It's In The Blood

C’Est Magique

Here’s something you might know about Neville Begg. He ran second to Tommy Smith in the Sydney trainers’ premiership no fewer than nine times. It could have exasperated a man of different mind.

“Well, Tommy had a lot more horses than me, you see,” Begg tells It’s In The Blood. “I thought I was doing pretty good to run second.”

Here’s something you might not know. In all his 93 years, Begg has never once sat behind the wheel of a car.

“I couldn’t afford one! I had no money when I started out,” says Begg, who started as a 14-year-old stable boy with four-time Sydney premiership winner Maurice McCarten in 1945, before going it alone in 1967.

It gels with a perhaps cautious and conservative approach to life that Begg – who in his 10th decade still calls that first boss “Mr McCarten” – never felt the need to change his mode of mobility.

“I really started with nothing. Even when I worked for Mr McCarten I didn’t have much,” he says. “He helped me – I got a job as a caretaker in a block of flats, so I could live in the caretaker’s flat. Then a few years later, a house came up at Randwick, I went to the auction, and I bid with money I didn’t have. I bought it for 6,000 pounds.

“Then when I first started training, I only had four horses. I was lucky that one day early on I won a double, and some owners started coming in.”

As his Hall of Fame training career unfolded, Begg did more than alright with a grey mare or two.

In the early 1970s, there was Sufficient (Minor Portion), who showed her versatility with three black type victories – the AJC Gimcrack Stakes (1000m), and the modern Group 1s of the VATC Thousand Guineas (1600m) and AJC Oaks (2400m).

A decade later came the outstanding Emancipation (Bletchingly), the finest horse he prepared, winner of six Group 1s, plus ten other stakes races, and whose damsire was none other than possibly the grey-test one we’ve had – Gunsynd (Sunset Hue).

Here’s something you mightn’t know about Emancipation. Begg only received her as a two-year-old – and she wasn’t a grey.

“When I first got her, she was almost chestnut,” he says. “She wasn’t the grey everyone thinks of. But then pretty soon her coat turned grey.”

Forty years hence, in a “hobby” of breeding which keeps him well occupied since it involves his 20 or so broodmares, Begg has another grey mare to thank for some prosperous times that have come his way late on.

It might not also be well known, but he’s now been breeding horses for longer than he was training them. He retired from that pursuit at 65, in the late 1990s, after six years in Hong Kong.

He struck gold with the first horse he bred, in 1976, in Hit It Benny (Baguette), who he trained to win the Doomben 10,000 (Gr 1, 1350m) in 1980, plus three other black type events.

Begg also bred Bonanova (Star Way), a mare his son Grahame trained to win the 1999 VRC Emirates Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) and five other stakes races, and who then threw two more stakes winners.

Some eight years later, in 2007, Begg ventured to the Inglis Scone Yearling Sale, and bought a couple of lots.

“I was walking out on my way home, and I looked over and saw this grey filly walking around the paddock, waiting to go up to the ring,” he says. “I thought I’d just go and have a look at her. I’m a bit partial to greys.”

He agrees grey yearlings aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, proposing they “can be a bit harder to assess, when looking at their coats”. In any case, he felt this one at Scone “wasn’t a bad sort of a filly”.

“So I followed her up to the ring. A couple of bids came in – a thousand, fifteen hundred, two thousand,” he recalls. “I bid three grand and they knocked her down to me.”

The filly was by the Irish stallion Tobougg (Barathea), who shuttled to Australia five times but sired just two stakes-winners here. Begg’s filly fitted that storyline. He named her Yau Chin, from the Cantonese he’d picked up. “It means ‘Plenty Money’,” he explained.

That turned out more hope than reality. Trained by Grahame, before his move from Sydney to Melbourne, she won only a Newcastle maiden, despite four placings in town.

But while her name proved a misnomer on the track, the mare has indeed brought Begg plenty of “Chin” in the breeding barn.

For her fourth mating, in 2014, he put her to Written Tycoon (Iglesia), and bred a strapping chestnut colt. At the Inglis Premier sale, $180,000 was bid but Begg stuck fast to his reserve of $200,000.

He was rewarded for his stubbornness by going on to race the colt, Written By. Under Grahame’s guidance, he won the Blue Diamond Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) and $1.7 million in prizemoney, before a deal with Widden Stud, where he’ll this year stand his sixth season, with three stakes-winners to date.

