It's In The Blood

Aureus Angel

Buying horses is often about deciding what problems you might be able to excuse, but there’s one glaring character flaw Andrew Baddock can not abide.

“There’s no bigger fault than a lack of ability,” he says.

The former long-term manager of Gooree racing and breeding had this in mind in September, 2022, when doing what he often does for the cause of his boutique private bloodstock operation – sifting through an Inglis online catalogue to see if something had slipped through the cracks.

He found a five-year-old mare by Turffontein (Johannesburg) who’d had just four starts for her owner-breeders and trainer Ed Cummings. The first was a narrow second in a style hard to perform – coming from the back up the short straight at Gosford. The last was a 1000 metre Thursday maiden win at Kembla Grange, just six weeks before this online auction.

The reason she was being sold – for there had to be one – was an issue duly notified: roarer. Some might say there’s nothing worse. Baddock reckons not being able to run is.

So he went for her and he snared her, for just $2,500. He sent her to the renowned Randwick Equine Centre, where his trusted vet Jonathan Lumsden performed tie-back surgery, costing $4,000.

Baddock has his own farm, near Gooree at Mudgee, where he could take the mare for her rehab, keeping his investment in her to basically just that $6,500.

The mare, Aureus Angel, has since earned 100 times her purchase price – $250,100 to be exact – and not in the lucrative Sydney scene but in Brisbane, where she’s missed a place only once in nine post-op starts with trainer Chris Munce.

She reinforced her value further last Saturday when, following three black type placings last year, she became a stakes-winner by taking the Bright Shadow (Listed, 1110m) at Doomben. Baddock and Munce hope she can now end her campaign a Group 1-winner – either in the Stradbroke Handicap (Gr 1, 1400m) or the Tattersall’s Tiara (Gr 1, 1400m) at Eagle Farm – before likely entering the breeding barn.

Her tale brings lessons in a few areas, including peering closely into the cracks.

“I was having a look through the online catalogue,” Baddock tells It’s In The Blood. “I do like to look around the fringes, and do some research and keep abreast of what’s happening with different families, which ones might be coming on.”

Last August, for example, he spotted a mare named Bring Me Showers (Sebring). She’d only won one of 16 but had a three-year-old half-sister, owned by Gooree, named Tropical Squall (Prized Icon) who’d just won a Canterbury maiden on debut. Baddock bought Bring Me Showers – in-foal to Xtravagant (Pentire) – again for possibly his favourite number, $2,500.

Six weeks later, Tropical Squall won the Flight Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m), and a week after that Baddock sold Bring Me Showers for $32,500, to Tasmania’s Grenville Stud.

Better still, in June 2020, Baddock bought nine-year-old Backpacker Express (Big Brown) through Magic Millions online. Her two runners were a city winner and a winner, but she was empty and had missed the previous year, and Baddock nabbed her for just $1,000. He sent her to $22,000 sire Zousain (Zoustar), sold the resultant filly for $160,000, and she’s now Drifting, winner of two from four including the Magic Night Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m).

Another lesson is that of all the people it takes to prepare and sell a horse, one of the most important might be often overlooked, especially when you can only see them online: the photographer.

“I was looking through and I saw this great type,” he says of Aureus Angel. “The people who were selling her were Hanover Lodge at Wilberforce. I’ve seen them sell a few and they do a great job getting good photos of them. It was a great standing shot, and when I was flicking through, it just grabbed my eye straight away. I said, ‘Jeez that’s a good sort’.

“She was a beautiful big mare, with great length, a terrific big hindquarter, a long rein and a massive girth. She wouldn’t have made a two-year-old type as a yearling, but she was a cracking type.”

Next came a check of her race record.

“She’d only had four starts, so very lightly raced, but she’d just got beat in her first start at Gosford, coming from near-last, which is hard to do at Gosford,” he says.

“Then she’d won her fourth start at Kembla, and as most people know, provincial racing around Sydney is pretty damn tough.

“And then she’d gone in the wind, and I think the owners had thrown their hands up. But I spoke to Ed Cummings and, to his credit, he was pretty bullish about her. He was thinking about buying her himself, but he had too many in his stable.”

Certain judges have their doubts about tie-back operations, with horses often said to return not as good as before. Baddock isn’t among them.

“We knew we were buying damaged goods,” he says. “And tie-backs can sometimes be a bit hit-and-miss. But they say it’s about a 70 or 80 percent strike-rate.

“At Gooree, we’d had good success with them. We had a horse called Barkada (Spectrum) who’d had a tie-back, and went on to win the Orr Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m). Plus I had great confidence in Jonathan Lumsden.

“There’s a lot more successes with the procedure these days. They’ve really got it down pat. It might depend a little on who you go to, but we’ve always gone to the same people, and we’ve got no complaints so far.

