LIFE IS A MARATHON, NOT A RACE
Speaking at the annual Speech Day ceremony of the South African Jockey’s Academy on Wednesday, I have to confess to feeling my age a little when I realised that I had attended my own school graduation 44 years ago, almost to the day. At the same time, more than a few of us were reminded of our advancing years by the outcome of a Graded Stakes race in the United States on the weekend, the Tropical Turf Handicap (Gr.3), though it was also a reminder of the virtues of patience in the breeding business.
The winner of the Tropical Turf was a Smart Strike gelding, Philly Ace, who was accumulating his seventh victory from fourteen starts to date. His third dam is a mare called Dunce Cap II, winner of the time-honoured Lowther Stakes at York in 1962. Coincidentally, renowned pedigree scribe, Andrew Caulfield, was attending his first race meeting at York, England on the day, battling to see over the shoulders of the many packed in front of him in the cheap enclosure. As Andrew relates, it was a good day to start his association with the “great sport”. The day’s feature race, the Ebor Handicap, was won by Sostenuto, a colt owned by the founder of Timeform, Phil Bull, who in the passage of time was to become Andrew’s employer.
Dunce Cap was a well-named daughter of Tom Fool, who was bred and belonged to the famous American industrialist, Jock Whitney, founder of Greentree Farm (now part of the Beck family’s Gainesway Farm in Kentucky), and besides the Lowther, she went on to be second in what is arguably the English Two-Year-Old Filly’s Championship, the Cheveley Park Stakes (Gr.1). Dunce Cap subsequently prevailed in the Hungerford Stakes from Queen’s Hazaar, sire of the brilliant Brigadier Gerard.
Dunce Cap’s history is a salutary lesson in patience in the breeding game. The rules prescribed by Dunce Cap (and that’s our experience, too) are these:
- Don’t write off a talented, well-connected broodmare, even if she makes a slow start.
- If you like a mating well enough to do it once, you should do it again. Those that have read the story of Europe’s greatest breeder of the last century, Federico Tesio, will recall his advice that if a mating was worth doing once, it was worth doing three times.
- As a buyer, don’t dismiss the progeny of an old mare, particularly if she’s produced other performers of talent.
- If you are of a patient disposition, don’t be deterred by a late foaling date.
Dunce Cap commenced her career in disappointing fashion, to the degree that many modern breeders would have despatched her to the sales. None of her first six foals, which included three by the stallion, Hail To Reason, so much as placed in a Stakes race. Besides providing the Whitneys with some fun in the naming of the progeny, one being Detention and another Sit In The Corner, her fifth foal, Frillery, was by Whitney’s three-year-old champion, Stage Door Johnny, who carried the Greentree colours to victory over Forward Pass in the 1968 Belmont Stakes, an American Classic later annexed by the former Summerhill resident, Coastal, in 1979, over a mile and a half. Frillery was good enough to win two of her five starts, though it’s doubtful that that alone would have earned Dunce Cap a return visit to Stage Door Johnny. It was just as well then, that the mare had already been returned to him in 1972 and 1973, before Frillery’s limitations were exposed. The 1972 covering resulted in Gr.2 winner, Johnny Appleseed, while the 1973 produce was an even better performer, the aptly-named Late Bloomer. According to the Bloodstock Breeders’ Review, Late Bloomer was bothered by bad ankles at two, when she failed to win in three starts, and a bad back restricted her to five racecourse visits at 3, of which she won three. The filly more than made up for lost time at four, picking up six races including Gr.1 victories in the Delaware Handicap, the Ruffian Handicap and the Beldame Stakes, two of them at a mile and a quarter, following which she was voted Champion Older Filly. Amazingly, given the prejudice horsemen often hold against older mares, on her last visit to Stage Door Johnny at 18, Dunce Cap produced the durable gelding, Late Act, a multiple Gr.3 winner.
Of course, given the hybrid nature of thoroughbreds (and not forgetting that we as a species are much the same), a repeated mating is capable of wide variation, and the result can be anything from a Gr.1 winner to a cripple. The lesson here is that if the first foal is not up to expectation, that in itself should not be a reason to forego the idea altogether.
Late Bloomer wrote her own chapters in the Dunce Cap story, her first two foals being Ends Wells (United Nations Handicap Gr.1) and Fred Astaire (a Gr.2 winner and Gr.1 placed in the Breeders’ Cup Mile). Late Bloomer’s career henceforth was patchy, with eight consecutive fruitless years, punctuated with dead foals, slips and failures to conceive. Undeterred, her connections persevered, and at 21, Late Bloomer produced a Kingmambo filly, and finally at 23, another by Polish Numbers. The former was unraced, but produced a Stakes-winning colt by A.P. Indy, and a full sister, Romantic Comedy, dam recently of Matthewsburg, who picked up the Kentucky Cup Sprint (Gr.2) in 2011.
The Polish Numbers filly, Bloomy, made the first two in seven of her eleven starts, and kicked off at stud with a smart Grand Slam gelding, Spring Of Fame (TF rating 118), as well as the subject of this article, Philly Ace, who is not only a seven time winner, but has made the frame in eleven of his fourteen starts, notwithstanding his very late foaling date (May 23rd).
In our experience, we’ve seen the fruits of patience in our own broodmare band. It’s not often you get the opportunity to raid the larder of a prominent breeder, and dispersal sales, when they occur, present the opportunity to do this. From relatively inexpensive investments abroad, a local doyen of the industry, George Rowles (who’s now well into his 80s), bred some remarkable horses at his Ivanhoe Stud down the valley from us. He twice held dispersals in his time, and on each occasion, Summerhill was a liberal investor in our old mate’s breeding resources. Growing up, we’d come to admire two top notch fillies he’d raced, Windsor Forest (who as a maiden broke the Hibiscus Stakes record) and the Champion KZN Two-Year-Old, Ring The Changes. While the issue of Ring The Changes had shown some promise (she’d yet to produce a Black-type winner at the time of her purchase by us), she went on to get three Black-type performers before her time was up. As for Windsor Forest, she’d not yet had a winner when we bought her at 18 years of age, but her second attempt at Summerhill gave us the multiple Group-winner, Decorated Hero, while her Coastal daughter got the talented hero of the inaugural Emperors Palace Ready To Run Cup, Umngazi for Mark Dixon. Two sisters by our own great broodmare sire, Northern Guest (Nordic Air and Great Attraction) were regularly on the culling sheets of our management team, but I guess sentiment overruled them, and we persevered. We look heavenward in gratitude when we remember that each of them came up with Champions. In Nordic Air’s case, with the top three-year-old filly of her year, Icy Air, and in 2012, the Mauritian Horse of the Year, Ice Axe, while Great Attraction gave us the champion stayer, Amphitheatre.