It's In The Blood

Socks Nation

You’ve got to love a bit of excitement, even over-excitement, in racing. It’s what the industry is based on, after all.

When Ciaron Maher won the 2020 Cox Plate (Gr 1, 2040m) with Sir Dragonet (Camelot), in one of the great post-race interviews, he famously thanked his sisters.

“I’ve gotta give my mum and dad a shout out, my brothers and sisters,” he said, before quickly adding, “my brothers! Sorry, I don’t have any sisters.”

Four years and umpteen Group 1s later, an ebullient Maher was at it again at Eagle Farm on Saturday, this time regarding the origins of his Queensland Oaks (Gr 1, 2200m) winner Socks Nation (Sioux Nation), saying she was “a tough, Kiwi-bred filly”.

It would be simple to take the Mickey, but it was an easy enough mistake to make – we’ve all done it when training Group 1 winners. And with the Maher Machine having more than 530 racehorses on its books, plus unnamed youngsters, you can see how these things happen.

Still, though Ian Millard, of Penola, South Australia, isn’t one to make a fuss – he’s a softly spoken senior gent who states his vintage as “aged” – he probably would like it known that Socks Nation, whom he bred, is very much Australian to her bootstraps.

She’s way more than that, in fact. She’s from an extraordinary and extremely rare female line, for such global village days, in that her past 18 dams have the prefix (AUS) beside their name.

That’s every one of them that’s recorded, in fact, for her female line begins in around the 1820s. An exact date isn’t available, or one mare’s name, because it all starts with the root of what pedigrees maestro Bruce Lowe christened Colonial Family Twelve.

We could list the subsequent 17, but some names from the dark ages mightn’t mean much. For example, “Colonial Family Twelve” mated with Herald at some point and produced a mare, named Herald Mare. In 1838, the mare Messenger mated with Euclid and got a mare, niftily named Euclid Mare.

Things become more interesting and relevant in 1900, when a filly was born who’d be Marvel Loch (Lochiel), Sock’s Nation’s 11th dam. She was just four years younger than the great Wakeful (Trenton), and while she wasn’t quite as good, she was very good.

Marvel Loch won eight stakes races, including modern Group 1s the Caulfield Cup, the Metropolitan, and the Rawson Stakes (twice). She also threw a top-level winner in 1912 Doncaster Handicap hero Lochano (Positano). She also spawned a block of flats.

Still standing in Botany Street, Randwick, two streets from the track, is the said building bearing the name – Marvel Loch. Wonder no more, any tenants reading this.

Five dams after Marvel Loch on Socks Nation’s bottom line, in 1972, came another good one in Swiftly Ann (Swiftly Morgan). She won two modern Group 3s in Newcastle’s Newmarket Handicap (Gr 3, 1400m) and Eagle Farm’s Healy Stakes (Gr 3, 1200m), along with Grafton’s Ramornie Handicap (Listed, 1200m).

She went to stud and her first foal Tahnee’s Pride (Boucher), threw eight foals including dual Group 2 winner Swiftly Carson (Luskin Star) and Traffic Watch (Salieri), who begat triple New Zealand Group 1 winner Lashed (Encosta De Lago).

The first of those eight foals – Pride Of Tahnee (Best Western) – was an even better progenitor, and this is where Millard comes in, buying her privately from Newhaven Park around 1987.

She was not only from an esteemed Australian female line but sireline as well, with Best Western by Bletchingly by Biscay by Star Kingdom. She’d been unraced, but that didn’t bother Millard.

“I didn’t know the story. I just really liked her second dam, Swiftly Ann,” Millard told It’s In The Blood.

Based at the time in the red soil heartland at Alice Springs, where he was a stock agent and newsagent, Millard struck paydirt. Pride Of Tahnee would become a breeding superstar.

Her third foal was Singing The Blues (Bluebird), who won five stakes races including Caulfield’s Oakleigh Plate (Gr 1, 1100m). The next was Referral (Dr Grace), winner four times in black-type headed by a victory in Rosehill’s George Ryder Stakes (Gr 1, 1500m).

And two foals after him came the best of them all, Shogun Lodge (Grand Lodge), who won no fewer than 13 stakes races including three at the top level at Randwick – the George Main (Gr 1, 1600m), the Epsom (Gr 1, 1600m), and the Queen Elizabeth (Gr 1, 2000m) – around the turn of the century.

“I don’t think you buy many mares and think you’ll get three Group 1 winners out them,” Millard says with typical understatement.

Having bred three Group 1 winners, Millard put Pride Of Tahnee to Irish sire Lake Coniston (Bluebird). It’s a move he somewhat regretted, but while the resultant filly Tahnee won only once, she could carry a gene.

