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Archive for June, 2014

Since THE VAULT first published, it has been my goal to research and write about the development of the thoroughbred and the sport in Australia and New Zealand. While the story of Phar Lap is universal and the exploits of the incomparable Black Caviar and So You Think turned world attention to thoroughbreds from “down under,” these contemporary champions are only the most recent in a star-studded history. In fact, Australia and New Zealand have produced absolutely brilliant individuals that could hold their own in the company of great thoroughbreds anywhere and the history of how these stars came to be is rich and fascinating. As well, uncovering some of this history has only reinforced my sense of how intermingled the families of thoroughbreds are worldwide and how these connections have brought us the individuals who light up the turf from Great Britain to the USA to India to Japan today.

This, then, is the first of a series on thoroughbreds from Australia and New Zealand and begins, quite properly, with a thumbnail history of the origins of the sport. 

(NOTE: Being Canadian and having few contacts in either Australia or New Zealand, it has been very difficult trying to discern what books to buy that would give me a good history of the Australian and New Zealand thoroughbred, including significant people as well as thoroughbred champions. Any suggestions from VAULT readers would be deeply appreciated!) 

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BACKGROUND

The horse wasn’t indigenous to Australia, but with the arrival of British colonists it quickly became an essential component of settling the “new” land (i.e. “new” to the settlers, that is).

As is the case worldwide, the Australian and New Zealand (AUS + NZ) thoroughbred owes its origins to Great Britain, where the breed originated. However, AUS + NZ have a history of close collaboration in the development of their thoroughbred horse, much like that of England and Ireland. Although often lumped together for this reason, AUS + NZ are, of course, different cultures with different histories, even though Australians have embraced New Zealand-bred champions as their own. To this day, prestigious trainers like Bart Cummings (So You Think, Kingston Rule, Saintly and countless other great individuals) visit the New Zealand bloodstock sales looking for future stars — and they are seldom disappointed.

There are, of course, differences in the breed and the sport itself in AUS+ NZ that make comparison with other countries difficult, if not impossible. In the Southern Hemisphere (SH), a thoroughbred’s birthdate is August 1, not January 1 as it is in the Northern Hemisphere (NH). In other words, in any given year, a NH thoroughbred is more than half a year older than a SH thoroughbred. The best way to compare individuals has always been to race them against each other, but SH horses have historically done poorly when shifted to NH climes, and vice versa. There have been a few exceptions, of course, but they are too few and far between to aid in any serious comparison. Even Black Caviar seemed at a distinct disadvantage at Royal Ascot; the same might be said of So You Think, a great champion in his native Australia who adjusted rather poorly to his new digs at Ballydoyle.

Another unique feature of AUS + NZ racing is that geldings are invited to run in classic races. And a good thing, too, since a number of AUS+ NZ’s greatest thoroughbreds have been geldings, among them the mighty Phar Lap, who was bred and born in New Zealand and became one of Australia’s best-loved thoroughbreds during the Depression era.

SO YOU THINK, a two-time winner of the Cox Plate,  was equine royalty in Australia before he was shifted from trainer Bart Cummings to Ballydoyle in Ireland. Despite his victories in Great Britain, can we say that we really saw the true So You Think?

SO YOU THINK, a two-time winner of the Cox Plate, was equine royalty in Australia before he was shifted from trainer Bart Cummings to Ballydoyle in Ireland. Despite his victories in Great Britain, can we say that we really saw the true So You Think?

From the beginning, the primary goal in breeding thoroughbreds in AUS + NZ was to get individuals who combined strength and endurance. If they also had speed, that was a bonus. None of this was made easy in the 1800’s by a steady influx of British governors who either countenanced or reviled horse racing, banning it when the latter was true. Despite the interruptions caused by racing bans, classic races were set up in AUS over distances of 1.5 -3+ M as a means of culling out horses who didn’t meet the breeding criteria. In 2014, with the advent of a market demanding speed and precocity, many races have been pruned down to shorter distances, although the greatest of the classic races, notably the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Caulfield Cups, the AJC and VJC Derbies and AJC Oaks, are still contested at distances from 1.5-2+ M. (And just as there are those who despair at the change in thoroughbred tastes in North America, Great Britain and elsewhere, so the trend has been decried in AUS + NZ.)

