Sunday Silence

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Sunday Silence
Sunday Silence at Shadai Stallion Station, Hayakita(Abira) Hokkaido Japan.
Sunday Silence at Shadai Stallion Station Hayakita(Abira), Hokkaido, Japan.
GrandsireHail To Reason
DamWishing Well
FoaledMarch 25, 1986
DiedAugust 19, 2002(2002-08-19) (aged 16)
BreederOak Cliff Thoroughbreds, Ltd.
OwnerH-G-W Partners
Racing colors: Gray, yellow sash, sleeves and cap
TrainerCharlie Whittingham
Record14: 9–5–0
Major wins
Santa Anita Derby (1989)
San Felipe Stakes (1989)
Super Derby (1989)
Californian Stakes (1990) American Classics / Breeders' Cup wins:
Kentucky Derby (1989)
Preakness Stakes (1989)
Breeders' Cup Classic (1989)
U.S. Champion 3-Year-Old Colt (1989)
United States Horse of the Year (1989)
United States Racing Hall of Fame (1996)
#31 – Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century
Sunday Silence Stakes in Louisiana Downs
Leading sire in Japan 1995 through 2007
Last updated on January 12, 2008

Sunday Silence (March 25, 1986 – August 19, 2002) was an American-bred Thoroughbred racehorse and Sire. In 1989, he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes but failed to complete the Triple Crown when he was defeated in the Belmont Stakes. Later in the same year, he won the Breeders' Cup Classic and was voted American Champion Three-Year-Old Colt and American Horse of the Year. Sunday Silence's racing career was marked by his rivalry with Easy Goer, whom he had a three to one edge over in their head-to-head races.[2] Easy Goer, the 1988 American Champion Two-Year-Old Colt finished second to Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby by two-and-a-half lengths, Preakness by a nose and Breeders' Cup Classic by a neck. Easy Goer prevailed by eight lengths in the Belmont. Both horses were later voted into the American Hall of Fame.

After his retirement from racing, Sunday Silence attracted little support by breeders in the United States and was exported to Japan. He was Leading Sire in Japan on thirteen occasions, surpassing the previous record of ten titles by Northern Taste. Although the relatively insular nature of Japanese racing at the time meant that Sunday Silence's success was initially restricted to his home territory, his descendants have in recent years won major races in Australia, France, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong, the United States and Dubai.[3] Blood-Horse pedigree expert Anne Peters speculated, "Had Sunday Silence retired in Kentucky, it's almost certain he would have tanked commercially and been exported in disgrace, but he found his perfect gene pool and thrived instead."[4]

In the Blood-Horse magazine List of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, Sunday Silence was ranked #31.

Early years[edit]

Sunday Silence was foaled March 25, 1986, by Halo out of Wishing Well by Understanding. Though he was registered as a dark bay/brown, he was in fact a true black. He was bred by Oak Cliff Thoroughbreds, Ltd. and escaped death twice: first as a weanling when he nearly died from a freak virus;[5] and later at age two, traveling in a van when the driver experienced a heart attack and the van flipped over.[6] He was passed over twice at the sales ring as a yearling before he was sold in California for $50,000 as a two-year-old in training. Arthur B. Hancock III bought him as a "buy-back" (he had bred him), hoping to ship him to Kentucky. However, the van accident kept Sunday Silence in California. Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham bought a half share of the colt and then sold half of that to Dr. Ernest Gaillard. (Ownership designate: H-G-W Partners.)[7]

Racing record[edit]

1988: two-year-old season[edit]

Although Sunday Silence showed ability, he didn't make it to the races until late in his two-year-old season, finishing second in a maiden race, then winning a maiden special weight race and finishing second in an allowance race from three starts.

1989: three-year-old season[edit]

Sunday Silence began his three-year-old year by winning an allowance race. He then won the San Felipe Stakes and the Santa Anita Derby to qualify for a start in the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Derby[edit]

In the buildup to the 1989 Triple Crown, a rivalry developed between the West Coast-based Sunday Silence and the East Coast-based Easy Goer, winner of the 1988 Eclipse Award for best two-year-old colt. The two first met in the 1989 Kentucky Derby, run on May 6, with Easy Goer going into the Derby off only 13 days' rest running previously in the Wood Memorial, run on April 22; and with Sunday Silence going into the Derby off four weeks' rest running prior in the Santa Anita Derby, run on April 8. In the 1¼-mile Kentucky Derby, the first leg of the Triple Crown, Sunday Silence and jockey Pat Valenzuela defeated Easy Goer by 2½ lengths over a muddy track in the slowest time (2:05) for a Kentucky Derby since 1958.[8] Daily Racing Form writer Dan Illman stated after Sunday Silence's victory that "the best horse won that afternoon."[9] Daily Racing Form chairman Steve Crist stated his opinion that "Easy Goer had a legitimate explanation for his defeat, as he didn't handle the muddy Churchill track."[10]

