This article is dedicated to the mystery and magic of a thoroughbred champion. As well, it is dedicated to the racing spirit of Ann-Maree Matthews, at whose request I wrote it.
This is Germany’s diminutive — at slightly over 15h — superstar, doing what she does best: humbling every colt in the field, with the exception of the gallant Nathaniel.
In Australia, turf discourse affectionately substitutes “pony” for a thoroughbred horse of either sex. Whereas Black Caviar is clearly not a pony, as far as her statuesque height goes, Danedream really is. She’s certainly not the first pony-sized thoroughbred to become a superstar, nor is she even invincible at current statistics of 17-8-0-4, but Danedream certainly has overcome her size and even her defeats with a quartet of Group 1 victories, including the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (shown above) over the last two years. All of them were run at distances of over 1 mile 4f, and all were run against colts.
Danedream’s story begins at the turn of the last century in France. In 1914, famous owner-breeder Marcel Boussac bought an interest in a mare called Diana Vernon, whose family plays a pivotal role in the arrival of the tiny filly foal who would conquer the 2011 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Over a period of 50 years and 12 generations of thoroughbreds descended from her, Diana Vernon’s family would reward Boussac’s fine investment with some handsome payoffs, notably in the form of 1974 Prix Lupin winner and top French 3 year-old, Dankaro and the mare Coronation V, a daughter of Djebel ex. Esmerelda, a great granddaughter of Diana Vernon, who won the 1949 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for Boussac.
Danedrop’s filly foal also descended from a branch of Diana Vernon’s family, beginning with Esmeralda’s half-sister, Geranium (1941). A daughter of Mahmoud, and a great grandaughter of Diana Vernon on the bottom of her pedigree, Geranium — another Boussac home-bred — only produced one offspring, a daughter of Pharis named Monrovia (1948). Through Monrovia, we arrive at the mare Lady Berry, a prodigious producer whose blood, like that of Pretty Polly’s, flowed down through generations. A daughter, Featherhill, is great- grandam to Group 1 winner, Plumania. Another daughter, Sea Hill (Seattle Slew) produced the very good colt, Legerete. Rose BonBon (1984), by High Top, met up with the prepotent Danehill. The result was Danedrop.
The year before Danedream’s arrival, her dam had produced Danestar (2007), whose grandsire was the excellent Machiavellian. Danestar earned over a half million in his racing career, but was the only progeny of note out of four foals. In fact, the mare changed hands several times before Danedream was foaled, culminating in her recent purchase by the canny Coolmore “lads.” But in Danedream, the Danehill-Lomitas nick has proved to be loaded with endowments, although it would take someone with a sharp eye to see it. Or maybe not.
After all, Danehill was an enormously important sire whose premature loss to Coolmore, in a tragic paddock accident, is likely one of the worst breeding disasters the enterprise has ever sustained. A son of the brilliant Danzig, Danehill remains the first stallion to sire 347 stakes winners, 14% of his total get. As well, he was the leading Australian sire for 9 consecutive years, the leading sire in Great Britain for 3 years and in France for two. Suffice it to say that any thoroughbred with Danehill as a BM sire is going to get attention in the sales ring.
Lomitas (pronounced low-me-tis) is Danedream’s sire. Germany’s champion at 2 and again at 3, as well as its champion juvenile sire in 1998, Lomitas’ stirring narrative deserves to be a Hollywood movie.
Although he won two races at 2 and made it clear that he was a champion in the making, Lomitas developed a terror of the starting gate. So terrified was the grandson of Nijinsky that he was actually banned from racing, after taking 30 minutes to load and savaging those who struggled to load him. Walter Jacobs, owner of Gestut Fahrhof (excuse the lack of proper punctuation over the u and a) brought in American horse whisperer, Monty Roberts, who concluded that the colt was claustrophobic. As you might expect, Roberts solved the “Lomitas problem” and, in so doing, fell in love with him.
If this drama was not enough, as a 4 year-old Lomitas had to be sent into hiding.
In 1991, after a 4-length win at Hamburg, his owner received a letter demanding a huge amount of money. Should the money not be delivered, Lomitas would be killed. Guards were stationed around the clock to protect him and, as winter progressed, Lomitas’ connections began to feel that the crisis had been averted.
