The Making Of An Invincible Sire

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I Am Invincible | Yarraman Park Stud

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The perpetual debate about what qualities predispose a stallion to success is destined to be infinite, and by its nature is what causes the industry to keep going round anyway. But even Arthur Mitchell, the man who picked out I Am Invincible (Aus) with his brother Harry, admitted of Australia's latest sire sensation, “You can't predict these things at all.”

It is probably fair to say that few would have predicted I Am Invincible would be leading first-season sire of 2013/14 off a A$10,000 covering fee. And fewer still, four years later, probably would have guessed that this coming breeding season I Am Invincible would be up to A$192,500.

And how many can even argue that he doesn't warrant that almost dizzying upward spiral? I Am Invincible sits second to only the reigning champion sire Snitzel (Aus) (2018 service fee A$220,000) by both progeny earnings and stakes winners this season. Behind him in both categories are the likes of Fastnet Rock (Aus), High Chaparral (Ire) and Street Cry (Ire). He has this season sired 18 stakes winners, 12 of those group winners. Four of those group winners are 2-year-olds, and remarkably that list doesn't even include Oohood (Aus) who, with A$996,100 in the bank, is surely the world's most accomplished maiden, having been placed in Australia's three most important 2-year-old Group 1s.

I Am Invincible's sales averages have risen as sharply as his stud fee: his 52 first-crop yearlings sold in 2013 averaged A$39,950 and this year, with the country's major yearling sales in the books, his 98 sold have averaged A$441,901.

On race record and pedigree, I Am Invincible was a far from obvious candidate to be a champion sire. He was a decent racehorse; he won in February of his 2-year-old season and picked up a listed and Group 3 win at five, his career somewhat impeded by chronic foot issues. He was even a length second to the brilliant sprinter Takeover Target in a Group 1. He is, however, by Invincible Spirit who-while brilliant in the North-never really made it Down Under, leaving just eight total stakes winners from five seasons shuttling. While his first two dams are unraced, the third dam is the five-time winner Sister Pedrille (Aus) (Cardinal {Aus}), whose daughters produced six stakes horses including the G1 Queen of the Turf S. winner Diamond Drille (Aus) (Al Maher {Aus}). Much further back in the family are the champion mare Flight (Aus) and leading French sire Clarion (Fr).

Arthur Mitchell said it was I Am Invincible's looks that drew the Yarraman team to purchase half of him from owners Ray and Brett Gall of Pedrille Thoroughbreds, who had bought him as a yearling for A$62,500.

“We knew about I Am Invincible as a 2-year-old and we knew he was a good-looking yearling and we had followed him,” Mitchell said. “We knew he'd had issues with his feet, and we're still very careful with his feet; we spend a lot of time worrying about them. On paper he didn't look good enough, but we'd had a bit of a look and he'd run second to Takeover Target in a pretty good sprint.”

“We met the owners and we agreed on a price subject to us going to look at him. Harry and I flew down, my brother Bill picked us up and we drove down and said, 'the rule here is that the horse has to walk out of his box and we've just got to love him.' He walked out of his box and we looked at each other and said, 'we've just got to have this horse. He's so good-looking.' He's the most marvelous-looking horse with the best temperament you've ever seen.”

Yarraman and Pedrille sold 13 lifetime breeding rights in the horse to get him some extra support from the start. A few of those breeding rights have been offered at public auction in recent years, with Phoenix Thoroughbreds snapping up one for A$575,000 at the Inglis Chairman's sale last month. Two will be offered as part of the supplementary catalogue of the Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale.

“For a 10-grand horse we always got good books to him because we could sell him on looks,” Mitchell said. “We weren't too fussy what was bred and a lot of the good early winners were bred by us. We sold 13 lifetime breeding rights to help, and [first-crop G1 Coolmore Stud S. winner] Brazen Beau got the stallion rolling. We stood the first four years at 10-grand and when his first 2-year-olds looked good and we knew they could run, we started to creep his fee up.”

