One of us
Our industry lost one its most ardent supporters last week. From an early age, Her Majesty The Queen understood the attraction of the thoroughbred and, following on from her father, King George VI, and grandfather, King George V, became, not only enamoured, but deeply involved.
Saturday’s issue of ANZ Bloodstock News featured a wonderful tribute to Her Majesty’s love of horses. Her history, apart from her considerable success, is magnificent. If you missed that issue, it is well worth accessing our archives. You will enjoy the read and will appreciate just how much horses meant to her. As well as being the Patron of the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, The Queen’s eye was caught by our own Balmerino (Trictrac) and his northern hemisphere exploits of the late 1970s. His highly meritorious second to Alleged (Hoist The Flag) in the 1977 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Gr 1, 2400m) was the catalyst for Her Majesty to send one of her mares, Header (High Hat), to be covered by Balmerino who stood at Middlepark Stud in Cambridge in 1980.
Header ranked as a half-sister to Charlton (Charlottesville), also bred by Her Majesty. He bagged the Henry II Stakes (Gr 3, 2m) before his export to Australia where he sired 12 stakes winners.
Noted for her sense of humour, it is entirely possible that The Queen came up with Header’s name. The filly was by Sir Winston Churchill’s High Hat (Hyperion) while her older half-brother was named after the famous soccer player (Sir) Bobby Charlton. Both are from Ibrox, named after the suburb of Glasgow, home of Ibrox football stadium.
Header’s Balmerino foal, born in New Zealand to northern hemisphere time in January 1981, was named Balmoral Bonnet and sent to England where she had one start. The filly possessed some lovely bloodlines including sires that the royal family raced, such as Big Game (Bahram).
Header’s dam, Ibrox (Big Game), is a half-sister to Optimistic (Never Say Die), the fourth dam of Kotashaan (Darshaan), a five-time Group 1 winner in the US. Another famous relation is the Australian speedster, Alinghi (Encosta De Lago), winner of four Group 1s, whose fifth dam, Maple Leaf (Big Game), is a sister to Ibrox.
Balmoral Bonnet was not able to live up to her bloodlines on the track but did foal six winners when returned to New Zealand as a broodmare.
The fact that The Queen made the effort to support a stallion on the other side of the world said much about her interest and awareness. Because The Queen was as involved to the degree she undertook, makes Her Majesty one of us.
The Kiwis made some noise in Melbourne on Saturday, thunderous noise in the shape of I’m Thunderstruck (Shocking).
Appearing to have little chance turning for home as Alligator Blood (All Too Hard) strode clear, I’m Thunderstruck kept to the fence and somehow found a path along the rail then emerged for the chase, but three lengths in arrears with 200 metres to run it looked a bridge too far.
This fellow is an out-and-out bulldog. Last spring he was twice knocked sideways in the Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) when starting his run yet got up off the deck and threw everything at the finish to run a close third. His resolution in Saturday’s Makybe Diva Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m) was no different. He pinned his ears back and drove, as only he knows how, and nailed Alligator Blood in the last stride.
Winning rider Mark Zahra described it best. “Alligator Blood did kick strong and not many horses would have run him down. I got to within half-a-length and I thought I’m not sure if I’ve got much left, but he lifted again. It was a massive win, a great performance and a great effort by the horse,” he said.
Not the first time
I’m Thunderstruck’s co trainer, Mick Price, regards Alligator Blood highly. “I thought he [Alligator Blood] was probably the best horse in the race and we’re not going to run him down,” he said. “ I’ve seen Alligator Blood win some huge races, so I’ve got total respect for him.”
But back to I’m Thunderstruck. “He was pretty brave today,” said Price. “He was in an awkward spot, behind heels, and Alligator Blood was off and gone. For us to be able to run that horse down, I just thought it’s a good indicator of things to come.”
However, it’s not the first time that Alligator Blood has had a big race in his grasp only to be denied in the final stride. Rewind to the 2019 running of the Caulfield Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) when, seemingly well in control by three lengths with a 100 metres to run, Super Seth (Dundeel) charged out of the pack like a steam train to grab him right on the line.
