By Andrew Caulfield
Comparing turf racing in the U.S. to the European variety isn’t always straightforward. Whereas Europeans horses occasionally have to plough through very soft ground in Britain, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy, their American counterparts rarely tackle such conditions, with racecourses opting to switch races to their dirt tracks when the going becomes deep.
When graded stakes are switched from turf to dirt, they are automatically moved down a grade, but there is an option for the original grading to be restored if the form is considered worthy. Consequently, the GIII Las Cienegas S. became just a listed race–at least temporarily–when it was switched to Santa Anita’s main track three days ago.
No fewer than five of the nine entrants were scratched but the connections of the ex-British mare Belvoir Bay were happy to let her take her chance. Although 21 of her previous 22 appearances had been on turf, her one start on dirt had resulted in victory in the GIII Torrey Pines S. at Del Mar in 2016. Belvoir Bay duly kept her unbeaten record on dirt, defeating the five-time dirt winner Lady Suebee.
In the process, the daughter of Equiano boosted her career totals to 10 wins from 23 starts and her earnings to more than $640,000–a figure not too different from the $625,000 it had cost owner Gary Barber to buy out co-owner Team Valor at Fasig-Tipton last November. Needless to say, Belvoir Bay’s current value is far removed from the 20,000gns she cost as a yearling, before winning at Windsor and Goodwood and going very close to being placed at Group 3 level for Richard Hannon.
Spare a thought for her sire Equiano, the Newsells Park stallion who is now in the difficult position of being in competition in the Newmarket area with two other Group 1-winning sons of Acclamation, a stallion best known as the sire of Dark Angel. Aclaim arrived at the National Stud after winning the G1 Prix de la Foret in 2017 and reportedly covered 160 mares at a fee of £12,500 last year. While Equiano was far from friendless, his 2018 book amounted to 93 mares at £8,000. Now both are up against Expert Eye, the GI Breeders’ Cup Mile winner, who has been much in demand since his retirement to Banstead Manor at a fee of £20,000.
Aclaim and Equiano have both had their fees reduced, Aclaim to £9,500 and Equiano to £6,000. Equiano surely represents value at that price–the lowest charged for his services during his nine-year stallion career. That’s a modest price for a stallion whose first crop contained three group winners, headed by The Tin Man, a Group 1 winner of the Diamond Jubilee, British Champions Sprint and 32Red Sprint Cup, and the Group 3 winner Strath Burn, a short-head second in the G1 Betfred Sprint Cup.
Equiano’s second crop has also done very well at group/graded level, with American successes from Belvoir Bay (GII Monrovia S., etc) and Baciami Piccola (GIII Florida Oaks) and French successes from Fly On The Night (G3 Prix du Bois) and Lady Macapa (G3 Prix du Petit Couvert).
Crop number three boosted Equiano’s total of group/graded winners to eight, thanks to Medicine Jack’s victory in the G2 Railway S. While crops number four and five haven’t so far been able to follow suit, it must be remembered that the fifth crop-3- year-olds this year–numbers only 54 foals and there are only 70 foals in this year’s yearling crop.
It is worth adding that speed has been the main feature of Equiano’s group performers, the only two to have won over a distance as long as a mile being the American-raced fillies Belvoir Bay and Baciami Piccola.
Equiano himself was a sprinter, pure and simple, although not as a 2-year-old when he was trained in Spain. Despite his victories over 6 1/2 and seven furlongs at two, he never tackled more than six furlongs in subsequent years, While his finest hours came over five, when he landed the G1 King’s Stand S. in 2008 and 2010, there wasn’t much wrong with his effort in the G1 July Cup of 2010, when he failed by only a neck to hold off Starspangledbanner.
Belvoir Bay’s excellent career is another tribute to her breeder, Mrs. Lennie Peacock, who died last year at the age of 97. Her Manor House Stud produced a string of notable performers, including the 2000 Guineas winner Tirol and the top Australian sprinter Redkirk Warrior. However, the one which most relates to Belvoir Bay is Bold Arrangement, a brother to Belvoir Bay’s second dam, Persian Song.
Bold Arrangement’s trainer Clive Brittain exploited the colt’s toughness, asking him to race nine times as a 2-year-old. Bold Arrangement won four of them, including the Solario S., and was narrowly beaten in the G2 Grand Criterium. Bold Arrangement then had the unusual record of having contested both the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby, putting up his better effort at Churchill Downs, where he finished second to Ferdinand, with Broad Brush in third. It therefore isn’t so surprising that Belvoir Bay has had no problems on her rare appearances on dirt.
Persian Song showed little of her brother’s talent, but made amends by producing Please Sing, winner of the G2 Cherry Hinton S. It was this filly who no doubt provided the motivation for sending Belvoir Bay’s dam Path of Peace to Equiano, who is a grandson of Please Sing’s sire Royal Applause.
Belvoir Bay ranks alongside the listed winner Alicante Dawn as one of two black-type winners among the first seven starters sired by Equiano from daughters of the top-class miler Rock of Gibraltar. Now 20, Rock of Gibraltar is also the broodmare sire of Galileo’s Group 1 winners Photo Call and Line of Duty. The latter landed the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf to become one of three 2018 2-year-old group winners with a dam by Rock of Gibraltar, so Rock of Gibraltar looks well placed to add to his status as a talented broodmare sire.