SKYLINE typifies the "look" of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred which focuses on solid and sensible.

Champion SKYLINE (1955) typified the “look” of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred which focuses on “solid and sensible.” However, with the recent appetite for speed, we are inclined to wonder if that “look” with its emphasis on stamina is undergoing a qualitative shift.

 

BEGINNINGS: AUSTRALIA

The first recorded instance of a thoroughbred to land in Australia (AUS), Rockingham (1790), arrived on a ship from the Cape of Good Hope in 1799.  His sire is not known for certain, but he is believed to be a son of another Rockingham (1781), a talented thoroughbred who raced in England. Precise details about the earliest thoroughbred imports are skewed by the fact that the earliest individuals in AUS linked to the development of the thoroughbred were either Arabians or mixed with Arabian blood, and this may well have been the case with Rockingham (1790). However, in 1802 the thoroughbred stallion Northumberland (nd) was imported directly from England, arriving in the company of Hector, an Arabian stallion. This would appear to indicate that the mix of different breeds — particularly that of the Arabian or “Persian” horse — was still popular amongst AUS breeders at this time and did, in fact, play a pivotal role in establishing the AUS + NZ thoroughbred breed. The first Thoroughbred mare of proven origin, Manto (1822), arrived in Sydney, AUS in 1825. The Godolphin Arabian appears in Manto’s fifth generation and her pedigree is spotted with the names of prominent early thoroughbreds, such as Woodpecker (1773), Diomed (1777), Herod (1758), Matchem (1748) and Marske (1760).

This painting of HECTOR is an indication of the accuracy of the record of his arrival to AUS in 1830. The travel companions were also known as OLD HECTOR and OLD NORTHUMBERLAND.

This painting of HECTOR is an indication of the significance  of his arrival to AUS in 1830. The travel companions were also known as OLD HECTOR and OLD NORTHUMBERLAND respectively, making the tracing of their influence even more complex.

 

By 1840 the Australian Racing Committee was formed, re-named the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) in 1842. In keeping with their mission to nurture the development of a unique AUS thoroughbred, one known for strength and stamina, the AJC inaugurated and organized a program of Classic races, the chief among them the VJC Derby (AUS oldest derby), the AJC Derby and the Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Caulfield Cups. All of the races accepted into the Classic program were at distances of 1.5 miles or better.  Other states and jurisdictions in Australia developed their own racing clubs in the 19th century, including Victoria, which inaugurated its own Victoria Jockey Club in 1864, as well as Queensland, Southern and Western Australia and the island of Tasmania. By 1883, 192 racing clubs were registered with the AJC.

Under the influence of horseman like Captain Henry John Rous, Australian breeders became increasingly convinced that it was through importing British bloodstock that they would achieve a fine thoroughbred of their own and interest in Arabian bloodstock fell sharply. Rous was a British Naval Officer who came from a horse racing family that had great influence in British racing circles and was destined to become, according to Peter Willett, “the third great dictator of the British turf.” In fact, it was Rous who came up with the “weight for age” handicapping. During his visits to Western Australia in 1827-1828, Rous made connections with thoroughbred breeders and was responsible for importing the stallion, Rous’ Emigrant (1822). Another leader in the field, Charles Smith, established Bungarribee Stud at Doonside, New South Wales in 1830. The stud boasted only English-bred horses and it was Smith who gave Australia its first important homebred, Sir Hercules, who was foaled in 1843. Sir Hercules’ sons Cossack (1847), Yattendon (1861) and The Barb (1863) won the St. Leger and AJC Derby, respectively, as well as other classic races. Today many Australian thoroughbreds can still be traced back to Sir Hercules.

Another important early influence was Fisherman (1853), a British stallion imported by Hurtle Fisher in 1860 to stand at his stud in Victoria, Maribyrnong .

FISHERMAN (1853) was one of the Foundation Sires of the AUS+ NZ thoroughbred. He is depicted here by the great equine artist, Herring.

