It's In The Blood


It’s a good thing David Moodie’s a Carlton fan.

Friday night brought him a first AFL finals win in a decade through the once-mighty but now long-suffering Blues. It will have helped the veteran breeder through a particularly dark hour on Saturday.

First, Steparty (Artie Schiller) won the McEnzie Stakes (Listed, 1200m) at Moonee Valley to stay unbeaten through four starts. Then at Rosehill, Encap (Capitalist) took the Ming Dynasty Quality (Gr 3, 1400m) at his fifth.

For Moodie the breeder those results really should have put a spring in his steparty and a feather in his encap. He’d had the two horses’ dams, and done a lot of breeding with them.

However, he’d sold his triple stakes-winning mare Enquare (Stratum) for a fairly modest $90,000 while she was carrying Encap. And he’d offloaded Watch Your Step (Sepoy) – for just $13,000 – a couple of months before her new owner booked Artie Schiller (El Prado), creating the also-very-good Steparty.

And thus, while he’d put Enquare to Capitalist (Written Tycoon), the only people who’d readily know his Hesket Racing concern had actually bred the colt would be a few in the inner sanctum and the odd columnist with little better to do on a Wednesday than trace out a sale trail.

“That’s breeding for you,” Moodie tells It’s In The Blood with a wry smile.

“We sold the dams of Steparty and Encap, because we were downsizing a little bit. And we’d sent two mares to Capitalist in 2019. We kept one and sold the other.”

Enquare was sold, at the 2020 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale, to Queensland-based Emmanuel Bloodstock, who go down as Encap’s official breeder. In the months that followed, to acquaint Moodie with the bitter taste to stem from that move, Enquare’s first foal Written Miss (Written Tycoon) won her first three starts at Ballarat, Pakenham and Flemington (though she’d be retired after injury in her fourth).

That other mare Moodie kept was Crystal Wings (Exceed And Excel), whose second foal by Capitalist, Crystal Boom, was retained by Hesket and has had one start for a tenth-placed finish at Bendigo.

Moodie accepts, at least, that he can claim some sort of credit for the making of Encap, though it’s the kind of credit that “doesn’t pay the bills”.

But he wishes enjoyment to Enquare’s owner, Emmanuel’s Mark Sowerby, as he plays on the roundabouts and swings that have also been good to him.

“A few years ago I had a mare who was booked to go to Fastnet Rock,” Moodie recalls. “But she was about seventh in line to him on the day. So I said to my man, ‘She’s never going to get a slot. Just send the bloody mare anywhere you like’.”

The mare was Crystal Snip (Snippets). She was bundled off to Stratum, and the result was Crystal Lily, who Moodie kept and cheered on to her 2010 Golden Slipper triumph, plus three other stakes wins and three Group 1 seconds, along with $2.6 million in prize-money.

Stratum (Redoute’s Choice), “made” as a stallion by winning the 2005 edition of the world’s richest two-year-old race, also makes a few appearances in today’s column, for he was a large part of what convinced trainer Gary Portelli to buy the yearling Encap.

A few weeks after the purchase, in seeking owners the stable comms from Portelli – who’d just won his second Slipper with Fireburn (Rebel Dane) – read: “He’s by a Slipper winner. His mum’s by a Slipper winner. This horse will be nominated for the 2023 Golden Slipper!”

Buyers came, though it took a while, but the plan didn’t meet the blurb. The yearling Encap grew into a beefy two-year-old colt, which brought on two things: the removal of two things, in an early gelding procedure, and shin soreness, which so compromised his early strides it was soon clear he wouldn’t make it to Rosehill’s big one.

But his Slipper-rich pedigree had attracted Portelli, a man clinically obsessed with the race, and who when buying yearlings is always looking for two-year-olds. Not only is it Capitalist over Stratum, but the flying 1977 winner Luskin Star (Kaoru Star) is there as well, not once but twice, and in influential places, at 5f x 4f. Plus, there’s a dual-female duplication of 1969 winner Vain (Wilkes) in the pedigree for good measure.

Luskin Star sits on Capitalist’s bottom line as sire of his exceptional third dam Bold Promise, winner of Group 2s in the Tea Rose Stakes and Reisling Slipper Trial, plus the Gold Coast’s Magic Millions 2YO Fillies’ Classic of 1991.

