Noughts and Crosses Behind a Dream Mare

Order of Australia | Breeders' Cup/Eclipse Sportswire


Now I do realise that I am in a minority of one here. But while everyone else seems to perceive some unique alchemy between Galileo (Ire) and Danehill, to me the number of good horses obtained by that cross is pretty much as you should expect when one breed-shaping stallion is mated with the daughters of another. After all, their dams will in turn have been well-bred and/or accomplished runners, simply to have gained access to an elite sire. If we call this “selective breeding”, we are surely flattering ourselves.

That said, it's easy to acknowledge an elementary logic in combining the trademark influences of their respective sires; in reuniting the crucial division of Northern Dancer's legacy between Sadler's Wells stamina and Danzig speed. Seeking the best of both worlds, speed that can be carried Classic distances, is the simplest grail of all. It seldom works out, mind you, and hardly ever to the epoch-making degree we saw in Frankel (GB) (Galileo {Ire}), the ultimate template for the cross.

Regardless, there's no arguing with the dividends achieved by John Magnier and his partners in Coolmore, who found themselves with paddocks full of Danehill mares just as Galileo was on the rise. And the model was eagerly adopted elsewhere.

The cross was back in focus last Saturday, after Ballydoyle's historic GI FanDuel Breeders' Cup Mile clean sweep. The winner, to general astonishment, was Order Of Australia (Ire)–by Galileo's son Australia (GB) out of a mare from the very last crop of Danehill. And runner-up Circus Maximus (Ire) is by Galileo himself out of a Danehill Dancer (Ire) mare. Third (and fastest) to finish, Lope Y Fernandez (Ire), represented a different sire-line but completed a distaff trifecta for Danehill and his daughters, as a son of Lope De Vega (Ire) out of a Dansili (GB) mare.

All three, unusually for Ballydoyle, were the work of breeders other than Coolmore, entering the stable either through partnership or auction purchase. Lope Y Fernandez, bred by SF Bloodstock, was recruited as a €900,000 Arqana August yearling; while Circus Maximus (Ire) was bred by co-owners Flaxman Stables. But the winner himself attested to the mastery of his supervision in a fashion still more instructive, perhaps, than this unprecedented Breeders' Cup 1-2-3.

For Order Of Australia is a half-brother to Iridessa (Ire) (Ruler Of The World), who won her fourth elite prize in the GI Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita last year. And both were bred by Aidan O'Brien and his wife Annemarie, herself a remarkable horsewoman, from a mare that cost just 14,000gns. (In the case of Iridessa, of course, their accomplishments extended to having also bred and raised the trainer, their son Joseph.)

Senta's Dream (GB) was presumably added to the O'Briens' Whisperview Trading broodmare band primarily because, as just noted, she belonged to that final crop of Danehill. (Along with the likes of Peeping Fawn, Holy Roman Emperor (Ire) and Duke Of Marmalade (Ire)… Gosh, the champ really was still in his pomp!)

While necessarily only part-time breeders, horse people as devoted and inspired as the O'Briens could never treat Whisperview as a mere pastime. With their access to so many different stallions “made” by Aidan, their customary professionalism has duly reaped many dividends besides Senta's Dream. With Annemarie's late father, the hugely respected Joe Crowley, the O'Briens co-bred Danehill's record-breaking son Rock Of Gibraltar (Ire); and have since produced such Group 1 winners as Kingbarns (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), Beethoven (Ire) (Oratorio {Ire}) and the Fastnet Rock (Aus) pair Intricately (Ire) and Qualify (Ire). But the way they have realised the potential latent in Senta's Dream represents a new peak.

The Breeders' Cup is in the mare's blood, as she is one of just two foals–and the only daughter–delivered by Starine (Fr) (Mendocino), who preceded Iridessa on the Filly and Mare Turf roll of honour by 17 years. Starine, however, had such a plain pedigree that Bobby Frankel was unable to find an owner when he imported her from France, and ended up racing her in the silks of one R.J. Frankel. He had the last laugh, cashing her in for $1 million to Newsells Park Stud at the Keeneland November Sale straight after the Breeders' Cup.

Starine was all that salvaged her sire from oblivion. A son of Theatrical (Ire), Mendocino did win a small stakes race in France for owner-breeder Allen Paulson but his eligibility for stud presumably rested on the fact that his dam was by Caro (Ire) out of a half-sister to Exclusive Native. As a result, the mating that produced Starine did yield one conspicuous feature in a 3×3 presence for Caro, whose son Kaldoun (Fr) had sired her dam. But by the time Starine won at Arlington Park, her sire had mustered 61 foals across eight crops and just half a dozen other winners. Nor was there the least distinction in the past two or three generations of Starine's maternal family.

Yet by the time the yearling Senta's Dream was sent to Deauville in August, the death of both her illustrious parents had made her appear worth retaining at €300,000. After failing to make the track, however, her first foals made little impact either in the ring or at the races and she was culled as a 9-year-old for 14,000gns, the docket signed by BBA Ireland, at the Tattersalls December Sale of 2013.

Her new owners were quick to turn around her fortunes. Even the Equiano (Fr) filly she was carrying at the time was processed as a yearling for €92,000. (Now six, Tisa River (Ire) resurfaces as lot 1680 in the forthcoming Tattersalls December Sale.) And while Senta's Dream appears to have missed the following year, her 2015 assignment with Ruler Of The World would give that luckless stallion–who suffered an untimely injury during his first covering season–the outstanding achievement to date, in Iridessa, of a career he is now pursuing in France.

