Seven Days: Who Bears Wins

Little Big Bear and a smile from Ryan Moore: who could ask for more? |


'Industry heavyweights' seems to have been the buzz phrase of the last few weeks, and we have a few of those in our long-running 12-to-follow competition organised by my husband every Flat and National Hunt season. Those competing this summer include several leading Irish stud masters, bloodstock agents, trainers, breeders, sales company executives, and the head of the Tote. And they are all currently trailing in the wake of an 11-year-old boy who was shrewd enough to include Little Big Bear in his list.

What a selection that was. Mind you, Alex Barry is no ordinary 11-year-old boy. He devours pedigrees for breakfast and will surely one day shove his dad Luke aside to take the helm at Manister House Stud. They start 'em young in Ireland, and that's one of the reasons the Irish have the edge in just about every facet of the bloodstock industry.

The bears came out of the woods on Saturday with Little Big Bear landing the Curragh's G1 Keeneland Phoenix S., and the admirably hardy Go Bears Go (Ire) (Kodi Bear {Ire}), who had been a close third in that same race last year, posting his third group win in the G3 Rathasker Stud Phoenix Sprint S.

Little Big Bear became the fourth Group/Grade 1 winner for his sire No Nay Never, whose name has popped up at pretty much every major meeting this season, with his star performer Alcohol Free (Ire) having added the July Cup to her tally of top-level wins, Blackbeard (Ire) notching group wins in Ireland and France, Trillium (GB) landing the Molecomb S., and Little Big Bear having first hinted at his prowess in the Windsor Castle S. at Royal Ascot.

No Nay Never's sire Scat Daddy is a son of Aidan O'Brien's outstanding juvenile Johannesburg, the winner of Group/Grade 1 races in Ireland, France, Britain and America in his debut season. That run started with the Phoenix S., which was taken by his great-grandson in such impressive fashion at the Curragh on Saturday. The G1 Prix Morny was next on the list for Johannesburg 21 years ago, but it appears that Little Big Bear will not yet take a trip to the land where his dam Adventure Seeker (Fr) (Bering {GB}) was bred by the Wildenstein family, and indeed where his third dam, the champion All Along (Fr) (Targowice), won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1983. Aidan O'Brien told the Nick Luck Daily podcast on Monday that the star juvenile will likely stay at home to contest the G1 National S. next.

Daddy's Legacy

Scat Daddy was only 11 when he died in 2015 but his reputation had grown enough by that stage for him to have left a number of sons at stud, with at least 15 currently scattered between Europe and America. His former home of Ashford Stud contains three of those sons: Caravaggio, the sire of the dual Group 1 winner Tenebrism, Triple Crown winner Justify, and GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Mendelssohn. Those last two named both have first-crop runners this year, with Justify currently in second in the American freshman table. His leading performer to date is the G2 Airlie Stud S. winner Statuette, a three-parts-sister to Tenebrism, their dam being the celebrated Group 1-winning miler Immortal Verse (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}).

At Coolmore in Ireland, another freshman sire of 2022, Sioux Nation, stands alongside No Nay Never, and he has had a pretty stonking week with two Group 3 winners to his credit – Sydneyarms Chelsea (Ire) at Deauville and the tail-swishing Lakota Sioux (Ire) at Newmarket. All of this activity means that No Nay Never has taken over from Havana Grey (GB) as Europe's leading sire of 2-year-olds, with Sioux Nation now in third place in that particular table. 

It is also worth noting that Yeomanstown Stud's grey son of Scat Daddy, El Kabeir, provided arguably the most eye-catching maiden winner of the last week in the Karl Burke-trained Bright Diamond (Ire), who sparkled on debut when beating some smartly-bred types by nine lengths at Newmarket.

Meanwhile there are now four young sons of No Nay Never at stud. The first yearlings of Coolmore's Ten Sovereigns will come under the hammer this weekend at Arqana, where the first yearling by Highclere Stud's Land Force (Ire) is also consigned. The G2 Coventry S. winner Arizona (Ire) will have his first foals for sale later this year, while in France Al Shaqab's Molecomb winner Armor (GB) covered his first book of mares this spring at Haras de Bouquetot.

