August 9, 2011

Saturday will mark the 37th running of the G1 Sword Dancer Invitational, a 12-furlong turf contest that has produced three Eclipse-winning champions (John Henry, Lemhi Gold and Theatrical), and host of other notable winners: El Senor, Kiri’s Clown, Awad, John’s Call, Better Talk Now and Grand Couturier. Only once has a mare won this race, and her uplifting story is fraught with injury and near-death experiences, all of which she overcame to not only defeat subsequent Eclipse champion turf horse Sunshine Forever in the 1988 Sword Dancer, but also to produce a tremendous G1 winner and sire as a broodmare. Her name is Anka Germania.

Out of an unraced Tudor Music mare named Affaire d’Amour, Irish-bred Anka Germania spent her early years racing in France with only modest success before she was purchased sight unseen by David Greathouse of Glencrest Farm fame, and shipped to the United States in 1986. Undoubtedly this purchase was in part based on the performance of her older half-brother Mourjane, a G2 winner in France who, when transferred to the U.S. in 1985, won the G3 Kelso prior to running third behind Peebles and Strawberry Road in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. The same month (August) that Anka Germania made her US debut, Mourjane won the G1 Arlington Handicap. Both siblings were trained by Thomas Skiffington.

As a 4-year-old in 1986, Anka Germania only won once—the Calder Breeders’ Cup Handicap—and was twice graded-placed in six starts. It was her 1987 campaign that saw her reel off five consecutive victories, including the G2 Orchid and New York Handicaps, and win a total of six times in 10 starts. Unfortunately, the great Miesque captured the first of her two consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile titles that year, leaving Anka Germania’s Eclipse aspirations unfulfilled. However, that campaign was nothing less than miraculous in that Anka Germania was sidelined from late May to early October when an abscess burst in her lungs. She nearly died.

1988 began with Florida victories, in the G2 Black Helen and G3 Suwannee River (in a matter of just 10 days) before she failed miserably in the G2 Orchid at Gulfstream. Laid off from early February to mid-June, she came back to win a Belmont handicap before running third in the G2 Sheepshead Bay immediately before the Sword Dancer. In that race—her one and only G1 victory—as the highweight and over a turf course saturated by nearly two weeks of continuous rain, she won by 1-1/2 lengths over sharp 3-year-old Sunshine Forever and a formidable filly foe in Carotene, winner of the Pan American Handicap and, two years earlier, champion 3-year-old turf horse in Canada after victories in the Toronto Cup, Wonder Where Stakes and the third leg of the Triple Crown, the 12-furlong Breeders’ Stakes.

After her Sword Dancer win, Anka Germania had nothing but bad fortune, finishing out of the money in the G1 Arlington Million, Man O’War and Turf Classic—all against males—and in the G2 Long Island Handicap. It was after that last race that she contracted Potomac horse fever, a potentially fatal viral infection, leaving her trainer “wondering a couple nights if she would live.” She did, and came back in 1989 (after a disappointing sixth-place finish in the G2 La Prevoyante) to conclude her career in outstanding fashion, losing by a mere nose to Gaily Gaily in the G2 Orchid. Anka Germania retired with a record of 16-2-9 in 47 starts, with earnings of $952,354.

In a 1989 interview with Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel racing writer Dave Joseph marking her retirement, trainer Thomas Skiffington noted:

"I'd say 99 1/2 percent wouldn’t have been able to lick the problems she had. Despite them all, she always gave you her ultimate. She never cheated, she never lied. The races she lost she wasn’t ridden well in them, or I deserve the blame for them. The only thing she ever asked was that you give her a little time between her races. That was it."

As a broodmare, Anka Germania was sent to the absolute best sires—Nureyev, Danzig, Chief’s Crown, Theatrical, Irish River, Sadler’s Wells and Zilzal—with only modest results. However, her mating with Deputy Minister proved most fruitful, in the form of Deputy Commander, winner of the 1997 G1 Travers and G1 Super Derby, not to mention Breeders’ Cup Classic runner-up (albeit to a dominating Skip Away).


Michelle said...

What a wonderful tribute. Thank you so very much for posting.

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