'Maximus' Brings Duntle Legacy Full Circle


Circus Maximus | Coolmore


When an ageing emperor has as many sons extending his dominion as Galileo (Ire), the eventual succession is bound to be fiercely contested. The onus, then, is on each of his sons entering stud to establish the credentials that set him apart. In the case of Circus Maximus (Ire), the latest to set up shop as a more accessible alternative alongside his sire at Coolmore, two things stand out straightaway–and so does the link between them.

One is that Circus Maximus, unlike those thorough staying types who have made Galileo such a profound Derby influence, proved a pure miler. The other is that he will always be treasured, by those closest to him, as no less a conduit for the genes of his dam than for those of his breed-shaping sire. Tragically, he was the only foal delivered by Duntle (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}), 14 months before her loss at the age of eight in April 2017. And what combines and magnifies these twin dimensions is the fact that both Circus Maximus and his mother achieved the remarkable distinction of winning twice from two visits apiece to Royal Ascot.

Raced almost exclusively at a mile, Duntle was bred by Airlie Stud and still carried the silks of Mrs. Sonia Rogers when winning a Dundalk maiden on her second start, by no less than 18 lengths. At this point she was bought by the Niarchos family's Flaxman Stables, and within a few weeks had won the Listed Sandringham H. at the royal meeting. She followed up in the G3 Desmond S. and appeared to seal her rapid rise when just holding out in a photo for the G1 Matron S., only to have the spoils revoked in a stewards' room controversy. She resumed in seamless fashion, however, in a Group 3 at Leopardstown the following spring, and then won her second Royal Ascot prize in the G2 Duke of Cambridge S. She finished off with three more tries at the elite level, twice making the frame.

Being by a son of Danehill, Duntle's mating with Galileo sought a familiar balance. These complementary branches of the Northern Dancer dynasty, through the stamina of Sadler's Wells and the zip of Danzig, have of course been integral to Coolmore's impact on the modern breed. Whether the supposed alchemy axiomatically attributed to this cross actually goes beyond the quality of mares guaranteed for sires of their stature is another story. Regardless, Duntle certainly brought an awful lot more to the equation than merely having Danehill as a grandsire.

For she extended a branch of the famous dynasty that passes to La Troienne (Fr) through her Hall of Fame granddaughter Searching. This was the line pegged down by one of Searching's daughters by Hail To Reason, Priceless Gem, who beat Buckpasser in the 1965 Futurity S. and became the dam of the great Allez France (Sea-Bird {Fr}). These genes were so potent that Noble Bijou, Priceless Gem's son by Vaguely Noble (Ire), though unraced, became a four-time champion sire in New Zealand. Indeed, Priceless Gem achieved a record price for a mare–$395,000–even when Allez France (her second foal) was still but an anonymous weanling.

It was Priceless Gem's 1975 date with Secretariat, in his second year at stud, that produced Lady Winborne, Duntle's third dam. Lady Winborne would contribute to Secretariat's subsequent reputation as a peerless distaff influence: a winner and group-placed on her only two starts in Ireland, she produced half a dozen stakes winners including two at Grade I level, and can be found in the same slot in the pedigree of the flourishing Ashford stallion Munnings as she does in that of Duntle.

Lady Winborne doubtless owed her 1983 covering by Little Current to the fact that the Darby Dan stallion shared his late sire, Sea-Bird, with her half-sister Allez France. The resulting filly Benguela won a couple of races and eventually owed both highlights of her stud career, which took her over the ocean to Airlie Stud, to Lord At War (Arg). Another sturdy distaff brand, Lord At War sired the hardy grass runner Honor in War (GI Woodford Reserve Turf Classic) out of her daughter Catumbella (Diesis {GB}); and a minor winner named Lady Angola out of Benguela herself. Lady Angola's fifth foal was Duntle, a nice addition to Lord Of War's record as a broodmare sire, which is crowned by Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker) and Raven's Pass (Elusive Quality).

Bottom line on Circus Maximus, then, is–well, his bottom line. Feel free to pin the success of Circus Maximus on a Galileo-proxy Danehill cross, but clearly there's much else besides to draw breeders to this young stallion.

And nor does it stop with his page. In an era when horses are routinely deemed deserving of a stud career after a single summer of juvenile sprinting, you have to love the way he held his form at the highest level through three seasons. He was beaten a length in Group 1 company at two, and his two Ascot wins–in the G1 St James's Palace S. at three and then in the G1 Queen Anne S. last year–are supported by a body of work that confirms him to be both an authentic miler (a discovery credited to Dettori after Circus Maximus tried his luck in the Derby) while yet a very adaptable one. He won the G1 Prix du Moulin in easy ground, but showed his relish for an emphasis on speed when closing to a neck, after being hampered, on his final start in the GI Breeders' Cup Mile. He also whizzed right-handed round Goodwood twice, going down only narrowly in consecutive runnings of the G1 Sussex S.

Unsurprisingly, then, the Niarchos family is putting its shoulder to the wheel as Circus Maximus sets out to recycle pedigree and performance in his new role.

Alan Cooper, the family's racing manager, demurs when accused of undue modesty in describing the acquisition of Duntle as merely “fortuitous”.

“She was a recommendation by Jamie McCalmont,” he says. “Obviously she was very impressive winning her maiden at Dundalk, and she stayed with David Wachman who trained her so well throughout. But very sadly nature took a course nobody wanted: she got a form of laminitis after delivering Circus Maximus, and couldn't be saved. For her only foal to have become such an exceptional racehorse only makes her loss all the more poignant, and makes him all the more special.”

