Progressive Soul Choice out to shine in Vinery Stakes

Filly aiming to follow up back-to-back stakes wins when she makes her Group 1 debut at Rosehill today

Canadian breeder and geologist Chuck Fipke has already had a diamond mine, but he’ll be sitting on another, in thoroughbred terms, if the exciting Soul Choice (Redoute’s Choice) can claim today’s Vinery Stud (Gr 1, 2000m) Stakes at Rosehill.

Fipke became a multi-millionaire on discovering the world’s most precious stone in his homeland’s Northwest Territories in the late 1980s. He parlayed that into becoming one of Canada’s most renowned breeders, with stars including 2017 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Gr 1, 9f) winner Forever Unbridled (Unbridled’s Song) and the Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) stallion Perfect Soul, winner of the Keeneland Turf Mile (Gr 1, 8f) in 2003.

After a chance viewing of the 2007 running of the Melbourne Cup (Gr 1, 3200m), in a bar in Calgary late on a Monday night surrounded by partying Australians, Fipke declared an ambition to win Australia’s greatest race, which led to a New Zealand buying venture with Bart Cummings.

For the man with an apparent Midas touch, this was one prospecting mission that proved unsuccessful, but Fipke’s interest in Australian racing had been born.

Now, 16 years later, the filly he retained from a mare he bred by Perfect Soul – Thislilsoulofmine – will line up for the Gai Waterhouse and Adrian Bott stable as a strong chance in the 2000-metre Vinery Stakes.

Soul Choice, who crossed the Bass Strait to win her past two starts in Hobart’s Strutt Stakes (Listed, 2100m) and Launceston’s Tasmanian Oaks (Listed, 2100m), was last night one of four runners in single figure odds headed by outstanding New Zealand filly Prowess (Proisir).

While those Listed successes have greatly bolstered the filly’s potential broodmare value, it would skyrocket if she can add a Group 1 at her first attempt.

Not only would she become an elite-level winner, she’s already as rare as the gems that made her owner-breeder rich as one of only nine fillies from the final 23-foal crop of the late great Redoute’s Choice (Danehill), Australia’s three-time champion stallion, over an eight-year span, and sire of 158 stakes-winners, with Soul Choice last month becoming his first since 2021.

“Redoute’s Choice mares at stud are pure gold, and this one has a great pedigree behind her, so if she gets a Group 1 she’ll be worth a small fortune,” said Jon Freyer, bloodstock manager at Redoute’s Choice’s old home, Arrowfield Stud.

“She’s a lovely filly. Gai and Adrian have brought her along slowly, but she’s really hitting her straps now and looks like being very, very smart. I think she’s developing, she’s a great talent and she’s in a great stable, so who knows how high she’ll go?”

Fipke forged a bond with Freyer and Arrowfield boss John Messara at sales in Kentucky, with Freyer reporting “he’s a terrific man, a great breeder, and a real character”.

The geologist later worked with Arrowfield when fossicking into Australian breeding, targeting Redoute’s Choice. At first he took a circuitous route to get there.

In 2014, Fipke sent Thislilsoulofmine – who was once Listed-placed among 19 starts – from Canada to France to be covered by Redoute’s Choice in his second of two seasons at the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval stud. The resultant colt – Festivalier – was exported to Ireland, where he was placed three times in 12 starts, while the mare came to Australia, and Arrowfield.

Thislilsoulofmine’s second foal, Choice Of Mine, followed full brother Festavalier to Ireland in 2018, where he was Listed placed at his third start, but later became an unsuccessful hurdler.

A third Redoute’s cover produced Redoute’s Soul, who’s a four-year-old mare with Waterhouse-Bott who’s won a Muswellbrook maiden from four starts, before the fourth attempt, which yielded Soul Choice.

Subsequently, Thislilsoulofmine’s colt by Arrowfield’s former Japanese shuttler Real Steel (Deep Impact) fetched $50,000 in an Inglis Online yearling sale last June, while her I Am Invincible (Invincible Spirit) filly fell $40,000 short of a $500,000 reserve at the Gold Coast Magic Millions this year. She’s been retained by Fipke, who recalled his now 16-year-old mare to Canada, empty, in late 2021.

