In breeding and racing, you need not only the odd large dose of luck, but the eye, nous, research, and often the sheer gut feeling to make the most of it.
Such is the case with the breeding of Elliptical (Dundeel), who confirmed his ranking as one of the smartest three-year-olds in the land with his deserved black-type victory in the CS Hayes Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m) at Flemington on Saturday.
Carrying the crimson and silver epaulettes of bloodstock buyer Suman Hedge, Elliptical put together two successive agonising narrow second placings at the top level in the spring, in the Caulfield Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) and Randwick’s Spring Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m), but he showed he’s still on track for Group 1 success with his surging neck win on Saturday over what was felt an unsuitably short trip, which took his earnings to $1.17 million.
He was bought by Hedge, trainers Anthony and Sam Freedman, and Blue Sky Bloodstock, at the Magic Millions Gold Coast yearling sale of 2021, for $380,000. He’d been pinhooked by astute Newgate Farm stud manager Jim Carey, who paid $200,000 for him at the same venue’s weanling sale a year earlier.
All these amounts represent a staggering return on the outlay for his dam, Marquise Da Rossa (Testa Rossa), made by his breeders Damien Gleeson and Deb Gifford.
Elliptical is now third-favourite for the Australian Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) amidst the likes of Jacquinot (Rubick), Aft Cabin (Astern) and Golden Mile (Astern), the cream of a three-year-old crop which looked plain in the spring, but now appears outstanding. And if he can succeed, he’d join a rare band indeed – a Group 1 winner from a mare not only bought for a mere four figure sum, but for just $4,000.
Gleeson and Gifford made a quantum leap a year ago in leaving their 23-year-old property at Euroa, Victoria, to set up Phoenix Broodmare Farm near Taree, New South Wales. Having run a 500-acre walk-in establishment which took up to 150 mares a season, they now focus on selling weanlings from the dozen or so on their boutique 100-acre holding – hence the sale of young Elliptical to Carey.
When the couple were still at Euroa, some luck came into the colt’s making from the off, with Gleeson and Gifford well-acquainted with his family thanks to a former client, the late Maurie Bloom. He had bought the Arrowfield-bred Make My Dane (Danehill) as a yearling in 1996, and 15 years later bred that dual Moonee Valley winner’s 11th and last named foal, Marquise Da Rossa, in association with Phoenix.
“Maurie was a great client of ours who gave us a handful of mares from this family and we prepped his yearlings,” Gleeson tells It’s In The Blood. “We sold Marquise Da Rossa as a yearling for him.”
Marquise Da Rossa won on debut over 1100 metres at Ballarat for trainer Saab Hasaan in March, 2015. The future seemed bright, but turned bleak. She had just four more starts, finishing last in the final two, an issue in the latter sealing retirement.
Three years later came a fortuitous night at Phoenix Farm.
“Deb was having a look online and said, ‘Oh look, that mare’s for sale again’,” Gleeson recalled. “We were well acquainted with her family, so we thought we’d give it a go,” Gleeson said.
The year before, Gleeson and Gifford had bought Marquise Da Rossa’s Bloom-bred half-sister Soosa Rama (Bel Esprit), a four-time winner including twice at Moonee Valley, for $80,000. This one wouldn’t stretch them quite as much.
Marquise Da Rossa hadn’t been served the previous spring, of 2017. She’d had her first foal that year – by obscure American shuttler Mosayter (Storm Cat).
Not much was apparently thought of the offspring, Donatien Alphonse. In hindsight, that’s been borne out by his racing record. At the time, it gave Phoenix Farm what looks, thanks to Elliptical, to have been one extremely sweet deal.
“She’d been mated uncommercially and hadn’t been bred the next year, and when people see that they just ignore them,” Gleeson said. “And to be honest, if I hadn’t had an interest in the family, I’d have gone right past her, too. But because I knew this family threw good types, that’s why I bought her,” he added.
That sums up the breeding ethos of Gleeson, who credits Gifford with bringing the pedigree brain.
