Lillingston Hails Book 1 Draft As Best Ever

Luke Lillingston | Tattersalls

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Whether contemplating the travails of society at large, or just the viability of our own walk of sporting life, these are certainly days that demand the long view. And few will be bringing a perspective on the October Sale to match that of Luke Lillingston of Mount Coote Stud.

Next week Lillingston will be bringing yearlings to Tattersalls for a 20th consecutive year. And, while there was some overlap, his late father Alan clocked up an unbroken half-century selling there after establishing one of the most fertile Thoroughbred nurseries in Ireland.

True, the market hasn't faced a challenge quite like this since the Co Limerick farm's foundation in 1963. But the family's cumulative experience, embracing so many economic cycles, underpins a seasoned, resilient cheer in one who knows that the greatest harvests are often sown when the soil of trade is thinnest.

“There's no doubt we're going to see opportunity, this year, we haven't seen in a very long time,” he says. “Perhaps more so than at any stage in my working lifetime. Those able, brave or forward-looking enough will unquestionably find enormous value.”

And he speaks advisedly, purely on the basis of the nine animals he is preparing for Book 1. They follow in the slipstream of the Time Test (GB) half-sister to Berkshire Rocco (Ire) (Sir Percy {GB}), who sold at the Goffs Orby Sale for £100,000 days after her sibling got within a neck of giving the farm its 78th stakes winner since 2000 in the G1 Pertemps St Leger. Berkshire Rocco would accomplish that feat in Friday's Listed Noel Murless S. at Ascot

“There's no doubt in my mind that this is the best group of horses I've ever been lucky enough to sell,” Lillingston declares. “Physically, they are outstanding; and they've all got the pedigrees to back them up, to be as good as they can be. And I'd say they're part of perhaps the best catalogue Tattersalls have produced, for what has become the best yearling sale in the world; and certainly, now, the most international. So while it's obviously a difficult year, one would hope the world will be paying attention; and, if a lot of buyers won't be able to travel, that they can work with people who can advise them here. Because they won't find a catalogue of yearlings like this anywhere in the world.”

And, in fact, the dividends particularly enjoyed by Americans at Tattersalls in recent years have stimulated an exciting new project for Mount Coote. For five of the nine yearlings in its Book 1 draft were assembled by Florida-based Woodford Thoroughbreds, with the counsel of Lincoln Collins, Lillingston's longstanding partner in Kern-Lillingston Bloodstock.

Woodford's owners John and Susan Sykes continue to diversify their portfolio, and pinhooking some weanlings within the European market was a scheme that promised many incidental pleasures.

“While it's first and foremost a business venture, part of the idea was also to enjoy coming over for the sales and racing,” Lillingston says. “There was talk of selling one or two at Deauville as well. Sadly, with the pandemic, it was not to be. But I hope they had a great time when they came over to Newmarket last year; and they certainly bought some of the nicest foals in the [December] Sale.”

These included a 400,000gns roll of the dice on lot 20, a Sea The Stars (Ire) filly from a prolific German family. Both her siblings to have made the track so far have been stakes performers, while their dam is an unraced Adlerflug (Ger) daughter of G1 Preis der Diana winner Amarette (Ger), whose other foals include a Group 3 winner, a Group 2 runner-up, and the dam of two very smart runners: G1 Criterium International winner Alson (Ger) (Areion {Ger}) and G2 German 2000 Guineas winner Ancient Spirit (Ger) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}). This is also the family of G1 Melbourne Cup winner Almandin (Ger) (Monsun {Ger}).

“She's a proper Classic type of filly,” enthuses Lillingston. “That's what Sea The Stars will give you, of course, as one of the best stallions in Europe and a particularly outstanding sire of fillies. But she's also inbred between his female family and that of Adlerflug. [Both have the same third dam.] So while this wasn't a mating we planned, I would suggest it was one that was carefully thought about. The mare has had two runners; two winners; two black-type horses. And this is a lovely, scopey type of filly who could win a Classic like her granddam. She's certainly bred for the job, and she's a big, strong, long-striding Oaks type.”

The other common denominator for much of the draft, besides the Woodford venture, is Lope De Vega (Ire), who accounts for four of the nine. And the two themes are united in lot 170, a colt by the flourishing Ballylinch stallion.

A 230,000gns weanling, he is the first foal of an Oasis Dream (GB) mare who won a maiden for her breeder Andrew Rosen in the U.S. The third dam is a half-sister to the champion mare Pride (Fr) (Peintre Celebre) and produced three stakes scorers including G1 1000 Guineas winner Speciosa (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}).