Preakness Stakes[edit]

While both horses were preparing for the ​1 316-mile Preakness two weeks after the Derby, each had minor ailments. Sunday Silence came up dead lame after a gallop 7 days before the race. Trainer Whittingham contacted well-known Kentucky veterinarian Dr. Alex Harthill, who diagnosed a bruise under the sole, a common injury that "wasn't a serious problem but it had happened at a serious time." Harthill had Sunday Silence step on a clean sheet of white paper which was subsequently faxed to Dr. Ric Redden of Lexington, Kentucky, and from which Redden prepared a set of aluminum bar shoes. Redden and his assistant then flew via rented jet to Baltimore with the bar shoes and X-ray machine to confirm that no fracture was involved. After the shoes were fitted, Sunday Silence resumed training 4 days before the race. After his connections saw the colt's "remarkably" rapid recovery from the injury, the bar shoes were removed the day before the race.[9][11]

Meanwhile, at his rival's stable, throughout Preakness week (as late as Friday, the day before the race), Easy Goer's front feet were being soaked in tubs of Epsom salts due to small scratches or cracks on both heels. An ultrasound was also performed on his ankles and knees. Some wondered if these ailments could compromise the chances of both horses.[12] Easy Goer had "problematic, puffy" ankles that he dealt with throughout his career. Trainer Thad Ackel (trained Breeders' Cup Turf winner Great Communicator) stated, "Easy Goer has got a couple of osselets (enlargements of the fetlock joints usually caused by excess fluid), and it looked to me like there's come calcification there. I was surprised that such a good horse could have ankles like that."[13]

Sunday Silence again prevailed over his arch-rival, this time by a nose, in a head-and-head battle down the home stretch.[14] This race has been proclaimed by many experts to be the "Race of the Half Century." Some Easy Goer loyalists in the media maintained their horse's superiority, attributing the loss to the fact that Easy Goer had leapt in the air at the start and his jockey, Pat Day, reined Easy Goer's head to the right when he had a short lead in the home stretch. Day, who lodged a failed objection against Valenzuela, has called his ride "a mistake."[15] Bill Christine of the Los Angeles Times and trainer Shug McGaughey also expressed their opinions on the mistakes they thought Day made during the race.[16][17][18]

Belmont Stakes[edit]

During that era, New York was the only state in America that banned all race-day drugs and medications; New York didn't allow horses to race on any drugs, while the rest of the country did.[19][20][21] During the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the trainer of Sunday Silence, Charlie Whittingham, was angered that the controversial veterinarian Alex Harthill, who treated Sunday Silence earlier for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was not licensed in New York and prohibited from practicing.[22][23] The day before the 1½-mile Belmont Stakes, known as the "Run of the Carnations" and "Test of a Champion",[24] Sunday Silence, with exercise rider Pam Mabes up, was spooked and kicked trainer Whittingham in the temple, a glancing blow that came close to killing the trainer.[25] The Belmont track, which received several inches of rain in the days leading up to the race,[26] was rated fast with Sunday Silence the 9:10 post time favorite, and the entry of Easy Goer and Awe Inspiring at 8:5.[27]

Easy Goer defeated Sunday Silence by eight lengths in the time of 2:26,[28] producing the second-fastest Belmont Stakes in history, behind only Secretariat, and denied Sunday Silence the Triple Crown.[29] By virtue of his two Classic wins and his runner-up performance, Sunday Silence was awarded the third $1,000,000 Visa Triple Crown Bonus for best three-year-old in the series.

Breeders' Cup Classic[edit]

After the Belmont Stakes, Sunday Silence finished second to eventual Breeders' Cup Turf winner Prized in the Grade II 1¼-mile Swaps Stakes on July 23,[30] and won the Grade I Super Derby on September 24, giving him six weeks' rest going into the Breeder’s Cup Classic. Easy Goer won 4 successive Grade I stakes after the Belmont, consisting of (in chronological order) the 1⅛-mile Whitney Handicap, 1¼-mile Travers Stakes, 1¼-mile Woodward Stakes and 1½-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, with three of those wins against older horses, and giving him 27 days' rest going into the Classic.

