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Victorian Craig Williams’ flying visit to Singapore for Sunday’s Group races at Kranji involves testing top two-year-old Dark Matter for Melbourne’s spring carnival.
Williams has six rides at Kranji after six at Caulfield tomorrow. In addition to the Steven Burridge-trained Dark Matter in the Group 3 Magic Millions Juvenile Championship (1200m), he will be on Risky Business for Burridge in the Group 2 Chairman’s Trophy (1800m).
Burridge told www.turfclub.com.sg that owner Tan Kai Chah was keen to send rising three-year-old Dark Matter (b c 2008, Stratum-Loving New (BRZ), by Choctaw Ridge (USA)) – a $140,000 buy at the 2010 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale – to Melbourne for the Group 1 $1 million Caulfield Guineas (1600m) on October 8.
Originally another Melbourne-based jockey, Glen Boss, was going to take the ride in the MM race, but when he left Singapore two weeks ago after a three-month stint, Williams was engaged.
“We wanted one of the top jockeys from Melbourne to ride the horse and to get the feel of him to see whether he would measure up down below,” Burridge said. “We have a race like the Caulfield Guineas in mind for him, but first of all we want to get his opinion.
“If he doesn’t think he will measure up then he can stay up here. There are still plenty of races that will suit him.”
Burridge said Tan had his appetite whetted for the Melbourne spring carnival after Jolie’s Shinju 2009 trip – the mare, who is in Australia and due to foal to Shamardal in September, had four runs in Melbourne in September and October, with her best effort being a 3.8-length third to Whobegotyou in the Group 2 Dato Tan Chin Nam Stakes (1600m) at Moonee Valley.
“Dr Tan owns horses all around the world and he certainly wants to be at the spring carnival again,” Burridge said. “We have made some tentative enquiries about quarantine, but there has been no planning from our point of view as yet. We will see how he runs on Sunday.”
After winning his first two starts, Dark Matter, ridden by top local jockey Saimee Jumaat, was a narrow and perhaps unlucky second to Mr Big in the Group 2 Aushorse Golden Horseshoe (1200m) at Kranji on May 20.
“Saimee did nothing wrong on the horse at all,” said Burridge. “We just need to know Craig’s opinion and whether he will measure up down in Melbourne.
“It’s cheaper to bring someone up like Craig rather than taking the horse down and finding out from there.”
Burridge said Dark Matter had a nice break after the Golden Horseshoe and had performed solidly in two jump-outs in preparation for Sunday’s race, when Mr Big (b g 2008, Elusive Quality (USA)-Basamaat (IRE), by Danehill (USA)), trained by Michael Freedman and ridden by Danny Beasley, will be an opponent again.
Williams’ other rides on the 12-race card are Nefertiti (R1), Yuki’s Esperanza (R2), Mr Fangio (R4) and Teen Angel (R12). All races are on Australian pay TV and the TAB bets into the Singapore pool.
Meanwhile, champion 3YO Frankel’s outstanding win in the Group 1 Sussex Stakes (1600m) at Goodwood this week will see the colt move from sharing the ranking as the world’s best horse on a rating of 130 with Australia’s Black Caviar to sole top spot several points higher.
British Horseracing Authority handicapper Dominic Gardiner-Hill said: “I think he will go up to at least 133 and quite probably 134 or 135.”
Frankel (b c 2008, Galileo (IRE)-Kind (IRE), by Danehill (USA)) has won all eight starts, with four Group 1s included. He is trained by the recently knighted Henry Cecil, ridden by Tom Queally and owned by Khalid Abdullah’s Juddmonte Farms.
Photo: Dark Matter at Kranji (Singapore Turf Club).
The impressive late-season run of Econsul’s first crop continued when Shezapro won at Northam on July 21.
The promising filly missed the start two lengths but covered to won easily for Ascot-based trainer Brendon Fitzgerald and jockey Peter Knuckey.
The Woodside Park Stud-based Econsul, winner of the 2004 G1 Caulfield Guineas, now has four winners from only nine starters. The son of Pins will stand in 2011 for only $4400 (inc. GST).
Importantly for breeders looking for an outcross to the wealth of Danehill-line mares in Australia, three of Econsul’s winners are out of Danehill-line mares.
Shezapro is a daughter of the Danzero mare, Prozero, who retired as a maiden in 2004 after two placings from six starts. It was Shezapro’s first run from a spell but she showed promise at her debut at Ascot in March when a luckless fifth.
Shezapro was offered by Lindsay Park (as agent) and bought for $22,500 (buyer Joe Crupi) at the 2010 Perth Magic Millions Yearling Sale.
Note: The Slattery Media Group consults to Woodside Park Stud.
Usually a mid-winter phone call to Murray Baker in New Zealand is similar to having a mid-season conversation with a Richmond Tigers’ supporter – not much happy news.
While Baker had his usual gripe about the troubled state of racing in New Zealand, the economy and the boggy wet tracks on which horses “struggled to run their last 400m in even time”, the Cambridge trainer was surprisingly buoyant when I spoke to him late last week.