“This horse was one of the undoubted stars of the foal sales,” Lillingston says. “And I couldn't pay him a bigger compliment than to say that the underbidder was Paul McCartan [of nearby Ballyphilip Stud]. He's a really good first foal, an outstanding specimen. Yes, he cost good money–but he really looked the part and has done very well since. He's a February 3 foal, and I'd like to think he'd be running by around this time next year. But I wouldn't expect him to be a sprinter so much as a high-class, seven-furlong/mile 2-year-old: he has that deep-bodied physique, with a huge backend on him.”

Also by Lope De Vega is lot 459, a 150,000gns filly out of an unraced Hawk Wing half-sister to G1 Moyglare Stud S. winner Mail The Desert (Ire) (Desert Prince {Ire}), herself a half-sister to both Classic-placed Dry Dock (GB) (Habitat {GB}) and the dam of multiple Group 1-placed Norse Dancer (Ire) (Halling). The dam's three winners from four runners to date include Kocna (Ire) (Aussie Rules), Classic-placed in Italy.

“This is a lovely, big scopey filly, with a quite beautiful eye,” Lillingston says. “As nice an eye as you could hope to see on a horse. If you looked at Lope De Vega or Shamardal, you wouldn't actually say: 'Gosh, what a beautiful horse.' But they are both outstanding stallions, obviously; and both tend to produce horses like this, with that big, bold, honest eye. And I also like that the mare has had useful runners by lesser stallions.”

Conversely lot 274 repeats a tried-and-trusted formula, her dam Liscune (Ire) (King's Best) having been pretty well married to Invincible Spirit (Ire). This latest model is a full-sister to all four of the mare's previous winners, three of them stakes operators including G3 Sceptre S. winner Music Box (Ire) and G2 Dante S. runner-up Ektihaam (Ire). Woodford pushed the boat out for this filly, at 440,000gns, but understandably so: the Group 1-placed second dam has several black-type performers/ producers to her credit, and has three important half-sisters: dual Group 1 winner Awaasif (Snow Knight {GB}), the dam of G1 Oaks winner Snow Bride (Blushing Groom {Fr}) (herself dam of champion Lammtarra (Nijinsky II); Classic-placed Konafa (Damascus), the second dam of top-class milers Hector Protector (Woodman) and Bosra Sham (Woodman); and also the second dam of G1 Derby winner Pour Moi (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}).

“She did cost a ton of money but she has obvious dual-purpose appeal,” Lillingston observes. “This family is one of the better in the international Stud Book, and the sire has worked extremely well with the mare. Invincible Spirit is getting on a bit now but just seems to be one of those that go on really well: he has had a Group 1/Grade I winner on either side of the Atlantic this year.

“This filly is forward, another February foal, but I don't particularly see her as a Queen Mary type. I don't think that's what she's about, and can sooner see her as a six- and seven-furlong 2-year-old, and getting a mile at three.”

Lillingston has similar expectations of lot 253, albeit a son of Kodiac (GB). He's out of a young stakes-placed Dubawi (Ire) half-sister to Group 1-placed Empire Day (UAE) (Lomitas {GB}), whose dual German Classic-placed mother Evil Empire (Ger) (Acatenango {Ger}) is a full sister to German Classic winner El Tango (Ger).

“He's plenty big enough, while not a particularly big horse,” says Lillingston. “But he's just what you would expect: very fast-looking, with a very good stride on him. Of the Woodford group, he'd certainly be the most precocious, and the dam's half-sister produced a [G2] Norfolk runner-up. But I wouldn't necessarily see him as a Royal Ascot 2-year-old or a sprinter: he has just that little bit more leg to him, his stride suggests he could be more of a miler.

“Kodiac is having his best ever year, and I think has added a new dimension as far as his four first-season sire sons have all got off to a pretty decent start. Kodi Bear (Ire), Coulsty (Ire), Adaay (Ire) and Prince Of Lir (Ire) have all made a mark already.”

Another U.S. client, the Merriebelle Stables of John Moores and Charles Noell, offers a colt of luminous transatlantic appeal in lot 34, a Siyouni (Fr) half-brother to GI Jamaica H. winner Western Aristocrat (Mr. Greeley) and GII Goldikova S. winner Zindaya (More Than Ready).

“The mare is now seven-for-seven [winners-to-runners],” reports Lillingston. “And it's a page that should work not just in America but anywhere, frankly: a proper international pedigree. I don't know if the Japanese are going to play in this market, but they are very performance-driven and this mare has really performed. She is obviously fully proven, and Siyouni has done well in America as well as he continues to do over here. And this is a beautiful, scopey horse, extremely well developed for a May foal.”

