Kiwi Chronicles

All is not lost

Disappointments are common in racing. Ask any owner.

Ellerslie’s New Zealand Bloodstock Karaka Million (RL, 1200m), run in late January, is a case in point. Not the race itself, but the connections of the two runners that were last and second last across the line are unlikely to have fond memories of the day. Then again, someone has to finish at the rear. 

Also finishing last, on his race debut last August, was Rich Strike (Keen Ice), the epic winner of the Kentucky Derby (Gr 1, 10f) on Saturday. He bounced back at his very next start to win by 17 lengths, so, all is not lost, as his Derby win proves.

Onward and upward, a necessary trait in racehorse ownership, was on display in both of Saturday’s Listed two-year-old stakes races at Te Rapa and Riccarton.

Second last in the Million was Lord Cosmos (Pierro). He was caught wide that day and made the bend awkwardly, making for a tough journey. Te Akau Racing gave him a let up, won a trial at Taupo and he returned at Te Rapa a week ago to finish a highly meritable second to the very promising Charmario (Charm Spirit) in the two-year-old race.

Although backing up after seven days, Lord Cosmos lined up in the Waikato Equine Vet Services Stakes (Listed, 1200m) and, using similar tactics to the previous week, the gelding finished best, especially over the final 100 metres, to bag his second win and, most importantly, his maiden stakes success at start five.

He had to run down Mazzolino (Savabeel) who on debut looked a big chance at the 100 metres. She is one for the black book.

Te Akau’s David Ellis bought Lord Cosmos from Hallmark Stud, paying $190,000 for the son of Pierro (Lonhro) at the 2021 NZB Karaka Yearling Sale (Book 1).

His dam, Cosmic Powers, won at two, and is a daughter of Not A Single Doubt (Redoute’s Choice). His granddam is a three-quarter or half-sister to two stakes winners and is from the same family as champion filly and triple Group 1 winner Lailani (Unfuwain).

“He is a horse we have a lot of time for,” said trainer Mark Walker. “He has just needed a little time to mature. He is a horse who is going to keep getting better with age as he is a real athlete and just needs to strengthen even further.”

Dramatic improvement

Tailing the field in the Karaka Million was Diss Is Dramatic (Dissident). She, too, did not enjoy her day at Ellerslie in January, being bumped leaving the stalls then immediately struck interference within the first 100 metres.

That was just her second start after winning on debut at Tauherenikau. Like Lord Cosmos, she was given brief spell, finished a good fourth to the impressive two-year-old Slipper Island (No Nay Never) at Trentham, then down to Riccarton to run an unlucky second to Defiant (Tavistock) in the lead-up to Saturday’s Champagne Stakes (Listed, 1200m).

The Dissident (Sebring) filly enjoyed a better run in the Champagne where she was one of three across the track at the 100 metres but after a good tussle edged away to score convincingly by three-quarters of a length.

“Diss Is Dramatic had been a little unlucky last time as she got squeezed out of a gap when she was starting to make her run,” said trainer Lisa Latta. “Tina rode her perfectly as she kept her in the clear and when she asked her to extend, she really showed some fight to get away on them near the finish.”

A $60,000 purchase by Albert Bosma’s Go Racing, Diss Is Dramatic was offered by Cambridge Stud in their 2021 NZB Karaka Yearling draft.

Diss Is Dramatic is nicely related and Bosma may have found one of the buys of the sale. Certainly her value just increased markedly and the fact that her dam, Our Drahma Queen (Darci Brahma), is half-sister to the dual Group 1 mare Suavito (Thorn Park), makes her all the more attractive.

She represents a filly family, her fourth dam being the Irish One Thousand Guineas (Gr 1, 8f) winner Nicer (Pennine Walk).

A quick nod to agent Robert Dawe who sent the writer a note on Saturday suggesting: “Big, coming force, those Darci Brahma mares.” Dawe has been watching them closely and gave the writer the “heads up” before the most recent Karaka Sale. Given that his mares are still young, there are more than 90 individual winners from his daughters, with stakes winners that include Only Words (Sweynesse), Yaletown (Vancouver) and Maribyrnong Plate (Gr 3, 1000m) winner Finance Tycoon (Written Tycoon).

Sons of Danehill (Danzig) feature prominently among the broodmare sires’ listings of both New Zealand and Australia this season.