Four years later, Begg astutely put Yau Chin to Widden’s emerging hero Zoustar (Northern Meteor) – then standing for a fee that was just 22 per cent of his 2024 mark of $275,000.

The result was C’Est Magique. Though she also didn’t inherit her mother’s grey colouring – she’s a bay, like her dad – she’s proven just as valuable.

Again trained by Grahame, she won on debut, on the Pakenham synthetic in August, 2022. She actually didn’t win again in the next 12 starts, but five stakes placings – capped by her second in In Secret’s (I Am Invincible) Coolmore Stud Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) – made her a highly valuable broodmare prospect.

Begg entered her for last month’s Inglis Chairman’s Sale and, sold to Coolmore, she fetched the same figure her half-brother Written By had won on the track – $1.7 million.

Two Saturdays ago at Eagle Farm, she provided her new owners, and trainer Chris Waller, with an instant return, with an authoritative 1.4 length victory in the Dane Ripper Stakes (Gr 2, 1300m). That’s made her equal second-favourite, at around $8, for this Saturday’s Tattersall’s Tiara (Gr 1, 1400m), where she’ll strive to make Begg a Group 1-winning breeder once again.

“Good luck to the new owners. I was delighted to see her win the Dane Ripper, and it’d be great to see her win the Group 1,” Begg said.

It perhaps helped that Yau Chin, like most of his mares, was housed on the same farm, but the mating with Zoustar proved a shrewd move by the nonagenarian Begg, who has his hands full most days at his Sydney home.

“It does keep me occupied. I study pedigrees, plan my matings so you try to mate them up properly,” he says. “Then, every year, you double your numbers! So then you sell a few off, trying to pare them down.

“I could see at the time I sent Yau Chin to him that Zoustar was looking like being a decent stallion, so I took the opportunity. He’s gone up pretty high in his fee now, so I don’t think I can go back to him again now.”

Yau Chin “boasts” a couple of obscure sires in her immediate past. Apart from her father Tobougg, her damsire is Umatilla (Miswaki). But at least his presence brings some potential breeding gold, since he was out of Dancing Show (Nikinsky), whose second dam was the great blue hen, Best In Show (Traffic Judge).

Putting Yau Chin to Written Tycoon gave their son Written By a juicy 6f x 6f duplication of Best In Show, brought in the top half via Sex Appeal (Buckpasser), the dam of Written Tycoon’s fourth sire Try My Best (Northern Dancer).

Sending Yau Chin to Zoustar achieved a similar trick, giving C’Est Magique a double of Best In Show at 7f x 6f. In the top half she’s there through perhaps her most famous Australian avenue, as the fourth dam of the redoubtable Redoute’s Choice (Danehill), Zoustar’s damsire.

“Part of the system of trying to breed a good horse, is if you can double-up on the best broodmares in their pedigree, it seems to work,” Begg says. “I’m a big fan of Best In Show, so to double up on her is pretty attractive.”

C’Est Magique is also powered by having those two highly influential full brothers in her respective sirelines – Fairy King (Northern Dancer) being Zoustar’s fourth sire, and Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) being Yau Chin’s fourth. She also has a 5m x 5m of the potent Mr Prospector (Raise A Native).

Before Begg put Yau Chin to Zoustar, this female line was distinctly devoid of modern black type. You have to go back to C’Est Magique’s fifth dam No Finer (Kaoru Star), who was the dam of four stakes winners including Australian Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) hero and hugely successful sire Pins (Snippets).

And No Finer’s dam Humour (Pirate King), a 1962 drop, threw four winners of a combined 18 stakes races – Marceau, Zasu, Joy Love (all by Kaoru Star) and Runyon (Convamore) – all horses Begg still remembers vividly.

Begg has also bred C’Est Magique’s year-younger full brother De Bergerac, who Grahame has trained for a win from four starts so far, while the pair also have Written By’s two-year-old full brother, Royal Insignia, awaiting his first start.

Rising 19, Yau Chin is now again in-foal to Zoustar, and Begg feels that will be enough for this old grey mare.

“I’ll probably retire her after this one,” says Begg, who though now moving with the aid of a walker, gets up to Widden around once a year to check in on his stock.

“She’s a lovely old thing, very quiet, and very amenable to people. And she’s certainly been wonderful to me.”

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