FISHERMAN (1853) was one of the Foundation Sires of the AUS+ NZ thoroughbred. He is depicted here by the great equine artist, John Frederick Herring, Sr.

If ever a horse was the incarnation of stamina and strength, it had to be Fisherman who, during his racing career, won 70 races, including 21 wins from 35 starts in a single racing season. Winner of 26 Queen’s Plate trophies and two Ascot Gold Cups, Fisherman on the occasion of his win of the first Gold Cup, was rewarded by being saddled up the very next day to run in the 3+ M Queen’s Plate — which he won stylishly, ears pricked. Fisherman was one of the best British stayers of the nineteenth century and it was little wonder he exercised such a potent influence on the AUS + NZ thoroughbred: in a short 5 seasons before his death, the champion sired 10 stakes winners and his progeny boasted a total of 25 stakes wins.

BEGINNINGS: NEW ZEALAND

New Zealand began to import its earliest thoroughbreds from New South Wales (AUS) in the 1840’s- 1850’s, having been infected by the “racing bug” through the commerce and exchange with its larger Australasian neighbour. What New Zealand brought to the table was a lush, fertile environment for raising horses, in contrast to the markedly small territory that Australia could offer, given its vast reaches of dry, arable land. By 1890, NZ racing had been organized under a central authority when all of its racing clubs were affiliated with the NZ Racing Conference. What began as the influence of one neighbour upon another continues between AUS + NZ to this day, a recent example being M.J. Moran and Piper Farm’s (NZ) superstar, So You Think, who quickly earned the love and respect of Australian racegoers. So You Think is just one of many champions to travel from NZ to AUS, where they earned the love and loyalty of a racing public who would never forget them.

The mare Lucy Banks (1839) is the first British-bred thoroughbred to be imported to New Zealand, although another mare, Moonshine(1853), together with three sons of the excellent British stallion Melbourne (1834) — Incledon(nd), The Peer(1855) and Towtown(1850) — arrived at nearly the same time, between 1857 – 1865 (approx.). What NZ breeders were after was a tough individual with middle distance ability and stamina. Like their AUS neighbours, NZ horsemen subscribed to the theory that thoroughbreds should be run “hard and often” since this seemed the best way to select out those horses that should be bred. In turn, this explained their great interest in the progeny of a British stallion like Melbourne, who sired the British Triple Crown winner West Australian (1850), the St. Leger winner Sir Tatton Sykes (1843) and the peerless winner of both the Epsom Derby and Oaks, the filly Blink Bonny (1854). So, although Melbourne never set foot in NZ, he is one of the important early sires of the AUS + NZ thoroughbred.

Still another sire of great importance to the flourishing of the breed in New Zealand was Traducer (1857), a son of The Libel (1842) who was imported in 1862. Despite his reputedly savage temperament, Traducer got 9 winners of the NZ Derby and another 8 winners of the Canterbury Cup, a weight-for-age race run over a 2.5 M course.

BLINK BONNY: the peerless daughter of MELBOURNE, won both the Epsom Derby and Oaks in 1857.

BLINK BONNY: the peerless daughter of MELBOURNE, won both the Epsom Derby and Oaks in 1857.

The greatest influence among the early imported mares was that of Flora McIvor (1828), an AUS-born daughter of Rous’ Emigrant out of Cornelia (AUS, b. 1825), a daughter of Manto. Brought to New Zealand by Henry Redwood, the “father of the NZ Turf”, the 25 year-old Flora McIvor produced two daughters by Sir Hercules: Io (1855), the ancestress of the important stallion Trenton (1881) and Waimea (1857), the ancestress of Phar Lap’s contemporary, Nightmarch (1925), and the superb filly, Silver Scorn (1929), acknowledged to be one of the best of her sex to ever race in NZ. The following short video celebrates the contribution of Redwood to the NZ thoroughbred industry, while giving viewers a glimpse into the early history of the sport:

The next major event in the development of the breed is the arrival of Musket (1867) in 1878, for it fell to this sire to produce the kind of brilliance that would put New Zealand “on the map” as a place where fine thoroughbreds could be found. Bred by Lord Glascow, Musket was a sturdy bay with a winning heart and he put both to good use, winning at distances up to 3 miles in Great Britain, including the Flying Dutchman H. (10F at York), the Ascot Stakes (2 1/2M at Ascot), Her Majestys Plate at Lincoln (2M), Her Majestys Plate at Shrewsbury (3M), the Seven Cup (2M) and the Alexandra Plate (3M) in which he carried 132lbs.