The reason – Lion Tamer.
Baker, who last spring trained (in partnership with his son Bjorn) Lion Tamer to win the Group 1 Victoria Derby (2500m, Flemington), believes the rising 4YO is back and firing after missing the autumn carnivals in New Zealand and Sydney because of injury, a legacy of kicking the wall of his stable early in the year.
“Lion Tamer has come back in great order. He really is pleasing me in his work. I am looking forward to Melbourne with him,” Baker said.
Lion Tamer is somewhat of a forgotten horse. In a recent story in the Sydney Daily Telegraph, chief racing writer Ray Thomas, with the help of others, bemoaned the lack of a genuine middle-distance star with Cox Plate aspirations in Australia’s and New Zealand’s ranks, but strangely he didn’t mention Lion Tamer.
Baker admits that he was concerned that Lion Tamer would be able to return to his best after such a long break from racing. The son of Storming Home is a heady colt, and he proved difficult to get focused when he returned to training at Cambridge in early June.
“He was pretty hard to handle for the first few weeks, but as he got fitter he just switched on. Since then he hasn’t missed a beat.”
Lion Tamer will be entered for the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups as well as the Cox Plate. Baker concedes that Lion Tamer’s best chance of a major win in the spring could be at Moonee Valley in the famous weight-for-age race over 2040m.
“He proved last spring, when he was second behind Rekindled Interest in the (AAMI) Vase (over 2040m) on Cox Plate day, that he handles the Valley surface, which is very important,” he said.
The Vase was the first time the colt was ridden forward – he came from last to win the Listed Ming Dynasty Quality (1400m, Randwick) six weeks earlier – and jockey Hugh Bowman employed similar tactics to dominate the Victoria Derby seven days after the Vase and win by 6.5 lengths on a slow track.
Baker said he is yet to decide on the exact spring program for Lion Tamer, although the horse is likely to start off in New Zealand in the Group 1 Makfi Challenge Stakes (WFA, 1400m, Hastings) – formerly the Mudgway Stakes – on August 27. After that there is the Group 1 Windsor Park Stakes (WFA, 1600m, Hastings) on September 17 and the Group 1 Spring Classic (WFA, 2040m, Hastings) on October 2 – this is a similar program to the one planned for New Zealand’s other classy colt Jimmy Choux.
However, Baker has the option of coming to Melbourne earlier in September, kicking off his Melbourne program in the Group 1 Underwood Stakes (WFA, 1800m, Caulfield) on September 17 – the lure of greater prizemoney in Australia (the AUD$1 is about NZ$1.30) just might outweigh staying at home.
Baker also has his grand stayer Harris Tweed back in work and likely to head to Melbourne in September, as he did last year. The rangy gelding, runner-up, behind Descarado, in last year’s Group 1 Caulfield Cup and fifth, behind Americain, in the Melbourne Cup, has had a throat operation.
“We flew over the same vet that did So You Think (Dr Jonathan Lumsden from Sydney) and he was happy. Harris Tweed made a bit of a noise last spring, and I reckon it was the reason he didn’t quite finish the Caulfield Cup off after looming to win. Hopefully, we get the same result as So You Think,” Baker said.
Baker’s son Bjorn has settled in Sydney, training a small team in his own right out of Warwick Farm.
Photo: Lion Tamer (Hugh Bowman) winning last year’s Victoria Derby at Flemington.
Victorian Cliff Brown, in his fourth full season as a trainer in Singapore, had his biggest success there when Clint won the Group 1 $S1.15 million ($A890,000) Emirates Singapore Derby (2000m) at Kranji on Sunday.
Clint won by 2½ lengths from Better Than Ever, with Trafalgar Legacy a neck away third, to give Australian rider John Powell his second Derby success.
The only time Powell left the fence on Clint was to come around the heels of Better Than Ever passing the 200-metre mark. And Brown said it was only at this stage that he realised his victory dream was about to come to true – he had been watching his other runner Tenzing (who bled) going back through the field coming off the back straight.
Powell won the Derby on Hello And Goodbye for New Zealand trainer Bruce Marsh in 2005. And the jockey was on Brown’s first winner in Singapore, Celine Star. Brown won five Group 1s in Australia, including three South Australian Derbys.
Clint, a New Zealand-bred four-year-old by Casual Lies from the Deputy Governor mare Torch, took his prizemoney past the $S800,000 mark. He had just three wins from his previous 20 starts.
Better Than Ever, trained by Laurie Laxon and ridden by Saimee Jumaat, had been considered the next big thing behind international sprinter Rocket Man, having won his first 12 starts. He finished second in the three legs of the Singapore Four-Year-Old Challenge and now has won 14 of 19.
Laxon leads the trainers’ premiership with 46 wins from Rocket Man’s trainer Patrick Shaw (40) and Australians Steven Burridge (35) and Don Baertschiger (34). Brown is sixth on 29. Other Australians: Brian Dean, 12th with 22; Michael Freedman, 13th also with 22.
