It's In The Blood


Veteran breeder Mike O’Donnell bought an unraced mare by Commands called China Road online in July 2017 and then found out she only had one ovary.

Didn’t matter. He would have bought her anyway, had he known, and she only cost ten grand.

O’Donnell of Fairhill Farm bought China Road because her two-year-old Dynastic (Love Conquers All) was looking pretty good, after two runs on two coasts – the Gold and the Sunshine – for a four-length win and a second.

Turns out he wasn’t, with his next 15 starts bringing just one win, further inland at Beaudesert.

That hasn’t mattered either.

O’Donnell’s first foal from China Road was Never Say Nay (No Nay Never). Offered as a weanling, like all the breeder’s horses, he was bought for $90,000 by the esteemed judges of Newgate Bloodstock, and he’s now won four from 17, in provincial and country class.

After missing to Choisir in 2018, China Road’s 2019 visit to Impending produced Negronis, who’s had two starts for not much for Bjorn Baker.

From 2021 to the present, China Road’s biology might have had a say, since the mare, now 18, has missed six times in a row.

But all that mightn’t matter much either, as with her 2020 cover, from Victorian operation Leneva Park’s very potent sire, Royal Meeting (Invincible Spirit) China Road may have struck gold. That lone ovary has yielded Hayasugi, who swept down the outside and into Blue Diamond Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m) calculations with a breathtaking victory in last Friday’s Blue Diamond Preview (F) (Gr 3, 1000m).

In so doing, the Clinton McDonald-trained filly provided Royal Meeting – a Group 1 winner in France in a seven-start racing career – with a stakes-winning first winner, from just four runners, landing him in seventh spot among Australian first season sires.

Hayasugi had come close to giving him the perfect start last October, in fact, when on debut she became a blacktype filly when second in the Inglis Banner (RL, 1000m) on Cox Plate day. After a fifth in the Ottawa Stakes (Gr 3, 1000m) on VRC Oaks day, a short spell has given way to her breakthrough win last Friday which augurs very well for her eight-year-old sire’s future.

Her dam’s future may be less clear. At present, as for the past few foal-less years, she’s a nanny to around half a dozen weanlings, though O’Donnell is mulling driving her to Leneva again next spring to try again with Royal Meeting.

While the former Godolphin Group 1 winner’s number of runners isn’t yet enough to hang a hat on, he does already have a reputation for getting problem mares in foal, reflected in fertility rates averaging 84.5 per cent through his first three seasons before last year.

“She’s a beautiful bodied mare,” says the 73-year-old O’Donnell, who has around 40 of them on his property south of Cessnock. “We’ve had three foals out of her, and they’ve all been super nice. 

“I bought her mostly because Dynastic was looking quite exciting. He didn’t actually come up to it, but the mare hasn’t let us down. We sold Negronis for $45,000, Hayasugi for $47,500, and Never Say Nay for $90,000.

“Hopefully there might be some more but if not, I can’t complain.”

Fairhill Farm has been in operation for two decades and has punched above its weight, hatching three Group 1 winners: Manawatu Sires’ Produce victor Choice Bro (Choisir), WATC Railway Stakes hero Good Project (Not A Single Doubt) and the Hong Kong Mile’s Glorious Days (Hussonet).

And the weekend just gone was a strong one for the farm, with another of its products, Master Fay (Deep Field), winning the Concorde Handicap (Gr 3, 1200m) at Ellerslie.

Master Fay – who fetched $72,000 as a weanling in 2018 – has made his connections wait. He took a road to China and won his first start in Hong Kong on New Year’s Day, 2021. He’s now won his second and third starts, both in New Zealand, and both only last month.

Hayasugi, in contrast, has brought instant returns, for her connections and Royal Meeting.

Leneva stands two stallions, with similarities in that they could be called the next best thing to a couple of others. Royal Meeting is a son of Invincible Spirit like I Am Invincible, but he costs roughly one 30th of Vinnie’s service fee. And Fierce Impact, whose oldest are yearlings, offers breeders cheap indirect access to his Japanese super sire Deep Impact, at $16,500.

But on his last day on the track in Australia, Derby Day 2019, prior to a fruitless three-start campaign in Dubai, Royal Meeting was the polar opposite of his barnmate: Fierce Impact won the Cantala Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m), while Royal Meeting was tailed off a distant last behind him, with rider Dwayne Dunn reporting a respiratory noise.

