By Andrew Caulfield
Bearing in mind that the competition among the Coolmore stallions features such fast horses as No Nay Never, Caravaggio, U S Navy Flag and Calyx (with Ten Sovereigns possibly waiting in the wings), it would be all too easy for breeders to overlook Starspangledbanner – especially when his name was once associated with pronounced fertility issues.
Fortunately, the Australian star ensured that breeders remain fully aware of his talents following the G1 Juddmonte Cheveley Park S., in which his daughter Millisle became only the second filly to defeat the dual Group 2 winner Raffle Prize. Another of his daughters, the group-placed Lil Grey, was further down the field.
These two fillies belong to a crop sired at €15,000 which also includes several youngsters which have yielded significant profits in the sales ring. One of them, Chasing Dreams, sold for no less than 750,000gns to Godolphin as a yearling and looked value for money on her only appearance, when she inflicted a five-length defeat on Good Vibes, the future third in the G2 Lowther S., at Newmarket in April. Chasing Dreams naturally became one of the leading fancies for the G2 Queen Mary S., only to miss the race after going lame a week earlier.
Even so, Starspangledbanner's links to Royal Ascot are still very strong. Of course it was his sire, Choisir, who put Australian sprinters on the international map by becoming the first Australian-trained horse to win in Britain, when he defeated Acclamation and Oasis Dream to land the G2 King's Stand S. in 2003. Then, to illustrate the toughness of the Australian Thoroughbred, Choisir turned out again four days later, this time getting the better of that fast mare Airwave to take the G1 Golden Jubilee. Finally, racing for the third time in little more than three weeks, Choisir turned in another fine performance when second to Oasis Dream in the G1 July Cup.
Little did we know it, but Starspangledbanner was to follow in some of his sire's footsteps seven years later. Transferred from his Australian trainer Leon Corstens to Aidan O'Brien, he missed the King's Stand S. in favour of the G1 Golden Jubilee, in which he led his 23 rivals from the start to finish, to defeat Society Rock in fine style. Missing the King's Stand paid off handsomely when Starspangledbanner went one better than Choisir in the G1 July Cup, running on powerfully to catch Equiano close home.
These efforts earned Starspangledbanner a place on Coolmore's 2011 Irish stallion roster, at a fee of €15,000. It was fair to expect that he would become the fourth generation of his sire line to have thrived at Coolmore, following his great-grandsire Danehill, grandsire Danehill Dancer and sire Choisir, but these high hopes quickly evaporated when it became clear that Starspangledbanner had fertility problems.
Instead of covering a very large book of mares, as is usual for first-season sprint sires at Coolmore, he was credited with covering only 41 mares, for 33 foals. It was a similar story when Starspangledbanner shuttled to his native Australia to stand the 2011 southern hemisphere season at AUS$44,000. Although he covered 116 mares, only 31 live foals were born in 2012. Sent back to Ireland for the 2012 season, he is listed as covering only 14 mares before the decision was made to return him to training at Ballydoyle.
As he failed to win again in six starts divided between Ireland, France, the USA and the UAE between August 2012 and Mar 2013, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that Starspangledbanner's stallion career was effectively over. However, changes to his management in Australia reaped some rewards, to the extent that the 77 mares he covered during the 2015 southern hemisphere season were to produce 44 live foals.
By then his progeny from his first Irish crop had also demonstrated that Starspangledbanner was worthy of more than a little patience and perseverance. On the opening day of the 2014 Royal Ascot meeting, his son The Wow Signal ran out a decisive winner from Cappella Sansevero in the G2 Coventry S. and the following day saw his daughter Anthem Alexander narrowly defeat the very speedy Tiggy Wiggy to take the G2 Queen Mary S. These are by no means this sire line's only smart two-year-old winners in recent years. Choisir's son Rajasinghe took the G2 Coventry S. in 2017, while another son, The Last Lion, was successful in the 2016 G1 Middle Park S. Yet another son, Olympic Glory, had finished second of 22 to Dawn Approach in the 2012 Coventry S. before developing into a G1 winner at the ages of two, three and four. Like Starspangledbanner, Olympic Glory has enjoyed G1 success as a stallion this year, thanks to the Coronation S. winner Watch Me.
Starspangledbanner first-crop youngsters trained on well, with The Wow Signal adding the G1 Prix Morny, while Anthem Alexander was to finish second in the G1 Cheveley Park S. and third in the G1 Commonwealth Cup. Home Of The Brave, another first-crop son of Starspangledbanner, also possessed plenty of talent and speed, as he showed in winning the 2015 Free H., and he went on to become a G3 winner in Britain and a G2 winner in Australia. Interestingly, Home Of The Brave and The Wow Signal were both produced by daughters of high-class middle-distance horses by Sadler's Wells, which highlighted his potential usefulness to many of Coolmore's clients.
That small first crop of 33 foals also featured Spangled, a winner of the G3 Spectre S., and the European Listed winners Last Gift, Meliora and Silver Rainbow. Several of these did their black-type winning at the ages of four or five, so Starspangledbanner is far from just a specialist two-year-old sire. This was demonstrated again last year, when his six-year-old son Great Wide Open became his eighth black-type winner from that small first crop, with this ex-Irish gelding having previously finished second in the GI Shadwell Turf Mile.
These very encouraging results meant that Starspangledbanner was back on the plane to Ireland in December 2015, to sire the crop which has produced Millisle and Chasing Dreams.
The perennial question of whether of whether the winner of the Cheveley Park S. will stay well enough to win the 1,000 Guineas is applicable to Millisle. At first glance the answer would appear to be no, as her broodmare sire is the sprinter Indian Ridge, but a closer analysis gives reason for optimism.
It mustn't be forgotten that Starspangledbanner stayed a mile well enough (under Australian conditions) to win the G1 Caulfield Guineas. And it was an Indian Ridge mare from a classic family who produced the Oaks winner Dancing Rain to his grandsire Danehill Dancer.
Millisle's dam Green Castle is another Indian Ridge mare from a classic family. Millisle is Green Castle's fourth black-type earner and second black-type winner, following Ithoughtitwasover, a mile-and-a-half Listed winner by Montjeu. Millisle's second dam, Green Lucia, possessed both pedigree and performance. Second in the Yorkshire Oaks following her third in the Irish Oaks, Green Lucia was a half-sister to the French and Irish Derby winner Old Vic and their dam, Cockade, was a sister to the 2,000 Guineas winner High Top.