Sunday Silence might be the most maligned, under appreciated champion in Thoroughbred history. Right from his birth at Arthur Hancock III’s Stone Farm in Kentucky, the black colt by Halo – Wishing Well by Understanding was shunned. Tom Tatham of Oak Cliff Thoroughbreds Ltd. was the man who selected Halo to breed to Wishing Well. He liked the fact that this mating would create a 4×5 inbreed to Mahmoud. Tatham noted that Devil’s Bag, the champion two year old colt of 1983 was also sired by Halo and inbred to Mahmoud 4×4, and liked the that colt so much that he felt Wishing Well would make a perfect mate to Halo, who was standing at Stone Farm.
Ted Keefer, bloodstock adviser to Tatham, was so disinterested in Wishing Well`s son that he refused to even look at him saying “Get that ugly little black colt out of my sight!” He advised his boss to sell the colt at any cost. He was a skinny youngster with crooked hind legs and a not very friendly personality. One of Tatham’s trainers, Gary Jones who had trained Wishing Well, noted that her foal colt “had back legs like a coat hanger”. It seemed as if this son of Halo just could not get any respect.
The little black colt went unsold as a yearling and again as a two year old in training. Hancock was forced to buy back Sunday Silence on both occasions. Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham agreed to buy a 50% interest in the two year old and start the feisty Sunday Silence toward his early lessons to become a race horse. Whittingham would soon discover that this little black colt could propel those crooked back legs very quickly and have the tough disposition to compete with success.
Whittingham was very aware of the reputation of Halo’s offspring stating “Halo is a mean sucker and Sunday had a lot of his traits, so you had to be on your toes with him”. Sunday Silence was very much in his sire’s image, both in appearance and in personality. He was known to be an aggressive belligerent horse during training and especially as a stallion. His accomplishments on the track however far exceeded that of Halo. He would earn “RESPECT” from everyone who knew him and had to race against him. His theme song could have been the classic sixty’s hit R E S E P C T by Aretha Franklin.
Sunday Silence was able to channel his aggressive nature into the strong will needed to fend off the challenges he faced on the track, especially during his epic encounters with his arch rival Easy Goer. These two would hook up four times, all of which in the most prestigious races on the US racing calendar, the Triple Crown and the Breeder’s Cup. Sunday Silence won three of the encounters losing only the Belmont Stakes to Easy Goer thus being denied the Triple Crown.
The rivalry was packed with additional intrigue as Easy Goer was from the east, bred from regal bloodlines from a powerful and well established stable in American turf history. He was a grand looking colt with a nice demeanour and an air of class and dignity, along with a powerful and fluid running style. Easy Goer was the reigning champion two year old and looked every bit like a champion Thoroughbred should. His trainer was Hall of Fame inductee Claude “Shug” McGaughey, his jockey was Pat Day.
Sunday Silence was from the west, born of average (at that time) breeding. His black coat gave him the look of the bad guy from classic children’s western TV shows. The eastern supporters viewed him like he was Darth Vader of horse racing, due to his roguish behaviour and developing reputation. He was an up and comer with a pit bull style. His trainer was Hall of Fame inductee Charlie Whittingham, his jockey was Pat Valenzuela.
The Kentucky Derby would be the first meeting of these two equine rivals. Sunday Silence drew first bragging rights in the rivalry, winning the Run for the Roses from Easy Goer. The race had its moments of intrigue. Northern Wolf, who started from the outside in the auxiliary gate, burst out from his stall when the gates opened and gunned for the lead. He then angled toward the inside causing Pat Day on Easy Goer to check the big chestnut race favourite when they passed the finish line for the first time. Northern Wolf continued his quest for the lead and get a more inside track, bumping into Dansil who in turn bumped into Sunday Silence. ABC broadcaster Jim McKay, a big racing advocate, later commented that the first pass by the main grandstand looked like a rodeo.
Once the field got sorted out around the first turn, Houston led the field, followed by Clever Trevor and Northern Wolf, with Sunday Silence six lengths behind the leader and Easy Goer a further two lengths back. This order did not change until the quarter mile pole when Valenzuela would ask Sunday for his run. While the black colt was gaining with every stride on the leaders, Pat Day could not get his chestnut champion to keep pace. Sunday Silence swept past the leaders and kept right on going down the home stretch to win the Derby by a convincing two and a half lengths. Easy Goer finally got into his stride in the home stretch but left himself with too much to do and finished second, just ahead of stable mate Awe Inspiring.
The Preakness Stakes was next in what became one of the greatest stretch duels one can ever witness. Easy Goer would stalk Sunday Silence for the early part of the race as the two of them allowed Houston to set the early pace. At the top of the far turn, Pat Day then steered Easy Goer to move around Sunday Silence and head his rival on the far turn. Pat Valenzuela took Sunday Silence outside Easy Goer and grabbed the lead at the top of the stretch. The battle was now on. Easy Goer along the rail got his head in front only to have Sunday Silence wear him down to capture the Preakness in a photo finish.
In the Belmont Stakes, Easy Goer again stalked Sunday Silence as these two were following European invader Le Voyageur who was setting the pace. At the far turn Sunday Silence went after La Voyageur and took the lead in the turn, but only briefly. Easy Goer was now in full stride and overtook Sunday Silence as they entered the long Belmont home stretch. Easy Goer was not be denied by his rival on this day as he won the Belmont by an ever widening eight lengths. Sunday Silence had no answer and barely managed to hang on for second place over La Voyageur. The rest of the field was so far back that they would have to read the race report to find out the order of the top three.