Clearly we will be seeing plenty more runners representing the Scat Daddy line in the coming seasons. The most interesting question to be answered in the relatively short term will be whether the classy female family of the Camas Park Stud and Summerhill-bred Little Big Bear will combine with this generally fast and precocious line well enough to help him show a similar level of form at a mile and fulfil his obvious Classic pretensions. 

The Queen of Highfield 

There is encouragement to be gained for breeders large and small by the admirable progression of John Fairley's homebred Highfield Princess (Fr) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}), who took some notable scalps when winning the G1 Prix Maurice de Gheest on Sunday. Born only a few miles up the road from Deauville, she is really a child of Yorkshire, where she is trained by John Quinn in the yard he rents from Fairley, Highfield Stables, from which she takes her name.

And she is indeed worthy of that regal soubriquet now, though that was not necessarily apparent from the early days of her career. Unraced at two, her three unplaced maiden/novice runs saw Highfield Princess earn an opening handicap mark of 57 as a 3-year-old, though it must be said that third appearance of her life came in a Redcar novice in which she was fourth, beaten ten lengths by subsequent Group 1 winner Dreamloper (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire}). In good old workmanlike fashion Highfield Princess climbed the ratings to end that opening season on a mark of 83 as a four-time winner. 

Last season's delights included a victory at Royal Ascot then a first stakes success in Chelmsford City's Listed Queen Charlotte Fillies' S., and a runner-up finish to Space Blues (Ire) in the G2 City Of York S. That upwardly mobile progression has continued to the very top this season, and she has rewarded her breeder's decision to keep her in training at five by landing the valuable All-Weather Fillies' and Mares' Championship, followed by the G2 Duke of York S. and now her victory over a field which included three previous Group 1 winners.

John Fairley, who breeds under the name of Trainers House Enterprises, bought the former Godolphin mare Pure Illusion (Ire) (Danehill) when carrying Highfield Princess, a first-crop daughter of Night Of Thunder. His first piece of luck was being able to buy her for 18,000gns, and extra bonuses soon came his way when the next season the mare's 2-year-old colt by Lonhro (Aus), named Cardsharp (GB), won the Woodcote S. and G2 July S. Two years later Night Of Thunder announced himself on the scene by becoming champion first-season sire. Though Highfield Princess was not among his 25 first-crop juvenile winners, she will now become his top-rated runner among three Group 1 winners for the son of Dubawi in Ireland, France and Australia. She could yet extend that geographical range to America, with Quinn keen to take his stable star to the Breeders' Cup meeting at Keeneland.

Sadly for Fairley, Pure Illusion died after producing just one more foal after Highfield Princess, and that 2-year-old colt by Aclaim (Ire) is now in training alongside her and has been named Highland Viking (GB).

Brilliant Buick, Marvellous Moore

It has been a good season so far for those racing fans who prefer their jockeys to be boringly brilliant.

William Buick, who arguably should be the current champion jockey, is in the form of his life and is pushing full steam ahead in his quest to gain that accolade this year, currently racking up the winners at a rate of 25%. Buick returned from his Saratoga Derby and Oaks double over the weekend for Charlie Appleby to take up three rides at Wolverhampton on Monday. Now that's dedication.

Ryan Moore has already been champion jockey on three occasions, and his flitting between Britain and Ireland to fulfil his Ballydoyle obligations means that his tally of winners is more or less equally divided between the two nations, but it is a list certainly not short on quality. Four of his five winners of the last week have been in stakes company, led by Little Big Bear and including a treble at Deauville last Tuesday for three different trainers. 

There's something almost perversely pleasurable about a Ryan Moore post-race interview in that you almost don't want to watch because it's so very clear how much he's hating it, but you have to stick with it to the end just in case he cracks a faint smile, which is all the more special for its rarity value. While Moore sensibly refuses to play the court jester for the media, he is however absolutely superb in his debriefings with owners and trainers. Those charged with promoting the sport may argue that that's not enough, but it is, first and foremost, his job.