Victorian jockey Vlad Duric rode three winners on Sunday. He is second on 52, a dozen behind Brazilian Joao Moreira (64). Other Australians: Ronnie Stewart (6th, 25), Powell (7th, 24), Danny Beasley (8th, 22); Glen Boss (14th, 10).
Hong Kong racing is in recess until September 5, but Australian John Moore is enjoying his late burst (four winners on the final day) to win the trainers’ premiership from Tony Cruz 74-72. It was the first time Moore, a prolific earner, had topped the $HK100 million (about $A12 million) mark and his first title in 19 years, but his sixth overall.
John Size (64) finished third and the other Australian, David Hall, had 21 wins.
South African Douglas Whyte won his 11th straight jockeys’ premiership with 96 wins from a trio of Australians – Brett Prebble (78, second for the sixth time on end), Darren Beadman (57) and Zac Purton (53)
Tye Angland had 18 wins in an injury-hit debut season. All will be back next season, along with young Sydney jockey Tim Clark.
Betting turnover topped $HK80 billion (almost $A10 billion). The Hong Kong Jockey Club will lift prizemoney by $HK40 million next season, with a $HK4 million boost taking the International Mile in December to $HK20 million, restoring it the world’s richest 1600-metre race.
That is good news for Hong Kong’s big December carnival, as is the Jockey Club announcement that Australian quarantine authorities have given the facilities at Sha Tin the thumbs up.
Bad news for Hong Kong, however, is that Australia’s (and the world’s) best sprinter Black Caviar is unlikely to run in the International Sprint. Connections have indicated she will have an all-Australian campaign before racing at England’s Royal Ascot meeting next June.
Eliza Park’s Bel Esprit is set to be a four-time leading Victorian stallion, and he is sits 6th on the current Australian general sires’ list. It has been more than 30 years since a Victorian stallion was named Australia’s Champion sire, when Century took the national title in the 1978-79 season, although Encosta De Lago achieved the feat thanks to a base of winners from his Blue Gum Farm crops before his move to New South Wales.
Bel Esprit (pictured) has sire 104 winners in the 2010-11 season – of course, his headliner is the unbeaten champion Black Caviar.
Bel Esprit’s barn-mate Written Tycoon will win the Champion First Season (earnings) Stallion title, the first Victorian-based stallion to win it since Flying Spur in the 1999-2000 season – Flying Spur stood his first season at Chatswood Stud, Seymour, before relocating to Arrowfield Stud, Scone, NSW.
It’s an apt time to reflect on the influence of some of Victoria’s great stallions.
Australian Champion stallions who have stood in Victoria:
1902-1903 Pilgrim’s Progress (GB) (Isonomy-Pilgrimage) Stood in Victoria.
1915-1916 Wallace (Carbine-Melodious) St Albans Stud, Geelong. Victoria.
1918-1919 The Welkin (GB) (Flying Fox-Woodbury) Melton Stud, Toolern Vale, Victoria.
1919-1920 Comedy King (GB) (Persimmon-Tragedy Queen) Noorilim Stud, Murchison, Victoria.
1920-1921 The Welkin (GB) (Flying Fox-Woodbury) Melton Stud, Victoria.
1921-1922 The Welkin (GB) (Flying Fox-Woodbury) Melton Stud, Victoria.
1922-1923 Comedy King (GB) Noorilim Stud, Murchison, Victoria.
1948-1949 Helios (GB) (Hyperion-Flying Gal) Warlaby Stud, Oaklands Junction, Victoria.
1965-1966 Better Boy (IRE) (My Babu-Better So) Range View Stud, Vic.
1970-1971 Better Boy (IRE) (My Babu-Better So) Range View Stud, Vic.
1971-1972 Better Boy (IRE) (My Babu-Better So) Range View Stud, Vic.
1975-1976 Showdown (GB) (Infatuation-Zanzara) Stockwell Stud, Diggers Rest, Vic.
1976-1977 Better Boy (IRE) (My Babu-Better So) Range View Stud, Vic.
1977-1978 Showdown (GB) (Infatuation-Zanzara) Stockwell Stud, Diggers Rest, Vic.
1978-1979 Century (Better Boy-Royal Suite) Mornmoot Stud, Whittlesea, Vic.
Bel Esprit (b h 1999, Royal Academy (USA)-Bespoken, by Vain)
Written Tycoon (ch h 2002, Iglesia-Party Miss, by Kenmare (FR))
It’s a shame that a horse the quality of Shocking is not standing at a commercial stud in Australia, but what is Australia’s loss is New Zealand’s gain.
Being in the right place at the right time was how New Zealand studmaster John Thompson described securing Shocking to stand at his Rich Hill Stud in Matamata.
“I was at the Easter Sales selling yearlings when two mates, Gary Mudgway and Troy Corstens, invited me out for dinner,” Thompson said.
