It's In The Blood


At the start of May, this column mused about a statistic which stood Fastnet Rock (Danehill) apart from many others as the Coolmore legend headed into retirement: his Group 1 winners to stakes-winners ratio.

His 193 stakes-winners worldwide is ultra-impressive, but the fact 43 of them scored at the top level – 22.27 per cent – is near phenomenal.

For comparison to some all-time greats, there’s Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) (24.82 per cent), Galileo (Sadler’s Wells) (24.66 per cent), Frankel (Galileo) (24.64 per cent), Danehill (Danzig) (24.20 per cent) and Redoute’s Choice (Danehill) (21.42 per cent).

Kermadec (Teofilo) sits at 50 per cent.

So take that, great-grandfather Sadler’s Wells. And grandfather Galileo while you’re at it.

Granted, not even this column holding both a ticket on a Kermadec winner and a belly full of celebratory beer would add Kermadec to those others to make a magnificent seven. Not yet, anyway.

But it’s so far, so good for Darley’s rising 13-year-old as he enters his ninth season at stud, and his fourth since a switch from their Hunter Valley to their Victorian farm to hopefully dovetail in with more staying-minded Victorian breeders.

There is a catch, of course. Kermadec’s eye-popping stat comes from a small sample size: he has eight stakes-winners from 173 runners worldwide, at a somewhat more sobering 4.62 per cent.

In saying that, his Group 1 ratio is four from eight, not, say, one from two.

And there’s a very exciting chance that on Saturday week it could rise to five – or 62.5 per cent – with Queensland Oaks (Gr 1, 2200m) betting now headed by his emerging star Scarlet Oak, a most fitting name in more ways than one for our subject matter as we see out May, and autumn.

The late-developing filly has been in full bloom while the leaves have changed colour, to present herself as potentially the finest of Kermadec’s stock.

She only debuted two weeks into autumn, winning a Matamata maiden over 1400 metres on March 13, for trainers Ken and Bev Kelso and her then-owners, Joe and Max Smithies at Cambridge boutique operation Monovale Farm.

The phones ran hot after the impressive 1.8 length victory, Joe says, with a dozen expressions of interest in “only a couple of hours”. The most attractive was accepted, with Scarlet Oak going to Melbourne mega-buyer Ozzie Kheir and, what the fierce interest suggested would be an appropriately good home, that of Sydney’s 13-time premier trainer Chris Waller.

Scarlet Oak stepped up to black type immediately to run second on a heavy 9 in Randwick’s James Carr Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m), then scored by 2.4 lengths in a 1600-metre Benchmark 72 at Newcastle’s stand-alone Saturday meeting (transferred from Gosford).

Last Saturday, she rose again in class and trip to tackle the ANZ Bloodstock News sponsored The Roses (Gr 2, 2000m) at Doomben and – sent out a $3.60 favourite – scored a slick neck victory which led to her Oaks price being slashed from $6 to $3.

In a quirk of the studbook, Scarlet Oak’s breeder is listed as Matthew Brown. It should be the Smithies Bros, though the mating of Kermadec and Melbourne and Sydney city winner Tactless (Commands) was designed by Darley themselves in the stallion’s second-last season in NSW.

Darley then put Tactless up for sale in-foal on Inglis Digital as part of a broodmare rationalisation in July 2020, and Monovale was delighted to snare her for just $10,000. She went to Brown’s Eloura Stud in Victoria to foal down – hence that studbook anomaly – before being shipped to New Zealand with a three-month-old Scarlet Oak, her new owners having put her in-foal to Darley’s Street Boss (Street Cry).

Tactless, raced by Godolphin after its buyout of her breeder Woodlands, was 13 at the time of her sale, and had had four of five foals reach the track. These included Catapult (Medaglia D’Oro), a dual Sydney city winner over 1400 metres, plus three winners, one of whom was metro-placed.

“We were very chuffed to get Tactless for that price,” Joe Smithies tells It’s In The Blood. “I guess she was a tad exposed, but we loved her pedigree, and we love Commands mares. We thought we got her for unders and that it was a pretty cheap way of getting into a very good family.”

It’s a very good family indeed.

It’s recently punctuated by Tactless’s dam, Insouciance (Quest For Fame), who brings in her influential broodmare sire and makes Tactless a half-sister to Complacent (Authorized), an elite-level winner of the ATC Spring Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) plus three more Group races. Insouciance also sired a Listed winner along a similar cross to Scarlet Oak in Ataraxia (Teofilo), plus two stakes-placed runners.

Insouciance’s brother Dracula won three Group 1s and two other stakes races in the 1990s. The pair’s dam Awards Ceremony (Kaoru Star) threw two other stakes-winners, and showed some of the family power Smithies alluded to by also leaving two dams of stakes-winners.

One of those dams was the third full sibling to Insouciance and Dracula – bearing further backing for that Quest For Fame (Rainbow Quest) mating – in Nostalgic, who bore 2019 New Zealand Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m) winner Miss Sentimental (Reliable Man).

