If there was a bigger winner in Melbourne Cup week than James McDonald, Chris Waller or Pride Of Jenni (Pride Of Dubai), it may have been Zoustar (Northern Meteor).
Widden’s flagbearer had a stakes-winner on all four days. It started with the second-most important race of Australia’s greatest racing week, the Coolmore Stud Stakes (Gr 1, 1200m), when Bjorn Baker and Darby Racing’s $250,000 Magic Millions colt Ozzmosis steamed to an all-the-way triumph under Rachel King, winning by a length and a quarter.
On Oaks Day, three-year-old filly Mumbai Muse, the $525,000 Inglis Easter purchase by Michael Freedman and Julian Blaxland, took the Red Roses Stakes (Gr 3, 1100m) by three-quarters of a length.
And last Saturday it was the turn of three-year-old colt Schwarz – the $1.25 million Magic Millions purchase for the Rosemont Stud-led Victorian Alliance’s future stallions venture – who took The Amanda Elliott Handicap (Listed, 1400m) by nearly two lengths, for his second win in three starts for trainer John O’Shea. For good measure, Zoustar gelding Alsonso ran third in the Listed event.
The little twist is that not all of Zoustar’s wins in Cup week were at Flemington, Victoria, or Australia. On Cup day, his five-year-old gelding Habana claimed the Fulton Family Stakes (Listed, 1500m) at New Zealand’s Pukekohe Park.
Zoustar did, however, come within three-quarters of a length of another black-type success at Flemington on the day, with the Desirable Stakes (Listed, 1400m) second placing of Joliestar. She’s now a $7 chance in a hot field for Saturday’s Thousand Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m), which includes another Zoustar chance, Zourion, at $10.
In fact, the 13-year-old Zoustar – who’ll serve a sixth shuttle season at England’s Tweenhills Stud in 2025, after a year off the shuttle in 2024 – had his week begin further afield a few hours before Ozzmosis scored.
At Santa Anita’s Breeders’ Cup meeting, on Saturday morning Australian time, his British-bred, Group 3-winning two-year-old colt Starlust ran a three-quarter length third in the Juvenile Turf Sprint (Gr 1, 5f).
On Wednesday morning, Australian time, two-year-old Zoustar filly Je Zous came second in Newmarket’s Montrose Stakes (Listed, 1m), and a day later in Rome, his three-year-old daughter Mgheera ran third in the Premio Umbria (Listed, 1200m).
Habana became Zoustar’s 44th stakes-winner globally, and Schwarz his 45th. In Australia, he now has 37 from 580 runners at 6.4 per cent. Currently in his tenth season at stud, standing at a new high fee of $220,000 (inc GST), Zoustar has 422 winners in Australia at 72.4 per cent of runners.
He’s currently seventh on the general sires’ table by earnings – off his career-best finish of fifth last season – but by winners he’s surged to the top with 74, ahead of the 69 sired by I Am Invincible (Invincible Spirit), and Deep Field’s (Northern Meteor) 65.
And despite more recent two-year-old results, it shouldn’t be forgotten Zoustar has one of the early favourites for the Golden Slipper (Gr 1, 1200m) in James Harron’s $1 million colt Espionage, winner of Randwick’s Breeders’ Plate (Gr 3, 1000m) earlier in the spring.
“Yeah, it was a pretty nice week,” said Widden’s owner Antony Thompson. “Zoustar had three very nice stakes-winners at Flemington. Ozzmosis was a huge result in the Coolmore, Schwarz was outstanding, and Mumbai Muse looks very good as well. Aside from that, Espionage looks a very nice colt, so we’re pretty happy with how things are going.”
In the numbers game that is buying colts in the hope one or two will land stallion deals – and in this case naming them after AFL footballers – it looks like the Rosemont-Vic Alliance may have kicked a big goal with Schwarz.
Indeed, the scoreboard is suddenly looking very respectable. Three weeks earlier, the team celebrated a new stakes-winner when four-year-old entire Doull (Snitzel) – their $1.2 million 2021 Easter buy named after former Carlton cult hero Bruce – won the Caulfield Sprint (Gr 2, 1000m).
And on Saturday, Schwarz, looking every bit as powerful as ex-Melbourne Demons captain/brick outhouse David, led throughout and surged clear to suggest more and bigger black-type wins lie in prospect.
Bred by Widden, Qatar Bloodstock and associates, Schwarz’s yearling price – the seventh highest at last year’s Magic Millions Gold Coast sale – spoke volumes for his physical presence. But it was a vehement salute as well to a bold and breathtaking blending of pedigrees.
There is no more influential broodmare in Australia in the past few decades than Shantha’s Choice (Canny Lad). From 13 foals, she was the dam of five stakes-winners, including a stunning three Group 1 victors: Manhattan Rain (Encosta De Lago), and his half-brothers Platinum Scissors (Danehill), and the breed-shaping Redoute’s Choice (Danehill).
One of her fillies, Sliding Cube (Rock Of Gibraltar) beat the boys in the 2007 San Domenico Stakes (Gr 3, 1000m) and it wasn’t a bad field that year either, as far as racing and breeding go.