“They also invited a few others, and I happened to be sitting beside Laurence Eales. We didn’t know each other and naturally started a conversation. He said he owned Shocking – I said he’d make a lovely stallion, and he answered ‘are you interested in standing him?’”
The conversation triggered negotiations that resulted in Shocking heading across the Tasman to stand his first season at a fee of NZ$12,000.
Thompson said he was surprised that Australian stud weren’t clamouring to get Shocking, an extremely well-bred horse that not only won the Cup, but showed the turn of foot at weight-for-age this season to win the Group 1 Australian Cup (2000m, Flemington) and the Group 2 Makye Diva Stakes (1600m, Flemington).
“He’s just the type of horse that Australians are travelling to Australia to buy, so there is some irony there.”
Thompson said Shocking is a perfect fit for New Zealand. “We have syndicated him into 44 shares, and most of the leading New Zealand breeders having taken a share, including Sir Patrick Hogan,” he said.
“We have Pentire at Rich Hill, and he’s 18, so we were looking for a horse to replace him.”
Thompson probably shouldn’t be surprised that Australian studs weren’t looking at Shocking because there is a history of breeding bias against Melbourne Cup winners, despite the fact recent Cup winners, At Talaq (1986) and Jeune (1994), were successful stallions before their premature deaths. Like Shocking, both horses also were successful at the highest level over shorter distances.
Only one other Melbourne Cup winner is standing at stud in Australia and that’s the aging Kingston Rule, rising 26, the winner of the fastest metric Melbourne Cup in 1990. Kingston Rule covers a handful of mares at Ealing Park Stud, near Euroa.
However, at a time when there is a definite shift in Australia towards owning stayers, I would have thought that Shocking, with his appealing pedigree and versatile performance, would have been a good fit, especially for Victoria, and Thompson agrees.
“With the Hunter Valley studs concentrating more on speed, I would have thought a Victorian stud would have chased a horse like Shocking. One thing for sure, he will get a better quality of mare in New Zealand that he would have attracted in Australia.”
Shocking has an international pedigree. He is by Street Cry (USA) (by Machiavellian (USA), a horse who has taken the world by storm with progeny such as Breeders’ Cup and Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense, the wonderful cult-figure mare Zenyatta and Shocking’s stablemate Whobegotyou. Shocking’s dam, the imported Maria di Castiglia, is a daughter of the international champion sire Danehill (USA) (by Danzig (USA)).
It’s a pedigree that exudes versatility. Thompson believes that mares of all types will suit Shocking. “I think that he will leave some more precocious runners from speedier mares.”
Interestingly, I believe Shocking is the first Melbourne Cup winner to stand at stud in New Zealand since Even Stevens (by Fair’s Fair (GB)), who won the Cup in 1962, and sired five Stakes winners. Before that you have to go a long way back to Nightmarch, who won the Cup in 1929. Nightmarch, by Phar Lap’s sire Night Raid, sired four Stakes winners, amazingly all out of the same mare, the New Zealand Oaks winner Praise, who was by Limond from the famous foundation broodmare Eulogy.
Cup-winning stallions in the past 70 years to stand at stud also include Tawrrific (won in 1989), who died in Ireland in 1999 in his first season as a National Hunt stallion after moderate success in Victoria; Silver Knight (1971), who stood in WA and sired the 1984 Cup winner Black Knight; Rain Lover (1968-69), a disappointing sire of four Stakes winners; and Comic Court (1950), also a sire of four Stakes winners as well as the 1962 Cup runner-up- Comicquita.
The modern thoroughbred breeding game means that the best stallions shuttling between hemispheres are able to spread their genes far and wide, so much so it is rare to find a unique sire-line in a particular region.
For decades, Star Kingdom sire-line was something individual to Australia, and although there are only a handful of Star Kingdom-line stallions remaining in Australia, the legacy of the great sire lives on through the broodmares who carry his blood.
The dominant Northern Dancer line, particularly through his son Danzig, the sire of Danehill, is awash in Australia. Importantly, that line has nicked so well with mares with a Star Kingdom heritage. In many ways that Northern Dancer/Danzig sire line over Star Kingdom has helped Australia develop it’s own thoroughbred genesis because that combination cannot be found elsewhere.
Interestingly, seemingly out of the blue, a new sire-line, very unique to this part of the world, is emerging.
Elsewhere in the world the Sir Ivor sire line is extinct, well, it never really got off the ground, but it has played a big part in racing in Australia and New Zealand through his champion sire-son Sir Tristram and Sir Tristram’s champion son Zabeel – both residents and Sir Patrick Hogan’s famed Cambridge Stud in New Zealand.
It was a sire-line that looked to be struggling to survive, because apart from Zabeel, Sir Tristram’s influence as a sire of sires has waned. And while Zabeel has provided more influential sons at stud than his sire, the chances of the line surviving beyond this generation were diminishing. Zabeel has a couple of good sons at stud in Australia, particularly Darley’s Reset, who is doing a serviceable job in a tough commercial market.