The amazing MUSKET, who had won at distances up to 3M, would give the NZ thoroughbred a world-class status.

The amazing MUSKET, who had won at distances up to 3M, would give the NZ thoroughbred a world-class status.

As great as were Musket’s gifts on the turf, in the breeding shed he lent his superb genes to sons Trenton (1881) and Martini-Henry (1880). From the latter would descend the 1946 Epsom Derby winner, Nimbus (1943), and the superb Grey Sovereign (1948), twice leading sire in France. The brilliant Trenton excelled at stud, producing 404 winners over 9 seasons; a daughter, Rosaline (1901), became the grandam of the great British sire, Gainsborough (1915).

But Musket’s most superb gift of all came in 1885, when Carbine was foaled.

CARBINE, captured in oil by artist Percy Brinkworth.

CARBINE, captured in oil by artist Percy Brinkworth.

Carbine, aka “Old Jack,” was as loved as Phar Lap (who is a direct descendant) by all who saw him race. He is considered one of the best thoroughbreds ever produced in AUS + NZ to this day. Carbine proved himself a consummate runner, embodying the strength and endurance that AUS + NZ breeders were aiming for in the horses they bred. In 1890 at the Randwick Carnival, the colt proved his mettle, taking five top-class races in eight days over distances ranging from 1 mile to 3 miles. That same year Carbine won the Melbourne Cup, where he faced a field of 39 other horses (today the field is limited to 24). Not only did Carbine win: he set a new race record, even though he was carrying 66 kg (146 lbs.), the most weight ever carried by a Cup winner. It seems unbelievable, does it not, that a 16h horse could carry that much weight over 2 miles and set a track record? That alone speaks loud about who Carbine was. Racing in Australia until he was retired at five, the best son of Musket won 33 times in 43 starts and was unplaced once throughout his career on the turf. He was the first AUS+ NZ champion to win 15 successive races, which he did in his remarkable season as a four/five year-old.

CARBINE depicted on a postcard of the day.

CARBINE depicted on a postcard of the day.

Sent off to the breeding shed, Carbine stood four seasons in Australia before being sold in 1895 to the Duke of Portland, the owner of St. Simon (1881). Shipped to England to the Duke’s stud,Welbeck Abbey, Carbine was installed as the “second” to St. Simon. The champion might not have gotten the choicest mares, but his genes were so potent that he made an indelible mark on the thoroughbred anyway. Even before leaving Australia, Carbine had sired three very good individuals: Wallace (1892), winner of the VATC Caulfield Guineas, the Sydney Cup and Victoria Derby, among others, who would top the Australian sire list in 1915/16; the superb filly, La Carabine (1894), winner of the VRC Australian Cup, the Sydney Cup and two-time winner of the AJC Plate, who went on to be a black-type producer; and Amberite (1894) winner of the Victoria Derby, VATC Caulfield Cup, the AJC Derby, the AJC St. Leger and the AJC Plate. All in all, in his short stud career in Australia, Carbine sired winners of 203 races with combined earnings of 48,624 APS.

CARBINE at stud, probably in the UK, circa 1900.

CARBINE at stud, probably in the UK, circa 1900.

 

WALLACE was the best of Carbine's sons. Painting by Martin Stainforth

WALLACE was the best of Carbine’s sons born in Australia and an important sire there. Painting by Martin Stainforth

 

LA CARABINE, brilliant daughter of CARBINE born and bred in Australia.

LA CARABINE, brilliant daughter of CARBINE born and bred in Australia.