Freyer said Fipke’s motivation in targeting Redoute’s Choice – apart from the super sire’s record – was to duplicate the 1982 US Broodmare of the Year, Best In Show (Traffic Judge), who’s Redoute’s Choice’s fourth dam and Thislilsoulofmine’s third. It may have finally worked in Soul Choice.

Soul Choice had only two barrier trials as a late two-year-old before being turned out to the paddock, and had two more late last year before a debut second at Cranbourne in early December.

After winning a 1600-metre Terang maiden she stepped up to the testing 2000 metres at Flemington and was only collared late when beaten a half length by the smart Dunkel (Dundeel). That gelding held her to a neck second in the Launceston Guineas (Listed, 2100m) two weeks later, before South Choice’s two straight wins.

Still against her own sex today, Soul Choice will need to be tough to cross and lead – in her stable’s usual style – under front-running gun Tim Clark from gate 12. Prowess, who claimed a fourth straight stakes win with her neck victory in Pukekohe’s Bonecrusher New Zealand Stakes (Gr 1, 2050m) on March 11, is tipped for a forward position from barrier three, with second-favourite Pavitra (American Pharoah) also likely to be on pace from gate eight.

Fipke won’t be at Rosehill to see his rare filly run. He seldom makes it this far, and will instead be trackside at the Dubai World Cup meeting, where he has Shirl’s Speight (Speightstown), a $34 shot in the Dubai Turf (G1, 1800m).

Meanwhile, Gary Portelli feels there’s reason to believe last year’s Champion Australian two-year-old Fireburn (Rebel Dane) could go one better in another bid for history when she runs beyond 1600 metres for the first time in the Vinery.

A year ago, the Golden Slipper (Gr 1, 1200m) and ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) winner fell a long-neck short of becoming the first filly since Burst (Marauding) in 1992 to win Sydney’s two-year-old Triple Crown, when beaten by She’s Extreme (Extreme Choice) in the Champagne Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m).

Today, she’s out to become only the second horse to complete the Slipper-Vinery double, after the mighty Miss Finland (Redoute’s Choice) in 2007.

“It’s the second time she’s had a crack at equalling some filly’s long-standing record, so hopefully we’ll get it this time,” Portelli told ANZ Bloodstock News. “It’d be an honour to match something achieved by a horse like Miss Finland.”

Fireburn has been widely felt to have lost her way somewhat following her stellar juvenile season. Since the Champagne Stakes, she’s finished no closer than fourth in six starts, five of them on good surfaces, contrasted the heavy tracks of her stunning last autumn.

But her latest fourth was a grinding effort on March 11 – when two and a half lengths behind Zougotcha (Zoustar) in the Phar Lap Stakes (Gr 2, 1500m) at Rosehill – which has given her trainer reason to believe she’ll cover today’s 2000 metres, and which has led bookmakers to instal her as an $8 chance.

“Her mother, Mull Over is by So You Think and won over a mile, and her sire’s dam Texarcana, who I trained, won over 2100 metres and we ran her in a VRC Oaks,” Portelli said.

“It’s hard stepping up to 2000 metres, but just the type of horse Fireburn is, you wouldn’t believe, on type, that she’d win a Golden Slipper. She’s a long, lean type. There’s not much of her, but she’s a nicely put-together filly now.

“But she looks in great order, she’s got great colour, her coat’s magnificent – almost like velvet like it was on Slipper day last year – and I think she’s ready to run her peak performance now, fourth run back from a spell.”

Portelli noted Fireburn had only finished a length and three-quarters behind budding superstar In Secret (I Am Invincible) first-up in the Light Fingers Stakes (Gr 2, 1200m). He’s also buoyed by the forecast of 21 millimetres of rain today for Rosehill, which was yesterday rated as a Soft 5.

“That amount should hopefully make it a Soft 6, which would be great for Fireburn,” Portelli said. “She goes well on heavy, but you wouldn’t want it to be a heavy slog stepping up for your first go at 2000 metres.”

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