And then along came Lonhro, the sensational son of Zabeel’s best-performed son, the iconic Octagonal.
Octagonal, a wonderful, charismatic racehorse, hasn’t lived up to expectations at stud, but through one, outstanding, almost equally charismatic son, he has become the unlikely conveyer of this unique sire-line.
Lonhro is about to finish the season with his first Australian Champion Stallion title. No mean feet off crops that were basically home-bred by Woodlands and then Darley after Sheikh Mohammed bought out the Inghams. Lonhro has proved to be the trophy from that history multi-million dollar transaction, but at the time of the transfer his trophy was in the cupboard and not on the mantlepiece where it sits proudly today.
Yesterday’s Listed Ramornie Stakes winner, Jerezana, gave Lonhro his 13th Stakes winner this season – his career total is now 26, most in the past two years. His season tally of prizemoney is now $8.4 million, more than $1 million ahead of second-placed Redoute’s Choice.
We have three impressive sons commercial by Lonhro at stud – Darley’s Denman, Larneuk’s O’Lonhro and new boy, Dissolved, who will stand his first season at Eliza Park – and breeders can expect more as Lonhro’s stocks as a sire continue to rise.
It’s the speed factor – the incredible, eye-catching turn of foot – that stands Lonhro apart from other Sir Tristram-line stallions, particularly the grinding Octagonal, and one that makes Lonhro a likely sire of sires.
Importantly, Lonhro will provide Australia and New Zealand a more that suitable outcross stallion to the plethora of Northern Dancer and Danehill/Danzig line mares in the southern hemisphere.
It is no coincidence that the other significant outcross stallion emerging in Australia – and nowhere else in the world – is Red Ransom, as he, too, descends from the Turn-To sire-line, but through a different source. Turn-To is the grandsire of Sir Ivor and also the grandsire of Red Ransom’s sire Roberto.
Photo: Group 2 Chelmsford Stakes winner O’Lonhro at Larneuk Stud, Euroa, Victoria.
The following is a story I wrote on The Breed last year – following Testarhythm’s impressive recent form it’s a story worth revisiting.
Back in 2003, when I was doing a bit of bloodstock buying, I fell in love with an athletic yearling filly at the Karaka Premier Sale.
The filly, from the Windsor Park draft, was from the second crop of Group 1 winner Danske, by Danehill (USA) from a smart Stakes-winning filly, Straussbridge, by a former top Sydney sprinter Straussbrook.
I broke all the rules about keeping my opinion of the filly to myself – I made four visits back to her barn to inspect her, and even came to loitering around the Windsor Park area waiting for someone else to drag her out, so I could get another look.
This was infatuation. In another place and another situation, I’d be arrested for stalking.
I followed her to the pre-parade ring, a velodrome of a space where four or five yearlings strut around, some in perfect unison with their handlers, while others, created all sorts of attention by dancing sideways, prancing, kicking and screaming.
“My filly” just strode around like it has been part of her routine all her short life.
The filly was a “Danehill” bay, but with no white; she possessed a mother-in-law shaped rear end, powerful forearm, just the right amount of length of body, and an exquisite head. To cap it off she walked like a Kings Cross hooker.
The good news was that I’d gleaned from the Windsor Park crew that the reserve was around $35,000 – I had $50,000 to spend, so I was very much in the game.
While the filly was walking around the outside parade, I noticed a familiar person, as usual clouded in cigarette smoke, leaning on the rail. I was sure Gerald Ryan had honed in on the filly. He’s an astute judge of a good horse, and this filly fitted his profile.
I sidled up to Ryan and asked the question: “You interested in the Danske filly?” He didn’t directly answer the question with his reply – “Yeah, nice … that Flying Spur’s a lovely filly.”
The Danske filly was lot 365; following her around the ring was a big, strong, chestnut Flying Spur filly, lot 366, from the Trelawney draft. The filly’s dam, Street Star, was a daughter of Jetball.
Relief, I thought, he’s probably on the other one, but this is a horse sale, a place for card sharks where tactics and sleight of hand are as important as the bank balance.
The bidding started slowly. More good news, I couldn’t see Ryan. Sometimes when I bid, I like to be on the horse from the start, dictate the pace of the encounter. This time I waited. Bidding stymied at $37,500. I came in at $40,000 – I was on the right leg to bid my maximum of $50,000, if needed.
Back to me at $45,000 … $47,500 from the opposition. … I made my last bid $50,000, but the call came back quickly, new blood at $52,500. I’d missed her.
Well-known Australian agent Kieran Moore signed the ticket for $60,000. Oh well, I thought, he’d have been hard to beat at any time. As Moore walked away, I noticed Ryan come from the side to greet him. Hands shook, smiles all round … and a lesson learned.
The filly, not surprisingly for a horse with her athleticism, raced as a juvenile in Sydney under the name Dancing Bridges for a syndicate of owners that included Ryan.