I’m Thunderstruck’s sire, Shocking (Street Cry) won the same race in 2010. Rated as a Group 2 then, the race gained Group 1 status in 2013, prompting Rich Hill studmaster John Thompson to make a sound observation: “It was a Group 2 at the time but the reason it’s a Group 1 now is because a horse like Shocking won it.”
Further to Thompson’s worthwhile comment is that Shocking won his contest after his Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m) win the previous year then added the Australian Cup (Gr 1, 2000m) the following autumn.
How very odd it is that any owner or breeder would love to win a Melbourne Cup but once the winner is at stud, they steer clear, to some degree.
Shocking is proving to be very versatile, in the mould of Zamazaan (Exbury), a former champion sire in New Zealand whose form was over longer distances. His five wins were between 2400 and 3100 metres and he ran second to the great Levmoss (Le Levanstell) in the Prix du Cadran (Gr 1, 4000m).
Crossed with the appropriate blood, Zamazaan got stakes winning two-year-olds, strong stayers, such as Good Lord, and everything in between.
As for crosses, I’m Thunderstruck’s dam is by Edenwold (Southern Halo), who, except for one year, when he attracted 136 mares, struggled for support when imported to New Zealand. His last year here saw him serve a total of three mares. Hence, he was sold and banished to Iran.
The Champion Two-Year-Old of his crop in Canada, Edenwold won four of his eight starts at two including three stakes. At three, he bagged the Queen’s Plate (Listed, 10f), a time-honoured race, Canada’s equivalent of the Kentucky Derby (Gr 1, 10f). Clearly he could run but as a sire, black-type performers were missing.
His daughter, Primadonna Girl, dam of I’m Thunderstruck, represents his first crop and ensures that he won’t be completely forgotten.
The local scene
The fields were good and the venue is always worthy but the very holding track undid a couple of the more favoured runners for the first day of the Hastings Triple Crown carnival featuring the first Group 1 for the New Zealand season, the Tarzino Trophy (1400m).
It did not affect Dark Destroyer (Proisir) however, whose residual fitness after a successful Brisbane campaign this past winter saw him power home from the 200 metres to defeat some good ones. Announcing that he is a force this spring, his record is developing nicely, this his fourth stakes win in just 11 starts. He was slow away and sat third last starting the bend. From the 600 metres he improved steadily, yet rounding into the straight was widest but one, and still with a lot to make up. Once balanced he strode up to fourth but from the 200 metres found another gear and, travelling best, ran by the leaders near the 50 metres and was too strong to the line by a length.
“He looks good now but, in all honesty, he still has a lot of improvement in his coat to come,” said the winner’s co-trainer Andrew Scott. “He has three weeks to get ready to get back down here again and hopefully he keeps going the right way. He had the benefit of residual fitness, but it has been a good effort by the team at home to get him ready.”
We know, from his three-year-old season, that Dark Destroyer is just as good on top of the ground which should translate to his being one of the favourites for the second leg, the Arrowfield Plate (Gr 1, 1600m) in three weeks time.
Although she tried her hardest, Imperatriz (I Am Invincible) couldn’t pull her feet out of the ground over the last 200 metres. To finish a tough fourth was no disgrace but her explosiveness was stifled. As long as she took no harm from the run, the next leg will see a different Imperatriz. On a better surface, expect a serious bounce back.
The race was a triumph for Rich Hill Stud, with their Proisir (Choisir) claiming his second Group 1 winner, the first being recently-crowned Champion New Zealand Sprinter, Levante. Proisir is heading in the right direction as a sire. Last season was his best yet, his trajectory signalling that he is one that might challenge Savabeel (Zabeel). Maybe not this year, as Savabeel has plenty of fire power to unleash, but certainly within the next couple of years.
His climb in the rankings is impressive. Twenty-second in 2020 (two crops), 12th in 2021 and fifth in 2022, his first crop now six-year-olds. For the moment he is atop of the standings.
Rich Hill Stud is in the enviable position of standing two stallions that are throwing, not only plenty of winners, but winners of the highest quality. Within an hour, barn mate Shocking sired the exciting I’m Thunderstruck to a heart-stopping win in the Makybe Diva Stakes at Flemington.