In 1983, the Irish champion, Shergar, had been kidnapped and was never seen again. The likely murder of the gentle champion — whose kidnapping remains unsolved to this day — would never be forgotten. The parallel must have shaken Jacobs, since Lomitas had become a German racing hero just as Shergar had stolen the hearts of the Irish, making the connection to the latter’s fate even more striking.
In his next appearance, the Düsseldorf Group 1 ” Preis der Berliner Bank, ” a race he had won easily as a three-year-old, Lomitas seemed unusually dulled, as was his coat, and he ran listlessly. The next day, another letter arrived, stating that the horse’s loss was proof that he could be “gotten at” any time and that this should be considered a warning. Subsequent examination by vets found poison in Lomitas’ system.
It was then that Walter Jacobs’ asked his horse’s faithful groom, Simon Stokes, to accompany Lomitas into exile and Monty Roberts contacted the famous British ex-jockey, Lester Piggott, to ask if the horse could stay at his stables in the UK. The next day, accompanied by an armed guard, Lomitas and Stokes boarded a plane bound for England. Once in Piggott’s stable, Lomitas was given a different, temporary name.
Lomitas thrived under Stokes’ care, but he was also a race horse and cantering over field and plain was not really a suitable replacement to the call of the turf. But racing Lomitas in England was deemed too risky. Instead, arrangements were again made through Monty Roberts to deliver Jacobs’ champion to HOF trainer, Ron McAnally (trainer of the greats, notably John Henry, Paseana and Bayakoa). But the horse never really rebounded from his last start, losing two races in California. Finally, after spending some time at Monty Roberts’ ranch, Lomitas flew back to Germany to commence stallion duties, at which he was to prove a success. As well, it is accurate to say that without Monty Roberts’ critical intervention on behalf of her sire, little Danedream might never have become.
In 2009 Lomitas’ still unnamed yearling daughter was offered at auction, where she was purchased by Heiko Voltz who, with trainer Peter Schiergen, thought she might be promising enough to “have some fun with.” German racing was failing and prospective owners were unwilling to spend a fortune on thoroughbreds; as well, it was less than a year after “the crash heard around the world,” and investors worldwide were in a conservative mood. No surprise then that Voltz managed to secure the little bay filly with the blaze and snip and one white stocking for slightly over $11,000 USD.
It was clear to Schiergen that the newly-christened Danedream had speed, but she got off to a rather slow start as a 2 year-old, a bit like her sire had done over 2 decades earlier. Even though she didn’t dazzle, her trainer recognized her honesty and cultivated her stamina. In the final race of her juvenile season, Danedream had shown a smart turn of foot to finish first, only to be DQ’d to third.
Here is Danedream winning her maiden at Wissembourg, considered an “easy contest” by Schiergen. Watch for her on the lead (orange silks).
Her 2011 campaign kicked off with a second in the Derby Italiano, but Danedream came back to take the Italian Oaks impressively from a tough competitor, Good Karma. As a 3 year-old, Danedream was stronger and more confident. She could rate and then move out speedily when asked. And she was starting to show a big, big heart and the determination a thoroughbred needs to win.
Next, she was off to beat up the boys in the Grosser Preis von Berlin (Group 1), followed by another win in the Grosser Preis von Baden.
That did it. German racing fans woke up to find that they had a little champion in their midst.
Danedream represented the fulfilment of hopes and dreams to more than just her racing family and fans. Lomitas’ owner, Walter Jacobs’ – in a kind of exquisite irony — was responsible for refurbishing the Baden-Baden racing facility that was the scene of Danedream’s pre-Arc triumph. One can only imagine the tremendous pride he must have felt watching Lomitas’ daughter bring its luscious turf and sparkling grandstand to life.
The Baden-Baden win was her last race before the champion filly shipped to France for a try in the coveted Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Also running in the Arc were the Australian champion, So You Think (now running for Coolmore) and Juddmonte’s brilliant Workforce, winner of the Epsom Derby in record time (in only his third start) and the 2010 Arc winner. As well, Coolmore ran the Irish Derby winner, Treasure Beach, and the game St. Nicholas Abbey. Too, there were the excellent fillies Snow Fairy (who had finished a 1/2 length behind the winner, So You Think, in her last outing), Shareta (a daughter of the great Sindar and a very competent runner) and Sarafina (who had finished a short 2 1/4 lengths behind Workforce in 2010). Rounding out the field were Reliable Man ( winner of 4 of his last 5 starts), Goldikova’s sister, Galikova, John Gosden’s Masked Marvel (Montjeu), as well as Testosterone, Meandre, Silver Pond and two from Japan, Nakayama Festa (Stay Gold) and Hiruno d’Amour.
