It's In The Blood


Written Tycoon filly Libiamo gave further proof to the strength of her female line in winning the first race at Caulfield last Saturday, an 1100-metre handicap for two-year-old fillies. 

Libiamo was a $170,000 purchase at last year’s Inglis Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale by her trainer Grahame Begg. She is out of the Casino Prince mare Fine Bubbles, who cost the then Sun Stud (now Widden Victoria) a hefty $400,000 when bought at the Magic Millions Broodmare Sale several years ago. 

Fine Bubbles – part-owned by jockey-turned-media personality Ron Dufficy – was more than handy, winning five from 35 including the Tibbie Stakes (Gr 3, 1400m) at Newcastle in 2014. 

But then, the bottom rung of Libiamo’s pedigree had to be pretty good: it had to fight its way back into the Australian Stud Book in the 1980s – after an exile of half a century. 

As happened fairly regularly back then, a mare – Libiamo’s seventh dam Future Queen – was not registered in the breeding Bible when born in 1935. This was a shame, as she was by the great Heroic, out of Greenaway, who won what is now the Group 2 Royal Stakes at Ellerslie. 

“It happened a bit. There were wars, a Great Depression – a lot of people had better things to do with their time than remember to register their thoroughbred,” says Michael Ford, who’s now retired but did hold the Game of Thrones-sounding title of Seventh Keeper of the Book. 

Things were even more rough and ready before 1900. Wollomai won nothing less than the Melbourne Cup, in 1875. They knew he was out of a mare called Fleur de Lis, but all that was recorded about her was that she was “bred near Colac”. 

“The authorities had to toughen up for the sake of the purity of thoroughbred breeding. Up until around 1900, a man’s word was his bond, and often if a breeder simply said his horse was by so-and-so out of such-and-such that was what was recorded.”  

What the era of patchy registrations caused, apart from headaches for people like Ford, was something of a mess, and the firm but necessary designation of a lot of horses as NTB (non-thoroughbred), or more colloquially, NSB (non-stud book). 

“When I took over in the 1980s, the Australian foal crop, which is about 13,000 now, was about 25,000 – and 5,000 of them were ‘NSB’,” Ford exclaims, while shuddering at the memory. 

The offspring of unregistered mares such as Future Queen could still compete in thoroughbred races, but their dam had to wear the distinctive (or ignominious) designation of “Vehicle Mare”. To get back into the stud book, a rule was set – by the International Stud Book Committee – that a Vehicle Mare’s descendant had to have won a Group race. This was setting the bar uncompromisingly high – it would be hard enough to a non-true thoroughbred to win a Dubbo maiden let alone a Group race – but it has helped ensure the integrity of the thoroughbred line. 

This rule was only established in 1984 – hence the 49-year absence from the stud book of Libiamo’s female line. (Another effect was that you can apply those previously mentioned headaches to the task of figuring out suitable designations for races held before the modern Group pattern came in in the late 1970s). 

What happened, for the purposes of the Libiamo story, was that her sixth dam, Vistaed, carried “NTB” and had no foal number, and likewise her daughter Vista Anna. They still don’t, when you consult The Book. But when Vista Anna’s son Salaam appeared in the mid-1970s, winning The Galaxy, the Premiere Stakes and Missile Stakes, the key to reopening the stud book had been turned. 

And Vista Anna – fifth dam of Libiamo – was in fact the first mare restored to the book, when Ford set about applying the new rule in 1984. 

The situation has affected a surprising number of topline horses.  

Outstanding 1980s sprinter Redelva dragged his ancestors back into the stud book through his three Group 1 wins (plus six Group 2s and five Group 3s, for good measure), his third dam Damelsa having been NTB. 

That alluring but frustrating stayer of the mid-1980s Foxseal – the one in the orange and white who’d always drop out last and fly home for fourth to keep you in next week – is still listed as NTB, despite managing to salute in five stakes races, including the Group 1 Brisbane Cup of 1985. He had that designation because his fourth dam Lady Light was by “Unidentified” out of “Unidentified” (both of whose parents uncannily had the same names!). Why he didn’t “save” his family in the eyes of the ASB appears a matter of Sydney having to get their New Zealand counterparts involved, since the lineage came from there. 

And the great Aquanita, despite winning 18 stakes races, including the 1962 Cox Plate, is still officially regarded as having not been a thoroughbred, since his third dam Brilliant Queen was not registered, and Aquanita appeared too long ago for authorities to patch things up. 

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Libiamo’s dam Fine Bubbles had racetrack form, and her dam Pekalan won the Belle of the Turf Stakes (Listed, 1600m) at Gosford in 2006. But there was another reason she came at such a high price at the broodmare sales: she was in foal – to I Am Invincible, no less. 

After Sun Stud bought her, she bore a colt. He was tiny, so not a sales proposition, but he became the Gerald Ryan-trained speedster Covert Ops. He was just pipped by Dubious in the 2018 Group 3 Breeders’ Plate on debut at Randwick before winning two of his next eight – both over the Newcastle 900 metres. He then went to Singapore where, racing as Sun Ops, the now rising four-year-old gelding has won two of three, at 1000 metres and 1100 metres. 

Fine Bubbles next went to Vancouver, which didn’t work so well, via a now three-year-old bush gelding named Loch River, but the pairing with Written Tycoon has, like so many recent pairings with that rising 19-year-old, apparently worked very well, in the form of Libiamo. 

“Fine Bubbles is a nice mare with a commercial pedigree, and Written Tycoon was a good physical mating,” says bloodstock adviser David O’Callaghan, who recommended the mating to Sun Stud. “Libiamo’s a nice filly with plenty of scope, which Written Tycoon can get you, and the mare is quite a strong masculine sort of mare. The two seemed to fit pretty well.” 

Spurred by her first offspring’s deeds, Sun Stud sent Fine Bubbles back to I Am Invincible, for what O’Callaghan says is a “really nice” weanling colt. 

“The family are all quite fast horses,” says Widden Victoria’s nominations manager, Philip Marshall. “And Libiamo looks like a really nice filly going forward. 

“She was a filly that was quite a big scopey filly, so I knew she wasn’t going to be an early precocious two-year-old type. So it’s great to see her get that win as a two-year-old, and I think she’ll only improve at three.”