In 2004, Millard put her to a first-season sire named Lonhro (Octagonal) – and at last we have some New Zealand blood in Socks Nation after all, with Octagonal being by Zabeel (Sir Tristram). The mating produced Tahnee Topaz, who won four races for Lindsay Park – two in Melbourne and two in Adelaide.

“She was a very good mare but had a paddock accident, and was never quite the same afterwards,” said Millard, who could at least add her to his broodmare band.

He put her to Commands (Danehill), and this actually produced some New Zealand magic – which is possibly what coloured Maher’s thinking on Saturday. It brought a duplication of one of the finest mares in the New Zealand studbook, albeit an Irish-bred one in Eight Carat (Pieces Of Eight) – Octagonal’s dam and Commands’ second dam.

The resultant filly, Tahnee Tiara, won seven times for Millard, mostly in country South Australia, including twice at Penola, before her owner retired her to stud.

“She wasn’t very big but she was a very gutsy mare,” he says. “When you breed from a horse like that, you know they’ll have some go in them.”

And so, from this unbroken chain of 18 Australian mares spanning 200 years, with the last four owned or bred by Millard, the veteran breeder sent Tahnee Tiara in 2019 to Sioux Nation (Scat Daddy), in the mating that produced Socks Nation.

Winner of the Curragh’s Phoenix Stakes (Gr 1, 6f) and Royal Ascot’s Norfolk Stakes (Gr 2, 5f) at two, Sioux Nation had been brought out to Australia by Swettenham Stud’s Adam Sangster, in a deal with the stallion’s home base of Coolmore Ireland.

Hopes were high, but in the end, standing for $17,600 (inc GST), he sired a crop of just 39 live foals, having covered 54 mares. He stayed for just one season. The tale is an enduring mystery to Sangster.

“We wanted a good son of Scat Daddy. Coolmore said to me they’d give me their best son of Scat Daddy in Sioux Nation,” Sangster says.

“At our stallion parade, we had 90 mares booked into him, but by week’s end we only had 50. For some reason, the market and some judges out there decided they didn’t like him.”

Another son of Scat Daddy (Johannesburg), the same age as Sioux Nation, has blended rather well indeed with the Australian broodmare band: Coolmore’s former shuttler Justify, last year’s champion first-season sire, and now third on the two-year-old and second season sires’ tables.

Sioux Nation, however, didn’t quite click, whereas his first Irish crop comprised 167 foals, and his second 90. But he made an impression on Millard, who ventured to Swettenham to take a look.

“He was a Scat Daddy horse, and they were going pretty well at the time, and I thought he was a great physical type who suited the mare,” Millard said. “He was very athletic for a big horse, he was up on his toes, and I liked what I saw.”

The old stock agent breeds with his eye, rather than peruse the pedigree book for nicks and crosses.

“Most people who do that manage backwards, I reckon,” he says with a smile. “I go on type, and it was a good mating on type. Tahnee Tiara is a good solid type, but not overly big, and Sioux Nation was big and athletic.”

Millard, who also pays credit to Scott Holcombe at Milburn Creek, where his two or three mares are kept, said Socks Nation was a “lovely first foal” who’s set the trend for the three who’ve followed.

So much so, after he sold her to Suman Hedge for $160,000 at the Inglis Premier Yearling Sale of 2022, he soon wished he hadn’t.

“I got a vendor’s regret,” he said. “I rang Ciaron Maher’s stables and tried to buy back in, but I couldn’t.”

Still, Millard was “delighted” to have bred another Group 1 winner on Saturday, and surprised at the $101 odds, though he doesn’t bet.

With her fighting Oaks victory, Socks Nation shot to No.1 worldwide among Sioux Nation’s progeny. She’s his first top-tier winner, even though he’s sired the Champion 3YO Miler of Germany and Italy of 2023, Brave Emperor, winner of four Group races.

Socks Nation also became the stallion’s 14th stakes-winner worldwide, from 223 runners, at a handy 6.3 percent.

Her victory pushed Sioux Nation to tenth on the Australian second-season sires’ table. He has another stakes-winner in Melbourne, Group 3 and Listed victor Archo Nacho, amongst 13 winners.

And that’s from only 19 runners. The other nine stallions in the top ten have between 48 and 104 runners. Sioux Nation ranks second on that table among Victorian sires, behind Grunt (O’Reilly), who’s had 74.

“It’s a shame more breeders didn’t recognise the ability and the potential of Sioux Nation,” Sangster says. “But obviously there were a few very smart breeders who did, and they’re reaping the rewards.”

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