Rafha's Influence Prevails Through Her Dominant Sons

Rising 27, Invincible Spirit could yet be represented by a Classic winner in 2024 | Racingfotos


It has been a basic tenet of bloodstock since the early days that Classic form is to be respected when a colt or a filly retires to stud. Some Classic results stand out, with the 1984 Prix du Jockey-Club often cited thanks to Darshaan (GB) leading home Sadler's Wells and Rainbow Quest in a trifecta of future superstar sires. As regards fillies, the 1990 Prix de Diane takes some beating, with Rafha (GB) coming home ahead of Moon Cactus (GB) and Colour Chart. All three ended up breeding at least one Group/Grade 1 winner, but ultimately the significance of the result goes way beyond merely first-generation success.

Rafha and Moon Cactus were both daughters of Kris (GB) (Sharpen Up), an outstanding miler who became champion sire of Great Britain and Ireland in 1985 when his oldest offspring were 3-year-olds, thanks largely to the terrific season enjoyed by Britain's Fillies' Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp (GB). Oh So Sharp became an excellent broodmare, responsible for Rosefinch (Blushing Groom {Fr}) who edged out Dancing Brave's full-sister Jolypha in the G1 Prix Saint-Alary in 1992. Rafha and Moon Cactus, though, did even more to advertise Kris's talent as a sire of broodmares.

Moon Cactus bred four stakes winners including the 1995 G1 Oaks heroine Moonshell (Sadler's Wells) and her younger full-brother Doyen, who excelled on firm ground in the summer of 2004 when firstly breaking Ascot's 12-furlong track record in the G2 Hardwicke S. at the Royal Meeting and then following up over course and distance five weeks later with a superb win in the G1 King George VI And Queen Elizabeth S.

Ultimately, though, Rafha has proved the most influential of these eminent matrons. Her legacy continues to expand, 33 years after her Prix de Diane triumph, and she is now even more revered than she was on that glorious summer's afternoon when she galloped to Classic glory at Chantilly.

It is not unfair to say that Rafha did not produce a racehorse of the distinction of either Moonshell or Doyen (or, indeed, of Colour Chart's GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies-winning daughter Tempera), but four of the seven black-type performers whom she produced were stakes winners. Easily the pick of these was Invincible Spirit (Ire) (Green Desert). Trained, as his mother had been, for owner/breeder Prince AA Faisal by John Dunlop, Invincible Spirit was a tough sprinter who raced for four seasons, winning a listed race as a 2-year-old and at Group 3 level at four before enjoying his best campaign as a 5-year-old in 2002, taking the G3 Duke of York S. over six furlongs in the spring and the G1 Haydock Park Sprint Cup over the same distance in the autumn, putting in his best performance on the 17th and final start of his career.

A first-season stud fee of €10,000 was fair for Invincible Spirit when he started out at the Irish National Stud as a 6-year-old in 2003. He had maybe lacked some of the precocity that a lot of the breeders who patronise sprinting stallions like to see, but he was a Group 1-winning sprinter and had shown himself to be a durable one at that. Furthermore, it helped that he was a son of Green Desert (Danzig) who was very popular at the time, buoyed in part by his superb son Oasis Dream (GB), who had been an outstanding 2-year-old in 2002, most notably breaking Newmarket's six-furlong juvenile track record when winning the G1 Middle Park S.

Green Desert, himself formerly an outstanding sprinter, was already on the way to being respected as a sire of sires, not least because his Group 1-winning son Cape Cross (Ire) was starting to do well.  Curiously, Cape Cross ultimately became best known for his Derby and Oaks winner Sea The Stars (Ire), Golden Horn (GB) and Ouija Board (GB) but that slight anomaly shouldn't deflect attention away from the fact that Green Desert was a terrific conduit of Danzig's speed. Oasis Dream has been much more typical of the Green Desert line, becoming an absolute stalwart of the ranks of British-based sprinting sires over an extended period, just as his father was before him.

Invincible Spirit was an immediate success as a stallion. He had his first runners in 2006 and got off to a flying start when his first runner Spoof Master (Ire) won Britain's first 2-year-old feature of the new season, the Brocklesby S. Invincible Spirit continued to churn out winners as the year went on, so much so that his fee rose from €10,000 to €35,000 for the 2007 season.

Invincible Spirit's position was further consolidated in 2007 when his first 3-year-olds included the G1 Prix du Jockey-Club hero Lawman (Fr), whose Classic triumph was instrumental in Invincible Spirit's fee shooting up again to €75,000 in 2008.  Also running for Invincible Spirit in 2007 was the very fast 2-year-old filly Fleeting Spirit (GB), winner of the G3 Molecomb S. and G2 Flying Childers S. as well as being runner-up in the G1 Cheveley Park S. and G2 Lowther S. She subsequently developed into a wonderful sprinting mare, arguably her sire's second-best daughter behind Moonlight Cloud (GB), and her finest hour came when she won the G1 July Cup as a 4-year-old. With his career thus heading onwards and upwards, Invincible Spirit ultimately had his fee peaking between 2016 and 2019, when his nominations cost €120,000.