The amusing postscript to Little Big Bear's triumph was found in these words from Aidan O'Brien: “Ryan was very complimentary about him and there's not too many horses Ryan is complimentary of.”

Spin? Possibly. But then this was the man who dismounted from his first victory in the Oaks on Snow Fairy and said, “Well it's not the Derby, is it?” The likelihood is that Moore, along with the rest of us, thinks that Little Big Bear is very exciting indeed. 

And to this observer, having two jockeys of the class demonstrated by Buick and Moore, both on and off their horses, is all the excitement one needs. Let's leave the drama and angst to others.

All Roads Lead to Deauville

The strange world within a world that is the bloodstock sales scene cranks into top gear this weekend with the start of the European yearling season in France. 

Readers of The Times may have been disheartened by last week's 'Litany of gloom' leader forewarning of another major recession for Britain, but that is unlikely to upset the bull run of the yearling sales. Not yet anyway, and not while there is such a clamour for European-bred turf horses with a touch of middle-distance class from our colleagues in America, Australia and beyond.

Pre-pandemic, Arqana's August Sale hit a new high just shy of €43 million in 2019, and it wasn't far off that last year when the sale returned to its normal slot after a disrupted calendar in 2020, and almost €40 million was traded for 244 yearlings. The catalogue is slightly smaller this year, but it is fair to expect some pretty red hot trade as temperatures soar again in Europe. 

Hottest among the trainers in France is the unstoppable Jean-Claude Rouget, who reached a new milestone this weekend when saddling his 7,000th winner, thereby extending his European record as the winningmost trainer. 

On the day of his victory with Vadeni (Fr) (Siyouni {Fr}) in the Eclipse at Sandown, Rouget spoke of the slow beginning to his 43-year training career, when he was training “some jumpers and some bad Flat horses”.

Rouget's recent former assistant Tim Donworth has made a quicker start to his own training career, which began last September. The Chantilly-based Irishman now has 13 winners to his name, and recorded his first stakes win on Saturday with Ocean Vision (Ire) (U S Navy Flag) in the Listed Prix de la Vallee d'Auge, in which he also trained the third home, Kokachin (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}).

La Vie Est Belle 

Although there was only one non-German-trained runner in Sunday's G1 Preis der Diana, there was still a strong international feel to the result, with the French-bred Toskana Belle becoming the first Group 1 winner for her Normandy-based sire Shamalgan (Fr), a son of Footstepsinthesand (GB). Furthermore, the filly is now owned by Australian Bloodstock, and she was ridden by Kerrin McEvoy, who was making a flying visit to Europe to ride in the Shergar Cup at Ascot on Saturday and stayed on an extra day to land his second European Classic victory following the St Leger win of Rule Of Law (Kingmambo) in 2004.

Luke Murrell and Jamie Lovett of Australian Bloodstock have long had ties to Germany, where their racing and breeding interests are managed by Ronald Rauscher and include the Gestut Rottgen-based stallion Protectionist (Ger). Like Toskana Belle, the Melbourne Cup-winning son of Monsun (Ger) was trained by Andreas Wohler, who collected his seventh German Oaks victory while, remarkably, the Australian Bloodstock syndicate has now won the race three times. 

Toskana Belle, who only started her racing career this April, was initially under the care of Marian Falk Weissmeier, for whom she finished third in the G3 Diana Trial in June before joining the Wohler stable. She was bred by Simon Springer of Ecurie Normandie Pur Sang, who also owns her sire and the Prix Morny winner Dabirsim (Fr). Unusually, Springer bought Shamalgan, now 15, at the Arqana December Sale five years ago for €135,000, and both stallions stand at Haras de Grandcamp. 

Springer's own colours were carried to success in France just minutes after Toskana Belle's Classic success when his homebred son of Dabirsim, Celestin (Fr), won the Grand Handicap de Deauville.

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