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Irish Stallion Trail: Three things we learned

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Adam Houghton hits the road for the 2020 Irish Stallion Trail and discusses the major talking points after meeting with representatives from five of the country’s most successful studs.

Potential successors to Galileo forming an orderly queue

Inevitably, the first port of call for any visitor to Coolmore Stud is the box occupied by the great Galileo, who was largely spared the task of parading on a wet and windy morning at the operation’s main base in Fethard, County Tipperary. Put simply, the son of Sadler’s Wells is already well established as one of the greatest sires there has ever been, and the queue to get a decent photo of him was almost as long as his list of Group 1 winners at stud, which now stands at 84 after Magic Wand won the Mackinnon Stakes at Flemington in November 2019, in the process breaking Danehill’s long-standing record.

The dual Derby and King George winner is now entering his nineteenth year at Coolmore, and, while our tour guide expressed his hope that Galileo will continue to cover mares for a few more years yet, it’s also fair to say that the search for his successor has intensified in recent years. The likes of Australia and Gleneagles, both sons of Galileo, and the increasingly influential No Nay Never have all made very promising starts to their careers at stud, while the list of those waiting in the wings is a deep one, with nine of the 15 stallions now standing in Fethard yet to be represented by runners on the track.

The Gurkha, another son of Galileo who showed high-class form to win the French 2000 Guineas and Sussex Stakes at three, will be the first from that list to stake his claim when his first two-year-olds start appearing in 2020. His first yearlings made up to €525,000 at the sales and it has been reported that several of them are in training at Ballydoyle.

Meanwhile, The Gurkha has recently been joined on the roster at Coolmore by three new recruits, with CalyxMagna Grecia and Ten Sovereigns all set to cover their first books of mares in 2020. The last-named achieved the highest Timeform rating (126) of that trio when winning the July Cup, but the other pair also proved themselves capable of very smart form before injury intervened, and Mark Byrne, a member of Coolmore’s nominations team, seemed particularly optimistic about the prospects of Magna Grecia.

‘Magna Grecia is an outstanding-looking horse and the only Invincible Spirit to win a Group 1 at two and three,’ Byrne explained. ‘The Vertem Futurity he won was serious form, with Phoenix of Spain and Circus Maximus also coming out to win Group 1s, and he himself won the 2000 Guineas by two and a half lengths, beating King of Change, who went on to win the QEII. He’s got the race record and the pedigree, being out of a Galileo mare – like Night of Thunder, who has made an outstanding start at stud – and we’re very excited about him.’

Free Eagle and Gutaifan attempt to build on promising starts

Speaking of sons of Galileo, Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner Free Eagle has made a most encouraging start to his second career at the Irish National Stud, with his first two-year-olds in 2019 featuring seven horses who achieved a Timeform rating of 80 or higher. Cathal Beale, CEO at the Irish National Stud, is particularly excited about Auxilia (93p), who showed fairly useful form in three starts for Ger Lyons, and Goodwood maiden winner Khalifa Sat (92p), while he generally expects Free Eagle’s progeny to improve significantly from two to three.

‘It’s an exciting year for Free Eagle,’ Beale said. ‘We expect some of his three-year-olds to really train on and be challenging in Group 1s. They’re with top trainers who all came back and bought another yearling by him last year, which is the most encouraging thing from our perspective. They obviously like what they’ve seen from the two-year-olds and think they’re going to progress into nice three-year-olds, as Free Eagle did himself. All his best form was over ten furlongs, so we’d expect that to possibly be the best trip for most of them.’

In terms of number of winners, no first-season sire in 2019 could match the 32 recorded by Gutaifan, the dual Group 2 winner as a juvenile who is still holding on to his grey coat for the time being – unlike his own sire Dark Angel, who now casts a luminous figure at the Yeomanstown Stud that they both call home. At this stage Gutaifan is responsible for no fewer than 14 horses who have achieved a Timeform rating of 80 or higher, and Yeomanstown’s Robert O’Callaghan is hopeful that the sire’s progeny can continue the good work into 2020.

‘Gutaifan had a great season with over 30 individual winners,’ O’Callaghan explained. ‘To be crowned leading first crop sire on number of winners was a huge achievement and there were a lot of exciting horses in that, including the likes of Graceful Magic (96), With Respect (90p) and Istanbul (99). He’s already started the year well, with his first three-year-old winner coming along the other day, and we’re hopeful his horses will get better with age as the Dark Angel’s do.’

Another Longchamp hero joins Sea The Stars in Ireland

The 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe won by Waldgeist marked the 10-year anniversary of Sea The Stars’ memorable swansong in the same race, a dominant performance that saw him seal his legacy at the end of a glorious career. A lot has changed in the intervening period, but one thing that hasn’t is Sea The Stars’ ability to draw a crowd, and there were audible gasps from those assembled as he came into view at the Aga Khan’s Gilltown Stud on Friday.

A Cape Cross half-brother to none other than Galileo, Sea The Stars' pedigree and race record ensured that expectations were always going to be set very high when he retired to stud, but few would argue that he hasn’t made a huge success of his stallion career, too. Indeed, the last decade has been littered with horses who have continued to keep their sire’s name in the headlines, not least the great stayer Stradivarius, for whom Pat Downes – manager of the Aga Khan’s Irish studs – reserved particular praise.

‘What a fantastic horse Stradivarius is,’ said Downes. ‘I’ll be very interested to see if they decide to drop him back in trip – which I think they will at some stage – and to see what he might achieve over shorter distances as well. He’s a dream horse, who wouldn’t want to own him?’

As for new Ballylinch Stud resident Waldgeist, he is the first Arc winner to retire to Ireland since Sea The Stars, while the farm’s Eoin Fives also points out that Waldgeist is the highest-rated son of Galileo on both Timeform and official ratings since Frankel. He achieved a rating of 132 with us when winning the Arc at the age of five, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was also a very talented juvenile.

‘Waldgeist was an exceptional racehorse and it’s great to get a horse of that calibre here,’ Fives explained. ‘A lot of people forget that he also showed a fair level of precocity. He won his maiden from a Group 2 winner on his first start and went on to win what looks, in hindsight, one of the best two-year-old races in recent memory, the Criterium de Saint-Cloud, which featured 12 Group winners. Five of them ended up being Group 1 winners, including two Derby winners. He looks a special horse and he’s going to cover a nice big book of mares.’

 

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