In conformation, she is unmistakably her mother’s daughter. But at this stage of the game, Soul Stirring is also the best of Frankel’s first crop, as well as his first and only G1 winner of 2016.
This is one alliance of bloods that did exactly what might be expected, much to the delight of Katsumi, Haruya and Teruya Yoshida, the owners of Shadai, Northern and Oiwake farms on the island of Hokkaido, in Japan. Take an outstanding stallion in Frankel– arguably the greatest thoroughbred that England has ever known — and put him to a champion thoroughbred mare and daughter of Monsun, Stacelita. Then hope and pray.
Prayers aside, it sure helps if the possibility inherent in a particular mating is a gleam in the Yoshidas’ eye, as this much-anticipated foal was. After all, these are the breeders who imported Sunday Silence from the USA and turned the son of Halo into the Northern Dancer of Japan and a leading sire from 1995-2008. In 2017 Shadai remains the home of Sunday Silence’s most powerful sons and daughters, notably the pre-potent Deep Impact. But there’s a down side to any giant bloodline: so prevalent is Sunday Silence’s blood in Japanese bloodstock in their own country that the Yoshidas, together with most Japanese breeders, are keen to acquire mares who provide an outcross to his bloodline.
Enter champions like Stacelita, Danedream, Azeri, Ginger Punch, Proud Spell, Champagne d’Oro, In Lingerie, Mi Sueno, Zazu, Sarafina, Evening Jewel, Princess of Sylmar and, more recently, Curalina and Don’t Tell Sophia, among other global acquisitions purchased by the Yoshidas.
Nor are the brothers only interested in broodmares. Daughters of Deep Impact, like the great Gentildonna, also need suitable suitors. Shopping in North America, Britain and Europe for great bloodstock for well over three decades, Shadai has acquired champions like War Emblem (now retired and living at Old Friends in Kentucky), Harbinger, Workforce (now standing at Knockhouse Stud in Ireland), Novellist, Carroll House, Tony Bin, Falbrav, Empire Maker (now back in the USA), I’ll Have Another and Pentire.
The Frankel-Stacelita union represents a desire to enrich and diversify the Shadai bloodstock through the introduction of powerful bloodlines like that of Monsun, Galileo and Danehill (through Frankel’s dam, Kind). But the pairing was a crapshoot: Frankel, standing his first season, was unproven and Stacelita was also a wild card, since her first foal, a filly by Smart Strike, was only a yearling.
When snow drifts lay high and gleaming against the bare trees, Stacelita brought her filly foal into the world. As winter melted away and greenery festooned paddock and tree at Shadai Farm, it became clear that Stacelita’s daughter had inherited her dam’s conformation, coat colour and large, expressive eyes. According to trainer Chad Brown, who took over training duties from Jean-Claude Rouget in France, Stacelita was noted for her “presence” — something that other thoroughbreds noticed and respected. At three and four, Stacelita won the Prix St. Alary, Prix Vermeille, Prix Jean Romanet, La Coupe and the Prix de Diane. In France, she was an absolute superstar. Shipped to Chad Brown, she annexed the Beverly D. and the Flower Bowl Invitational, but a terrible trip in the Breeders Cup that same year resulted in her giving a lacklustre performance. It didn’t matter: Stacelita was the Eclipse Award winner for Best Turf Female in 2011. She retired with well over two million in earnings and visited Frankel in 2013.
Frankel followers were beginning to note that many in his first crop shared a distinctive feature: on the outside, they took after their dams. And Soul Stirring, as she was named, had Stacelita’s size, scope and bone. As a baby, what she had inherited from Frankel certainly couldn’t be discerned just by looking at her.
The devotion Frankel had gained as a racehorse showed no sign of ebbing when he retired, and “The First Frankels” were eagerly awaited, despite the risk that this great thoroughbred wouldn’t necessarily prove to be as great a sire. Frankel nevertheless got the immediate support of Juddmonte, who offered him a modest book of exceptional mares in 2013. And this trend is likely to continue throughout his stallion career. The idea is to keep him “exclusive” — as his privileged status demands.
So it was that Soul Stirring’s first start in July 2016 in the land of her birth was greeted with great excitement. She was, after all, Japan’s own “baby Frankel.”
And her win came with a sense of what Frankel had almost certainly contributed to her pedigree (Soul Stirring is #3, yellow-striped silks and red cap):
True, she won it by a fraction of a nose, but the explanation for that probably came in the walking ring before the race (video below), where the 2 year-old was fractious. Unlike other Frankels, who showed his enthusiastic forward locomotion, Soul Stirring’s running style was reminiscent of Stacelita. But although her willingness and speed couldn’t be attributed to Frankel alone, it seemed likely that on the “X” her sire had contributed was more than a little of Danehill, one of the most stunningly successful sires of the last forty years.