Dancing Bridges won at Canterbury at her second start in February 2004, but then ran ninth behind Burning Sands in the Group 3 Sweet Embrace Stakes (1200m) at Canterbury in March. Her next start third, behind Gaze On, in the Listed Baillieu Stakes (1400m, Warwick Farm) was a beauty, a sign of her real talent.
Unfortunately, she broke down after four runs in the spring, which included a terrific second behind Johan’s Toy in the Listed Reginald Allen Stakes (1400m) at Warwick Farm.
This story surfaced after I watched Dancing Bridges’ impressive 2YO son, Testarhythm (by Testa Rossa), plough through a heavy track to win at Canterbury last Wednesday, his first win from only three starts. Testarhythm (pictured as a yearling) is a male version of his mother, a cracking-looking yearling, who topped the 2009 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale at $110,000, to the bid of Sydney trainer Darren Smith.
Obviously, Smith had something I didn’t in 2003 – more money than Gerald Ryan.
For those of us who can remember the days of black and white television, there was nothing more inspiring for a youngster than watching an all-black clad Hopalong Cassidy, silver guns blazing, on his proud steed Topper, a magnificent pure white horse with a long forelock and flowing mane.
There was no way William Boyd will have looked as imposing if his horse was a populist bay or brown.
There is something about a pure white horse that gets the adrenalin pumping and filmmakers, novelists and storytellers often have use the imagery of the white horse as a method of emphasising all that is good and just.
Medieval knights are usually depicted triumphantly riding into battle on elegant white chargers.
In the book and film of Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings, the white wizard Gandalf fought off the evil hordes of the Dark Lord upon his white wonder horse Shadowfax.
In the world of racing thoroughbreds, white horses officially have been around for more than a century (the first official Jockey Club-registered white thoroughbred was in North America in 1896), but their appearance on our racetracks as been as rare as a happy bookmaker; most people haven’t seen one. The tale of the white thoroughbred makes intriguing reading.
There was a time, even well onto the 20th century when superstition and ignorance faced breeders when a white foal surprisingly appeared. Some breeders regarded the event as “unlucky” and secretly culled their white foals. Others thought the white foals were albino, and thus faced a life with sight and other inherent issues, as albinos do in humans and other animals. The white offspring were sent to show homes rather than Bart Cummings.
White thoroughbreds are not albino – albinos have a distinct blue eye, white horses have dark eyes. White is a true colour, one of six thoroughbred colours – along with Bay, Brown, Chestnut, Black and Grey – although it is extremely unusual. A white foal can appear from parents of any colour, although both parents need to carry the gene, whereas a grey foal must have one parent that is grey.
The correct term for the white colour in horses is sabino. A pure white horse is maximum sabino.
In some cases white horses also can harbour their own inherent problems, but in reality they have all the genetic racing capabilities of a Phar Lap or Weekend Hussler – the ability to run fast – it’s just that they look different.
The white horse’s skin is pink. The dark patches that appear are not changes in hair colour but dark patches of skin. When a white horse is washed, the pink colour of the skin stands out like a flamingo amongst a flock of magpies.
The following is a story written by me in 2009 and published in The Thoroughbred magazine, following the sale of a white filly – by Zabeel from Carmina Burana – for $270,000 at the Magic Millions yearling sale. That filly, named The Opera House, won her first race, as a 4YO mare, at Wyong on June 30.
IT’S NOT EASY BEING WHITE
When hip number 583 stepped into the ring at the Magic Millions Gold Coast in March, eager photographers circled the ring like paparazzi; cameras whirled, flashes lit up the filly like a starlet on the red carpet in Cannes. The hum around the sale ring was long and loud, prompting the auctioneer to thump his gavel for attention.
On paper, the yearling was attractive, but nothing out of the ordinary to draw such attention.
The catalogue page read that she is a daughter of champion sire Zabeel (B h 1986, Sir Tristram-Lady Giselle, by Nureyev) from the Star Way mare Carmina Burana (Ch m 1995, Star Way-Benediction, by Day Is One), a mare that has been disappointing as a broodmare (one winner from four foals of racing age), but who still holds some commercial bragging rights as a half-sister to one of our greats, the 1997 Group 1 Emirates Melbourne Cup winner Might And Power (B g 1993, Zabeel-Benediction, by Day Is One), a dual Australian Horse of the Year.
The selling agents had plenty to hang their hat on with lot 583 – “this filly was a three-quarter sister to a champion”.
The bidding was brisk, and the hammer came down to the nod of Newcastle trainer Kris Lees at a price of $270,000. In stepped entrepreneurial larrikin John Singleton to claim the filly was bought on his request. He liked her pedigree, but he loved her colour, because in the flesh, this filly presented a vastly different story. A head-turner. An equine Marilyn Munro. She gleamed under the lights, as white as snow. A rarity, one of only 100 or so registered white thoroughbreds in the world.
