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Meon Valley Stud Continues to Build on Solid Foundations


Shirocco Star | Racing Post

By Chris McGrath

In trying to build a solid business on the chronic uncertainties of breeding and raising thoroughbreds, British breeders have few models more inspiring than Meon Valley Stud. It is now approaching 40 years since the late Egon Weinfeld, with the help of Richard Galpin, picked out four yearling fillies with the potential to establish a stud on an arable farm he bought, soon afterwards, among the rolling chalk downs of Hampshire. To this day, the vast majority of the 34 mares sustaining Meon Valley’s reputation as a perennial nursery of stakes performers trace to one of those four first ladies.

The Reprocolor (GB) (Jimmy Reppin {GB}) and One In A Million (GB) (Rarity {GB}) families, in particular, testify to the potential dividends–both at the yearling sales and on the track–from expert husbandry and astute selection of mates. Yet Weinfeld’s son Mark, who has presided over the stud in recent years, also acknowledges the role of sheer luck. As the latest contributor to a TDN series, outlining plans for some of the top mares in Europe, Weinfeld reflects that many of those now extending Meon Valley’s precious family trees are only doing so through fate.

“We do try to sell most of the fillies as well, not just the colts,” he explained. “We’ll generally keep two or three back, to maintain the bloodlines, but there are any number of reasons why some of the nice fillies we send to the sales can end up coming back. Perhaps a sire is no longer fashionable, for instance, or it might simply be that people have simply filled their orders. Sometimes they don’t sell even when you think you haven’t set a very high reserve.”

A case in point was Shirocco Star (GB) (Shirocco {Ger}), who was bought back for 48,000 guineas at Tattersalls in 2010 but went on to finish runner-up in Classics at both Epsom and the Curragh.

“She has a very nice chestnut colt by Dansili (GB) (Danehill) at foot, now a yearling,” Weinfeld said. “She’s in foal to New Approach (Ire) (Galileo {GB}) and then she’ll be going to Dubawi (Ire) (Dubai Millennium {GB}). We feel very lucky to have the opportunity to use such a stallion and, while he’s obviously rather expensive, we feel that she deserves a shot.”

Hughie Morrison, who trained Shirocco Star, will be hoping for similar fortune with Last Tangoinparis (GB) (Aqlaam {GB}), likewise unsold at 38,000 guineas before entering training with him last year. After a promising debut at Goodwood, she was a striking winner of a Newbury maiden towards the end of the season. “I suppose it went against her at the sales that she was by a stallion who had since died, without the chance to establish himself,” Weinfeld said. “Obviously she has only had two starts in soft ground and it remains to be seen whether she can build on that, but we’ll probably look to start her in an Oaks trial and take it from there.”

Her dam, Strictly Lambada (GB) (Red Ransom), will be visiting Showcasing (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB})–a son of the same stallion as the ill-fated Aqlaam–once delivering her Dutch Art (GB) (Medicean {GB}) foal. This reflects Weinfeld’s conviction, over the years, that the Green Desert line makes an ideal complement to mares of the Reprocolor family.

Sure enough, Reprocolor’s G1 winning grand-daughter Zee Zee Top (GB) (Zafonic) is in foal to Invincible Spirit (Ire) (Green Desert). She will be rested this season, not being due to deliver until late May, but her daughter Izzi Top (GB) (Pivotal {GB}), herself a dual Group 1 winner, visits a rookie stallion of the Green Desert line in Muhaarar (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}). Her first progeny, an Oasis Dream colt, was bought by John Ferguson at Tattersalls in October for 1.1 million guineas, while she is now carrying a foal by Dubawi. As such, she represents quite a catch for Muhaarar.

“I was very impressed when I saw him,” Weinfeld said. “He oozes quality and, again, it’s a cross that has worked in the past. He’ll obviously be very closely related to the colt that sold so well in October.”

Just like Izzi Top, her half-sister Jazzi Top (GB) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) last season failed only narrowly to emulate their mother’s success in the Prix de l’Opera. Having established her calibre, and still relatively lightly raced, she remains in training in the hope of adding to the family’s Group 1 roll of honour.

“You never like finishing second but they looked like two very, very good fillies in finishing so far ahead of the rest,” Weinfeld reflected. “Who knows? If we had the running rail instead, we might even have won. She’d been a bit unlucky in the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood, earlier in the season. I don’t know that she could have beaten the winner, had she not been baulked, but John [Gosden] felt she might possibly have been second. She’s ticking over through the winter so might be out fairly early, perhaps in something like the Middleton at York.”

Others in the family exploring the Green Desert cross, meanwhile, include Reprocolor’s superbly bred but unraced grand-daughter, Galaxy Sunrise (GB) (Galileo {Ire}), who visits Kingman (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) after delivering her Oasis Dream foal.

Turning to mares descended from the stud’s other top matriarch, One In A Million, Weinfeld disclosed that Dash To The Front (GB) (Diktat {GB}) will feature among the first book entertained by Golden Horn (GB) (Cape Cross {Ire}). “I thought him a very good Derby winner and a very good racehorse altogether,” he said. “I liked the way he tried even when the ground didn’t suit him.”

Dash To The Front, who is meanwhile carrying a foal by Dansili, is also the dam of Godolphin’s Next Stage (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), an impressive winner on his recent debut at Lingfield. Weinfeld suggests that a couple of this mare’s daughters, one way or another, have not managed to show their full potential on the track – including Speedy Boarding (GB) (Shamardal) who stays in training on the basis that she did not stay a mile and a half when tried a couple of times last season. He notes that the filly who beat her by half a length (with a 4lbs advantage) over ten furlongs in a listed race at Yarmouth, in between, went on to finish second in a Group 1.

The mare’s half-sister Dash To The Top (GB) (Montjeu {Ire}) is scheduled to return to Dansili after delivering her foal by Frankel (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) in March. “She has a filly we like, with Luca Cumani,” Weinfeld explained. “Her name is Very Dashing (GB) (Dansili {GB}) and she ran very well when second in a maiden at Doncaster at the backend. So it’s a repeat mating with that promise in mind.”

Both the other foundation mares, Odeon (Ire) (Royal And Regal) and Home And Away (GB) (Home Guard), still retain a vestigial presence at Meon Valley – the former as great-grandmother of Celestial Girl (GB) (Dubai Destination). “She is in foal to Intello (Ger) (Galileo {Ire}) and next goes to Pivotal,” Weinfeld reported. “She was a really tough little racemare, and her Shamardal (Giant’s Causeway) colt sold well at Tattersalls in October, for 450,000 guineas to John Ferguson.”

Deuce Again (GB) (Dubawi {Ire}), meanwhile, has returned to the stud where she was foaled to extend the line of her great-grandmother, Home And Away. A listed winner for John Gosden last spring, she starts off her new career with a visit to Oasis Dream. Her half-sister Return Ace (GB) (Zamindar), incidentally, remains in training with James Fanshawe, looking eligible for black type of her own after winning two of her four starts to date.

The roots of these four families have now spread so deep and wide that they can collectively accommodate stallions from across the spectrum, Meon Valley being spared the genetic claustrophobia affecting many other studs. “A few years ago we did make an effort to breed to outcross, in order to be able to cross back in,” Weinfeld explained. “Sometimes you can surprise yourself with the things that work. But it’s more important to discover what doesn’t work than to find what does. Of course, you can try the same thing three or four times and you’ll rarely get the same result. But if it looks right you’ve got to try it at least once. In the end, of course, you need a whole lot of luck. The choices we’re making now, for instance, it’s almost three years until you come to sell the result. And anything could happen in the meantime.”

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