That was his second Australian start since being brought out for a spring campaign by his trainer Saeed Bin Suroor from Europe, where he’d been a two-year-old Group 1 winner of the Criterium International (Gr 1, 1400m) at Chantilly.

The then-three-year-old colt had begun with an encouraging third in Caulfield’s Moonga Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m). After his troubled Cantala run, he had what turned out to be his last three (unplaced) starts, in Dubai, and returned to the UK, before a group including Aquis and Seymour Bloodstock swung together to buy him and bring him back to Australia in 2020. He stood first at Aquis’s Victorian farm, and when they closed that operation to focus on Queensland and Leneva took it over, Royal Meeting stayed there.

“It’s not a bad start for him, with Hayasugi winning a Group 3,” says Leneva’s Mick Sharkie.

“He’s a quality horse himself, so it’s not a complete surprise he’s got a good one this early. Saying that, we were a little surprised this filly was up and going pre-Christmas. We were expecting his two-year-olds from March onwards, but he’s proved he can get them to come out and run.”

March onwards seems exactly what Royal Meeting is poised to do, with a selection of five yearlings entered for the Inglis Premier Yearling Sale, including a colt by Makybe Diva’s (Desert King) half-sister Valkyrie Diva (Jade Robbery), a stakes winner who’s produced three more of them.

“A lot of Victorian breeders were keen for him to stay in Victoria when Aquis moved,” Sharkie says, “and you only had to look at him once to see why. Physically, he’s an absolute prince of a horse.

“Invincible Spirit has worked so well in Australia, obviously through I Am Invincible. A few of his sons haven’t worked so well – there’s always the maternal line to factor in – so maybe Royal Meeting is the one.

“He has a strong South African family behind him, which is probably not massively familiar in Australia, but there’s enough quality horses on his page from all around the world.

“When you’ve got a Group 1 performer whose fertility is as high as his, and he’s got the right bloodlines that are successful and working in this part of the world, and you’re nearly a good thing to get your mare in-foal, it makes the equation so easy.”

Sharkie said Leneva had “a lot of happy breeders” who’d supported Royal Meeting and been “thrilled with their foals”.

“A winner was the missing piece of the puzzle, but now getting a two-year-old Group winner in late January, it just augurs well for what’s coming,” he says.

“And we know there’s a number of trainers with his stock eyeing off late February or early March kick-offs, so he’s not going to finish the season with one winner. And this is from books with mostly bread-and-butter types of mares, so the signs are good.”

Royal Meeting descends from six straight South African mares, with his dam Rock Opera (Lecture) a Group 1-winning Champion 2YO filly in that country in 2005, who later raced in Dubai and became a black-type producer for Darley in Ireland. Aside from Royal Meeting, she hinted at strong prospects for blending with Australian stock by leaving a multiple stakes-winning son of the then-shuttling Exceed And Excel, Heavy Metal.

China Road did come with more than just an attractive price tag. Her dam Bacchetto (Canny Lad) was a stakes-producer, seconddam Gypsy Alert (Solitary Hail) threw two blacktype winners, and her dam – Hayasugi’s fourth – was I’m Alert (Red Alert). She was the dam of the exceptional filly With Me (Covetous), winner of the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate, a pair of Moir Stakes before it was a Group 1, and a brave second to the aforementioned Canny Lad in the 1990 Golden Slipper.

With Me then mated with her Golden Slipper conqueror Canny Lad to produce Accomplice, the colt who won two Group 1s in The Galaxy and the Doomben 10,000 in 1997 before being exported to the US, where he won in Listed class at Hollywood Park.

And so Hayasugi is from a fast Australasian female family that produced a Golden Slipper quinella, and which appears to have blended well with Royal Meeting.

There’s not a lot of readily apparent trickery in Hayasugi’s pedigree, though there is a 4m x 4m sireline duplication of Danzig (Northern Dancer), through Invincible Spirit’s father Green Desert, and China Road’s second sire Danehill.

The other duplication which may have had an impact on Hayasugi is influential American sire Hail To Reason (Turn-To) through three different sons at 5m, 5m x 4m. He comes strongly into Royal Meeting’s female side via the great Roberto and Mullineaux, and is also down low in China Road’s family, as the sire of Gypsy Alert’s dad Solitary Hail.

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