Jones’s Two Creek Ranch consigned him to a two-year-olds-in-training sale, selling him to The Oaks (Dr. Thomas T.S. Liang) for $250,000, and he was subsequently exported to Ireland and sent to the Curragh yard of trainer Dermot Weld.

The colt, named Unusual Heat, was moderately successful, winning four-of-ten starts from two to four in Ireland. He won three Listed stakes races, two at a mile and one at nine furlongs, and was third in the Group 3 Concorde S.

Owner Liang sent the horse to Richard Mandella in California, where he made his first start as a six-year-old, debuting in an allowance at Santa Anita. He was a half-length second to stakes winner Nonproductiveasset, who had finished second in the Strub Stakes-G1 two years prior. Unusual Heat’s next race, another allowance, saw him run third – a length and a neck behind 1995 Breeders’ Cup Turf-G1 winner Northern Spur (Ire) and Grade 2 winner Wavy Run (Ire).

Encouraged by Unusual Heat’s ability to hang with the big boys, Mandella ran him with stablemate Atticus, another son of Nureyev (who later won a Grade 1), in a minor stakes race at Hollywood Park, but he could only finish fifth, one place behind Atticus. Fifteen days later, on June 10, 1996, Unusual Heat was entered in a claiming race, which he won under Laffit Pincay Jr., who had guided the horse’s dam Rossard to her Flower Bowl victory.

But the real winner that day was Barry Abrams and the Auerbach family, although it would be some time yet before they realized the full extent of it: Abrams and Auerbach (along with Team Green and Wolkoff, et al) claimed Unusual Heat from Liang for $80,000, beating out trainer Mike Mitchell in the shake.

He raced twice for the new ownership, all in less than two weeks from the claim. With Chris Antley aboard (the only time Pincay did not ride him Stateside), Unusual Heat ran sixth of seven in the Grade 2 Shoemaker Breeders’ Cup Mile S., then he won a $125,000 claiming race on June 29th by 2-1/2 lengths.

The chart line reads that he “returned lame.” Eight months later, the tendon injury he had sustained in the race hadn’t healed well enough for a return to the track, and he was retired. There had been a deal to sell Unusual Heat to an Argentine farm for stud duty, but when that fell through, his owners thought they had no other option and concluded, “Why not stand him ourselves?”

Why not, indeed.

Unusual Heat duly rewarded their faith in him by quickly producing top-quality runners, despite starting off with a first crop of just 15 foals, two of whom would go on to be stakes winners. He has been the leading sire in California from 2008-2011, and sired the newly minted Eclipse Award winner Acclamation, who won three Grade 1 stakes last year and one in 2010.

Other top sons and daughters of Unusual Heat are Grade 1 winners Golden Doc A, The Usual Q. T., Unusual Suspect, Grade 2 winners Burns (who sadly passed away at Santa Anita last year), Lethal Heat, Pretty Unusual, and Tucked Away, and Grade 3 winner Lightmyfirebaby. Among his other stakes winners (24 in total) are Grade 1-placed Bel Air Sizzle and Grade 2-placed Spend it All Baby. Many of these, although not Acclamation, raced as homebreds for the Auerbachs and were trained by Abrams. Acclamation was bred by Old English Rancho,  where Unusual Heat stood before moving to Harris Farms prior to the 2011 breeding season, and trained by Don Warren on behalf of E.W. “Bud” and Judy Johnston (of Old English Rancho) and Peter and Mary Hilvers.

(Click here to go to Unusual Heat’s website.)

As it turned out, from thirteen named foals out of Rossard, Unusual Heat was the only one who was any count on the racetrack. But his older full sister, Dot Dot Dash, produced multiple stakes winner Dash of Humor (by Distorted Humor), dam of 2011 stakes winner Lil Bit O’Fun (by Langfuhr); and stakes-placed Two Dot Slew (by Evansville Slew), dam of 2011 stakes winner Angelica Zapata (by Sharp Humor).

Stakes producer Dot Dot Dash, as a two-year-old.

Dot Dot Dash, a full sister to Unusual Heat, and a very different physical type to him.
Danish Prospector, the Miswaki filly out of Rossard, is granddam of stakes winner Three’s a Crowd (by Ecton Park). Note that three of the four stakes winners under daughters of Rossard are by Forty Niner-line sires.

Rossard produced her last foal, for Tim Holland, in 2002. The mare was found dead of old age in her paddock at Huntertown Farm in Paris, Kentucky, in March of 2005, at the age of 25.

As a sidenote to this blog post, I knew Rossard, as well as Dot Dot Dash, Danish Prospector, and Unusual Heat as youngsters. I don’t remember much of Rossard physically except that I think she was plain and not a big horse, nor do I recall her personality. (I would scan in a photo if the entire R section of my filed pictures hadn’t disappeared.) She shared her paddock with Parrish Princess, the dam of champion Princess Rooney and a Nureyev filly (Julie’s Jazz) who was Unusual Heat’s playmate.

Danish Prospector was the first horse I ever showed at a yearling sale, at Keeneland in July of 1990. I was paired up with her because she was small, especially for a foal of January 7, and the thought was that she would look less tiny next to an equally small me. I remember a British stud manager inspecting the plain bay filly and saying to me, “Even with you holding her, she’s still small.”

"E.T." (and the gray tail of Parrish Princess).
A year later, during a summer vacation from high school, I worked in the yearling barn with Unusual Heat. I had also known him as a foal, when one of the farmhands nicknamed him “E.T.” because he thought the marking on the colt’s face was in the shape of Spielberg’s martian. As a yearling, the Rossard colt, as he was then known, was not my favorite to exercise: he was very thick – a tank – and always had some fancy footwork with undiscriminating, rather violent placement of his shod feet, but occasionally I ended up having to turn him out. One night, he stomped on me so hard I thought my little toe was severed. I managed to get him to his paddock, then hobbled back to the barn to take off my shoe and sock to see the damage. My toe was smashed but, I was happy to note, still attached to my foot. To this day, there’s a bump on it.

A tank, after being bought back in July of his yearling year.
Who would have ever thought that the U.S. breeding industry’s most influential female Horse of the Year of the last 30 years (not counting Havre de Grace, Zenyatta, and Rachel Alexandra, who haven’t produced foals yet) would be a Danish-bred, primarily Scandinavian-raced, one?


  1. Wonderful post Frances. I am so appreciative of your insight into Unusual Heat as a young horse and his family history. Thank you for all of your information.

    Best Regards,

    Harris Auerbach

  2. What an informative and fun blog! I've enjoyed watching the Unusual Heats races (on tv) but I knew nothing of the back story, so this is delightful to learn so much. Thank you!!