 

At Welbeck Abbey, Carbine continued his career as a sire of champions, the arguably most famous among these being the English Derby and Grand Prix de Paris winner, Spearmint (1902). Although of delicate constitution himself, Spearmint became a sire of classic winners. He also turned out to be a brilliant BM sire. Among other Spearmint progeny: the great sire Chicle (1913) who sired America’s Mother Goose (1922) and was the BM sire of Shut Out(1939); the 1920 Epsom Derby winner Spion Kop (1917); Johren (1915), winner of the Belmont Stakes in 1918 and an American HOTY; the 1922 St Leger Stakes winner Royal Lancer(1919); as well as Spike Island (1919), winner of the 1922 Irish Derby; the exceptional filly Fausta (1911), winner of the 1914 Italian Derby and Oaks; and Spelthorne (1922), winner of the 1925 Irish St Leger Stakes.

CARBINE'S best British son was SPEARMINT. Although a fragile runner with poor legs, SPEARMINT'S progeny were noted for their classic lines.

CARBINE’S best British son was SPEARMINT. Although a fragile runner with poor legs, SPEARMINT’S progeny were noted for their classic lines and it was he more than any other Carbine progeny who assured his sire’s place in the development of the thoroughbred.

SPEARMINT'S daughter, PLUCKY LIEGE, exerted an enormous influence on the breed through her sons BULL DOG,

SPEARMINT’S daughter, PLUCKY LIEGE, exerted an enormous influence on the breed through her sons BULL DOG and SIR GALLAHAD III.

NOGARA, granddaughter of SPEARMINT and dam of NEARCO.

NOGARA, granddaughter of SPEARMINT and dam of NEARCO.

 

However, Spearmint’s greatest success as a stallion was through his daughters, of whom the most influential was arguably Plucky Liege (1912), dam of Bull Dog (1927), Sir Gallahad III (1920), Bois Roussel (1935) and Admiral Drake (1931). Seaweed (1916), another daughter, was the dam of multiple stakes winners Hotweed(1926) and Broulette (1928). Yet another daughter, Catnip (1910), was the dam of the great blacktype producer, Nogara (1928), whose son, Nearco (1935), exerted an enormous influence on thoroughbred pedigrees worldwide through his sons, Nearctic (1940) the sire of Northern Dancer (1961), Nasrullah (1940) the founder of a dynasty and sire of Bold Ruler (1954) and Royal Charger(1942), sire of the important stallion Turn-To (1951) and of American champion, Mongo (1959). From Turn-To comes First Landing (1956), sire of Riva Ridge and Sir Gaylord (1959), sire of the British champion miler and good sire, Habitat (1966), as well as the great British champion, Sir Ivor (1965). Another son of Turn-To, Hail To Reason (1958), made the greatest impact of all, through his sons Halo (1969), the sire of Sunday Silence (1986) and Bold Reason (1968), the BM sire of Sadler’s Wells (1981).

NEXT TIME: The series continues with a look at some of the greatest AUS+NZ champion thoroughbreds in the first part of the twentieth century.

 

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

 

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Royal Ascot is about to open and in 2014 will host a veritable who’s-who of the British and European turf. An exciting twist for American racing fans is provided by the entry of Rosalind, trained by Kenny McPeek, in either the Ribblesdale Stakes on June 19 or the Coronation Stakes on Friday, June 20.  In addition, Verrazano, now in training with Aidan O’Brien, will be starting in either the Queen Anne (June 17) or the Prince of Wales (June 18) Stakes. 

ROSALIND, trained by Kenny McPeek, is set to make her UK debut in the Coronation Stakes on June 20.

ROSALIND is set to make her UK debut in either the Ribblesdale or the Coronation Stakes. Both of these races are designed for fillies.

Impossible as it is to focus on every horse entered at Royal Ascot, there are several who have become familiar names to racing fans worldwide. Keeping our readership and their needs in mind, we have focused on a few of the star-studded cast who will assemble at Royal Ascot next week. At the time of this writing, the fields were still not quite set and since several of the entries described below remain co-entered in two different races, readers are encouraged to go to the Racing Post site for Royal Ascot to check the racing cards early next week: http://royal-ascot.racingpost.com/horses/cards/

TREVE

Arc winner, Treve, is set to kick off in the Prince of Wales Stakes on Wednesday, June 18 in what will be her first start on British soil. Last seen in neck-to-neck combat with the outstanding Cirrus des Aigles in April at Longchamps in the Prix Ganay (below), which Treve lost by a whisker in her first-ever defeat, trainer Cricket Head-Maarek’s champion seems ready to add another jewel to her crown next week.