Danedream had to be supplemented to run in the Arc, despite her growing reputation as a 3 year-old. However, a shrewd Teruya Yoshida, owner of the Shadai Stallion Station in Japan, bought a half-interest in the mare prior to the race.
The day of October 2, 2011 dawned bright, with an autumnal snap in the air. The Longchamps turf was deemed “good.”
Danedream went down to the post at odds of 27-1. The field she was about to face was one of the deepest seen at Longchamps for decades. In Germany, they held their breath. And Danedream’s owner and trainer dared to hope that their game little filly would crown her 3 year-old campaign with a win in the world’s most esteemed race ……
“…But the bird has flown.” And indeed, she did. Looking more like a greyhound than a horse, Danedream loped to a 5-length win, breaking the record held by Peintre Celebre in 1997, to become only the second German-trained thoroughbred to ever win the Arc.
For her trainer, himself a champion jockey whose 273 wins in a single season remain a European record, as well as for the jockey who had been with her from the very beginning, Andrasch Starke, it really was a dream come true. Of her effort, Starke said, “… She made a fabulous burst when I asked her to give it her all. The acceleration was worthy of a very, very great filly.”
You’d never know from their excitement that Danedream, not being French-bred, hadn’t earned a dime of prize money for her stupendous effort.
Coming home in her wake were two other great fillies: Shareta, followed by Snow Fairy. So You Think ran a brilliant race, coming from almost dead-last to take fourth place.
It should have been enough.
But possibly based on pressure from part-owner, Yoshida, Danedream shipped to Japan in November to try her luck in the prestigious Japan Cup. Winning it would have made history, making her the first thoroughbred to ever take both the Arc and the Japan Cup.
But it was not to be.
Returning to Germany, Danedream was crowned their 2011 Horse of the Year.
In 2012 as a 4 year-old, Danedream has had a testing but judicious campaign, leading up to a defence of her 2011 Arc win in October. She began by winning the Grosser Preis der Badischen Unternehmer at Baden-Baden. She then ran fourth in the prestigious Grand Prix de Saint Cloud in France. This was followed by an impressive win against Nathaniel, the only thoroughbred to ever have really challenged the incomparable Frankel, in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (shown at the beginning of this article). As was true in 2011, Danedream’s last pre-Arc prep was a second consecutive victory in the Grosser Preis von Baden.
Carried wide in the final stages, the mare seemed to just squeak by to win, but trainer Schiergen confided that the idea was only to give Danedream a “bit of a run” without emptying the tank. In the footage below, viewers can see the mare’s running style to good advantage as she defeats Ovambo Queen, Girolamo and Pastorious.
This year’s Arc will be her second to last start. But Danedream really has nothing left to prove. Given the field she left behind in last year’s Arc, Danedream could have retired right then and there, and still be considered one of the best thoroughbreds ever on the international stage. Without question, she is the greatest German thoroughbred of her sex and one of the all-time greats of German thoroughbred racing.
Her final race is to be the 2012 Japan Cup. Then — sadly for her fans — Danedream will be retired and sent to Japan’s Shadai Stallion Station. At the time of this writing, it is unclear whether or not this great, great mare will ever be sent to stallions outside of Japan.
In this year’s Arc, Danedream lines up against the likes of Nathaniel (whom she narrowly defeated at Ascot earlier this year) and Japan’s Triple Crown winner, the mighty Orfevre. Snow Fairy is also slated to run, should the turf be to her trainer’s liking, as well as returning runners Shareta, Reliable Man, St. Nicholas Abbey and Meandre. Pastorius, who finshed third to Danedream at Baden-Baden earlier this year, Imperial Monarch (Coolmore’s impressive 3 year-old son of Galileo, who has already run at Longchamps with success, but will be pulled should Camelot run), Sea Moon, Al Kazeem, Novellist (the other German-based horse in the field), Last Train and Saonois complete the field. Whether or not Camelot will indeed run has yet to be announced.
As of today, Danedream starts as one of two favourites. The other is Orfevre, with Camelot and Snow Fairy coming in as second and third choice, respectively.
On October 7th, run on heart little lady.
For when wishes are horses, then you, Danedream, will always lead the herd.