Alabama Express

As we all know, racing and breeding are realms of patience and waiting. For instance, you acquire a stallion, breed some stock, then stand around waiting, anxiously watching races, crossing fingers and hoping for those first winners to start trickling in, please.

And then there’s Alabama Express (Redoute’s Choice).

As the name suggests, he doesn’t muck about.

His first runner hit the track on October 7, a filly called Karavas at a Murray Bridge metro. She won, narrowly but showing a great love of the fight.

On Saturday came runners two and three, in the span of 17 minutes. The colt Shangri La Express stepped out at Randwick and bolted home in the Kirkham Plate (1000m) by two-and-a-half lengths.

At Eagle Farm, the filly Accelar jumped from the outside gate of 10, also over 1000 metres, led and beat off a rival in the straight, but was just nutted out on the bob of the head on the line in finishing second.

It was so close to being a quite absurd three-from-three for Alabama Express – the caller in fact gave it to Accelar – but all the same, two winners and a lip second from his first three runners? Knowing the torment and disappointment that sometimes comes with standing stallions, all those at Yulong Stud could be excused for a chuckle or two, while scratching their heads to think of a stallion who’d made a start anywhere near similar.

“Not that I can remember,” says the farm’s chief operating officer Sam Fairgray, allowing himself an incredulous laugh. “It’s a very nice beginning to his career as a stallion. It’s been absolutely fantastic for him to start like that.”

These three two-year-olds come from the first crop of Yulong’s seven-year-old stallion. There’s been no stakes winners yet. That would be asking a lot.

No, that might take a whole two more weeks, until Karavas contests the Group 3 Ottawa Stakes at Flemington Oaks day. Yulong might want to consult the Book of Job for that one, if they find all that waiting unbearable.

It’s only a start, of course, but this start belies the fairly modest entry to yearling sale land of Alabama Express. His ten lots at the Gold Coast Magic Millions averaged $199,000, making him eighth among first season sires there. His ten sold offspring at Inglis Premier averaged $155,500, including one out of a city winner who sold for $15,000. He didn’t have any at Easter. That might be about to change.

His three initial runners, all bred by Yulong, came in order. They were his fifth and equal-sixth top lots from his first crop.

Richard and Chantelle Jolly went to $260,000 at Inglis Premier for Karavas, who’s out of a Pierro (Lonhro) mare who’s a half-sister to multiple Group winners Star Of Giselle (Reset) and Solicit (Street Cry).

Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott paid $220,000 at the Magic Millions Gold Coast for Shangri La Express, who’s out of a winning Lonhro (Octagonal) mare who’s dam was four-time stakes winner Gamble Me (Rock Of Gibraltar). Yulong retained a share in the colt, who’s currently second-favourite for the Golden Slipper.

And at the same sale, Lucky Clover Thoroughbreds paid $220,000 for Accelar, the Team Edmonds-trained filly out of Prontezza (More Than Ready) who was hiding out in Book 2 as Lot 1215 at the Gold Coast. That’s a fairly modest set of circumstances for a filly from a city-winning daughter of Group 1 victor Rostova (Testa Rossa), who also begat four-time Group winner Anaheed (Fastnet Rock).

Alabama Express’ highest priced lot was the $400,000 Premier colt out of Irish mare Ghadaayer (Shamardal). Significantly, he was bought by a trio headed by trainer Mike Moroney’s Ballymore Stables, who’d had Alabama Express in a career limited by injury and illness to eight starts. They yielded four wins, highlighted by his 2020 CF Orr Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) triumph as a three-year-old.

He’d carried the famous navy with gold lightning bolt colours of owner Rupert Legh, which was how he came to join Yulong as it was beginning to roar three years ago. That’s one of a few strands of entwinement in the tale of the stallion, who’s now covering his fourth book of mares – which has expanded markedly since Saturday – at Yulong for $22,000, off an initial $27,500.

“Arrowfield were in the ownership when he raced, having bred him in partnership, and after the Orr, there was an opportunity for us to buy him,” Fairgray tells It’s In The Blood. “We looked at him, there weren’t many sons of Redoute’s left to come through, and he’d had a lot of precocity, winning at two and as an early three-year-old.

“Arrowfield were happy to sell out. There were a couple of other farms who were in the hunt, but we’d previously purchased Grunt, who’d also been raced by Rupert Legh, who’d stayed in him as well, so that relationship helped us get him.”

Legh has stayed in the ownership of Alabama Express, and though his colours were carried to three victories at the Caulfield Cup meeting – by Arkansaw Kid (Harry Angel), Coeur Volante (Proisir) and Buffalo River (Noble Mission) – a few people reckoned his best result had come elsewhere.