Singleton, it seems, saw beyond her racetrack capabilities to the promotional advantage of owning a rare white thoroughbred – the filly was bought to help promote his Newcastle-based boutique beer label, Bluetongue. The white filly’s future was to be decided between her racetrack talents and her ability to “sell” a boutique ale. Such is the life of a celebrity, a mere corporate commodity of the rich and famous.
The filly isn’t a freak or a mutation. A fluke maybe, and certainly a novelty, but nothing unearthed from the dungeons of a Frankenstein thriller. Her bloodlines carry the rare white gene despite the fact her parents have barely a speck of white on them. Zabeel is a true, black pointed bay, while Carmina Burana is a lovely, rich chestnut, like her sire Star Way (Ch h 1977, Star Appeal-New Way, by Klairon) and her dam. Zabeel is a dominant producing bay, meaning he hasn’t produced one chestnut, only bays, browns and grey (and only when the dam is grey).
Interestingly, like Zabeel, two of Australia’s other champion sires, Danehill (B h 1986, Danzig-Razyana, by His Majesty) and his son Redoute’s Choice (B h 1996, Danehill-Shantha’s Choice, by Canny Lad), also are dominant producing bays, and also due to their bloodlines, there is every chance either stallion could sire a white offspring if mated to a mare who carries the sabino gene.
So where does this “throw-back” colour come from in the vast history of the thoroughbred – a line of refined breeding that stretches back nearly four centuries to one stallion, the unbeaten champion Eclipse, and his two important Arab ancestors – the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Arabian – and another Arabian, the Byerley Turk. Eclipse (Ch h 1764, Marske-Spilletta, by Regulus) and the three Arabian stallions appear in the pedigree of every racing thoroughbred in the world. There is no doubt the white colour of lot 583 has its links beyond the historic breeding farms of England’s gentry in the late 17th century – to the desert sands of the Middle East.
Intense research by geneticists and lovers of this unique colour believe they have identified the link that produces what is called the maximum white gene. And its origins are certainly not obscure. One of the “culprits”, it seems, is one of the most influential sires in history, England’s little chestnut champion Hyperion. In fact, that is not quite correct, it is more than likely that Hyperion’s pure bay dam, the wonderful matron Selene, is the source of the rare colour. Hyperion, because he is the founder of some of our most influential sire-lines, including Australia’s Star Kingdom line, in most cases has spread “the blood”, so to speak. Selene has had influence beyond Hyperion, through her other offspring, and she bobs up in the pedigrees of a number of white horses without Hyperion blood.
Which is where Zabeel gets his ability to pass on the white gene. The third dam of his sire, Sir Tristram, is Selene’s daughter All Moonshine. The Camina Burana filly is not the first time Zabeel has influenced the production of a white horse. His son I Conquer is the sire of New Zealand’s most recent racing novelty, the white filly Legally White (Wh f 2002, I Conquer-Matilda, by Hermod), who has a record of one win from nine starts on the south island.
The other widely regarded source is England’s star sprinter of 100 years ago, the “spotted wonder” The Tetrarch (Gr h 1911, Roi Herode-Vahren, by Bona Vista), a registered grey but some people, including noted Victorian horseman, and lover and breeder of white thoroughbreds, Brendan Page, believe The Tetrarch’s true colour was white, or overo sabino, meaning an off-shoot of the pure white gene that is a mixture of white with colour.
Page, who claims to have 21 white thoroughbreds on his two Seymour properties, not all registered to race, but all descendants of a mare that raced in Victoria in the late 1960s, the white Glacial (Wh m 1966, Grey Marwin-Milady Fair, by Jambo). In fact, Page can probably boast the only “herd” of white thoroughbreds in the world that directly represents five unbroken generations of white, racing thoroughbreds. His white horses come via his late stallion Colourful Gambler (1986, from Lots Of Speed, by Live Arrow), a white son of Glacial’s son, Khaleben. The white Khaleben (1972, by Khalif) proved himself a good racehorse, winning at Flemington before being retired to limited opportunities at stud.
When the Zabeel-Carmina Burana filly sold in March, it was widely reported that the last white thoroughbred to race in Australia was the Gai Waterhouse-trained filly The Bride (Wh m 1991, Star Shower-Salomeneo, by Idomeneo) – who retired a maiden after 11 starts.
That statement couldn’t have been further from the truth. Only last November, Page raced his colt, the aptly named High Rail Curious (Wh c 2004, Highrail Danehill-Like A Gambler, by Colourful Gambler), at Benalla, in a 1206m maiden in January, 2008. The powder white colt failed to beat a runner home, and Page had to suffer jibes from his fellow trainers about his “circus” horse, but the colt’s lack of racing talent is not because he is white.
“He wasn’t suited in that short race. He’s bred to stay, so he won’t get warm until he gets over more ground,” he said.
Page believes after studying photos of The Tetrarch that the brilliant racehorse, and influential sire, was white, with his coat spattered with the characteristic oblong dark patches as if someone had flicked a paint laden brush in his direction.
