Dublin Down

It’s hard to find a good old bolter’s triumph story in the Golden Slipper.

Two-year-old form being what it is – precocity rising to the early top, formlines exposed thanks to most entrants contesting the same handful of lead-ups – there haven’t been many winners to send the bookies wild.

The biggest-priced winner of the 1200-metre scamper was only 40-1. Ironically, she has one of the major lead-ups named after her – Sweet Embrace, by the first winner Todman – who took out the 11th Slipper in 1967.

In modern history, the nearest we’ve come to a longshot winner is the second-place in 2011 of Mosheen (Fastnet Rock), who turned out to be an exceptional racehorse, but at the time was a $101 second-starter. Mosheen chased home $2.80 hot-pot Sepoy (Elusive Quality). She was very much the exception who proved the above rule.

A moderate $250,000 Easter buy for Corstens/Sadler Racing, Mosheen was late to the party, debuting just two weeks before the Slipper with a narrow win over four rivals as second-favourite in a 1200-metre fillies’ handicap at Caulfield.

That was enough to convince her trainer Leon Corstens to try a Slipper tilt and, as the second-longest in the market, Mosheen put up a mighty fight. She wasn’t going to catch Sepoy, who’d win ten out of 13 starts and go to stud for tens of millions, but coming within two lengths of him was an early sign of a superb career.

She won four top-flight contests, including the VRC Oaks (Gr 1, 2500m) before three on the bounce in her unforgettable 2012 autumn – the Australian Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) and Randwick Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m), followed by Rosehill’s Vinery Stud Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m).

Aside from Sweet Embrace, no horse has won the Slipper at longer than $26.

There have been two fairly recent winners at that price in Kiamichi (Sidestep) in 2018, and Phelan Ready (More Than Ready) in 2009, when he and Headway (Charge Forward) both started at $26 and ran a relatively roguish quinella.

Flying Spur (Danehill) won in 1995 after drifting from 14-1 to 25-1 – a rude rebuke considering his later stud influence.

The average winners’ price in the past ten years is $9.60, and that’s been inflated by the only three longer than $8.50, who’ve come in the past five years – Kiamichi, Fireburn (Rebel Dane) at $12 in 2022, and Shinzo (Snitzel) at $16 last year.

And so, there have been precious few two-year-olds who’ve emerged from under the radar to find themselves in front on the line in the world’s richest two-year-old race. And many judges, and the market, have declared this one a possible race-in-two very conspicuous runners.

Storm Boy (Justify), at $2.10 last night, is set to start the shortest Slipper runner since Alinghi (Encosta De Lago) ran third at $1.70 in 2004. Switzerland (Snitzel) is one of only two rivals in single digits at $5 (and hoping that one changed letter will mean one place better than Snitzerland, another son of Snitzel, who ran second as a modern longshot at $26, behind Pierro (Lonhro) in 2012).

But at $51, there’s a case to be made for Dublin Down (Exceedance).

A $370,000 Magic Millions Gold Coast purchase for Team McEvoy and Belmont Bloodstock, Dublin Down has had something of a Mosheen-like journey to the $5 million race. Not that he’s a second-starter, but his lead-up program has been limited.

The first-crop son of promising sire Exceedance (Exceed And Excel) started out under the radar, with barrier trials at Casterton (fifth) and Ararat (first), before a moderate debut fourth of nine in the Maribyrnong Trial Stakes (Listed, 1000m), won by one more-fancied Slipper rival Bodyguard (I Am Invincible).

Tony and Calvin McEvoy took him to Bendigo, where he started $2.40 favourite and was upset by Godolphin’s Admitted (Brazen Beau) over 1000 metres, but he excelled in his third start on returning to the Flemington straight, winning the Maribyrnong Plate (Gr 3, 1000m) on Cup Day.

Even in winning, Dublin Down was in the shadows. The story that day was how stablemate Blue Stratum (Blue Point) had thrown the race away with his drunken sailor impersonation. He indeed had, mind you, but when Dublin Down returned from a spell, the McEvoys were growing excited with the colt before them.

Misfortune struck, however, throwing plans ahead of the Blue Diamond off the table. Dublin Down required surgery for an entrapped epiglottis. It was nothing too major, but it did mean he’d face the rare assignment of tackling Caulfield’s juvenile feature first-up from a spell.

He duly started the second-roughest roughie at $101 and ran 12th, but in finishing 3.6 lengths off the winner – another Slipper rival this weekend in Hayasugi (Royal Meeting) – he put in a run which perhaps defied the odds board. Co-trainer Calvin McEvoy later said he’d been “pole-axed, held up, the run was better than it looked”. He also finished one place ahead of the $3.40 favourite Coleman (Pierata), who’s at $34 for the Slipper.

With blinkers and a tongue tie added, Dublin Down next had his first go clockwise at Randwick last Saturday, and led throughout to take the Pago Pago Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m), with Coleman this time a two-length third.

It was what may already be called a Dublin Down-style entry into the Slipper field, qualifying in the last chance lead-up as a $20 shot, and now facing a one-week back-up.