As satisfying as it will be for Head-Maarek to see her great mare return to the winner’s circle at Ascot, the Prince of Wales is thought to be a prep race for Treve who’s real objective is likely to be the 1 million purse in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in July, where it is very possible that she will meet up with Derby winner, Australia. From there, if all goes well, Treve will defend her title in the 2015 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. If anyone can get her through this arduous campaign it is Head-Maarek, a trainer of no small merit who hails from the family of Freddie Head, trainer of the brilliant Goldikova. Here is Treve in-training prior to the Prix Ganay, with commentary from the distinguished jockey, Frankie Dettori, who has ridden some of the greatest thoroughbreds of the last twenty years.

The Prince of Wales is shaping up to be a solid race including Aidan O’Brien’s 2013 Epsom Derby winner, Ruler of the World, John Gosden’s globetrotting mare, The Fugue, the William Haggas-trained Mukhadram, second in last year’s Dubai World Cup, and Dank, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, last seen by North America in her record-setting run in the Breeders Cup Filly and Mare Turf in November 2013 (below). (NOTE: Ruler of the World is co-entered in the Hardwicke Stakes, Saturday, June 21st. Check on Monday, June 16 to see where he is going.)

Of particular interest to American racing fans will be the entry of Verrazano, last year’s winner of the Wood Memorial, who is now being trained by Aidan O’Brien. O’Brien reports that he is pleased with Verrazano’s progress to date. The 4 year-old made his first start for O’Brien at Newberry in May, where he finished a very respectable third to champion Olympic Glory in the JLT Lockinge Stakes (below). (NOTE: Verrazano is co-entered in the Queen Anne Stakes which will run on Tuesday, June 17. Verrazano fans should check at on the weekend or Monday, June 16 when the entries should be finalized for June 17.)

SOFT FALLING RAIN & OLYMPIC GLORY

Mike de Kock’s Soft Falling Rain is getting set to take on Olympic Glory in the Queen Anne Stakes, on the first day of racing (June 17th) at Royal Ascot. The last time he tried this on Ascot turf, Soft Falling Rain ran the worst race of his distinguished career, coming in 11th behind the winner (Olympic Glory). But don’t be fooled: Mike de Kock’s champion has only ever finished out of the money twice in his 12 starts, winning 8. A son of Canada’s National Assembly, a champion sire in South Africa who was trained by Vincent O’Brien but never raced due to injury, Soft Falling Rain is a grandson of the prepotent Danzig and Giant’s Causeway is his BM sire. So this 5 year-old is “bred in the purple” and always gives his best. His last start was in March in the Godolphin Mile, where he narrowly lost out to stablemate Variety Club:

Olympic Glory (shown in video above in connection with Verrazano) is another champion who has won very consistently over 13 career starts for trainer, Richard Hannon. A son of Choisir, the first Australian-trained horse to win at Royal Ascot (2003) who became almost as famous for his weird headgear, Olympic Glory carries “the Danehill gene” that never seems to disappoint. Accordingly, the colt has won seven times in France and England, and was seen last year at Royal Ascot winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (below).  Despite coming in 4th at Longchamps to the mighty Cirrus des Aigles, expect Olympic Glory to be well in the mix on opening day.

CHOISIR, the sire of OLYMPIC GLORY, shown here winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2003. A handsome devil, CHOISIR was as memorable for his headgear as he was for his immense talent.

CHOISIR, the sire of OLYMPIC GLORY, shown here winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2003. CHOISIR was as famous for his headgear as he was for his immense talent.

ESTIMATE

Perhaps the most heartwarming moment of last year’s Royal Ascot was the delight of HM The Queen as she greeted her filly, Estimate, in the winner’s enclosure after the Gold Cup.