“I have no doubt he is white. It’s rare to find a pure white, they usually have some dark pigment on their skins like he did, which seems to develop as they get older. It’s just that in those days, the officials didn’t recognised The Tetrarch’s colour as white, and he was registered as grey,” Page said.
Without being bogged down with a detailed, technical study of pedigrees, in simple terms multiple doses of The Tetrarch appears in the pedigrees of Page’s white horses through the influence of his famous daughter Mumtaz Mahal, who is the granddam of the great sire Nasrullah, and she also prominently appears in the pedigree of Northern Dancer’s granddam, the equally dominant Almahmoud, through her sire Mahmoud, like Nasruallah, also a grandson of Mumtaz Mahal.
The Bride has quadruple crosses of Hyperion (and his dam Selene) blood. Hyperion is best known in Australia as the grandsire of the great Star Kingdom, the grandsire of The Bride’s sire Star Shower. There is no trace of The Tetrarch in The Bride’s pedigree, giving credence to the theory that there are two distinct bloodlines carrying this white gene.
Zabeel, of course, also has the cross of both bloodlines. His dam is by Nureyev, one of Northern Dancer’s best sons. Northern Dancer, who has crosses of Selene and The Tetrarch in his pedigree, is one of the reasons so many of the modern day thoroughbreds have so much white splashed all over their chestnut, brown and bay bodies. Such is the influence of Northern Dancer, that we should stand by for more unusually coloured racehorses.
A study of photos Northern Dancer and paintings of his direct sire-line ancestor, the Darley Arabian, show a distinct similarity – both are richly coloured with three white shocks and a white blaze. It’s quite possible the white gene comes through the Darley Arabian who was imported to England from Syria in 1700.
Another Australian white horse that caused a stir around the same time The Bride appeared is a mare suitably named Our White Lady (Wh m 1991, Brazen Bay-Moncharm, by Charlton), who was exported to North America in 1998. Our White Lady, who was trained by Noel Doyle on the Gold Coast, was barred from training the normal dawn hours because she was considered dangerous – her white coat frightened other horses as she galloped like a ghost through the morning gloom. Her only start was a distant last (beaten 53 lengths!) in a 1300m maiden at Eagle Farm in 1994.
Page has had a similar training-track incident with High Rail Curious. “Sometimes I jog him in a cart, and one morning he was trotting around the sand track at Seymour, when a horse and rider spooked at seeing him, and a girl was dumped on the track. She wasn’t impressed,” he said.
A study of Our White Lady’s pedigree shows that she is by a Star Kingdom (Hyperion) line stallion, but it is her granddam Comme Un Éclair that is very interesting. Comme Un Éclair is by Star Kingdom’s son Shifnal, from the mare Jean, by a son of Hyperion from a granddaughter of The Tetrarch. So here we have a triple cross of Hyperion (and Selene) and a healthy dose of The Tetrarch.
When Our White Lady was three, Warner Bros. movie moguls tried to buy her. Amazingly, considering her lack of racetrack ability, a price of $50,000 was rejected. Our White Lady now lives in luxury at Norsire Farm, Vancouver, where one of her sons Pure White Gold (by the rare palomino thoroughbred Billionaire), a Jockey Club registered white thoroughbred, is standing at stud, but serving mainly non-thoroughbred show quality mares.
The Bride, owned in Queensland by Elkington Park Stud, has produced only one white registered thoroughbred foal, a colt born in 2003 by Lordly Looker (B h 1988, El Gran Senor-Lifestyle, by Manifesto), a stallion riddled with the blood of Hyperion, Selene and The Tetrarch. Unfortunately, the colt, nicknamed “Spooky” died of colic at the age of two.
In 1999, a white colt was born to the mare Joyella (B m 1990, Koryo-Supreme Joy, by Never In Doubt). The colt, by Piazzetta (Ch h 1983, Star Appeal-New Way, by Klairon), a brother to Star Way, hasn’t been registered to race, but he is used as a show stallion under the name Prince Of Snowden.
There is very little Brendan Page hasn’t done in racing. A former jockey and harness racing trainer and driver, and highly respected horse breaker, he also has the ability to talk the leg off a wooden chair. To get bailed up by him is like being cornered by a blue-heeler pup.
Page’s passion is horses; he’ll talk about them until not only have the cows come home, but out and back again. And he likes to win, but you get the impression at his Seymour stables, as six coloured stallions sleepily stand nose to nose in their sandy yards, that he also loves looking at them. And if you are going to look at them, they might as well be pretty as a picture.
What Page has developed is unique in the world. John Singleton didn’t need to spend $270,000 to buy his white horse; he only had to ask a fellow larrikin in Brendan Page for a loan of one – at a fee, of course.
Footnote: The Opera House, trained by Kris Lees, had a knee operation in 2010.
Photo: The Opera House in all her white glory parading as a yearling at the Gold Coast – photo Bruno Cannatelli.