And Luskin Star is the sire of Stratum’s dam Bourgeois, who was unraced but showed her influence by also throwing Dystopia (Redoute’s Choice), who won a Group 3, was placed at Group 2 level and ran fourth in The Galaxy (Gr 1, 1100m) of 2014.

The great Vain appears through two daughters as well in the fifth remove: Miss Entertainer, a six-time Sydney city winner who’s the second dam of Capitalist’s sire Written Tycoon; and Bourgeois’s dam Brave New World, a Listed victor who won twice in Melbourne.

Encap is also powered by a double Danehill, of the preferred gender-balanced sort, at 4f x 4m via Capitalist’s second dam Compulsion, and Stratum’s sire Redoute’s Choice.

Enquare won a Group 3 and two Listed contests up to 1400 metres in Brisbane, and was good enough to go hunting black type in Melbourne, running second in a Flemington Group 2 and third in a Caulfield Listed race.

“I loved Encap’s pedigree,” says Portelli. “It’s what I consider real tough, Aussie blood from the old days that stands up to racing, and is full of Slipper winners. And I like buying them out of mares who are very competitive. His mother won five races, including three stakes races, so she was a smart, fast horse.”

Though Encap went through an Easter sale – via the draft of Emmanuel’s collaborators Newhaven Park Stud – Portelli was able to secure him for just $200,000 – half the auction’s average.

The trainer believes other buyers may have been put off by the yearling’s relative lack of size. With Encap now among the top half dozen in betting for Rosehill’s Golden Rose (Gr 1, 1400m) on Saturday week, he’s glad he stuck to his guns.

“I remember, pretty vividly, when they brought him out in the Newhaven draft. He just looked like a real powerful little horse who was going to grow,” says Portelli, who has a pedigree himself when it comes to assessing yearlings, having learnt from a good judge – his mum Morveen, a horsewoman and former trainer.

“Mum told me early, ‘You try to visualise what the horse will look like in 12 months’ time. Don’t judge on it on now, because they change so dramatically’,” he says.

“So then, through experience, you get to look at a horse and pick the changes you think it will make. A lot get longer, and obviously they’ll get taller. You don’t exactly know what they’re going to look like, but you know they’ll change.

“We can often get carried away with that perfectly shaped yearling. People pay top dollar for the horse that’s right there in front of them then and there, the perfect specimen. But they can grow into an ugly stage right after they’re bought. I’m happy with the ugly one who I know is going to look beautiful in six or 12 months’ time, and I can get them for the right price.”

Portelli concedes, of course, that he doesn’t always get it right, but in this case says his judgement was endorsed by the yearling Encap’s movement, adding: “The pedigree means bugger-all if they don’t have the right mechanics.”

But while Encap grew, he “got way too heavy, so we had to geld him pretty early on”. The bulk brought the shin soreness that not only meant he couldn’t debut until March this year – with a third at Warwick Farm – but he’d have to be turned out again straight afterwards.

But in this, his second preparation, Encap has been a revelation. He resumed amid low expectations in a Warwick Farm two-year-old maiden in July, but flew home after being hopelessly checked in the straight to almost win. He repeated the dose at the same venue at his next start, when a length second to the vaunted Les Vampires (Pierro).

“It was still a midweek maiden but I thought, ‘If he can fly home like that twice, I think I’ve got a serious horse for the spring carnival’,” Portelli says. “I just thought he needed a bigger track.”

That came at his next start, when tried in Group 3 class for another fast-finishing placing, his third behind Tom Kitten (Harry Angel) and stablemate Kintyre (Hallowed Crown) in Rosehill’s Up And Coming Stakes. After that, Portelli labelled him “the best maiden in Australia”, a tag fulfilled by Saturday’s dominant win in the Ming Dynasty.

“He finally got to show his form at that level, and it was a very strong win,” Portelli says.

“He’ll go to the next level again in the Golden Rose, where he’s taking on proper, genuine Group 1 horses like Shinzo and Cylinder. But the fact he’s gone from getting beaten in a maiden to third in a Group 3 to winning a Group 3 in the space of three runs has me pretty confident he can do it.”

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