There was always corresponding attention on the orphaned foal. “He had a lot of Duntle in him,” Cooper recalls. “She was a good-sized, very good-looking mare, with strength and depth to her. And Circus Maximus was eye-catching from a very young age, especially for the quality of his walk.”

So there's a very specific and precious legacy at stake in his new career. The Niarchos mares heading his way comprise a suitable blend: some older, proven types of the sort always useful in establishing the merit of a new stallion; and also some young mares of high pedigrees and untapped potential. Even in the first category, however, the families remain very active.

Take Celestial Lagoon (Jpn) (Sunday Silence), for instance. She's now 21, old enough for her listed-winning daughter Maria Gabriella (Ire) (Rock Of Gibraltar {Ire}) to have herself produced a listed scorer. But among her other stakes performers is Highest Ground (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), so impressive in his first two starts for Sir Michael Stoute that he was made odds-on for the G2 Dante S. last summer, when beaten just a neck. Cooper has high hopes that he will be contributing afresh to the pedigree at four.

“He wasn't suited by soft ground on his only start after York, so he was put away and freshened up and hopefully we can have a good 2021 with him,” he reports. “He definitely strengthened up through the year and hopefully any little niggles are now behind him. There's actually a lot happening in this pedigree, through several of Celestial Lagoon's daughters as well.”

Similarly, another older mare bringing fresh distinction to her appointment with Circus Maximus is the 19-year-old Freedonia (GB) (Selkirk). Already dam of Polybius (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}), a group-placed listed winner for David Lanigan, she has recently raised the bar with her daughter Albigna (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}), winner of the G1 Prix Marcel Boussac. Albigna has now been retired for a covering by Galileo, so new blossoms can be expected on this branch of the family tree.

One pedigree that needs little elaboration is that of Astroglia (Montjeu {Ire}). She's out of Prix Imprudence winner Glia (A.P. Indy), herself a daughter of Group 1 winner/producer Coup De Genie (Mr. Prospector) and therefore a granddaughter of the foundation mare Coup De Folie (Halo). This is the family that has produced the likes of Maxios (GB) (Monsun {Ger}) and Bago (Fr) (Nashwan), while Astroglia is half-sister to the dam of a multiple Grade I winner for another major breeding empire in Juddmonte's Emollient (Empire Maker).

Astroglia is 11, the same age as Sea Meets Sky (Fr) (Dansili {GB}). “This is another promising mare,” Cooper remarked. “And with another super pedigree. Her mother Sacred Song (Diesis {GB}) was a good racemare [a dual Group winner/G1 Yorkshire Oaks runner-up for the late Sir Henry Cecil, also dam of multiple group winner Multidimensional (Ire) (Danehill)]. She has a very nice 4-year-old in France, who had one or two issues early on but finished up with a good fourth at listed level, so there should be more to come from him.”

It's certainly a wonderful family going back: in fact, this is the branch of the great Myrtlewood dynasty that takes in the dam of Mr. Prospector. And the selection of Circus Maximus for Eyeshine (GB) (Dubawi {GB}) is another significant vote of confidence. A $1.45-million yearling out of Oaks winner Casual Look (Red Ransom), Eyeshine managed an eight-length win in what proved a fairly light career for John Gosden but is still just eight and her first foal Maloja (GB) (Showcasing {GB}) started favourite for her only start at The Curragh in November.

“The ground was dreadful that day but I know Jessie [Harrington] quite likes her, so there's a bit of excitement there,” Cooper explains. “Eyeshine grew a lot, she became quite a big mare and John was careful with her. She's owned in partnership with Mr. Farish of Lane's End and is expecting a Study Of Man (Ire) colt in early April. Astroglia is also in foal to Study Of Man, while Sea Meets Sky is expecting a Saxon Warrior (Jpn). So these are mares giving plenty of support to our young stallions.”

Plenty of other breeders have also had their imagination caught by Circus Maximus, with many black-type performers or producers heading his way. There will be an all-Royal Ascot match, for instance, with G2 Ribblesdale S. winner Banimpire (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}); while Forces Of Darkess (Ire) (Lawman {Fr}), beaten a neck at Group 1 level, is a Group 3-winning half-sister to G2 Norfolk S. winner Waterloo Bridge (Ire) (Zoffany {Ire}). Circus Maximus will also be receiving the dams of both Rip Van Winkle (Ire), a multiple Group 1 winner by his own sire; and Canford Cliffs (Ire) (Tagula {Ire}), another to have won both the St James's Palace S. and Queen Anne S.

Aptly, Airlie Stud will be favouring the horse they bred with Classic Remark (Ire) (Dr Fong), a listed winner out of the Group 2 winner Claxon (GB) (Caerleon) from an excellent Hesmond family. And it speaks well for Circus Maximus that Cooper is himself sending him a mare, a close relative of Group 2 winner Curtain Call (Fr) (Sadler's Wells).

“I'm hoping he will inject some of his speed and resolute character to her foal,” he said. “Circus Maximus was such a tough racehorse, and once Aidan [O'Brien] settled on the mile as his right trip, everything clicked into place. It all came the same to him, left-handed, right-handed, straight. He always showed up, he was always enduring, and nearly pulled off the perfect finish at the Breeders' Cup. The way he held his form is a testament to his constitution and soundness, both mental and physical. Because those were the two most important things about him, as a racehorse. He had a very good nature–and he was a warrior.”

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