Modern-Day Heist – How McGregor Bought Dam Of Classic Winner For 16k

Marhaba Ya Sanafi: McGregor bought the dam of the French Classic winner for just €16,000 | Scoop Dyga


Anyone familiar with the French TV series Lupin, which was inspired by gentleman thief Arsène Lupin, would be forgiven for thinking that stealing the dam of Sunday's French 2,000 Guineas winner Marhaba Ya Sanafi (Ire) (Muhaarar {GB}) for just €16,000 would be even too far removed from storyline material. 

Breaking into the Louvre museum in Paris and walking out with the Mona Lisa under your arm would be easier than buying the Galileo (Ire) mare who would produce a subsequent Classic winner for just €16,000, but that's exactly what Duncan McGregor did in broad daylight at Goffs last November.

The mare in question is Danega (GB) and, by the time of her sale date, Marhaba Ya Sanafi had made a promising start to his career at ParisLongchamp but nothing to suggest that he'd be storming to Classic glory the following spring. 

It may be viewed as the greatest stroke of luck that McGregor could speculate about Danega's prowess as a broodmare but the truth is that the Scottish native who has been based in Ireland for the best part of 40 years is better versed on the family of Sunday's French 2,000 Guineas winner than most. 

He explained, “A good friend of mine said to me after the race, 'my God you are lucky to have picked that mare out,' but I told him how I almost wrote the book on that whole family. 

“About 30 years ago, I bought Gradille (Ire) (Home Guard), who Marhaba Ya Sanafi can be traced right back to by about five or six generations. 

“With the help of Robert Hall, I bought three mares to start off with at my stud in Kildare almost 40 years ago, which included Gradille. In fact, the most expensive one of the three died but the other two turned out to be black-type producers left, right and centre.”

He added, “Before I bought Gradille, she had a foal which turned out to be  La Meilleure (GB) (Lord Gayle), who is the dam of a host of black-type winners, including Sholokhov (Ire) (Sadler's Wells). 

“I also bred Dolydille (Ire) (Home Guard) out of the mare, and she turned out to be another good horse for Jim Bolger. Actually, Jim bought a lot of horses off me at that time, all from this family. I had the family for 15 or 20 years but, unfortunately, we lost the only daughter we kept out of Gradille. 

“So I was out of the family for a good few years before this mare [Danega] came up. The old mare [Gradille] was my wife's favourite so I thought it would be nice to try and get back into the family. When I saw this mare entered up at Goffs, I said to my wife that we could buy back into the family and she told me to go and buy her.”

McGregor, 80, suffered an accident last year which has limited his mobility, but his closest advisors Larry Stratton and Jaqueline Norris provided him with every encouragement that Danega was worth acquiring from the Godolphin draft after they inspected the mare on the ground at Goffs on his behalf. 

He recalled, “I got Larry Stratton to look at the mare for me and he gave me the nod. Jaqueline Norris, who runs Jockey Hall Stud, also looked at her and gave me the thumbs up. So all of my associates liked the mare and we bought her. 

“But the funny thing is, the Muharaar was not listed on the page. I can remember a friend of mine was sitting in my house one day and asked me, 'Duncan, what is the name of that mare again,' and then she told me that the Muharaar had won in France. 

“People say to me that it was a lucky pick but, given our back story and that we know all about the family, it wasn't a lucky pick at all.”

So when did McGregor realise that he had really hit the jackpot?

“When the horse won his second race, a conditions race at Chantilly, I said, 'Jesus, we have something here, there's no doubt about it,'” comes the reply. 

“I was thinking that they'd have to go up in class with the horse after that. Well, they did go up in class, they went to the Prix de Fontainebleau, where he was second to American Flag (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}). 

“That is the premier colts' trial for the French 2,000 Guineas over there and, while he was well-beaten by American Flag on the day, he ran a great race to finish second in a Group 3 and of course I was delighted for the mare.”

He added, “In the meantime, the mare had a cracker of Hello Youmzain colt foal. He is one of the best foals I have ever had. Then the next thing was an entry for the Guineas and now, as the saying goes, the rest is history.

“She is covered by Minzaal (Ire) and is due for scanning soon. I love speed and Minzaal was an exceptionally fast horse. I'm not sure what I am going to do with the Hello Youmzain foal that we have on the ground but he is a smasher.”

It tells you everything you need to know that McGregor, who worked in the oil business up until his early forties before relocating to his base at Newtown Lodge Stud in Kildare to concentrate on breeding and racing, ranks Sunday's victory with Marhaba Ya Sanafi as his greatest day in the sport. 

That is saying something given he has had his colours carried to many big-race successes in the 1980s in Ireland and bred some top-notchers along the way. 

He said, “We've very few horses now, just because of age, but we've bred some good ones before, the likes of Captain Marvelous (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) and Fort Bastian (Ire) (Lawman {Fr}). 

“I also raced Dashing Colours (Ire) (Be My Native) and Dash Of Red (GB) (Red Sunset {GB}). They both won stakes races and a host of handicaps for me. When I was consigning horses myself, I did it under Newtown Lodge Stud, but recently I have been using Jockey Hall Stud, which is Jaqueline Norris.”

McGregor added, “But of all that we have done in the game, Sunday probably ranks as number one. Dashing Colours and Dash Of Red won a lot of big races, and that was a great thrill, but Sunday was different. I still get a great kick out of the sport. I wouldn't be doing it otherwise.”

Lupin and Sherlock Holmes may have been fictional characters but McGregor is the real deal. This is the story of a modern-day heist. 

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