“I’m not a big genetics person. I’m more about type, and putting the best to the best and hoping for the best,” said Gleeson, who sits in a long family of history in thoroughbreds, with grandfather Roger a trainer at Scone, father Peter a breaker, and son Ben now assistant trainer to Danny O’Brien.
“I go around the farms looking at stallions before I plan my matings, trying to see if our mares will match them on type, and imagine what I’d breed. I’ve seen a lot of foals come out not much good where I thought, ‘God, I would never have put that mare to that stallion’. I’m more on type, speed and distance, than pedigrees.”
Thus Gleeson chose Arrowfield’s Dundeel (High Chaparral), then a yet-to-be-proven fourth–season sire standing at just $27,500, less than half his fee of $66,000 two seasons later and the three thereafter.
“Marquise Da Rossa is a strong sort of mare, not big but strong, and I just had a gut feeling Dundeel was just the right type of horse for her,” Gleeson said.
“He’s a strong sort of horse, and I thought he’d put some stamina into the mare, whose family was a bit speedy. I’ve got to produce types that can walk, to sell as weanlings. And I’m not all that fussed about breeding two-year-olds. I’m more into just breeding horses who’ll win races full stop, and breeding sound horses. And Dundeel was sound.”
The result was – as anticipated – an athletic colt with all things in the right places. It so happens, the same is said by Gifford about his pedigree.
You have to dig four generations into Elliptical’s female family to hit black type, but it’s impressive. Fourth dam Nunkalowe (Boysie Boy) won the Toorak Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m) in 1977, and threw Biscalowe (Biscay), a Listed winner who flourished at stud, producing 1987 Golden Slipper (Gr 1, 1200m) victor and top-level sire Marauding (Sir Tristram). Fifth dam San La Salle (1953, Sandestre) threw no fewer than five stakes-winners.
And in bringing the family to Dundeel, it produced a pedigree that pleased Gifford as much as the type match satisfied Gleeson.
There’s a 4m x 4m replication of a most influential mare in Fairy Bridge (Bold Reason), dam of the third sire Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) and Testa Rossa’s father Perugino (Danzig). But stallion-wise, Elliptical’s pedigree is littered with stars.
Sadler’s Wells, Zabeel (Sir Tristram) and Danehill (Danzig) fill three of the four male slots in his third rung, while elsewhere are scattered names like High Chaparral, Testa Rossa, Century and Vain.
“There’s not one sire there where you think, ‘I’d better get a book out and look them up because I don’t know much about them’,” Gifford says.
“It’s a heavy-hitting pedigree in that way. Plus with Fairy Bridge, it’s often hard to duplicate a mare where you want them, but at four-by-four she looks in just the right place.
“But I’ll go through the pedigrees after Damian says he likes something on type. You can do all the homework in the world, but sometimes one thing just won’t line up: a horse is mentally not quite there, or on conformation, so that’s where Damian’s choosing on type really helps. The temperament of the sire comes into it.
“A lot of variables can go wrong, but this little horse, from the minute he was born, had a specialness about him. He was a cheeky little thing, and when I saw him come back to the mounting yard after winning on Saturday, he had that arrogant look on his face again, like ‘I did it!’ He was the king of the castle with all of our foals that year, too.”
Buoyed by the success of the mating, in 2020 Phoenix sent Marquise Da Rossa to Dundeel’s son and Arrowfield barnmate Castelvecchio, at $33,000. The resultant filly will go to the Magic Millions National Weanling Sale in May.
And, aided by financial gains including those through Elliptical, they sent the mare to another High Chaparral stallion in So You Think – at $77,000 – for a filly foal born last spring; and again at $93,500 a few weeks later.
Meanwhile, Marquise Da Rossa’s two-year-old colt, by Grunt, born in 2020, Etincelle, is in the Freedman stable awaiting a debut. Sold by Phoenix as a weanling for $40,000, he fetched $180,000 at the Gold Coast Yearling Sale in January on the back of his older half-brother’s work.
Should Elliptical continue to flourish as expected, Gleeson and Gifford will be feeling very pleased indeed with their major decision to move interstate last year, to say nothing of their little one to shell out four grand for his mum.