Soldier Hollow: The 'German Galileo' 

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Helmut von Finck with Soldier Hollow and Olivier Peslier | Scoop Dyga

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The German breeding industry was dealt a blow this week with the death of 17-year-old Adlerflug (Ger). In 2020, the Gestüt Schlenderhan stallion wrested the German sires' championship from another son of In The Wings (GB), Soldier Hollow (GB), who was runner-up and who had the highest number of winners overall. Soldier Hollow had previously been champion sire in 2016, 2018 and 2019.

Adlerflug, whose grandam Alya (Ger) (Lombard {Ger}) was a sister to Allegretta (GB), the dam of Urban Sea (Miswaki), hails directly from the family of Galileo (Ire) but to Soldier Hollow's owner Helmut von Finck, his horse is the closest thing Germany has to the Irish super sire.

“Soldier Hollow makes the whole operation so precious,” says von Finck who keeps 15 mares at his Gestüt Park Wiedingen in the north of Germany. “He had five winners last weekend and last year he was champion 2-year-old sire. Now those horses are 3-year-olds it gives us much to look forward to this year. He's really the German Galileo.”

The owner/breeder is himself from the south of the country and grew up in Munich, where his fascination for the sport was fostered first as a racegoer and later as a successful trotting driver. Formerly a five-time amateur champion driver in Bavaria, von Finck has devoted his equine interest to the Thoroughbred since buying two fillies at Keeneland's July Sale of 1987. Both were daughters of Northern Dancer: one, out of the multiple Grade 1 winner Deceit (Prince John), became a Group 3 winner in Germany under the name of Diana Dance, and the other, Fabula Dancer, a daughter of Fair Rosalind (Exclusive Native). The duo has formed the cornerstone of his breeding operation which was enhanced with the purchase of the 80-hectare Gestüt Park Wiedingen, complete with its own pre-training facility, in 2000.

A year later, von Finck ventured to Newmarket for the yearling sales at Tattersalls on the hunt for a colt who could be competitive in Germany's top races.

“I was looking for a horse who would get the distance,” he says. “My favourite horses are middle-distance or long-distance horses, and I found two sons of In The Wings. One was very big and one was quite small. Everybody told me I should buy the big one because he was so beautiful, but I fell in love with the small one because he was well proportioned and looked strong. He was very typical of the Northern Dancer line and I have always liked Northern Dancer. Thirty-plus years ago I was the only German man who bought two Northern Dancer fillies in America.”

Offered by his breeder Car Colston Hall Stud, the colt who would become known as Soldier Hollow was the first foal of the dual winner Island Race (GB) (Common Grounds {GB}) and was bought for 75,000gns by von Finck, who was no doubt swayed by the fact that he represented the Northern Dancer line as a grandson of his most celebrated sire son, Sadler's Wells. Though Galileo has subsequently filled that same role for Sadler's Wells himself, Soldier Hollow's sire In The Wings played an important role in the early days of Sadler's Wells's stud career: he became his first winner at Chantilly on June 17, 1988, and subsequently one of six Group 1 winners from his first crop. Though Singspiel (Ire) has arguably been his most celebrated son internationally, the influence of In The Wings in Germany, through Soldier Hollow and Adlerflug in particular, is pronounced. 

Northern Dancer also features twice in Island Race's pedigree, through his sons Lyphard and Nijinsky, and Soldier Hollow's genetic mix is all the more interesting for a double dose of Forli (Arg) and Thong, through the full-sisters Special and Lisadell, the latter being Soldier Hollow's fourth dam. 

Von Finck says, “I decided to bid on the small colt and managed to get him. Sometimes in life we need moments like that. I've bought horses in America, England and France but he was the last horse I bought in England and he was the best.”

Island Race subsequently produced the German Group 3 winner Day Walker (GB) (Dr Devious) among her four winners but none of her offspring has come close to compiling anything close to the race record of her firstborn. 

Trained by Peter Schiergen, Soldier Hollow won on debut at Baden-Baden as a 2-year-old and went on to land a listed race at Dusseldorf. For his 3-year-old debut he won the G3 Preis des Gestut Wiesenhof-Dr Busch Memorial on his way to the G1 Mehl-Mulhens Rennen (German 2000 Guineas).

“He was fourth in the German 2000 Guineas but after the race he became very ill with colitis and he missed the Derby. It was frustrating as he had already beaten the Derby winner [Dai Jin] and second [Ransom O'War]. But he needed a long recovery so he didn't return until he was a 4-year-old,” von Finck recalls.

From the summer of 2004 he notched four consecutive wins, culminating in his first Group 1 strike in the Premio Roma to end the season as German Horse of the Year. In the following three seasons he added another three wins at the highest level, including two in the G1 Grosser Dallmayr Preis as well as a victory over subsequent Horse of the Year Manduro (Ger) (Monsun {Ger}) in the G2 Prix Dollar at Longchamp. By the end of his 31-race career, Soldier Hollow, neat and petite like his sire, had gathered 12 victories and finished in the first three on another 10 occasions. 