Tactless’s third dam Party (Lunchtime) left two top-tier winners in Festal (Vain) and Masked Party (Marscay), who ran second in the 1998 The Galaxy (Gr 1, 1100m), made amends a year later and won seven stakes races in total to be a feather in the cap of his breeder, none other than all-time great jockey Mick Dittman.

Party also threw two dams of stakes-winners including La Bamba (Last Tycoon), who brings more Group 1s to Tactless and Scarlet Oak’s family as the mother of two such victors in Inspiration (Flying Spur) and modern-day sire Wandjina (Snitzel).

And while Party’s dam Waltz (Adamastor) could boast just one low-level stakes winner, normal service is resumed by Lady Pirouette (Whirlaway) – Scarlet Oak’s sixth dam. She won at the top herself in Randwick’s Champagne Stakes of 1948, but achieved greater fame as the dam of the outstanding Kilshery (Edmundo), winner of five modern Group 1s in the early 1960s including two All-Aged Stakes and a Stradbroke Handicap.

Putting Tactless to Kermadec for the one and only time brought only two duplications in the first five generations, and one is a fairly stock standard 5m x 5m of Northern Dancer. There is, however, a 4f x 3m double Danehill. He is tucked away a little in the top half as Teofilo’s damsire, but at least the doubling of the great sire is achieved in the most desired gender-balanced way.

Darley’s head of stallions Alastair Pulford believes a possibly stronger key to the mating that produced Scarlet Oak is the Quest For Fame is so strong in the female family.

He represents Kermadec’s most successful nick. Again, it’s from a small sample, but Kermadec over Quest For Fame mares has yielded three winners from as many runners, including his two Oaks winners (so far) – Willowy and Amokura.

One column closer, Kermadec’s third-best nick happens to be Tactless’s sire Commands (Danehill), with three winners from six runners and Scarlet Oak bearing the flag. Furthermore, Danehill over Quest For Fame does no harm, with the former being by far and away the latter’s best nick.

“It was the Quest For Fame element we were seeking out with the mating,” Pulford says. “Particularly, when you go back a bit, Sadler’s Wells over Quest For Fame has gone really well in Europe.

“Double Danehill never frightens us. We didn’t do the mating deliberate for that, but it’s something that doesn’t put us off because we’ve been very successful at it.”

As Pulford notes, “interesting” could be one of the better words to describe Kermadec as a sire at the present moment – but in a positive way.

Also trained by Waller, he won his two Group 1s at 1600 metres in Randwick’s Doncaster and George Main Stakes, and only two of his 17 starts were over longer, for a fourth in the Caulfield Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) and a second-last in Winx’s first Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) in 2015. Yet his four top-tier winners include two Oaks heroines and his best performer Montefilia.

She’s best known as a stayer with an ATC Metropolitan (Gr 1, 2400m), Spring Champion Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) and a Ranvet Stakes (Gr 1, 2000m) amongst her four Group 1 wins, plus a VRC Oaks (Gr 1, 2500m) third and a Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) start to her name.

And yet Kermadec has also sired MRC Toorak Handicap (Gr 1, 1600m) victor Tuvalu, plus Lim’s Kosciuszko, who seemed to sum up his sire in one horse by being Singapore’s Champion Sprinter in 2022, and its Champion Sprinter, Miler and Stayer the year after.

“Scarlet Oak doesn’t look like a dour stayer. She looks like she got a great turn of foot,” Pulford says.

“And that’s the interesting thing about Kermadec. He was probably bred to go further himself, but a mile was his best trip, but then you get a stamina in his stock as well.”

That’s probably the Teofilo talking, the former Darley shuttler being the sire of three Melbourne Cup winners in Cross Counter, Twilight Payment and Without A Fight. And there are echoes of Kermadec in that story as well: Teofilo was Europe’s champion two-year-old of 2006 after two Group 1 wins over 1400 metres, albeit with knee issues forcing his retirement after five unbeaten starts at two.

“The stamina in Kermadec’s stock would come from the Teofilo influence,” Pulford says. “But he is the sort of stallion that if you put enough speed to him he’s not going to throw you an out-and-out stayer each time.

“But what’s clear is he’s a stallion who’ll get you a very high class horse. And when you look at his Group 1 numbers – when they’re good, they’re very good.”

The Smithies brothers, who took over Monovale around 2016 after their father Paul’s passing, had “that special feeling you get once every year or two” after the young Scarlet Oak arrived in New Zealand. Joe says the filly “had a fantastic temperament and picked up everything really quickly”.

That said, she was a slow burner, hence the brothers withdrawing her Karaka Yearling Sale entry.

“She was about 50 to 70 kilos behind where she needed to be to reach what we thought her value was,” Joe says.

The brothers held onto their – excitingly stacked – hand for a further 13 months. The play was astute, with her private sale rewarding.

“It’s always about timing in this game,” Joe says. “For a lot of those late-developing fillies, Karaka comes too soon, and it’s the only real chance we have in New Zealand.

“But she was lovely: a beautiful head, lovely colour, deep girth, and a huge potential to fill into her lovely frame.

“In terms of a four-year-old and beyond, she’ll be a spectacular looking animal. Well, she already is.”

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