This set up one final face-off between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence at the season-ending $3 million 1¼-mile Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park, run on November 4. The contest was expected to decide the winner of the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.[31] Sunday Silence's jockey Pat Valenzuela had earlier been suspended for cocaine use and was replaced by Chris McCarron. Sunday Silence was the post time 2:1 second choice behind Easy Goer at 1:2. In the early part of the race, Sunday Silence was 5 lengths behind the leader and Easy Goer was 11 lengths from the front. With 3 furlongs remaining, Sunday Silence was 4 lengths behind the leader and half a length ahead of Easy Goer. Daily Racing Form chart caller noted that Sunday Silence "went after Blushing John approaching the stretch, headed that rival just inside the final furlong, lugged in slightly while edging away and turned back Easy Goer under good handling and Won driving" to win by a neck over Easy Goer.[32] The chart also noted that Easy Goer "lost his position when he tried to head towards the gap leaving the chute, advanced quickly from the outside to reach contention nearing the end of the backstretch, wasn't able to stay with the leaders while continuing wide around the far turn, then finished boldly."

At this point, Sunday Silence had earned what was then a single-season record $4.59 million[33][34][35][36][37] and won seven times in nine starts for the 1989 campaign, earning him Eclipse Award for Outstanding 3-Year-Old Male Horse and Horse of the Year honors. For the latter award, Sunday Silence received 223 of 242 votes, making him the most decisive winner since John Henry eight years earlier.[38]

However, this award did not settle the debate over which three-year-old was the better horse. Steve Crist stated in the New York Times that had the question on the ballot been, "’Who is the better horse, Sunday Silence or Easy Goer?’ a lot more than 19 would have voted against Sunday Silence,"[39] but also said, "by any standards last year [1989] belonged to Sunday Silence."[33] Crist concluded, "Easy Goer was a great horse and so was Sunday Silence. I still think Easy Goer had more pure, raw talent.[40][41] Paul Moran of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday agreed, stating that "Sunday Silence is Horse of the Year, but most still believe Easy Goer is the better horse."[42]

In 1996, Sunday Silence was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.[43] He was ranked #31 in the Bloodhorse Top 100 Horses of the 20th Century, while Easy Goer ranked #34. Blood-Horse stated that its rankings "will generate debate for years to come."[44] The electoral friction was ultimately reflected in the introduction to the Blood-Horse's "Top 100 Racehorses" book, which said, "For all the work and dreaming that went into it... one approaches the list... with a nagging sense of its folly as a rational exercise and of the maddening arbitrariness of its outcome. However, one views this list of horses, whether in peace and contentment—or shock and dismay—all such judgments, of course, are entirely subjective, a mixture of whim, wisdom, and whatever prejudices howl through the back of the mind."[45]

Since the Breeder's Cup Classic was instituted in 1984, Alysheba and Sunday Silence were the only two horses to win three legs of a four-race sequence that was defined in 2015 as the Grand Slam of Thoroughbred racing: The Triple Crown races, plus the Breeders' Cup Classic, and Sunday Silence was the first horse to win three legs of the modern Grand Slam in the same year. As the Breeders' Cup began after the 1978 Triple Crown win of Affirmed, the potential for a sweep of all four races only became possible in 1984, and did not occur until 2015 when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown and eventually the Grand Slam.[46]

1990: four-year-old season[edit]

At the age of four, Sunday Silence won the Californian and placed second in the Hollywood Gold Cup behind Criminal Type.[47] He suffered an injured ligament that eventually led to his retirement.[48] Out of 14 career races, he won nine and placed second in the other five.

Stud record[edit]

Sunday Silence was sold to Japanese breeder Zenya Yoshida,[49] to stand at his Shadai Stallion Station in Shiraoi, Hokkaido. Yoshida had acquired a 25% interest in Sunday Silence early in his 4-year-old season and bought out the other partners for an undisclosed amount.

Sunday Silence flourished in Japan and became their leading sire from 1995 through 2008,[49] taking over from Northern Taste (ten-time leading sire in Japan). However, breeders were generally not successful expanding his influence outside of Japan.[49] His progeny have won many races in Japan, including 20 out of 22 JRA Grade 1 flat races (the only exceptions are the NHK Mile Cup and the Japan Cup Dirt). His progeny also have won International Grade 1 race including the Hong Kong Vase, Hong Kong Mile and Dubai Sheema Classic.