The same can evidently be said of lot 278, a Night Of Thunder (Ire) half-sister to the prolific Wick Powell (GB) (Sakhee's Secret {GB}), a stakes winning sprinter at two but from the celebrated family of classy stayers associated with fourth dam Reprocolor (GB) (Jimmy Reppin {GB}): Opera House (Sadler's Wells) (GB), Kayf Tara (Sadler's Wells) (GB), Cezanne (GB) (Ajdal) etc.

Lillingston was introduced to the family through second dam Croeso Cariad (GB) (Most Welcome {GB}), purchased in this ring in 1998 by a cherished client in the late Keith Mercer of Usk Valley Stud. He was duly delighted to acquire this filly's once-raced dam–a daughter of Cape Cross (Ire)–from Mercer's widow Sue for 80,000gns at the December Sale of 2018.

“Keith was a wonderful man, and great bon viveur,” Lillingston says. “And he started with nothing, the youngest of eight children of a Welsh miner. This is a lovely filly, the only one by Night Of Thunder in the catalogue; and it's a great Meon Valley family. The [mare's] 2-year-old [by Iffraaj (GB)] was placed on debut a couple of weeks ago in Japan, and her Zoustar (Aus) 2-year-old looks very nice. The sire is upgrading his mares dramatically, and since this one has produced a good one by Sakhee's Secret you can dream a bit.”

Dreams can come true, after all: as when Lillingston jumped aboard Lope De Vega on the ground floor. Breeding rights in a stallion now standing at six figures are obviously worth their weight in gold and Lillingston is hoping for corresponding dividends from lot 60, a full brother to G3 Earl Of Sefton S. winner Steel Of Madrid (Ire). Their dam is a Royal Applause (GB) half-sister to G1 Ascot Gold Cup winner Rite Of Passage (GB)–who was by Lope De Vega's grandsire Giant's Causeway.

“If you had to have quite a lot of eggs in Lope De Vega's basket, this would be the year,” says Lillingston. “I can't get enough of him. A lot of stallions start well but then don't go on. But his results keep on improving, year by year, and he's just going onwards and upwards.

“This is another fine horse, full brother to a group winner. He's another May foal in our draft, but again looks very well developed for his age. It's a wonderful old pedigree and, with Giant's Causeway having worked so well with the family, he's similarly bred to a Group 1 winner.”

There's a Sea The Stars juvenile to go out to bat for the page, too. “He's with Charlie Fellowes,” Lillingston says. “And when I bumped into him the other day and asked if there was any news, he was really positive, said he hadn't had him very long but that he went up Warren Hill really well the other morning.”

Lot 433, another son of Lope De Vega, is out of a Galileo (Ire) mare whose dam emulated her own mother by finishing second in the G2 German 1000 Guineas.

“This is a beautiful-moving horse, as good a mover as we have this year,” Lillingston says. “His dam didn't get black type but she was rated in the 90s and, despite being by Galileo, was best over a mile. So while it's a German page, it's really a miling pedigree, not least with those Classic placings for both the next two dams. There's Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux {Brz}) down the page, too, and with Galileo as the best broodmare sire around, and Lope De Vega as the rising star, I'm very hopeful for our partners in this horse, Alex Dabbou and Janet Brookeborough.”

It must be dispiriting for Lillingston to launch a draft he considers of unprecedented quality into a headwind as unaccountable as the pandemic. But what truly sustains a farm is not the boom-and-bust of giddy economic cycles, but the steady, underlying accretions of horsemanship: buying Berkshire Rocco as a foal at Arqana for €35,000, for instance, and his dam the very next day for just €15,000. Lillingston's commitment to Lope De Vega, similarly, unfolded in increments–as when, that same autumn, another of the farm's most accomplished recent graduates, G2 Bet365 Lancashire Oaks winner Manuela De Vega (Ire), was consigned to Goffs Orby on behalf of Merriebelle.

“A lot of young horses will be sold at a loss this year and that's very sad,” Lillingston acknowledges. “Prizemoney will be under ever greater pressure, based on the current mechanism, and it's the mechanism that has got to change. But let's focus on the positives, because I think we have a lot of them here.

“One of the reasons I'd be banging the drum for these horses is that they're all by fully proven, top-class stallions, several now also working just as well in America. Because class works everywhere. We've seen that, over the years, from our own farm: we've had two winners of the GI Frizette S., for fillies on the dirt in New York; we've had a Hollywood Derby winner; we've had an Eclipse Award-winning turf filly; two Hong Kong Derby winners; a Japanese champion 2-year-old; Group 1 winners in Australia. The farm has a track record of producing horses to win top-class races all over the world. So while I might be lying awake at night more than usual, and wouldn't be alone in that, I really could not be more excited about this group of horses.”

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