OUTSIDE, THE WINTER wind whined across the gray snow. But inside, the Happy Handicapper pored through his stacks of Daily Racing Forms and dreamed of the green, green grass of summer. Not to mention the green, green color of money.
Turf racing was on his mind this day. It had been for several days since he talked to Sebastian P. Graffeo, a Buffalo lawyer who knows his way around the track. They had both been to the Breeders' Cup at Gulfstream and were comparing notes.
"I'm surprised you didn't have Prized," Graffeo said, rubbing salt into one of the H.H.'s major wounds of 1989.
Prized was the winner of the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf. Going into the race, Prized's credentials included a win over Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Sunday Silence and victory in the Molson Million at Woodbine. But the H.H. had discounted Prized's chances in the B.C. Turf because he had never run on the grass before. "It is usually a good rule of thumb not to bet an inexperienced horse on the turf," he had said. Prized won by a head and paid $19.60 for a $2 bet.
"You know," Graffeo continued, "Prized is by Kris S. He's one of the sires I have on this list of sires whose offspring have won their first grass start. Some of them paid huge prices."
Graffeo went on to dredge up more painful memories. Namely, the one that had the Handicapper talking to himself as he walked out of Gulfstream the afternoon before the Breeders' Cup.
"Remember that horse that won the last race on Friday? The one ridden by Kent Desormeaux?" Graffeo asked.
The H.H. cringed. The animal's name was Nefario Cabale. Not only was he ridden by the nation's winningest jockey, he was trained by Cam Gambolati, who won the 1985 Kentucky Derby with Spend a Buck. The H.H. was going to play him just on a hunch, but changed his mind after seeing that this was to be his first start on the grass. The horse paid $207.80.
"I had that horse, too," Graffeo said. "His sire (Compliance) was also on the list."
This was starting to sound like a nice list.
The idea of keeping a list of sires who seem to pass on grass-running talent to their offspring is nothing new. Handicapping books are full of them, as are various magazines and newspapers.
In 1988, for instance, the top five grass sires -- as measured by money won by their offspring -- were Roberto, Key to the Kingdom, Nureyev, Nijinsky, and Darby Creek Road.
But the idea of making a list of sires whose sons and daughters seemed to have the ability to win in their first grass start was something new. And something extra appealing. Those untried horses are just the kind many horseplayers overlook. When they win, they frequently pay major prices.
Graffeo promised to send a copy of the list, but the Happy One decided to do his own research on the subject.
It took about four hours but by the time he emerged from the stacks, he had a nice little list of his own. It contained the names of 71 sires who had at least one son or daughter who had won the first time on the turf.
There's not enough room to list them all. Some of the names -- like Caro, Roberto, and Nijinsky II -- are so well known that all their horses get bet way down on grass. But here's a look at some of the lesser-known sires who produced two or more first-time turf winners at good prices:
CURRENT HOPE: This son of 1974 Preakness-Belmont winner Little Current sired first-time grass winners Currently Red ($15.40 at Aqueduct in April) and Homeland ($22 at Hialeah in April).
COMPLIANCE: This obscure son of Northern Dancer and a mare named Sex Appeal won just $1,610 in a five-race career. At stud, he is best known for his stakes-winning son, Fourstardave. But he also sired the aforementioned Nefario Cabale and the successful grass debutante, Estates Jewel ($38 at Belmont in October).
DISTINCTIVE PRO: A sprinter (he once went six furlongs in 1:08 3/5 ), by speedy Mr. Prospector, it's a surprise to see this one siring turf winners. They include successful first-timers Jo Jo's Sparkle ($11.40 at Atlantic City in June) and Cap Rate ($14.60 at Hawthorne in June).
EXPLOSIVE BID: This son of Explodent exploded into seventh place on the sire list in 1989, thanks mainly to the accomplishments of Caltech, hero of the Washington, D.C. International. Alert players might have also caught his first-timers Classic Behavior ($10.60 at Meadowlands in October, 1988), Helluva Bid ($43.40 at Calder in June) and Sand Devil ($24.60 at Monmouth in August).
MAJESTIC LIGHT: There are so many "Majestic" stallions, it gets confusing. This one loved to go long on the turf and passes the talent along. First-time grass winners include Sarene Light ($40 at Belmont in June, 1988) and Split ($32 at Belmont in July).
MARI'S BOOK: This son of Northern Dancer is the daddy of two hard-knocking horses who won grass debuts: Ole Ochata ($10.60 at Belmont in September 1988) and Double Booked ($19.40 at Monmouth in June).
NASKRA: This sire of speedsters is not as well-known as a grass sire. But attentive and well-traveled handicappers could have had three of his first-time grassers last year. Naskra's Return ($6.40 at Hialeah in March), Nascram ($59.80 at Laurel in July) and Naskra's Smooch ($25.40 at the Meadowlands in October).
REGAL AND ROYAL: He won $132,502 in three years on the track. A daring bettor could have won almost that much parlaying his first-time grassers Bound to Be Royal ($63.40 at Hialeah in May) and Queenly Side Kick ($48.60 at Monmouth in August).