Estimate was the product of an arrangement involving her dam, Ebaziya, owned by the Aga Khan Studs and HM’s Royal Stud. The latter sent Ebaziya to the super German stallion, Monsun (sire of Novellist, Shirocco and Stacelita, among others) and the result was a beautiful mare who has done her 88 year-old owner-breeder proud. Although lightly raced, the 5 year-old has won 4 of her 8 starts. Given HM’s passion for thoroughbred racing, it would be a thrill to see Estimate defend her title with another win in the 2m 4f Gold Cup on June 19. But she will have to be at her absolute best to vanquish her competition.

It’s a fair guess that Aidan O’Brien’s Leading Light will push Estimate to the limit if he can get the distance. Successful at Navan in May, the son of Montjeu has only lost twice in 8 starts. Out of the Gone West mare, Dance Parade, Leading Light was the brilliant winner of the St. Leger last year as a 3 year-old, and at Royal Ascot 2013 showed true grit in winning the Queen’s Vase.

A sentimental favourite is the hardy Simenon, whose problem won’t be the distance. Rather, it will be his age. At seven, with 38 starts under his belt, Simenon may be getting past his best but he’s one of the most honest horses in the race. Too, there is Richard Baldwin’s Whiplash Willie, who ran a very decent third at Sandown last time out to the favourite, Brown Panther.

CERTIFY

Certify was brilliant as a juvenile at 2 and as a 3 year-old, but her career was cut in half by the drug scandal that beset Godolphin’s trainer, Mahmood Al Zarooni in 2013. Certify returned in 2014 where she won her first race, followed by a fourth at Meydan in what was her first ever defeat. Her story is a heart-breaker because the daughter of Elusive Quality is Frankel-esque in her abilities and bringing her back to form after an enforced break of 469 days is a challenge of epic proportions. Switched to trainer Charlie Appleby, Certify is listed to run against fillies and mares in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes on Wednesday, June 18. One can only hope to see her regain the brilliance of her 2012 season. Either way, she is a superstar gracing the turf of champions. Here is Certify winning the Shadwell Fillies Mile in 2012, followed by her win in the Cape Verdi at Meydan in January 2014:

 

BROWN PANTHER

Another serious contender for the Gold Cup will be Ted Dascombe’s Brown Panther, a son of Shirocco and grandson of Monsun. As of this writing, Brown Panther has won his last two races decisively and with 20 starts and 9 wins under his belt, appears to be peaking at just the right moment. The Dascombe-trained 6 year-old is currently listed as the favourite going in to Royal Ascot week, given that his last win came at the Gold Cup distance over a soggy track at Sandown. Although it has taken him some time to get there, Brown Panther deserves the attention he’s getting.

Bred by his owner, Michael Owen, a British and international soccer (football in the UK) star who now does football commentary for the British media, Brown Panther represents the zenith of his owner’s career in horse racing. And he’s come along very nicely under Ted Dascombe’s patient tutelage, since his male family have a tendency to come into their own rather slowly by today’s standards and Dascombe understands this.

As footage of his most recent win at Sandown was not available, here is Brown Panther (turquoise shirt) winning the Artemis Goodwood Cup at Glorious Goodwood a year ago, where he beat the likes of Colour Vision soundly.  By all accounts, he’s an even better distance runner this year.

ROSALIND

America’s Rosalind will have her work cut out for her, making her first start on grass at Royal Ascot in either the Ribblesdale (June 19) or the Coronation Stakes (June 20). Either way, she will be in heady company, including a contingent from Ballydoyle that includes Wonderfully, John Gosden’s Criteria, Roger Varian’s excellent Sea The Stars filly, Anipa, Godolphin’s Ihtimal, John Oxx’s talented filly My Titania (another by Sea The Stars), Andre Fabre’s Miss France, together with lightly-raced fillies like Wonderstruck, Dermot Weld’s Edelmira or William Haggas’ Cape Cross filly, Token of Love.