The six seasons 2015 to 2020 inclusive were particularly good ones for Rafha with both Kodiac and Invincible Spirit featuring in the top ten every year.

Although Rafha ended up as the dam of four stakes winners, her second most-distinguished child was not one of them.  Kodiac (GB) can be described as a three-parts brother to Invincible Spirit, as each is by a son of Danzig, Kodiac being by Danehill. Like Invincible Spirit, Kodiac was a tough sprinter, but unlike his superior sibling, he couldn't quite manage to score in stakes company, his four wins (from 20 starts) consisting of a maiden-race success and three triumphs in handicap company.  He did at least manage a couple of minor placings in stakes company, finishing second in the G3 Hackwood S. over six furlongs at Newbury and fourth in the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest over 1300m at Deauville as a 5-year-old in 2006.

Under normal circumstances, Kodiac's achievements would perhaps not have been enough to secure him a place at stud.  However, there's nothing quite like being in the right place at the right time. As the 2006 racing season drew to a close, it was clear that Invincible Spirit was about to be priced out of reach of many of the Irish small breeders who had used him so satisfactorily in his early years. At the time Danehill was at the peak of his popularity as a sire of sires, so it made sense for Tally-Ho Stud to take a chance that Invincible Spirit's fast three-parts brother by Danehill might appeal to many breeders and might become a successful sire.

That was the theory and, happily, it proved to be a sound one.  Kodiac started out at a fee of €5,000 in 2007 (which had to be lowered to €4,000 a couple of years later), but once he began to have runners in 2010, he soon started to pay back many of those who had put their faith in him.  He quickly established himself as an ultra-reliable source of tough, precocious and very fast horses, both colts and fillies. In a pleasing piece of symmetry, 10 years after retiring to stud, he was standing at a fee 10 times higher than it had been at the outset. The price subsequently continued to rise after that and, now aged 22, he is still churning out fast, precocious horses such as 2023 G2 Lowther S. heroine Relief Rally (Ire), who recently sold for 800,000gns at the Tattersalls December Mares Sale.

It is frequently noted that the 1993 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe heroine Urban Sea (Miswaki) usually has two sons in the top five of the General Sires' Table of Great Britain and Ireland.  The 2019 season was her piece de resistance, as her two Derby-winning children Galileo (Ire) (Sadler's Wells) and Sea The Stars (Ire) occupied the first two places in the championship.  Under the circumstances, the fanfare justly directed at Urban Sea possibly takes some of the spotlight away from Rafha, whose feat of also having two sons consistently in the upper echelons of the sires' championship should not be underestimated.

The six seasons 2015 to 2020 inclusive were particularly good ones for Rafha with both Kodiac and Invincible Spirit featuring in the top 10 every year. Kodiac in particular has been remarkably consistent. He first broke into the top10 of the sires' table in 2015, having finished 15th in 2014 (in which year Invincible Spirit achieved his best position, finishing second to Galileo).  From 2015 until this current season Kodiac has never been out of the top 10, and he regularly tops the table for the most number of winners in a season.

In one sense, Rafha's sons merit even greater respect than do Urban Sea's stars. Galileo and Sea The Stars were Derby winners who started out covering high-class mares from the outset but Invincible Spirit and Kodiac did not have that luxury, having instead had to 'make their own luck' as stallions. Despite these relatively humble beginnings at stud, the influence of both Invincible Spirit and Kodiac will not end when they cease to have runners because they have already started to establish their own sire lines.

Just as Lawman was Invincible Spirit's first headline-maker as a racehorse, so he was his first successful son at stud. Lawman's first crop included G1 St James's Palace S. winner Most Improved (Ire) and the star of his second crop was G1 Irish 1000 Guineas and G2 Rockfel S. winner Just The Judge (Ire). G1 Racing Post Trophy winner Marcel (Ire) and G1 St Leger winner Harbour Law (Ire) followed, although–disappointingly–Lawman seems subsequently to have fallen out of commercial favour, notwithstanding that he is still in action at Haras du Mazet in France (having started out in Ireland at Ballylinch, where his fee peaked at €25,000).