His owner adds, “He was a fighter and he gave everything. He was the complete racehorse. We retired him as a 7-year-old after he had won my favourite race in Munich, the Dallmayr Preis, by five lengths.”

The editor-in-chief of the high-end travel and fine dining website Gourmino Express, von Finck then set about promoting his new stallion to the German breeders.

“The first year was quite good, I did a lot of marketing and worked hard to get him full with 60 or 70 mares,” he says. “But then it dropped to 30 and by the fourth year he had only 10 mares. You need four years of input with a stallion but it was only the first year he had good outside support. Fortunately, I was able to support him a bit with my own mares.”

It wasn't long, however, before Soldier Hollow provided his own marketing at the only place it counts: the racecourse. He was champion freshman sire in Germany in 2011 and then the star of that first crop, Pastorius (Ger), went on to win the Deutsches Derby. The following year Ivanhowe (Ger) found the ground too quick for his liking when starting favourite for the Derby and finishing eighth, but he went on to win the G1 Grosser Preis von Baden before being exported to Lee Freedman's stable and winning another two Group 1 races in Australia. 

“So it went on like this and eventually he became the best supported stallion in Germany,” says von Finck, who initially stood Soldier Hollow at a fee of €6,500 at Gestüt Röttgen. “He moved to Gestüt Auenquelle who were very experienced with standing Big Shuffle, who was the first horse in Germany to cover more than 100 mares. At the peak Soldier Hollow covered around 110 mares which is a lot for a German stallion.”

Von Finck has come agonisingly close to breeding a German Derby winner by Soldier Hollow. Destino (Ger) was second to another son of Soldier Hollow, Weltstar (Ger), in 2018, three years after Destino's full-brother Dschingis Secret (Ger) finished third. In the latter, von Finck does at least have the honour of having bred Soldier Hollow's top-rated son, who raced in the colours of Hong Kong-based Horst Pudwill and and beat Hawkbill (Kitten's Joy) in the G1 Grosser Preis von Berlin as well as winning the G2 Prix Foy among his six Group victories. 

“We don't get the large number of mares like the stallions in Britain and Ireland but we do have good mares in Germany, so as the time has gone on he has had good chances with some nice mares to show that he is the best,” says Von Finck, who celebrated a homebred winner by his stallion last weekend in the Schiergen-trained Dibujaba (Ger).

“This season he will cover 70 mares. He's 21 now so we don't want to ask too much. With Adlerflug dying perhaps some breeders will want to chase Soldier Hollow but we will keep him to 70 mares. He looks very good for his age and he is in good spirits. Adlerflug did very well last year and it is a real pity for them to have lost him. Now we have only Soldier Hollow and he is getting old.”

The veteran appears as the broodmare sire of at least three of the Park Wiedingen mares, including Faizeh (Ger), a daughter of the homebred dual Group 2-winning mare Flamingo Road (Ger) (Acatenango {Ger}), who was also third in the German Derby. She in turn is out of one those original Keeneland purchases, Fabula Dancer. 

“The two mares influenced my whole breeding operation,” says von Finck, who on Monday welcomed perhaps the most special of his foals this year, a full-sister to Dschingis Secret and Destino. Their dam Divya (Ger) (Platini {Ger}) has produced five black-type horses with her first five foals, and she is a grand-daughter of von Finck's other Keeneland purchase, the Windfields-bred Diana Dance.

“I also have a yearling from Divya and her 2-year-old is in training with Francis-Henri Graffard,” says the breeder who has 10 horses in training in total—three of Soldier Hollow's offspring in Chantilly with Graffard and the other seven at home with Schiergen. 

From a different line but also by Soldier Hollow is the Gestüt Park Wiedingen-bred Wai Key Star (Ger), a four-time Group winner who has recently retired to Haras de Rosières aux Salines in France and is out of a half-sister to an early homebred star for von Finck, the Group 1 winner Waky Nao (GB) (Alzao).

Wai Key Star is one of a number of sons of Soldier Hollow at stud in France, along with Pastorius (Haras de la Hetraie), Dschingis Secret (Haras de Saint-Arnoult), Ivanhowe (Haras de Cercy) and Röttgen's Derby winner Weltstar, who joined Haras de Longechaux this season. 

The line has the potential to continue in Germany, too, as von Finck last year retired Destino to stand at Peter and Aline Rodde's Gestüt Westerberg.

He says, “With all the sons in France I decided to stand Destino in Germany and he's at a very good farm with Peter Rodde. He is the only son of Soldier Hollow in Germany and I have sent him good mares. He has first foals now and will cover more than 30 mares this year.”

Von Finck adds, “This is the horse for the future for me, while Soldier Hollow has done everything I could have dreamed about, as a racehorse and as a stallion. Last year he had 20 stakes horses and 11 stakes winners. It's a pleasure for me to follow every horse by Soldier Hollow with all my heart. He is my pride, the horse of my life.”

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