Still, Rosalind will have a huge fan following from America, where she is a favourite and they will be rooting for her all the way. The daughter of Broken Vow whose BM sire is Theatrical has several excellent grass runners in her pedigree, including Britain’s last Triple Crown winner, Nijinsky II, as well as Sassafras and Nureyev, who was born and raced in France where he got Champion 3 year-old honours. Her owners, Landaluce Educe Stables and trainer, Kenny McPeek have little reason to doubt either her quality or her determination. Having only finished out of the money twice in 8 starts, Rosalind is shown here in a gutsy win over Room Service in April at Keeneland:

WAR COMMAND, KINGMAN & NIGHT OF THUNDER

It would be fair to say that next to the emotion of HM’s Estimate taking the Gold Cup, last year’s Royal Ascot was punctuated by the thrill of 2 year-old War Command’s victory. As his white-blazed faced streaked across the finish line his sire’s (War Front) reputation grew even more in the minds of British and European thoroughbred owners and breeders. They had to be asking themselves, “Have we got another Northern Dancer on the rise?” since The Dancer really made his legacy through the loyalty of Coolmore-Ballydoyle, specifically Vincent O’Brien, to his progeny. Most of whom proved to be brilliant. Cross-entered in both the prestigious St. James Palace Stakes (June 17) and the Diamond Jubilee (June 21), Coolmore-Ballydoyle will be dreaming of a performance that repeats War Command’s brilliance of almost a year ago:

However, a little-publicized truth (according to Ballydoyle) is that the “War Fronts can be quite lazy” and War Command pulled that card in his most recent outing in May at Newmarket, where he finished a dismal 9th in the 2000 Guineas, failing to pick up the pace when it counted most. If he does this again at Royal Ascot, he’ll likely be pummelled by either the brilliant Night of Thunder or Kingman.

Night of Thunder, a 3 year-old son of Dubawi, is trained by the eminent Richard Hannon. Having won 3 of his 4 lifetime starts, the colt has never been out of the money. More importantly, Night of Thunder is this year’s winner of the Quipco 2000 Guineas, taking it despite hanging out very far as he and jockey Keiron Fallon came to the finish. But he beat War Command, the subsequent Derby winner, Australia, as well as a very good colt in Kingman despite what could have been a disastrous error:

Kingman and Night of Thunder have been challenging each other throughout the season. While Juddmonte’s Kingman lost to his rival in the Quipco 2000 Guineas, he went on to subsequently take the Irish 2000 Guineas in devastating fashion. The son of Invincible Spirit has only ever lost once in his 5 lifetime starts. Accordingly, Prince Khalid Abdullah and trainer John Gosden’s champion has been accorded the status of favourite to take the St. James Palace next week:

SOME PROMINENT AMERICAN SIRES REPRESENTED AT ASCOT 2014 

The War Fronts make up a small army, with newcomers War Envoy and The Great War running in the prestigious Coventry Stakes for 2 year-olds on June 17; Guerre and Due Diligence running on the same day in the King’s Stand; Giovanni Boldini joining War Command in the St. James Palace Stakes; and a filly, Peace and War is running for  Sheikh Suhaim Al Thani/QRL/M Al Kubaisi in the Queen Mary Stakes  (June 18).

Elusive Quality is represented in the St. James Palace Stakes (June 17) by Michaelmas who runs for Ballydoyle; Great White Eagle in the Jersey Stakes for Ballydoyle (June 18); Elusive Guest for John Guest Racing runs in the Jersey Stakes (June 18); and the fabulous mare Certify is due to run in the Duke of Cambridge Stakes (June 18) for Godolphin.

Big Brown is represented by the very good colt, Darwin, who runs in the King’s Stand (June 17) for Ballydoyle.

Bluegrass Cat is represented by Biting Bullets who runs for Mrs. Joanna Hughes in another 2 year-old race, the Windsor Castle Stakes (June 17).

Quality Road has a 2 year-old colt, Hootenanny, running in the Windsor Castle Stakes in the colours of Tabor, Magnier and Smith (June 17).

Street Cry has Street Force running in the Jersey Stakes (June 18) for Saeed Mañana.

Dynaformer is represented by Somewhat who runs in the colours of  Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum in the King Edward VII Stakes (June 20).

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