An animal that touches the hearts of fans and breeders alike is truly hard to come by. As we delve deeper and deeper into the Northern Dancer dynasty, we have found that each individual has played a pivotal role in their sire’s legacy.
This edition of Stallion Dynasties will be the first installment of many that showcases a grandson of our dynasty’s founder. In the last issue we profiled our subject horse’s sire, Nureyev. The stallion in this edition may not have been his best son at stud, but certainly was the most prolific in current US racing and created a dynasty all his own.
Bred and born in Kentucky by John Jones Jr., a black colt with a white blaze was born on the first day of the year 1990. Although the foal was officially registered by the Jockey Club as ‘dark bay or brown’ many still insist that he was in fact black. By the world renowned stallion Nureyev, the colt had a rich lineage of runners. His dam was the Swedish and Danish Champion, Rossard. Rossard was Horse of the Year and Champion 3YO Filly in both Sweden and Denmark. She won the Derby and Oaks in both of those countries in 1983. When she turned 4, she was exported to the United States where she won another G1 in the Flower Bowl Handicap before retirement. She was the first mare that was a G1 winner in both Europe and the United States to be bred to Nureyev. The result of that breeding was the colt that was dark as night with a blaze that could light up any face.
Where his name comes from, we aren’t exactly sure. Foreigner’s seventh studio album Unusual Heat was released the year before he was named at two.
Unusual Heat was entered by his breeder, John Jones Jr., into the 1992 Barretts 2YOs in training auction. In that sale he became one of the highest priced 2YOs ever sold in a Barretts auction at a price of $250,000 ($460,000 in 2018 when adjusted for inflation). Unusual Heat went into training with famed Irish trainer Dermot Weld at his stable, Roswell House, in Curragh, Ireland.
A few months after being purchased by Weld, Unusual Heat was entered in a maiden weight for age race at Leopardstown. He won impressively and his connections thought they could have a real star on their hands. Unusual Heat certainly was an outstanding juvenile, and showed great promise young. Unforeseen circumstances would prevent the young colt from running again at two, and would keep him out of training for several months.
Unusual Heat returned to the races as a fresh 3YO in the spring of 1993. He went directly into stakes company, contesting the G3 Tetrarch Stakes at the Curragh where he finished 5th. He seemed to regain his form once again at Leopardstown where he won the listed Amethyst Stakes. Lofty goals were ahead in his next start. Unusual Heat was entered in the 1993 Irish Two Thousand Guineas, his first tilt at G1 company. The Nureyev colt was soundly defeated in the race, finishing 11th behind eventual champion Barathea.
The rest of Unusual Heat’s racing career was humble. He won two listed stakes, the Glencairn Stakes and Platinum Stakes at Leopardstown and Fairyhouse respectively. He was G3 placed in the Concorde Stakes a few starts before he was transferred Richard Mandella in California after having nearly two years off. Under Mandella’s care, the 6YO Unusual Heat placed in two allowance races before slipping into the claiming ranks at Hollywood Park. He won the first claiming race he appeared in and was quickly purchased by new connections. His new ownership group consisted of Auerbach, James, and Team Green and Wolkoff – branded the Unusual Heat Syndicate. His new trainer was Barry Abrams, who had recently left the world of harness racing for thoroughbreds.
Unusual Heat wheeled back just a week after his victory into the Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park. Ridden by the late Chris Antley, he finished 6th in a field of 7. A couple weeks later, Unusual Heat was once again in for a tag, this time for a price of $125,000. He won the race easily, but returned to his barn lame after the race. His ownership group headed by Madeline Auerbach and family, were able to retain the horse. Unusual Heat was retired with $142,605 in the bank and would serve a greater purpose that his trainer believed he could fulfill, even if the market wasn’t ready for him.
Unusual Heat began his career as a stallion at Walter Greenman’s Farm in Hemet, California. Despite a decent racing record that some may consider lackluster, he was set for success immediately as a stallion. From a small first crop of just 15 foals, Unusual Heat had 10 winners from 11 to race with 4 of them breaking their maiden at first asking. After just one season at Walter Greenman’s Farm he was relocated to Old English Rancho in Sanger, California where he would stand the bulk of his breeding life. It was nearly the turn of the millennium in the year 1999 and Unusual Heat had everyone in California talking.
In the heyday of his career, Unusual Heat bred around 75-80 mares in a season which is a staggering number for a stallion outside of Kentucky. Unusual Heat was no ordinary stallion, and was a breath of fresh air in a crumbling California industry. As a sire, he “moved up” every mare he bred, their most productive foals being those by Unusual Heat. Even a mare that wasn’t a producer could foal a runner. All of his foals inherited a fire in their soul that descended down the Northern Dancer line. One particular quality that it seems all of his progeny possess is their no fear mentality. Their herd mentality was also very strong and they were not easily spooked or pressured by other horses in races. Anyone who has ever bred or owned an Unusual Heat offspring will always say they hated to lose!
Most Unusual Heat foals had no markings or particular early physical characteristics, thus making them hard to identify to bloodstock agents and prospective buyers. Even though most of his foals were solid colors, he did throw a foal of nearly every color and size. Some stallions have history of producing an uneven amount of colts or fillies due to various disabilities or mutations. Unusual Heat was able to produce a near 50-50 ratio of colts and fillies.