For the Gold Trail Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m), Pacific Dragon (Charm Spirit) was also affected by the track. The winning times told the story and Pacific Dragon’s grass-cutting action was found out. She is better than that, as we saw at Ruakaka and Te Rapa where she was able to get through the ground.
On the other hand, Best Seller (Wrote) accelerated nicely near the 200 metres into second, levelled up from shy of the 50 metres, then came away for an impressive win by a length and three-quarters.
Her second win in six starts, Best Seller provided her sire, Highview Stud’s Wrote (High Chaparral), with his first stakes winner. Judging from the calibre of this victory, Best Seller may be one of the stars of the spring, having proved she can handle better ground fresh up, at her previous start.
Sheez Dominant (Vanbrugh) was much too good in the Wanganui Guineas (Listed, 1340m) and the Hawkes Bay Guineas (Gr 2, 1400m), scheduled the same day as the Arrowfield Plate, may see a clash between the two.
Purchased for $12,000, Best Seller now looks a steal but her purchaser, bloodstock consultant and syndicator Adrian Clark, has a history of finding great value, having found recent New Zealand Bloodstock Filly of the Year and New Zealand Oaks (Gr 1, 2400m) winner Jennifer Eccles (Rip Van Winkle) for even less, just $5,000.
Like Jennifer Eccles, who represents a strong branch of the Eulogy (Cicero) family, Best Seller has a catalogue page oozing with black type. Her dam is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner Dance On Stars (Snitzel) while her grandam is a Melbourne–winning half-sister to Miss Margaret (Marscay), a Flemington Group 1 winner. Her third dam, Listed winner Fancy Miss (Sir Tristram), is a half-sister to the very good mare Bellota (Oakville) and to the dam of Lord Reims (Zamazaan). Nice family and Clark stole this one.
For good measure, Best Seller is from a Danroad (Danehill) mare. Danroad is the damsire of Verry Elleegant (Zed) and top Sydney sprinter, Lost And Running (Per Incanto). Danroad stood at Highview Stud.
Dynastic (Almanzor) wasn’t happy in the ground either when returning for his three-year-old campaign in the El Roca Trophy (Listed, 1200m).
Rounding into the home straight he shared second, made ground on the leader soon after and levelled up inside the 200 metres. Opie Bosson pressed the button at the 150 metres and his mount came away to win nicely by a length and three-quarters.
“He is just a class animal,” said winning trainer Mark Walker. “He is just a magnificent specimen. He was all out at the 200 metres, but he picked himself up when the other horse came at him and lifted again.”
Bosson told us last season just what a stride this fellow has so with the tracks bound to improve, we can expect Dynastic to grow another leg. It was sheer class that enabled him to power clear on Saturday meaning that the three-year-olds may need to up their game heading towards the Hawkes Bay Guineas and ultimately, the New Zealand Two Thousand Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m), the obvious target for the colt.
Doomben specialist, Weona Smartone (Shamexpress), carried on his winning way, taking his record to nine wins in 11 starts, leading from barrier rise. The lightly raced six-year-old is tough to get past. In Saturday’s race over 1100 metres, Weona Smartone was tackled early and refused to buckle when looking very vulnerable late in proceedings, lifting gamely when challenged.
Fifth on debut in December 2019, the son of Windsor Park Stud’s Shamexpress ((O’Reilly) then reeled off eight in succession, including three at Doomben. He was having his first start since running fifth at the Sunshine Coast back in January and has yet to be tried beyond 1200 metres.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Lucky Sweynesse (Sweynesse) bolted away with the Class 1 Chief Executive’s Cup (1200m), taking his record to six wins, a second and a third in eight starts.
Last year’s Hong King Griffin of the Year, Lucky Sweynesse left his opponents standing from the 200 metres and was more than three lengths clear in a slashing 1:08.58 for the 1200 metres.
The four-year-old son of Novara Park’s Sweynesse (Lonhro) won his first three starts at Happy Valley and his last three wins have been at Sha Tin, including a 1400-metre handicap in June, in another sharp time, 1:21.95.