In the Footsteps of Nearco, a New Chapter Begins at Beech House

Mostahdaf at Beech House Stud | Emma Berry


Eighty-five years and a number of equine generations ago, Nearco (Ity) embarked on his stallion career at Beech House Stud. The year was 1939 and, understandably given the age, a bomb shelter was constructed by order of the stud's owner Martin Benson to protect its most prized resident.

Benson had bought the unbeaten Nearco, winner of the Grand Prix de Paris and Derby Italiano, from his breeders Federico Tesio and Mario Incisa della Rochetta for a then-record £60,000 (the equivalent of just over £5 million today). To note that the son of Pharos (GB) became champion sire twice in England is to tell only a fraction of his story. Nearco's influence on the Thoroughbred breed as we know it today has been profound. His son Royal Charger (GB) established a sire-line which includes Hail To Reason and his descendants Halo, Sunday Silence and Deep Impact (Jpn). Another son, Nasrullah (GB), is responsible for several significant branches, including the lines of Bold Ruler, Grey Sovereign (GB), Red God and Never Bend. And then there was Nearco's son Nearctic, the sire of Northern Dancer. Need we say more?

A glance at the official IFHA and Longines world rankings released earlier this week attest to Nearco's continuing dominance. The first nine names on the list are all his direct male descendants, and it takes Cody's Wish and Titleholder (Jpn), from the Mr. Prospector line and in joint-tenth place, to break that run. In second behind Equinox (Jpn), and the joint-top-rated horse in Europe last year was Mostahdaf (Ire), his rating of 128 placing him on a shared mark with Ace Impact (Ire).

Mostahdaf's retirement to the Shadwell stallion roster for 2024 brings a little piece of bloodstock history full circle. Having been based at Nunnery Stud in Thetford for a number of years, Shadwell's collection of British stallions has now returned to Beech House Stud, which was bought by the late Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum in 1990.

Mostahdaf now stands in the box once occupied by Nearco, who is buried at the stud and whose name can be found six generations back on the top line of Mostahdaf's pedigree (among other places), through Frankel (GB), Galileo (Ire), Sadler's Wells, Northern Dancer and Nearctic. Those names alone are enough to provide an entrée to the stallion market. How many sires will be advertised in the years to come with the line 'A son of Frankel'?

As with all horses, though, that's only one half of the equation. Mostahdaf is a result of Sheikh Hamdan's purchase in 2009 of the Dubawi (Ire) filly Handassa (GB). Bought from her breeder Red House Stud for 100,000gns, she is out of a half-sister to the champion sprinters Goodricke (GB) and Pastoral Pursuits (GB) and earned more black type for the family herself when winning the Listed Garnet S. over a mile for Kevin Prendergast.

Nearco being led from his bomb shelter by Ernie Lee in 1941. The photograph is believed to have been taken by Reginald Anscomb

Handassa rang the bell with her third foal, Nazeef (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}), winner of the G1 Sun Chariot and G1 Falmouth S. during a high-flying career with John Gosden, and it has been pealing loudly once more thanks to the progressive talents of Mostahdaf. 

“He was the highest-rated Prince of Wales's Stakes winner since Dubai Millennium back in 2000. He defeated a long list of Group 1 winners in his two Group 1 wins last year and was a very impressive horse throughout his career,” says Shadwell's Will Wright, whose job it is to encourage breeders to send their mares to the new stallion. That shouldn't be too difficult. 

The Royal Ascot triumph was followed by victory in the G1 Juddmonte International. In those back-to-back successes, Mostahdaf had first Luxembourg (Ire), Adayar (Ire) and Bay Bridge (GB) in his wake, then Nashwa (GB) and Paddington (GB). His overall record reads 10 wins from 17 starts and almost £2.5 million in career earnings. Moreover, he is an enticing addition to a line-up in Britain which includes the top-rated turf horse in the world in 2022, Baaeed (GB), and fellow Group 1 winner Mohaather (GB), whose first runners will be seen later this year. It is a young line-up of burgeoning promise, and in Ireland the Shadwell team is completed by two more Group 1 winners, Minzaal (Ire) and Awtaad (Ire).

Shadwell has also recently 'supplied' Baaeed's highly-credentialed brother Hukum (Ire) to Darley Japan and the treble Group 2 winner Mutasaabeq (GB) to the National Stud. 

An imposing dark brown stallion, Mostahdaf's wins came between 7f and the 1m4f of the G3 September S. They included two Listed victories at a mile and those crucial Group 1s over 10f and 10.5f. He has the range and scope of a middle-distance horse, with some intriguing sprint elements close up in his family.

“That speed, as we know, is important in the modern-day market,” says Wright. “He's got everything. Obviously [there's] Frankel, and the ability to win stakes races over a mile. He won on debut by four lengths over seven furlongs.”

Anyone who saw Mostahdaf up close at the races last year as a five-year-old would have seen that he was already showing signs of being interested in the next phase of his career, not that his sometimes-noisy intent stopped him compiling his best season on the track. At Beech House in the weak January sunshine, his behaviour is more lamblike. In fact, he is the very picture of relaxed contentment as he stands placidly, his footing being adjusted here and there for the camera by his skilful handler Chris Constantine.

The young Shadwell team, both equine and human, looks to have settled into the new surroundings very happily after crossing the border from Norfolk back to Suffolk.

Wright says, “To have the stallions standing at Beech House is great and has put us back in the heart of Newmarket. It's very exciting to position ourselves in the home of horse racing, and to have our stallions here makes them far more accessible to breeders visiting the sales, etc.

“The move to Beech House is very exciting for all concerned. Obviously this is a stud of great history, being home to past greats Crepello and St Paddy. The list goes on, but obviously Nearco is the headline name here.”

The former presence of the Derby winners Crepello (GB) and St Paddy (GB) hark back to the days of Beech House Stud being owned by their breeder Sir Victor Sassoon. Crepello, too, has a link to Tesio being a son of another of the trainer-breeder's great horses, Donatello (Fr), as does Ribero, another former Beech House stallion and an Irish Derby and St Leger-winning son of Tesio's masterpiece Ribot (GB).

As a final thought, it is worth reflecting on a bloodstock 'Sliding Doors' moment as recounted by Tesio's friend and business partner Mario Inciso della Rochetta in his book 'The Tesios as I Knew Them'.

Incisa tells how Nearco's dam Nogara had been an intended mate for Lord Derby's Fairway (GB), a match carefully plotted by Tesio in the hope that the sizeable Fairway could add substance to the small mare, and his stamina enhance her sprinting race record. A change of stud manager at Woodlands Stud to a new man who had no knowledge of Tesio, meant that Nogara was turned down for Fairway. The mare was thus rerouted to France and Fairway's full-brother Pharos (GB), who was described by Incisa as being physically more compact than his brother. He wrote that Tesio was in despair. That lasted only until the weanling Nearco started to boss his paddock mates at Olgiata, as he would later do to his rivals on the racecourse. 

The rest, as they say, is history, and it is a rich one at that. Some six and seven generations removed from Nearco and his appearance at Beech House Stud, three of his many male-line descendants are at his former home and in the early throes of being able to establish their own importance in the bloodstock world. 

Will they be modern-day influencers of the breed? Time will tell. But what we do know for sure is that the consequences of Martin Benson's measures to ensure that the less-than-friendly bombs of the Second World War did not fall on Nearco have been far-reaching indeed. 


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