But third-up from a spell and with rain about – the Soft 6 for the Pago Pago was his first rain-affected outing – and with a Slipper winner in Hugh Bowman flying in from Hong Kong to jump on him from gate 13 (gate 12 if the emergency doesn’t start), Dublin Down appears an undeniable each-way chance, admittedly in a race full of them.

And one man who’ll be cheering him loudly is Ian Smith, who bred the colt at his Edinburgh Park stud two years before selling up. Having dispersed his breeding stock, Smith is now in the process of selling his magnificent property on the banks of the Manning River, near Taree, from which a string of star performers has emerged.

Then, Smith with “find a beach to lie on for six months or so”, and after that, the man with horses in his blood may start again. But for now, his focus is on hopefully having bred his first Slipper winner – with the colt who’s in fact his first starter in Australian breeding’s most important event.

“I’ll be watching on and cheering on,” Smith tells It’s In The Blood. “And I think he’s a decent chance. Fitness-wise, he’s only going to be better for last week’s run. The blinkers have improved him immensely, and there’s going to be some rain around, which will be perfect for him.”

Smith paid what was, by his standards, a hefty $460,000 for Dublin Down’s dam Dublin Lass (O’Reilly) at the Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale of 2016. While mindful of pedigrees, he’s long been a breeder who buys more on type and race record, with budgets in mind – or as he puts it, “buying rocks and turning them into diamonds”.

That method worked spectacularly with his finest product, the nine-time Group 1-winning Hong Kong champion Silent Witness (El Moxie), out of the dual Melbourne-winning Jade Tiara (Bureaucracy). It now appears to have paid off again in Dublin Down.

Dublin Lass won seven of 19 starts including two Listeds, at four and five, in Doomben’s Bright Shadow Stakes (1200m) and Rosehill’s Starlight Stakes (1100m).

“She was a lovely type with a good race record. O’Reilly was doing well as a broodmare sire, but it was mostly her type and race performance I liked,” Smith says. “She was a tough, on-speed racemare, which have always been the ones I’ve liked.”

Smith overcame some adversity, with three misses and a deceased foal in Dublin Lass’s first five years at stud. Her third mating produced Dublin Belle (So You Think), a $180,000 purchase by Annabel Neasham at Inglis Premier in 2021, who won a Gosford maiden at her third start in December.

Smith then liked the physical match-up with Exceedance (pictured below), the Coolmore Stud Stakes winner who on service fees ranks third of six on Vinery Stud’s roster. He found the pedigrees complementary as well, and all this appears to have worked well in Dublin Down.

So much so, Smith repeated the dose to breed a 2022 sister, who was bought as a weanling from Edinburgh Park’s unreserved dispersal amidst Magic Millions’ National Weanling Sale last year for $100,000 by Kitchwin Hills.

Dublin Lass went to Matthew Sandblom’s Kingstar Farm for $85,000, in-foal to Glenfiddich (Fastnet Rock), another Edinburgh-bred stakes-winner now standing at Aquis Farm for $8,800 (inc GST). Smith was eager to voice his appreciation to Sandblom for his patronisation of the dispersal sale, and wishes him well with the Glenfiddich-Dublin Lass colt born last September. The mare was last covered, three months after that, by Capitalist.

While type has dictated a lot of Smith’s breeding, Dublin Down’s pedigree does contain some notable duplications.

He has double Danehill (Danzig) – of the usually less successful dual-male variety – at 3m x 5m. That comes via Exceedance’s sire Exceed And Excel, and Dublin Down’s third damsire Danzero (Danehill), another short-priced Slipper winner ($3 in 1994) who sired another in Dance Hero ($5.50 in Alinghi’s year of 2004).

Great American sire Buckpasser (Tom Fool) comes in influentially at 6f x 6f in both sirelines, through Danehill’s second dam Spring Adieu and through Sex Appeal, dam of O’Reilly’s (Last Tycoon) grandsire Try My Best (Northern Dancer).

Reine-de-Course mares Flower Bowl (Alibhai) and Somethingroyal (Princequillo), both born in 1952, are repeated. Flower Bowl is at 6m x 8m, 8m via her most successful brother sons by Ribot (Tenerani) in His Majesty and Graustark. Somethingroyal makes three appearances on each side in the first nine removes, five via Sir Gaylord (Turn-To) and once in the bottom half through Secretariat (Bold Ruler).

And 1959 British broodmare of the year Knight’s Daughter (Sir Cosmo) is at 8m x 7m, 8f, 9m, through her son Round Table (Princequillo) and daughter Love Game (Big Game).

The influential Princequillo (Prince Rose) himself is scattered five times, heavily in the dam’s side, at 8m x 7f, 7m, 8f, 8m, involving two sons and two daughters, while there’s lashings of Natalma (Native Dancer), with 11 appearances in the first nine removes, nine through Northern Dancer and two through Spring Adieu.

Exceedance, meanwhile, is off to an encouraging start with a stakes winner in Dublin Down amongst three victors from eight runners, which puts him ninth on the first season sires’ table, and equal-sixth by winners.

The Vinery stallion has also proved popular with breeders, covering 103 mares last spring as his first runners began racing, down only slightly on his 125 of 2022.

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