“The thing was, we knew she had ability, she was a cracking type, we just had this one issue that we thought we’d roll the dice and try to fix.

“It’s funny – people will pay amazing money for yearlings unbroken and untried. Here, we had one who’d been tried, she was a last-start winner, but she had a throat issue. I felt, for the money we’d paid, it was worth the risk.”

Baddock matter-of-factly says “I didn’t really care what she was by or out of”, which is a slight shame, this nominally being a pedigree column. But on closer inspection, he was heartened that she was out of Sebring mare – echoing that purchase of Bring Me Showers – in Miss Marriott.

And while Miss Marriott was a non-winner from seven starts, she hailed from a rich family. Her third dam Brocade (Habitat) was a Group 1 winner in France who’d thrown two dual top-tier victors, in Barathea (Sadler’s Wells) and his full sister Gossamer.

Barathea, winner of the Irish 2000 Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) and the Breeder’s Cup Mile (Gr 1, 1600m) in the early 1990s, went on to sire six Group 1 winners in a stud career including three shuttles to the Hunter Valley’s Widden Stud, with his best performer worldwide coming here in Easy Rocking, winner of the VRC Salinger Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) in 2000.

Aureus Angel’s sire Turffontein also won two Group 1s but can’t boast a top-tier winner as a sire. Now standing at Tasmania’s Motree Thoroughbreds for $4,400, the rising 20-year-old’s best-performed are two Group 2 victors, while Aureus Angel has become his ninth stakes winner.

“He’s probably not the most commercial stallion but they can all get one or two good ones,” Baddock says, noting another by the sire, Coal Crusher, ran fourth in the Canterbury Stakes (Gr 1, 1300m) in March.

“Aureus Angel’s pedigree was a bit of an after-thought for me, but she’s from Barathea’s family, which is a good European family.”

Aureus Angel also has a well-placed, gender-balanced duplication of Brocade’s sire, the 1969 English Champion Miler Habitat (Sir Gaylord). Not only is he Aureus Angel’s fourth damsire, he’s the sire of Turffontein’s second damsire, Bassenthwaite.

And with Sir Gaylord present three times in Aureus Angel’s pedigree, there’s four spots for his blue hen dam, Somethingroyal (Princequillo) at 7m, 7m, 7m x 7m, the top one being her best known son Secretariat (Bold Ruler). That’s in his optimum role as a sire of broodmares, this one being Terlingua, dam of Turffontein’s third sire Storm Cat (Storm Bird).

Aureus Angel also may draw strength from a triplication of Habitat’s US Reine-de-Course dam Little Hut (Occupy), at 6m, 6m x 6m, while there’s a healthy spread of the great Mr Prospector (Raise A Native) through two daughters and a son at 5f x 6m, 6f.

All of that went into the strapping five-year-old mare who so powerfully struck Baddock’s eye in that online catalogue photo.

After her rehab – including a stomach ulcer treatment which vastly improved her surly mood – he sent her to Brisbane and Munce. When at Gooree, Baddock had enjoyed much success with Munce as a jockey, including the 2006 Mackinnon Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) of six-time top-tier victor Desert War (Desert King).

In February last year, Aureus Angel won her first competitive outing for Munce, in a Doomben barrier trial.

“Chris rang me afterwards and said, ‘She goes enormous, this mare’,” Baddock says.

Next, she won then came second at Ipswich, then won two in a row at Eagle Farm before her hat-trick of thirds: in Eagle Farm’s Helen Coughlan (Listed, 1200m) and Dane Ripper Stakes (Gr 2, 1300m), and the Sunshine Coast’s Glasshouse Handicap (Listed, 1400m).

Between the last two of those, she was an unused second emergency for the Tattersall’s Tiara – which Munce won with Palaisipan (So You Think).

“Chris had said, ‘If she gets a run, she’s the main danger to Palaisipan’,” says the 60-year-old Baddock.

It didn’t eventuate, but she may have her chance in this year’s edition.

The only hitch in the story is that while Aureus Angel has thrived in the Queensland sun, she apparently doesn’t like it too hot. She had one run in late November in Doomben’s Tattersall’s Classic (Listed, 1200m) and ran tenth of 12. Though she still picked up $2,500 – which Baddock could say neatly covers her purchase price – Munce turned the mare back out immediately, feeling she wasn’t happy in the summer heat and humidity.

She resumed with her sparkling victory on Saturday, coming from tenth on the turn over what was feared a too-short 1110 metres, leaving her shrewd buyer salivating over what she might do over 1400 metres at the roomier Eagle Farm, in the Stradbroke and or the Tattersall’s Tiara.

Whatever she achieves from here, there can’t be that many stakes-winners since the Takeover Target (Celtic Swing) days who’ve been bought anywhere near as low as $2,500.

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