Second that day was Mimi Lebrock (Show A Heart), the triple stakes-winning, twice Group 1-placed mare, who later threw a Group 3 winner in Barbaric (I Am Invincible).
Coming home sixth of the seven was a fairly innocuous colt who’d had one two-year-old handicap win in three starts – none other than I Am Invincible himself.
Sliding Cube went on to throw her own Group 2 and Group 3 winner in Rubick (Encosta De Lago). He’s now sired nine stakes-winners himself including dual Group 1 victor Jacquinot, who as a studmate of Zoustar thankfully brings this whole tangent back to the original point: Shantha’s Choice is a hugely influential chapter in the Australian breeding canon.
And she’s replicated in Schwarz’s pedigree no fewer than three times, at 4m x 4m, 4f.
Two appearances come through Redoute’s Choice and his gender-balanced, contributing progeny: Zoustar’s dam Zouzou (Redoute’s Choice), and Not A Single Doubt (Redoute’s Choice), the sire of Schwarz’s Group 2-winning dam Summer Sham.
For greater oomph, Shantha’s Choice’s third slot gives her a potent direct line to Schwarz, as his fourth dam.
That Summer Sham is inbred 3×3 to Shantha’s Choice appeared to have paid off nicely from early on. Bred and raced by boutique Uluru Stud’s Jeff Dimery, she won her first three starts, culminating in the Angus Armansco Stakes (Gr 2, 1400m) in 2018.
Summer Sham didn’t win in four more attempts, but that didn’t stop Widden associate David Redvers – Tweenhills owner and Qatar Bloodstock’s racing and breeding manager – paying $650,000 for her at the 2019 edition of the Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale She was in-foal to Star Witness (Starcraft) at the time, throwing a colt bought by James Harron for $250,000 at the Gold Coast, who sadly broke a leg before he raced.
Widden, Qatar and associates Dimery and Halatex Pty Ltd, sent Summer Sham straight to Zoustar. It would effect a close-up 3×3 doubling of Redoute’s Choice, but while that could be potentially tricky, the team had confidence.
“We bought Summer Sham with Zoustar in mind,” Thompson said. “We thought she was a nice physical match. She’s a strong, neat, sprinting type, a real Not A Single Doubt type with plenty of muscle and short-coupled. Zoustar’s got a little more scope and stands over a bit more ground.
“But pedigree-wise it was a very interesting mating. The three strains of Shantha’s Choice we thought was intriguing.”
Widden knew being inbred 3f x 4m to Shantha’s Choice had worked well with Jacquinot, a stallion they’d eagerly pursued, knowing there’d be many matings ahead that would bring a triplication of that Blue Hen given the amount of Redoute’s Choice mares about.
And the close-up doubling of Redoute’s Choice in Schwarz wasn’t a concern either. Dual Group 2-winning Zoustar mare Haut Brion Her had him closer, at 3f x 2f.
“It wasn’t something that’s worried us. We’d seen it work with Haut Brion Her, by Zoustar out of a Redoute’s Choice mare, so that was very close,” Thompson said.
“And that three strains of Shantha’s Choice is something we’ve pursued a bit – and we’ll see it again with Jacquinot’s matings – so it’s good to see it working.”
Thompson said Zoustar was a stallion Widden felt would work well with the often dicey duplication of Danehill (Danzig), since that all-time great comes through his damline. There’s more evidence in Schwarz, who’s Redoute’s Choice means he has a 4m x 4m of Danehill.
“You’d be reluctant to do it if Zoustar was a Danehill-line horse himself, but coming through his dam’s side, doubling Danehill isn’t something we’ve tried to avoid,” said Thompson.
Templates for that duplication had been proven with two other Widden stallions who had Danehill through their damsire – Sebring (More Than Ready) and Star Witness (Starcraft).
Furthermore, an early offspring of Zoustar’s – triple Group 1 winner Sunlight, whose second dam was by Danehill – had provided an emphatic endorsement.
All these considerations appeared to manifest in a drop of gold when the foal Schwarz was born.
“When he came out, he was a beauty, so we went straight back to Zoustar again. Summer Sham then had a filly who was stunning, so we thought we’d keep going,” Thompson said.
“It sometimes takes you a while to get the matings right, and of course you make a few mistakes along the way. But when you get one right, and you think you’re on to something, you’re happy to keep going.
“With some foals, it takes a little while for them to look good, and you’re not so easily convinced. But when they come out and they look like Schwarz, you don’t have to have any stress.”
The mating has happened five times now.
A year after the yearling Schwarz was bought – by the Victorian Alliance, bloodstock buyer Suman Hedge, and Redvers himself – his sister sold at the Inglis Easter sale for $800,000 to Cambridge Stud. Their co-owners Brendan and Jo Lindsay are also avowed Zoustar fans and they will be cheering on his two daughters, Joliestar and Zourion, in their black and gold chequered silks in Saturday’s Thousand Guineas at Caulfield.
A colt brother will go to Easter next year, a new colt is on the ground, and Summer Sham is now back in foal to Zoustar.