Descendants of Sunday Silence have broken many earnings records, mainly in Japan where the purses are significantly higher than the rest of the world. Conservative estimates on the earnings of Sunday Silence descendants place the total near JPY 80 billion (approximately $800 million).[50] However, average earnings index is a popular statistic in North America used to put the earnings of a sire's progeny into proper perspective although it is easily skewed by one or two big earners.[51] A stallion's career AEI can be found by looking up the pedigree of any of their offspring in the Jockey Club's online pedigree database, Sunday Silence's career AEI, according to the Jockey Club's online pedigree database (which includes all career earnings throughout the entire world),, is 2.55.[52] Some of the all-time leading American sires by AEI rankings are: Bold Ruler 7.73, Alydar 5.21, Nasrullah 5.16, Northern Dancer 5.14, Nijinsky II 4.74, Danzig 4.53, Mr. Prospector 4.25, Seattle Slew 4.12, Buckpasser 3.94, Storm Cat 3.93, A.P. Indy 3.74.[53]

Major winners[edit]

c = colt, f = filly

Foaled Name Sex Major Wins
1992 Fuji Kiseki c Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes
1992 Genuine c Satsuki Shō, Mile Championship
1992 Dance Partner f Yūshun Himba, Queen Elizabeth II Cup
1992 Tayasu Tsuyoshi c Tokyo Yūshun
1993 Bubble Gum Fellow c Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes, Tennō Shō
1993 Dance in the Dark c Kikuka Shō
1994 Silence Suzuka c Takarazuka Kinen
1994 Stay Gold c Hong Kong Vase, Dubai Sheema Classic
1995 Special Week c Tokyo Yūshun, Japan Cup, Tennō Shō
1996 Admire Vega c Tokyo Yūshun
1996 To the Victory f Queen Elizabeth II Cup
1997 Agnes Flight c Tokyo Yūshun
1997 Air Shakur c Satsuki Shō, Kikuka Shō
1998 Agnes Tachyon c Satsuki Shō
1998 Manhattan Cafe c Kikuka Shō, Arima Kinen, Tennō Shō
1999 Durandal c Mile Championship, Sprinters Stakes
1999 Gold Allure c February Stakes
2000 Neo Universe c Satsuki Shō, Tokyo Yūshun
2000 Still in Love f Oka Shō, Yūshun Himba, Shūka Shō
2000 Zenno Rob Roy c Japan Cup, Arima Kinen, Tennō Shō
2001 Daiwa Major c Mile Championship, Yasuda Kinen, Satsuki Shō, Tennō Shō
2001 Dance in the Mood f Oka Shō
2001 Hat Trick c Mile Championship, Hong Kong Mile
2001 Heart's Cry c Dubai Sheema Classic, Arima Kinen
2001 Suzuka Mambo c Tennō Shō
2002 Deep Impact c Satsuki Shō, Tokyo Yūshun, Kikuka Shō, Japan Cup, Arima Kinen, Takarazuka Kinen, Tennō Shō
2003 Matsurida Gogh c Arima Kinen

Sire of sires[edit]

Deep Impact winning Kikuka Sho 2005 on October 23.

Many of Sunday Silence's sons have gone on to become successful breeding stallions, with at least sixteen of them siring Group or Grade I winners. These include:

In addition to his sons, his daughter Sun is Up was the dam of 2014 Breeders' Cup Mile winner Karakontie.[54]


Sunday Silence died on August 19, 2002. He had been treated for laminitis for the previous 14 weeks and had developed an infection in one leg as well. He had been given a stronger dose of a different painkilling medication the previous day to provide him relief, and apparently as a result, he had become comfortable enough to lie down for the first time in a week. The following morning, he appeared unable to rise, and while veterinarians were discussing what to do, he died, apparently of heart failure.[55]


Pedigree of Sunday Silence (USA), brown or black stallion, 1986[56]
black 1969
Hail To Reason
brown 1958
Turn-To (IRE)
bay 1951
Royal Charger (GB)
Source Sucree (FR)
bay 1948
Blue Swords
Galla Colors
brown 1953
Cosmic Bomb
dark brown 1944
Pharamond (GB)
Banish Fear
chestnut 1947
Mahmoud (FR)
Wishing Well
brown 1975
chestnut 1963
Promised Land
gray 1954
Pretty Ways
brown 1953
Pretty Jo
Mountain Flower
bay 1964
Montparnasse (ARG)
brown 1956
Gulf Stream (GB)
Mignon (ARG)
bay 1959
Dowager (Family: 3-e)

Pop culture[edit]

In the horse racing game Derby Owners Club, Sunday Silence is one of the sires available to breed in the game. He is also pictured on one of the official game cards.


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