“I had [Gilgai Farm breeder] Rick Jamieson on the phone saying my biggest winner on Saturday was actually Alabama Express,” Legh said. “He was saying breeders will be all over that stallion. Three runners, it should have been three winners. You couldn’t start off a career better.”

Another seam to the story comes through Yulong’s COO and Alabama Express’ dad. Fairgray started at Arrowfield the same month Redoute’s Choice did – March 2000 – and worked closely with the super sire for 14 years.

“The similarities between Redoute’s and Alabama Express are quite remarkable,” he says. “The head is very similar, the way he goes about things on the farm, the temperament that comes through in his stock. He has so many characteristics of his father. You get glimpses of his head and you think, ‘My god, that’s your father through and through’.”

Fairgray had also worked with sons of Redoute’s Choice in Not A Single Doubt – the great sire’s first stakes winner – and four-time champion sire Snitzel. Those two need no introduction, but it was a lesser-known Arrowfield/Redoute’s sire who’d perhaps engendered more faith that Alabama Express would work with a lot of broodmares.

Beneteau, a Blue Diamond Prelude winner and Blue Diamond Stakes placegetter from just six starts – was bred on the same cross, out of an Encosta De Lago mare. He would sire only two crops at Arrowfield before an untimely passing, but his 107 runners contained 78 winners and no fewer than ten stakes winners – two at the top level in Lasqueti Spirit (2016 VRC Oaks) and five-time stakes winner Prompt Response (2018 Tattersalls Tiara).

“Alabama Express only had eight starts but that win in the Orr was very impressive, after he’d sat wide,” Fairgray says. “You can only judge a horse on their best win, and that was a very good one.

“And being by Redoute’s out of an Encosta De Lago mare, we liked genetically how he’d probably work with a lot of the broodmare band in Australia. The cross had worked in a stallion in Beneteau. For the small crops he had, and the quality of mare he served, he did extremely well with his numbers.

“So we thought Alabama Express would make a nice stallion for us, and we went and bought some nice mares – by Lonhro, Pierro, Street Cry, Zabeel – looking for a lot of the genetics that had worked previously with Encosta De Lago and Redoute’s Choice.”

Alabama Express has covered books of 141, 99 and 78 mares so far, but looks likely to cover some 150 this spring, according to Fairgray.

“He already had a good book of mares, but the phone’s been red hot since Saturday,” Fairgray says. “With the likes of Snitzel, and Not A Single Doubt having been so successful, I think people are thinking he could be heading down that road. Obviously it’s still early days, but it’s a nice start.”

Those behind Alabama Express are pleased to say he stamps his stock distinctly. The overwhelming majority of the 214 live foals from his first three crops have his same rich bay colouring, with the occasional brown, but there’s not one chestnut.

There are, however, two outliers – two extremely rare whites.

In 2018, Yulong owner Zhang Yuesheng bought a white Charm Spirit (Invincible Spirit) filly at Karaka. She was out of a white Zabeel (Sir Tristram) mare named for a similarly coloured set of sails adorning Sydney Harbour – The Opera House.

Named Utzon, for the Sydney landmark’s architect, Yulong’s filly had six starts for a maiden win before retiring to stud. She had a bay and a brown filly by Grunt (O’Reilly), before a first mating with Alabama Express led to a white filly last year.

She foaled another white sister last Saturday week, and will soon return to Alabama Express for what sport promoters might call a whitewash three-peat.

Fairgray reports the yearling is a “good type, with a nice, strong hind and a good shape”. Her other distinguishing feature is a pair of blue eyes, and a special blanket and face hood to protect her delicate albino skin from the sun.

And while whites might be impossible to put through a sale – you’ve got to keep them clean for a start – and thus Yulong will retain theirs to race, their colouring doesn’t appear to affect ability.

For a while now Japanese racing fans have been in thrall to a now five-year-old mare named Sodashi (Kurofune), aka “The White Wonder”, who’s won six Group races including three Group 1s – most recently Tokyo’s Victoria Mile in May.

“We’ve got to protect them from the sun as much as we can, and so far so good with ours,” Fairgray says of Alabama Express’s white yearling. “She’ll go to get broken in in January, and then we’ll start putting her through her paces.

“When she walks into a paddock, the other horses will often stop and prick their ears and take a look, but pretty quickly they’ll get back to what they were doing.

“There’s a novelty in being able to have them, and if we can keep the fillies and keep breeding some more, hopefully one of them along the way can be successful on the track.”

“I think our yearling manager is just pleased Mr Zhang wants to keep and race them, so he doesn’t have to prepare one for a yearling sale and try to keep it clean.”

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