Ron Gilbert turned away from the pitiful sight before him, and stared into the Darling Downs hills to gather his thoughts.
It was a scorching Queensland February day. Half an hour earlier Gilbert was sitting down to watch the 1999 edition of a breeders’ “must-see” – the Blue Diamond Stakes. A phone call from a groom abruptly scrapped those plans, and the successful builder and businessman – who had taken up breeding only a few years earlier – was now standing in some distress on his Highgrove Stud farm.
His beautiful broodmare Decidity, who had a five-month-old colt at foot, was lying on the ground in agony, stricken by a bout of colic as sudden as it was severe. She had been writhing in pain, but was now too wretched to do even that. A vet stood nearby, readying a lethal syringe.
“It was stifling hot, and she was a muck lather of sweat,” Gilbert tells ANZ Bloodstock News. “It was very upsetting – just to see an animal in that much pain.”
Gilbert defied the vet. With some effort the mare was helped to her feet, loaded into a float, and driven the 25 minutes to the Oakey Veterinary Hospital, to explore the chance of life-saving surgery.
“I couldn’t go in. I’m not good with those things,” Gilbert says.
A little later his phone rang again. The vets once more recommended the six-year-old be euthanised. Desperate, Gilbert asked what her chance of survival would be with surgery.
They told him.
One per cent.
Gilbert had bought Decidity at the Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale in Sydney in 1995, for a fair $70,000. He liked that she was by Irish sire Last Tycoon, but was more entranced – from a future breeding viewpoint – by the fact she was out of Class, whose father Twig Moss was fancied by Gilbert as a broodmare sire.
“She was a nice type with a nice pedigree, but it wasn’t one of those ‘I’ve got to have her’ situations,” Gilbert said. “I put in a bid and we got her. She was a fine type of filly, so we knew she’d need time.”
The purchase soon looked very good. Class’s Kenmare colt Classy Fella won a Listed race at Randwick that same autumn, then the Gloaming Stakes (Gr 2, 1800m) that spring, then the Kingston Town Stakes (Gr 3, 2000m) at Rosehill in 1997.
Decidity showed some ability, with two provincial wins, and three city placings. She went ‘round in an AJC Oaks and Flemington’s Matriarch Stakes, but these unfulfilled bids for black type were followed by retirement after 21 starts.
She had only just thrown her first offspring, that colt by Rory’s Jester, when Gilbert was forced into his anguished choice as the vet waited on the end of the phone.
“I said: ‘Well, if it was me and someone gave me a one per cent chance of survival, I’d hope someone would give me that chance’,” he recalls.
They operated. Things still looked grim.
“She lost a lot of weight, looked awful, but gradually we nursed her back to health. Yes, I was only relatively new to the game, and some people might have gone the other way, but all these years later, I’d still do the same thing. I’d never give up on anything if there’s a chance.”
Not only can fortune favour the brave, but also the kind.
As if by way of thanking Gilbert for that second chance against 99, Decidity not only survived but became a star, a rock upon which Highgrove is built. As another ’99 went by – that year giving way to a new millennium – in September, 2000, Decidity bore a filly by Snippets. Two months later, that son of Rory’s Jester, a $105,000 yearling later named Time Out, won on debut at Randwick for Gai Waterhouse. He won two of his next four as well, and was fancied in the 2001 Golden Slipper before a stone bruise forced his scratching.
After those efforts, Decidity’s Snippets filly fetched Gilbert $220,000 at the 2002 Sydney Easter sale. Trained by John Hawkes, she was named Legally Bay – a riff on the recent film Legally Blonde, and a nod to her errant colour listing in the catalogue, when she was in fact chestnut. Proving it’s not about the colour of the car but what’s under the bonnet, she won two of her first three, with the Sweet Embrace Stakes qualifying her for the 2003 Slipper, in which she ran a close-up fifth to Polar Success.
“There’s not many mares who’d have their first two foals in Golden Slipper fields,” Gilbert says proudly, “let alone ones who nearly died along the way.”
Legally Bay wasn’t finished there. She was third at Group 1 level in the Australia Stakes and Oakleigh Plate, and a nose second in the 2004 TJ Smith (when still a Group 2), before motherhood called. Decidity’s influence continued there. Legally Bay first threw Jolie Bay (Fastnet Rock), who won the Roman Consul Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m) and was second in a Coolmore Stud Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m).
Later she had a superstar full-brother in Merchant Navy, winner of the 2017 Coolmore and Royal Ascot’s Diamond Jubilee the next year, and who has now started his own stud career. Another full-sister, Bayrock, has also produced the promising three-year-old filly Hindaam (Savabeel), a Listed winner at Sandown last month.
In 2007, Gilbert gave in to a very persistent friend and sold Decidity to Victorian breeder Robert Anderson (for a secret but doubtless substantial figure). Her heroics only grew, with her eighth foal, by Redoute’s Choice, becoming the 2014 VRC Myer Classic (Gr 1, 1600m) winner Bonaria.
Thoroughly deserving Blue Hen status, Decidity finally passed away of colic a couple of years ago, but there is more to her legacy.
In 2002, her fourth named foal, by Flying Spur, reaped Highgrove $450,000 when sold to the Inghams’ Woodlands empire at Sydney Easter 2004. Named Chatoyant, she was a three-time city winner but not in the class of her older siblings.
At stud, she has been a success, however. Bought by Godolphin/Darley in their buy-out of the Inghams, Chatoyant bore as a third foal – by Darley’s Epsom Derby-winning star New Approach – Montsegur, a Group 3 winner and sixth in the 2013 Blue Diamond Stakes. Later came another stakes-winner for Godolphin in Medaglia d’Oro colt Tessera.
Now we might be witnessing the pick of the bunch, with Chatoyant’s eighth-named foal Paulele having followed his debut 1000-metre Moonee Valley win last month with an imperious victory in a 1200-metre two-year-old sprint at Randwick on Saturday.
Paulele is by New Approach’s stellar son, triple Group 1 winner Dawn Approach, and was conceived in his last year of shuttling here for Darley, 2018.
“We saw the New Approach line work with Chatoyant through Montsegur, and we thought it should work again with New Approach’s fastest and probably best son Dawn Approach,” says Darley’s Kelvinside stud manager Barley Ward-Thomas.
“The physicals matched up, and there was that pure speed from Dawn Approach, and so far it looks to have worked very well. Paulele was a beautiful youngster, well mannered and very tractable – a real staff favourite. So far he’s showing that great mix – the physical, the temperament, and the intelligence.”
Paulele is aimed at trying to surpass a couple of his famous relatives by winning next year’s Golden Slipper, for which the colt currently sits on the fifth line of betting.
What a laurel that would be for Chatoyant (who now has an Exosphere filly at foot), but moreover for the mare who kicked this rich family off – Decidity – and of course the breeder who took on the odds to keep her alive.