Unusual Heat has always been known as an incredibly unique and versatile stallion. A stallion that was known as a turf performer and having staunch turf pedigree, his first graded stakes winner ironically came on the dirt, showing the speed prevalence in his lineage. In his years at stud he sired 43 black-type stakes winners, 18 graded stakes-placed horses, and 12 graded stakes winners – 4 of them being G1 winners. Compared to his father and grandfather before him, those numbers may sound small. Unusual Heat bred much less than his Kentucky counterparts at bigger farms, so his ratio is staggering for the situations he had to work with. Unusual Heat’s four G1 winners are Golden Doc A, Unusual Suspect, The Usual Q.T., and Acclamation. Golden Doc A won the Las Virgenes Stakes at 3 as well as placing in several other G1’s and G2’s. She ran fourth in the 2008 Kentucky Oaks won by Proud Spell. Golden Doc A is currently a broodmare in Japan where she has found success. Unusual Suspect took the Hollywood Turf Cup at age 6 as well as placing or winning many other stakes in his career including a stake in Australia. He won at every track in California during his long career and became one of two millionaires by Unusual Heat. Unusual Suspect is currently standing stud duties in Australia. The Usual Q.T. was a dual G1 winner and had won or placed in many other graded stakes. He ran a credible third to Goldikova in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Mile and ran fourth to Al Shemali in the 2010 Dubai Duty Free in the UAE. The Usual Q.T. was named a multiple California Champion before his death in 2014. Acclamation was the best offspring Unusual Heat ever produced, a four time G1 winner. He took the Charles Whittingham Handicap, Pacific Classic, and two editions of the Eddie Read Handicap. Acclamation is the only Eclipse Champion to his sire’s credit as well as a six time California Champion. He currently stands stud in California. Other notable horses sired by Unusual Heat : Lethal Heat, Gervinho, Tucked Away, Burns, He Be Fire N Ice, Pretty Unusual, Bettys Bambino, Cheekaboo, Unusual Heatwave and Lakerville.
Despite all the incredible accolades Unusual Heat achieved as a stallion, he will probably never be remembered as a ‘sire of sires’. Currently at stud his major sons include Acclamation, He Be Fire N Ice, Lakerville, Gervinho, Unusual Heatwave, and Unusual Suspect. Lakerville and Gervinho both have gotten off to a fast start at stud, their progeny having success in California.
As a broodmare sire, Unusual Heat is beginning to soar once more. Unusual Heat mares have been sought after not only in California, but in Kentucky, Europe, and Japan as well. Graded stakes winners Masochistic, Spanish Queen, Majestic Heat, and Dr. Dorr have paved the way for Unusual Heat as a broodmare sire. Masochistic and Spanish Queen are both G1 winners, Majestic Heat and Dr. Dorr both being G1 placed. Unusual Heat mares have lit up the sales and caught fire all over the world. Many have been bred to top stallions, including a few sent to Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah during his first season at stud. One special aspect that all Unusual Heat daughters possess is the ability to rate well and cross exceptionally with most stallions on the market. Unusual Heat’s story as a broodmare sire has barely started and will be written as time goes on, but if his ascent continues he will shatter even more breed records.
After covering a full book of mares at age 26 in 2016, Unusual Heat was pensioned before the following 2017 season. He retired as the only California stallion with $4 million+ earnings in 7 different years, and did so consecutively from 2008-2014. Unusual Heat took the general California Sire Earnings Championship seven times, the California Sire Turf Earnings Championship a record fourteen times, and set an all time California record for North American progeny earnings at $5,827,513 in 2009. He is the all time leading California sire for total progeny earnings exceeding $56 million, $34 million of those being turf earnings. According to the California Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association and many pedigree experts, Unusual Heat retired the greatest and most successful California stallion of all time. Unusual Heat may have destroyed records and been priceless to the California breeding industry, but he was irreplaceable to his connections simply because of who he was. Harris Auerbach, who managed Unusual Heat’s stallion career on behalf of his mother Madeline Auerbach gave a special testimonial for this piece about his “brother from another mother”. As a stallion, Unusual Heat made everyone’s lives easier and safer by being especially kind to his mares. He was always interested and willing to do his job, but became especially happy when he was brought a gray mare to breed. “He absolutely loved his gray mares,” says Auerbach. As an individual, Unusual Heat was even more special than perhaps he was in the breeding shed. “He was a gentleman and very outgoing to be around. You could go in and interact with him without any problems,” remarks Auerbach. Unusual Heat was always known to be an individual that seemed more human than horse. “He was smart, probably smarter than most of the people that took care of him.” Not only was Unusual Heat special to Harris Auerbach, he was incredibly special to Madeline. The family visited him as often as they could, and he was especially happy to see the matriarch of the family. “He was always very happy to see her, he was so polite and gentle to everyone,” says Auerbach. No matter how many interviews or conversations they have about Unusual Heat, there is always one thing the Auerbachs never forget to mention :
“He was life changing.”
Unusual Heat battled an arthritic knee for most of his twenties even though he was always keen to take care of himself. As he grew older and was pensioned, the arthritis quickly began to take its toll. “That day when we went to see him, you could just tell he was uncomfortable. The usual light in his eyes was fading,” says Auerbach. Unusual Heat had developed laminitis in his opposite leg due to the serious effects of his arthritis. He was very active and in top health up until that moment. A horse that made his own success and was afraid of nothing, let those who loved him most know that it was time. “We all spent that whole day with him,” Auerbach says of everyone connected to their horse in a million. The difficult decision was made, and Unusual Heat was euthanized on May 17, 2017. He was 27 years old.
Unusual Heat is still exceeding expectations and leading California even in death. Although his passing was a loss to the breed, it was even more so to those who loved him. “The world was a better place with him in it,” says Auerbach. And so it was.
Next Installment – Stallion Dynasties : Northern Taste