The popularity of Invincible Spirit's best son Kingman (GB), winner of four consecutive Group 1 mile races as a 3-year-old in the summer of 2014, shows no sign of waning. An immediate hit at stud with his first-crop son Calyx (Ire) winning the G2 Coventry S. in June 2018, Kingman has gone from strength to strength and consistently posts eye-catching statistics when measured by totals of individual stakes winners or black-type ratios. With, to name but three sons, Calyx at Coolmore, four-time Group 1 winner Palace Pier (GB) at Dalham Hall and three-time Group 1 winner Persian King (Ire) at Haras d'Etreham, Kingman could well become a notable sire of sires.

Calyx currently lies in third place in the 2023 first-season sires' table for Britain and Ireland. Invincible Spirit's grandson thus sits ahead of three sons of Invincible Spirit with their first juveniles this year: Inns Of Court (fourth), Invincible Army (eighth) and 2019 2000 Guineas winner Magna Grecia (12th). All have a chance to become established as long-term residents of the stallion ranks in this part of the world, joining their elders Territories (Ire) and Mayson (GB) and Swiss Spirit (GB).

The 2011 crop which featured Kingman also contained Charm Spirit (Ire), winner of three Group 1 mile races during the 2014 season. He, too is currently in vogue thanks to his very fast son Shaquille (GB), winner during the summer of the G1 Commonwealth Cup and the G1 July Cup. Shaquille looks sure to be popular at Dullingham Park, where he will have a first-season fee in 2024 of £15,000. Another likely future flag-bearer for Invincible Spirit's line is his three-time Group 2-winning son Mutasaabeq (GB) who starts off at the National Stud in 2024 at a fee of £6,500.

Kodiac, too, is well represented by sons and grandsons at stud.  As was the case with their father, Ardad (Ire), Kodi Bear (Ire), Prince Of Lir (Ire) and Coulsty (Ire) all started out without any significant blaze of publicity. Each has done plenty to raise his profile since starting to have runners, while Ardad's three-time Group 1-winning first-crop son Perfect Power (Ire) is about to stand his second season at Dalham Hall Stud. The one drawback for the furtherance of the line is that Prince Of Lir's fastest son, G1 Nunthorpe S. winner Live In The Dream (Ire), is a gelding.

Being represented by a 2,000 Guineas winner at the age of 27 would be unusual, but for the redoubtable Invincible Spirit it may well happen.

Sons of Kodiac who have yet to have runners include the dual Group 1-winning sprinter Hello Youmzain (Fr), G2 Coventry S. winner Nando Parrado (GB) and G2 Flying Childers S. winner Ubettabelieveit (Ire). Furthermore, this year's G1 Prix Jean Prat winner Good Guess (GB) will join his father on the Tally-Ho roster in 2024 at a fee of €17,500.

Elsewhere, Best Solution (Ire) had his first 2-year-old runners this year in Germany, in which country he recorded two of his three Group 1 victories (at, untypically for the progeny of Kodiac, 2400m). International stud success for stallions sired by Rafha's sons is, of course, commonplace. Most notably, Invincible Spirit briefly shuttled to Australia early in his career and there produced the tough sprinter I Am Invincible (Aus) who has become astonishingly prolific sire of stakes winners of all ages. He deservedly became Australia's champion sire in 2021/22, retained the title last term, is currently leading the standings this season, and is already respected as a sire of sires. The Invincible Spirit horses Cable Bay (Ire), National Defense (GB) and Shalaa (Ire) have all enjoyed success at stud in both hemispheres, while Cable Bay is about to get under way as a sire of sires with his fast son Dragon Symbol (GB) retiring to Whitsbury Manor Stud.

Invincible Spirit's G1 King's Stand S.-winning son Profitable (Ire) has headed out to Turkey ahead of the 2024 season, notwithstanding that he started out well on the Darley roster in Ireland with his first crop of juveniles containing 2021 G2 Queen Mary S. heroine Quick Suzy (Ire). Looking to spread Rafha's influence even farther afield will be the Invincible Spirit horse Digital Age (Ire), a Grade I winner in the USA in 2020 of the Old Forester Bourbon Turf Classic S. over nine furlongs on a firm turf track at Churchill Downs. Digital Age stands in South Africa at Mauritzfontein Stud. It should also be mentioned that the treble Group 1 winner Mishriff (Ire), a great grandson of Rafha through his female line, and successful on turf and dirt, is about to make his belated debut at Sumbe in France.

To return to Invincible Spirit and Kodiac, their success at stud has been one of the most heartening bloodstock stories of the 21st century to date. The sire-sons of each look set to ensure that this story will run and run, not to mention that each has plenty of good racehorses still to come. Most obviously, Invincible Spirit's unbeaten 2-year-old son Ghostwriter (Ire) stamped himself as a serious Classic prospect for 2024 when he extended his winning run in the G2 Royal Lodge S. at Newmarket at the end of September. Being represented by a 2000 Guineas winner at the age of 27 would be unusual, but for the redoubtable Invincible Spirit, it may well happen.

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