If you’re into breeding horses, and don’t mind a bit of nominative determinism, you could hardly do better in your pursuit of a fast one than naming your galloper Ayrton.
That’s what Waikato boutique breeder and Formula 1 fan Greg McCarthy did two years ago with the second colt he created by outstanding former British galloper and shuttle stallion Ifraaj (Zafonic) out of the Falkirk (Tale Of The Cat) mare Odessa.
And if he might not quite match the pace on a racing circuit that the Brazilian great Senna used to, this equine Ayrton put more writing on the wall for a glorious and speedy turf career by winning his fifth of six starts – and getting among the black type – in Saturday’s Gunsynd Classic (Gr 3, 1600m) at Eagle Farm.
Fast he might be, but Ayrton is in fact the culmination of a near 30-year journey for McCarthy. A chartered accountant by profession, who now mostly deals in perhaps the polar opposite of the horse game – risk management – McCarthy took a year off in the early ‘90s to try something different, getting his hands dirty at Jim Campin’s Chequers Stud.
While there he took a liking to a yearling filly with some interesting bloodlines, and purchased her from Campin, who’d just hit a career-high as the breeder-owner-trainer of 1990 New Zealand Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m)-AJC Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m) winner Domino (Grosvenor).
“I was on a bit of a sabbatical, so that’s what I called her,” McCarthy tells It’s In The Blood, forgetting the exact price of the first horse he’d owned outright, but remembering it wasn’t quite mates’ rates.
“Jim was so sure she’d be a good filly, we arranged a plan in that I’d pay some money up front and I’d pay the second half if she won a stakes race. I was happy to pay that in the end!”
That black-type success came in the Canterbury Belle Stakes (Listed, 1200m) of 1993 at Riccarton, one of four wins in a handy career in which she also contested New Zealand’s Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) and 1,000 Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m).
Sabbatical was by a son of Epsom Derby (Gr 1, 1m 4f) winner The Minstrel (Northern Dancer) in Bakharoff. The British trained, US-bred colt was Europe’s top-rated two-year-old of 1985, after winning the Futurity (Gr 1, 1m) at Doncaster, and was one of the most expensive stallions to be imported to New Zealand. Alas for his owners, McCarthy might have done well to get a good one by him. Bakharoff did sire Roysyn, who won the 1995 NZ Derby (Gr 1, 2400m) and another Group 1, but was less than a commercial success.
Sabbatical’s Australian dam Secunda had also shown class on the track. By Acidity (Orgoglio), she won the 1982 Maribyrnong Trial Stakes (Listed, 900m) from which helped ensure the speed in the legs of Sabbatical. It was a timely mating for McCarthy, too, since Secunda was unable to bear another foal after Sabbatical, who was only her second.
Once Sabbatical’s racing was done, McCarthy set to work breeding from her. Second out was Monterey Bay, by Kaapstad (Sir Tristram), who won the Eulogy Stakes (Gr 3, 1600m) and was fourth in the NZ Oaks before being exported to the US to breed. However, an unwelcome pattern began emerging,
“She was a bit tricky to get in foal at times, particularly when she had a foal at foot,” McCarthy says. “Once or twice we got two consecutive foals, but really she was an every-other-year mare. That being the case, you really wanted to send her to a stallion who was very fertile.”
Nearby Windsor Park had one who fitted the bill in former trans-Tasman stakes-winner Falkirk, by the US sire Tale Of The Cat, which was where McCarthy sent Sabbatical in 2007. McCarthy had three years earlier sent the mare to Black Minnaloushe, by Tale Of The Cat’s sire Storm Cat (Storm Bird). The result was a very promising colt who he retained to race called Our Big Guy, who had a win and two seconds from his first three starts before tragically suffering an aortic haemorrhage on the track.
“Our Big Guy was a big progressive horse who I had a lot of time for, and him being from that Storm Cat line was one of the reasons we went to Falkirk, because I really liked that cross,” McCarthy says.
The result was Odessa, ultimately Sabbatical’s last foal, who didn’t quite show enough – in form or temperament – to persevere with getting her to the races, and was instead added to McCarthy’s four-or-five strong broodmare band.
McCarthy picked Iffraaj, shuttling to Haunui Farm at the time, but who is now based back at Darley’s Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket. The result was Liberation Lad, who ended up in Australia with two wins in country Queensland. A second mating with Ifraaj was far more successful.
“It was more a type mating than anything else,” McCarthy says. “Iffraaj is an outcross to a lot of our southern hemisphere blood so that was attractive. Iffraaj is a very physical sire, you can send a lot of different sorts of mares to him, provided they’re not too big. Odessa was just a medium size so he upgraded her, put a bit more leg and size in. Ayrton is far more athletic than Odessa.
“Liberation Lad was a lovely type of horse, too, but a little more closely coupled, and compact, whereas Ayrton was bay, leggy, athletic. You wouldn’t look at them straight away and think they were brothers. But I guess we’ve all got siblings who look a bit different.”
Ayrton had one barrier trial in New Zealand, where he ran a close second to subsequent NZ 1,000 Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) placegetter Cornflower Blue (Savabeel), before bloodstock agent Phill Cataldo did the deal for his sale to clients of Melbourne trainers Mick Price and Michael Kent Jr.
The rest is so far exciting history, with Ayrton winning his first three starts at Bendigo and Caulfield (twice), before a narrow second in the Fred Best Classic (Gr 3, 1400m) at Eagle Farm, the start before last Saturday’s victory.
Also on the ground from Odessa is a Sweynesse (Lonhro) gelding who, McCarthy says, should be trialling later this year. But sadly, he was Odessa’s last foal before dying in 2019.
“Unfortunately she’s no longer with us and I’ve got to make the best of what I’ve got,” McCarthy says. “I’ve got granddaughters of Sabbatical who I’m breeding from. Some of them have been to Iffraaj and hopefully we’ll get a similar nick.”
McCarthy is now hoping Ayrton’s progress continues, with the prospect of him running in the Golden Eagle (1500m) at Rosehill in the spring.
“It’d be huge if a breeder of my size was able to get a Golden Eagle winner,” McCarthy says. “Fingers crossed we can get there.”