Her next foal was Order Of Australia. He has clearly been well regarded all along, tried in the G1 Irish Derby and G1 Prix du Jockey Club when still a maiden. But the inspiration that he was not getting home, and should be dropped to a turning mile, would have eluded most of us after subsequent wins at 10 and 12 furlongs.

He was given his debut at the backend, remember, over a mile in heavy ground at Naas. But he travelled with high energy in a very different environment last Saturday and, while plainly well served by a jockey in electric form, looks absolutely entitled to consolidate his reinvention next year.

This feels like a key moment in the career of his young sire, whose Group 1 breakthrough had come just a few weeks previously when Galileo Chrome (Ire)–himself out of a Dansili mare–met the gruelling demands of the G1 St Leger. That Australia should impart that kind of stamina was unsurprising, as a Derby winner famously by a Derby winner out of Oaks winner Ouija Board (GB) (Cape Cross) (Ire); and, indeed, his only previous crop had produced the Leger runner-up in Sir Ron Priestley (GB).

But let's not forget that Australia was beaten under a length by Night Of Thunder (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) and Kingman (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) in the G1 2000 Guineas. Or that he outpaced The Grey Gatsby (Ire) (Mastercraftsman {Ire}) over 10 furlongs on fast ground in the G1 Juddmonte International. As a 2-year-old, moreover, he had thrashed subsequent Group 1 winner Free Eagle (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}) by six lengths at Leopardstown.

Sure enough, two of Australia's first juveniles were denied Group 1 prizes only by a neck apiece: Broome (Ire) in the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, and Sydney Opera House (Ire) in the Criterium de Saint-Cloud. The latter race obviously represents an extreme test for a youngster, but at least Australia was quickly proving that he could produce an eligible Classic type at an accessible fee. Broome, indeed, failed by just half a length to emulate his sire and grandsire at Epsom, having taken the Ballysax-Derrinstown route often reserved at Ballydoyle for the “anointed” colt of the crop.

With the maturing of his stock, Australia has advanced annually within his intake: fourth in the prizemoney table with his first juveniles; third last year; and looking booked for second this time round, with a class-high five Group 1 performers, plus a tally of seven Group winners shared only by Kingman.

Despite having managed more or less to “lie up” with Kingman and No Nay Never–whose precocious achievements have sent their fees through the roof–Australia had been eased from an opening €50,000 to €27,500 for 2020. As such, especially in the current environment, a fee of €25,000 for 2021 represents a pretty solid “hold”.

Whatever the future holds for Australia, the fact is that Senta's Dream has consecutively given two stallions their outstanding achiever to date. So perhaps the most exciting aspect of her story is the stunning debut of her latest juvenile, whose sire Camelot (GB) had been getting on very nicely without her. Santa Barbara (Ire), again registered in the regular Coolmore surnames plus Mrs. A.M. O'Brien, looked some prospect when outclassing 17 maidens at The Curragh in September.

No Galileo over Danehill here, obviously, with Camelot representing the Montjeu (Ire) branch of the Sadler's Wells hegemony. (Actually Camelot instead introduces extra Danehill, as sire of his second dam.) Sometimes it really does seem as though we're all simply seeking a proxy for Sadler's Wells-Danzig. In the case of Australia himself, for instance, Galileo combines with the alternative route to Danzig, Ouija Board being by a son of Green Desert.

And the thing is that stretching a nick this far dismisses, for no intelligible reason, a ton of other good stuff in the vicinity. In the case of Santa Barbara, for instance, a lot of “Special” stuff. Camelot's damsire Kingmambo was out of Nureyev's peerless daughter Miesque; Mendocino was by Nureyev's son Theatrical; and Nureyev's mother Special also produced the dam of Sadler's Wells.

Before her acquisition by the O'Briens, Senta's Dream was tried with a son of Sadler's Wells, High Chaparral (Ire), and a son of Montjeu, Motivator (GB), with dismal results. The simpler the breeding “formula”, the more it resembles a “system”, the more wary we should be. The only rule is that there are no rules. (Think Mendocino.)

In planning matings, I feel we should really only seek balance, in terms of type; and depth, in terms of pedigree. When people talk about nicks between entire sire-lines, often branded by patriarchs who have meanwhile receded into a third or fourth generation, I never understand why they feel able to discard so many other genetic strands with an equal footprint.

True, a wider reading of this cross soon takes us to the same kind of place anyway. Galileo and Danehill are both grandsons of Northern Dancer but Danehill brings that extra shot of Natalma into the equation, Northern Dancer's dam also being granddam of Danehill's mother Razyana. And Razyana is out of Buckpasser mare, just like Galileo's damsire Miswaki.

In fact, if you think about it, there's an awful lot of broodmare power behind this cross: a lot of stallions whose dams also produced other top-class horses. Danehill's damsire His Majesty, for instance, was a sibling to Graustark and Bowl Of Flowers; Urban Sea gave us Sea The Stars as well as Galileo; and Sadler's Wells, as just noted, was out of Nureyev's half-sister.

In the end, we're all trying to get to the middle of the same maze. You can use electric shears, if you like; or navigate from the stars. There are always umpteen factors in play. But perhaps none is more important than how a horse is raised, broken and trained. And, in the case of Senta's Dream, to that extent you're talking about a daily accretion of genius.

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