By Katie Ritz
“Upon making the trip to Australia to make sure he would work physically, it took all of about three seconds of looking at Astern to say, 'Yes, this horse will work in America,'” Fox recalled. “He has a lot of attributes that we look for and he was, in any jurisdiction, a high-level, high-performing racehorse. So it was really a no brainer.”
Astern joined his sire at Jonabell Farm's stud barn in 2018 as a shuttle stallion, and is now seeing his first American yearlings take to the sales ring.
Having raced exclusively in Australia for trainer John O'Shea, Astern won on debut before taking the G2 Silver Slipper S. and the G3 Kindergarten S. From there, he won the G2 Run to the Rose followed by the G1 Golden Rose.
“He was an unbelievably impressive winner of that race,” Fox said of his record-breaking victory in the Golden Rose. “He's rated as the best winner of that race in Australian racing history. And that, of course, is a key stallion-making race for them. So he was a very accomplished 2-year-old and 3-year-old, and [his 126 Timeform rating] makes him the highest-rated son of Medaglia d'Oro anywhere in the world, past or present.”
He added of Astern's racing ability, “He had very fluid, beautiful, efficient action. His jockey, James McDonald, called him the best-moving horse he's ever ridden and described it as like being airborne. That's high praise from a highly-accomplished jockey down there.”
Fox said that he believes Astern has inherited the very best from both sides of his pedigree.
“You can see a lot of his sire about him,” he said. “He's got a great hip, a better hip than Medaglia d'Oro himself. We can attribute that to his broodmare sire Exceed and Excel (Danehill), who is the leading sire of 2-year-old stakes winners in the world. He gets a lot of strength and precocity from the broodmare sire.”
Astern is out of the winning mare Essaouira, who also produced Alizee (Sepoy), a champion 3-year-old filly and three-time G1W in Australia. He also hails from the family of G1W La Baraka (Euclase), as well as Triscay (Marscay), a champion 3-year-old in Australia with five Group 1 wins to her name.
“His dam is arguably the best broodmare in Australia,” Fox said. “It's an extremely rich, deep, high-caliber family. A large part of Astern's appeal is the family he brings to the table.”
In his first year at stud in the U.S., Astern filled a book of 120 mares with a $15,000 stud fee. While still reverse shuttling to his home base in Australia, he bred an additional 180 mare in his next two books.
“While Astern stood for $15,000 in his first year at stud in the U.S., he stood for close to $A40,000 in Australia,” Fox noted. “So we like to think of him as an equivalent to Frosted or Nyquist coming to Australia from the U.S. and being offered to [Australian] breeders at a great value to account for the fact that they are from another jurisdiction.”
At the Australian sales, Astern's progeny sold for up to $A725,000. Now his first yearlings will take on the American market.
“We've been pleased with what we have seen with the Asterns,” Fox said. “We have been impressed by their size and he is definitely stamping them. I love their length of body. They're very correct like he is, with great bone, and they look like natural athletes. I can see a lot of Medaglia d'Oro coming through, which gives us confidence that this is a stallion who will get horses effective on both surfaces.”
Four of his yearlings will be offered at the Fasig-Tipton Selected sale, and another 28 are cataloged for the Keeneland September Sale. Hip 1736, a filly out of Grade III winner Dancing Solo (Giant's Causeway) and from the family of dual Grade I winner Voodoo Dancer (Kingmambo), sells out of the Small Batch Sales consignment.
“She's a big filly with natural athleticism,” said Small Batch Sale's Fletcher Mauk. “To put condition on her is really easy as she holds muscle a little better than most horses. She has the frame and the natural muscle tone. In the barn, she's easy to be around and takes everything in stride. It's fun to watch her exercise. She trains like she enjoys it, sets her head and steps underneath herself, and keeps a nice, steady pace.”
Also at Keeneland, Hip 2455 is out of the stakes-winning mare Alex's Allure (Sky Classic), whose dam Ava Knowsthecode (Cryptoclearance) has produced five graded stakes winners including Grade I winners Justin Phillip (First Samurai) and Greenpointcrusader (Bernardini).
“Astern's yearlings are spread the right way throughout the sale, and they're there to be found,” Fox said. “He's going to appeal to a large cross-section of buyers. These are fast-looking horses. They will be precocious, but I think they will train on at three like he did. I think they will appeal to both surfaces, given what we're seeing from the yearlings themselves. He has crossed beautifully with the American mare, and we're excited to see what that can bring to Astern and his progeny.”