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Progeny pay tribute to Honor Grades

It's a truism that when a stallion dies his progeny immediately lift their game and sharpen the loss felt by the stud that stands him.

That's certainly true of Honor Grades (Danzig-Weekend Surprise by Secretariat) who died suddenly at Darby Dan Farm, Kentucky on 31 March. His southern hemisphere progeny, led by Group One winners Honor Bound and Honor Lap, improved his record considerably in the weeks following his demise.

John Phillips, managing partner of Darby Dan, said "He was a kind horse, a picture of health and poised to move to the next level with his first crop of Kentucky three-year-olds. We are deeply grateful to his syndicate and, in particular, to Bonnie and Kim Heath for the privilege of standing him. Losing Honor Grades is a huge loss for all of us."

A half-brother to Summer Squall and Horse of the Year A.P. Indy, Honor Grades won five races and was placed three times at Grade 3 level in the US. He began his stud career at Bonnie Heath Farm in Florida in 1993, moving in 1998 to Darby Dan where he commanded a fee of $US15,000. His first Kentucky-bred three-year-olds include Easy Grades, second in last month's Santa Anita Derby G1.

The shift to the blue grass came after his first-crop son, dual Grade One winner Honor Glide, emerged as one of the better US three-year-olds of 1997. He has been followed by 11 other stakeswinners from Honor Grades' US-conceived crops, among them five in Graded Stakes company: Whata Brainstorm, Gone Fishin, Epic Honor, Kalu and Dr Park. And that doesn't include New Zealand-bred Connate Plus, sold to American owners and a stakeswinner in California after showing good form here as a three-year-old.

Honor Grades shuttled to Haunui Farm, Auckland from 1993 to 1997, standing at a fee of $7,500 and siring a total of 277 foals from five crops for 155 Australasian starters, 79 winners and nine stakeswinners (3.2% of foals, 5.8% of starters) to date. However, his New Zealand-bred progeny have tended to be more successful at four and five than at two and three and many, though by no means all, have needed 2000 metres or further to show their best form. This may have made him unfashionable but it hasn't rendered him ineffective.

Honor Bound, previously a Group 2 winner, added the ARC Easter Handicap 1600m G1 to her record at about the time her sire died but was retired after suffering an injury at Te Rapa on 27 April. Consistent campaigner Harvard Honor scored his seventh win in the CJC Great Easter S. 1400m LR at Riccarton Park on 6 April and a week later Honor Lap won the 2400-metre Western Australian Derby G1.

Honor Grades has had several other good New Zealand performers this season. Five-year-old Ebony Honor has had a frustrating year, earning more than $100,000 from 16 starts in 2001-02 without greeting the judge. Five of those starts have been in Group One races, with his best efforts coming in the Wellington Cup (second, for the second time) and Auckland Cup (third). He's a genuine, firm-track stayer who lacks only an ounce of luck and a slightly better turn of foot to turn placings into victories. Like Crème de Honor (6 wins), Desert Rain (6 wins), Honourable Mention (6 wins) and Pheroz Honor (8 wins) he seems unable to shed his Group-placed status, but is nevertheless an admirable competitor.

Honor Grades' last New Zealand-bred progeny are now three-year-olds and it's arguable that they are from the best book of mares he served here. With the likes of G1 Honor Lap, G3-placed Star of Honor and winners Ultimate Honor, Honor Babe, Panatella and Dadandave already among them the chances are good that their sire's grades will improve further over the next two or three years.

Acknowledgements to Arion Pedigrees and the New Zealand Stud Book for statistical data.
- Susan Archer


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