In New Zealand currently, six of the top twenty are either Danehill himself or his sons. In Australia, four of the top seven and six of the top 15 fit that category, headed by Redoute’s Choice (Danehill) who looks set to claim his third such title.

One for seventeen

Stallion fee announcements are coming at us thick and fast. It’s ‘justification’ time, when stud masters and stallion syndicate owners test the market. Do we go for an increase or do we hold our own? In some cases, reality suggests that a decrease may be in order.

The commercial high flyers make the headlines. They’re the ones that not only top the sales averages, but also dominate the sires’ earnings lists.

Stakes winners-to-runners is another measure and in the case of Extreme Choice (Not A Single Doubt), his ratio stands at an astonishing 17.95 per cent, hence his fee has recently skyrocketed to $275,000, his oldest just three-year-olds.

And then there are the unheralded. Stallions that are working away, out of the limelight and off the beaten track, yet punching above their weight, as the saying goes.

One such stallion is Ghibellines (Shamardal), domiciled at White Robe Lodge, Mosgiel, near Dunedin, the country’s southern-most commercial stud.

Ghibellines tops the bill this week because, of the 17 stakes races run in Australasia on Saturday, he is the only New Zealand-based stallion to sire a stakes winner for the day.

White Robe Lodge and the Andertons have a great history and play a major role in the New Zealand Stud Book due to having stood champion sires Mellay (Never Say Die) and Noble Bijou (Vaguely Noble), both stallions a significant influence during the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Neither stallion made it to the races but both had outstanding pedigrees. Mellay, by a Derby winner from an Oaks winner, was imported in 1965, was twice Champion New Zealand Sire and five times Champion Broodmare Sire. His mares were golden.

A similar pedigree strategy, and even more successful, was followed ten years later when the stud imported Noble Bijou who was by European Horse of the Year Vaguely Noble (Vienna), winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr 1, 2400m) and five other top line races.

His dam, Priceless Gem (Hail to Reason) was a dual Grade 1 winner who not only defeated the champion Buckpasser (Tom Fool) but also produced Allez France (Sea-Bird), a French dual Classic winner. Like Noble Bijou’s sire, as well as her own sire, Allez France won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and ran second in the same race as a three-year-old. She really was a star.

Noble Bijou bagged four New Zealand Sire Premierships and sired 65 stakes winners from 599 runners, a wonderful ratio of 10.85 per cent. His daughters propelled him to five Champion Broodmare Sire titles as well.

Mellay’s and Noble Bijou’s blood is slightly diluted now, but as foundational sires it is always a good sign when their names appear on a catalogue page and even more so when combined. The Noble Bijou-Mellay cross produced 18 stakes winners from just 104 runners (17.3 per cent stakes-winners-to-runners), six of them Group 1 winners.

That is quite an act to follow, yet beginning the current season represented by a solitary stakes winner, Ghibellines is blooming with a further five (four here and one in Australia). Remembering that his oldest are five-year-olds.

They include Live Drama who ended a run of stakes placings to breakthrough for her maiden stakes success in the Great Easter Stakes (Listed, 1400m) at Riccarton on Saturday. She saved ground into the straight, took over at the 200 metres and was well in control by a length and three-quarters at the line.

Another is Burgie, winner of the Warstep Stakes (Listed, 2000m), two weeks ago, also at Riccarton.

Currently ninth on the earnings list, Ghibellines’ four stakes winners places him alongside Tavistock (Montjeu), Burgundy (Redoute’s Choice) and Darci Brahma (Danehill) regarding individual stakes winners this season.

The Ghibellines story begins with Michael Otto, the bloodstock agent responsible for his purchase. Otto can be forgiven some bias but his description of Ghibellines as “a stunner” is right on the mark.

The writer was invited to compile Ghibellines’ profile for the stud’s website prior to his first season and now that the stallion is making a name for himself, it is worth revisiting some of his details.

Ghibellines’ first three starts were in Listed stakes races, suggesting that his connections held him in high regard. He upheld that belief at big odds at his fourth start, scoring in Rosehill’s Todman Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m), heading Magic Millions (RL, 1200m) winner Unencumbered (Testa Rossa) and subsequent Australian Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) winner Wandjina (Snitzel).

This justified a run for the grand prize, the Golden Slipper Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m), but like many, he did not find the heavy track to his liking, finishing midfield, the race won by Mossfun (Mossman).

