Here’s looking at you, Encosta

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Here’s looking at you, Encosta

Black Caviar is fast becoming to her sire Bel Esprit what Alinghi was to Encosta De Lago.

The unbeaten Black Caviar (br f 2006, ex-Helsinge, by Desert Sun (GB)), an easy first-up winner of last Friday night’s Group 2 Australia Stakes (1200m) at Moonee Valley, is from Bel Esprit’s third crop from his base at Eliza Park Stud, Kerrie, Victoria.

In fact, Bel Esprit’s stud career is starting to mirror the early career of Encosta De Lago (by Fairy King (USA)), who stood at Blue Gum Farm, Euroa, when he retired in 1997, until Coolmore Stud bought out their partners and the stallion was relocated to Coolmore, Jerry’s Plains, NSW, in 2004.

Bel Esprit has sired eight Stakes winners – his sole Group 1 winner is Bel Mer (2009 Robert Sangster Stakes at Morphettville) – from his first three crops; his oldest progeny are now 5YOs.

Alinghi (b f 2001, ex-Oceanfast, by Monde Bleu (GB)) came from Encosta De Lago’s fourth crop, and when she won the Group 1 2004 Blue Diamond Stakes (1200m, Caulfield), she became his 13th Stakes winner. Encosta De Lago had previously sired two Group 1 winners – the Tom Hughes-trained pair Titanic Jack (2003 Emirates Stakes) and Delago Brom (2003 Australian Guineas). It was a stellar 12 months from the autumn of 2003 to the autumn of 2004 that really launched Encosta De Lago’s career, which started off a lowly service fee of $8500 and now is set at $220,000, the highest in Australia.

Encosta De Lago now boasts 59 Stakes winners.

Both Bel Esprit and Encosta De Lago were Victorian-trained horses who started their careers at stud in Victoria, covering good-sized books of mares. Like Encosta De Lago, Bel Esprit has been a consistent sire of winners from the day his first crop stepped on to the racetrack. They have had to prove themselves without the support of bloodlines-rich Hunter Valley (NSW) breeding stock.

Bel Esprit, the fastest son of Royal Academy (by Nijinsky II), retired to stud in 2003 after a brilliant racing career – he was the star juvenile of his year, winning the 2002 Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes (1200m, Caulfield) before training on at three to win the 2003 Group 1 Doomben 10,000 (1350m) at Doomben.

In the past month, Bel Esprit has supplied three feature sprint winners in Victoria – Beltrois (Listed Cleary Stakes), Silver Bullion (Listed Kensington Stakes) and Black Caviar. The results are timely as Bel Esprit’s largest batch of yearlings are going under the hammer in 2010 (192 foals from 266 mares) in the wake of the support he received in 2007 when equine influenza hit during the NSW and Queensland breeding season.

Many of those who bred to Bel Esprit were stunned when it was announced the stallion have covered such a large number of mares. But the worry about such competition by weight of numbers has been offset by Bel Esprit’s growth as a commercial stallion, despite the fact there are some risks breeding to him because of his toed-in front legs, and many of his offspring have his unusual, but effective, wide, swinging action.

The good news for Victorian breeders is the fact that Bel Esprit is an all-Victorian boy, and it is very unlikely Eliza Park will let him go to the Hunter Valley, as Encosta De Lago and Testa Rossa have done.

Across Bass Strait, the most exciting 2YO of the season that has emerged is a son of Bel Esprit, the brown gelding Strike The Tiger, who is unbeaten after effortless wins at Devonport (January 6) and at Launceston on Sunday. Strike The Tiger is from the Straight Strike mare Bonnie Lassy, who traces back to the outstanding New Zealand broodmare Dulcie (Bonnie Lassy’s third dam), the dam of four Stakes winners – the wonderful gallopers Balmerino, Fileur, Fulmen and Gay Filou. Bonnie Lassy, unplaced from nine career starts, has had only one previous winner from six foals of racing age, is a half-sister to the Stakes winner and Group 1 placed mare Orange Walk (by Spectacular Love).

Strike The Tiger was passed in by his Devonport-based owner Vu Van Tu at the 2009 Tasmanian Yearling Sale after failing to reach his $30,000 reserve.

Incidentally, for the pedigree buffs, Bel Esprit’s two new sprint Stakes-winners, Beltrois and Silver Bullion, come from mares with almost identical bloodlines. Beltrois is from the Noalcoholic (FR) mare Vaingt Trois, from a Comeram (FR) mare by the great Showdown (GB) out of an Orgoglio (GB) mare. Silver Bullion is from the Desert King (IRE) mare Silver Barbie, from a Noalcoholic (FR) mare from a Showdown (GB) mare, also out of an Orgoglio (GB) mare.

Four of Bel Esprit’s other Stakes winners – Bel Mer and her brother Mooring, Black Caviar and Belcentra – have an extra dose of champion sire Vain (by Wilkes (FR)) on their dam’s side, matching with Bel Esprit’s dam Bespoken, a daughter of Vain.

Bel Esprit is yet another example of my “fastest sons” theory making good stallions – as he easily is the fastest son of his sire Royal Academy – which is another similarity he has with Encosta De Lago, who certainly is the fastest son of Sadler’s Wells’ brother Fairy King. Others that quickly come to mind that fit this category include Danzig (Northern Dancer), Red Ransom (Roberto), Testa Rossa (Perugino) and the current star Lonhro (Octagonal). It also can be argued that the exciting Fastest Rock is the fastest sprinting son of Danehill – he is the highest rated sprinting 3YO colt by that great sire, and Snitzel, who is doing well with his first crop of 2YOs, is probably the best sprinting son of Redoute’s Choice we have seen so far.

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