These two went their separate ways until the final battle in the Breeder’s Cup at Gulfstream Park. Sunday Silence made only two starts before the big showdown with a second place finish to Prized in the Swaps Stakes and then victory in the Super Derby. Easy Goer would cement his name among the all time greats by sweeping the Whitney, Travers, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup. The stage was set for the most anticipated race of the year.
Slew City Slew set a blistering first quarter mile in 22.40 as Sunday Silence who broke alertly was five lengths off with Easy Goer another five lengths further behind. Along the backstretch Easy Goer made up ground to Sunday Silence and got to his rival’s neck before Valenzuela asked Sunday Silence for more and set off after the faltering Slew City Slew and Blushing John in the far turn. This move by Sunday Silence would propel him three lengths ahead of Easy Goer and to Blushing John who had relieved Slew City Slew of the lead at the seven furlong mark. Sunday Silence tenaciously wore down the game Blushing John in the stretch and then hold off a surging Easy Goer to take the Breeder’s Cup Classic by a diminishing head victory.
The east/west rivalry thing debated in the press made for great headlines, and the sport got a lot of copy from the riveting rivalry of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. The eastern press claimed that Sunday Silence was lucky in the Derby and the Breeder’s Cup because their star could not get a hold of the track, while the western press said that Easy Goer could only beat Sunday Silence on his home track and nowhere else. Very seldom do we ever get the chance to watch two supreme equine athletes compete consistently at the highest level in the top races. When it does happen everyone who loves horse racing wins.
Sunday Silence was voted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year and champion three year old relegating Easy Goer to the most accomplished horse not to win this prestigious award in modern memory.
Sunday Silence also had victories in the Santa Anita Derby and the San Felipe Handicap in his championship season. He made only two starts as a four year old, winning the grade one Californian Stakes and finishing second in the Hollywood Gold Cup to Criminal Type.
Sunday Silence retired from racing to stand stud at Stone Farm in Kentucky. He was not supported very well in Kentucky by North American breeders, despite his stellar record of nine wins and five second places from fourteen starts. His conformation, pedigree and temperament were not appreciated in the US. Again, Sunday Silence did not get the respect he was due. He was subsequently sold to Japanese breeder Zenya Yoshida and exported to his Shadai Stallion Station in Hokkaido, Japan. Sunday Silence became a revelation in the Far East, and has founded a dynasty, which is spreading around the world.
In Japan he would take over the crown of top sire in that country from Northern Taste (a son of Northern Dancer) who had been the leading Japanese based sire ten times. Sunday Silence led the Japan sire list from 1995 through 2007. His progeny read like a who’s who in Japanese turf history. Sunday Silence has also proven to be a sire of sires.
Many of his star runners won grade/group one races outside their native land as well. This list includes Stay Gold (Dubai Classic and Hong Kong Vase), Hat Trick (Hong Kong Mile), and Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup winners Dance Partner and To the Victory.
Sunday Silence’s son Agnes Tachyon led the Japanese sire list the year after Sunday Silence ended his thirteen year domination, followed by another son the next year in the form of Manhattan Café. Graded stakes winner Silent Name became the leading sire in Canada in 2013 with just three crops of racing age.
Deep Impact (Japanese Triple Crown, Japan Cup etc) was arguably the best Sunday Silence progeny on the track. He was the Japanese Horse of the Year as a three year old and repeated as Horse of the Year at four. At the time of writing, Deep Impact has sired ten grade/group one winners including Gentildonna (Japan Cup twice, Japan Filly Triple Crown and Sheema Classic), Beauty Parlour (Poule d’Essai des Pouliches) and Kizuna (Japan Derby), Real Impact (Yasuda Kinen, Hanshin Cup twice), Deep Brilliante (Japan Derby), and Verxina (Victoria Mile twice) among his one-hundred and three stakes winners so far. Deep Impact is among the top five current sires in the world today.
Sunday Silence’s son Hat Trick has sired Dabirsim (Champion Two Year old in Europe) group one winner King David and Zapata (Argentine 2000 Guineas). Another son named Stay Gold is also becoming a successful sire with six grade/group one winners to his credit including Orfevre (Japan Triple Crown and the Prix Foy in France).
To the Japanese people, Sunday Silence became a national treasure and when he contracted laminitis, the public was given daily reports of his battle to survive. He fought the brave fight as only he knew how, as he had been a battler all his life. When he was a weanling, he had overcome a serious virus that threatened his life and then when he was two he survived in a van that had flipped over when the driver suffered a heart attack. Along with his courageous battles on the track, and this final battle with a serious equine disease, Sunday Silence would keep battling until he could no longer. He died lying in his stall as he could no longer get up and subsequently passed away from heart failure. His death was mourned in Japan as he was laid to rest at Shadai Stallion Station.
The little black colt that nobody wanted had become the champion of his generation on the track and still nobody wanted to breed their mares to him. He then “immigrated” to Japan, where he was given a chance to become a champion stallion in the breeding shed. He did this with such resounding success that now breeders in North America are beginning to clamour for the offspring he has left behind to add to their own breeding programs.
In the end, Sunday Silence earned the “RESPECT” of the entire Thoroughbred world. No horse in history had to overcome more than he to achieve this. I can hear Aretha Franklin singing her famous song to him in his honour.
(Photo courtesy of Shadai Stallion Station)