At three, his best effort in three spring runs was a third placing at Flemington in the Danehill Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m) behind Rich Enuff (Written Tycoon), who would finish second to Shooting To Win (Northern Meteor) in the Caulfield Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m).

Lucky to live

Ghibellines’ sire, Shamardal (Giant’s Causeway), overcame a life-threatening problem as a yearling and was, for a short time, slated to be euthanized. After some unorthodox treatment he recovered fully but when offered for sale, an endoscopic test suggested he had breathing problems. These were proven to be inaccurate but his selling price was far below what was expected, being beautifully bred.

He began his racing career, somewhat modestly, in Scotland, winning on debut over six furlongs at Ayr by eight lengths before scoring easily at Goodwood in the Vintage Stakes (Gr 2, 7f). Not surprisingly, his lease from the Maktoum’s Gainsborough Stud was suddenly terminated.

Some minor niggles kept him off the track for more than two months but that did not negate an all-the-way, three-length victory in England’s top two-year-old event, the Dewhurst Stakes (Gr 1, 7f) at Newmarket. Consequently, he was named Champion European Two-Year-Old.

Shamardal’s first start at three was on dirt in the UAE Derby (Gr 2, 1800m), essentially a trial for the Kentucky Derby (Gr 1, 10f), but he failed to handle the track. Sent back to Europe to race on turf, he won, in succession, the Poule d’Essai des Poulains (Gr 1, 1600m), the Prix du Jockey Club (Gr 1, 2100m) and, back to the mile, wrapped up his racing career with a crushing front-running display and easy four-length victory in the St James’s Palace Stakes (Gr 1, 1m), that year run at York due to Ascot Racecourse undergoing a major facility upgrade.

Shamardal retired unbeaten on turf and at stud put up the remarkable figures of 27 Group 1 winners and 160 stakes winners from 1,379 runners, a ratio of 11.6 per cent. 

Among his sire sons is Lope De Vega, winner of the same French Classic double as his sire. He has become an internationally successful stallion with more than 90 stakes winners.

Super family, as usual

Ghibellines’ dam, Camarilla (Elusive Quality), was a highly-ranked two-year-old of her year, winning the Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) at Randwick. Sadly, she died, aged just eight, after producing four foals (all winners), the standout being Guelph (Exceed and Excel), Australia’s 2013-14 champion Three-Year-Old filly.

Guelph landed a Classic, The Thousand Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) at Caulfield, but she relished Randwick where she scored at Group 1 level three times – the Flight Stakes (1600m), the Sires’ Produce Stakes and the Champagne Stakes (1600m).

Ghibellines’ half-sister, Dazzler (More Than Ready), is the dam of the brilliant Bivouac (Exceed and Excel), Guelph’s three-quarter brother, who notched three Group 1s including Flemington’s Sprint Classic (1200m) and Newmarket Handicap (1200m).

If Guelph was an excellent filly then her very close relative Sepoy (Elusive Quality) might qualify as a freak. The two have much in common, blood-wise, as Guelph’s dam Camarilla and Sepoy are identically bred. Both are by Elusive Quality (Gone West) from full sisters.

From seven starts at two Sepoy won six (second in the other), including the top two races for juveniles, the Blue Diamond Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) and, in his final race at two, the Golden Slipper Stakes.


In the spring of his second season he reeled off five straight, two of them Group 1s, the Manikato Stakes (1200m) and at headquarters, Flemington, in the Coolmore Stakes (1200m).

Ghibellines’ grandam, Camarena (Danehill), was a nine-time winner including the Queensland Derby (Gr 1, 2400m). Her five Group 1 placings included a second in the Mackinnon Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) and third in the AJC Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m).

Camarena’s dam, the Marscay (Biscay) mare Canny Miss, is an unraced half-sister to yet another champion two-year-old, Golden Slipper Stakes winner and leading sire Canny Lad (Bletchingly), sire of 55 stakes winners.

As stakes winner number six for Ghibellines, Live Drama is one of three winners from Sheeza Drama (Pure Theatre), a half-sister to the Listed-placed Stage Whisper (Rubiton) and to Stage Flash (Lake Coniston), the dam of Riccarton Listed winner Cherry Creek (Monashee Mountain). The latter is the dam of triple Group 3 winner Coulee (Gallant Guru), whose premier victory was, appropriately, in the White Robe Lodge Stakes (Gr 3, 1600m).