Soul Stirring had indeed stirred hearts around the world. But one start does not a champion make. With Christophe Lemaire back in the irons for trainer Kazuo Fujisawa, the filly made her second start, this time against the colts, in the October 2016 Ivy Stakes (please click on video):
This win was something different: Soul Stirring showed a lightning turn of foot when asked, powering into the lead to finish with ears pricked. It was a thrilling, decisive victory. And even the champion and two-time Horse of the Year in Japan, Gentildonna, had only won once in two starts as a two year-old. So Japanese racing fans, together with Teruya, aka “Terry” Yoshida, were ecstatic.
Soul Stirring was acquiring a following after beating the colts, and social media was regularly peppered with shots of her preparation for the final start of her two year-old campaign, the Hanshin Juvenile Fillies, a G1 race for the best juveniles in the land. Should she win it, Soul Stirring would become Frankel’s first G1 winner. The filly seemed to have it all — looks, turn of foot, ability to rate off the pace and blazing speed. It was impossible not to wish the best for her in her final race, scheduled to take place in December.
Elsewhere, it was late in the flat season: The Frankels racing in England and France, despite signs of brilliance, had not managed a G1 and had been put away until their three year-old season. Too, a majority of the best-bred Frankels hadn’t even shown up on the turf: Frankel himself raced at two, but he was by all accounts a “late bloomer,” a quality that seemed in evidence in his 2014 crop.
December 11th arrived and Soul Stirring’s cheering section held its breath, while those in other parts of the world consumed gallons of coffee the evening before and got set to stay up all night. (Soul Stirring is #2, yellow-striped silks, white cap):
With that, it was settled. Stacelita’s daughter was indeed a champion juvenile, having beaten the best of her age and sex with relative ease. The win would be enough to award her Champion Two Year Old Filly honours in Japan, before getting some time off.
What a difference two months can make.
By February 2017, Soul Stirring was back in training for the first start of her three year-old campaign, the Tulip Sho, in March. The choice of the Tulip Sho spoke volumes: the race is the habitual qualifier for the Japanese Filly Triple Crown, comprised of the Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas), the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks) and the Shuka Sho (formerly the Queen Elizabeth II Commemorative Cup, run from 1976–1995). The most recent winner of the Filly Triple is the brilliant Gentildonna, who won it in 2012.
Caught in the lens of eager photographers, Soul Stirring was already bigger and stronger than the juvenile version of herself, just eight weeks after her mini-break. In fact, she had added 20 kgs. Put another way, the filly was beginning to “grow into herself.”
By now Frankel lovers around the world knew about Soul Stirring and, as even breeders are inclined to feel, the sense that she could be “The One” (of 2014) to carry the beloved Frankel into the future was visceral. When you love a thoroughbred you pray for that, pray that time won’t swallow them up and render them ghostly. And Soul Stirring gave people the same stirring in the heart, in the soul, as Frankel had once done. She drew you in. She had presence alright — and that ineffable something that sets hearts and minds on fire.
But would she train on into her third year? So many brilliant two year-olds don’t…..
March 3, the day of the Tulip Sho, Frankel enthusiast Jess Samy noted: “Don’t mess with me. She’s a girl on a mission” And Soul Stirring sure did. Tight as a coiled spring, she strode the walking ring between her handlers exuding power, making it impossible to take your eyes off her — even at 1 a.m. in the morning (central North American time).
Walking ring footage. Soul Stirring is #10:
The competition befitted a Triple Crown qualifier, the strongest of them being Entry Ticket (#4), Lys Gracieux (#3) and Miss Panthere (#7), all granddaughters of Sunday Silence. Two others were by the winningest of Japanese sires, Deep Impact. And Soul Stirring was starting from deep outside the rest of the field.
With Christophe Lemaire once again her pilot, Soul Stirring stepped into the starting gate:
Hugely evident in her victory is that Soul Stirring had come into 2017 very much the same, willing competitor as she had been at two. That, and how readily she quickened to win, ears pricked. As an American jockey might say, “I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of her yet.”
April and the Oko Sho (1,000 Guineas) await, where Soul Stirring may very well face another very good Frankel daughter in Mi Suerte (out of Mi Sueno), as well as Miss Pathere and Lys Gracieux who finished second and third, respectively, in the Tulip Sho.
But on that day, all around the planet, you’d better believe that hearts will swell and hope will power her wings.
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