I Am Invincible went up to A$25,000 off his first season sires' premiership-the foals resulting from that season are this year's 2-year-olds-A$50,000 the following year and A$110,000 last year. Last year's book included the great Black Caviar (Aus) (Bel Esprit {Aus}), and Mitchell said, “he's absolutely flat out with people trying to breed to him.”

The intention was to initially restrict I Am Invincible to 160 mares last year, but the stallion's good fertility meant that number got bumped up a bit.

“He's very fertile so he got through his main book quite easily, and then in November, people still wanted to breed to him later in the season and he was sitting in his box, so we were inclined to let a few in,” Mitchell explained. “We certainly weren't pushing him, he did it himself. But this year we would like to bring him back a bit. He's probably fit to cover 180 mares.”

Mitchell said I Am Invincible's success could stem from the fact that he regularly passes on his good looks and demeanour.

“He throws his good looks and he's a dominant bay/brown stallion,” he said. “His clearance rate at the sales is fantastic. He's a reliable type-getter, they've got good dispositions, they are easy horses to train; I wasn't sure about them being 2-year-olds, but this year with them being from better mares in better stables they've stepped up as 2-year-olds.”

I Am Invincible has achieved a remarkable clearance rate at this year's sales, with 98 of his 103 offered sold for an average of A$441,901 and a median of A$345,000.

It is conceivable to think that I Am Invincible would be popular in the Northern Hemisphere considering the prolific reach of his sire there, but Mitchell said it is unlikely the horse will leave his homeland. Northern Hemisphere time covers would be considered, however, “for the right kind of mare.”

“I haven't considered shuttling him, I've had numerous offers as you can imagine but I haven't considered it,” Mitchell said. “With his feet, and he's a very big horse–he's 16.3–so he's a big horse to travel and we just feel it's safer. We're not paying off an expensive horse, he didn't cost a lot by today's standards, so we're just as happy to keep him at home.”

“I'm not anti-shuttling and I think it's been a huge thing in Australia and it's introduced some fabulous blood. Now we have mares foaling to American Pharoah, who is the most stunning horse and we're all very excited to see his progeny. I think [shuttling] has been a great advancement for Australian breeding with Darley and Coolmore leading the way and now John Messara going the Japanese way to a degree. It all benefits our gene pool immensely.”

Yarraman Park also stands Hinchinbrook (Aus), a three-quarter brother to Snitzel, and this year it will add I Am Invincible's Group 1-winning son Hellbent (Aus) to the roster. While Mitchell said he is a proponent of Australia breeding more stamina-oriented horses, he said Yarraman Park will stick to the speed formula for now.

“I think Australia in general has been speed-oriented and on this farm we're going to stick to speed. It seems to be a formula that works,” he said. “We're a commercial farm and we do sell most of our yearlings, and we find it easier to sell [speed horses]. Unless you get a top-class proven sire coming through like Pierro possibly is, then you can get a good return in the sales ring [for a stamina-bred horse].”

“I think [the Australian focus on speed] is a problem in the respect that we have this fabulous prizemoney in our top staying races and most of it is going to imports, so it would be nice to see more Australian-breds and New Zealand-breds competing at that level,” Mitchell added. “Here, most owners tend to want a faster return. They don't really want to wait until the horse is four, they'd like to see something happen a fair bit earlier. I think it's gone a bit that way and syndicates are a huge thing in Australia. I think people like to see action a bit earlier and that probably hasn't worked in our favour.”

Hellbent, the winner of this season's G1 William Reid S. at five, will start out with the odds much more in his favour than what his sire experienced; he has been fully syndicated and is fully booked at A$27,500.

“Hellbent is a horse we bought into as a 3-year-old because we followed him being a son of I Am Invincible,” Mitchell said. “We knew a bit about him and funny enough we heard on the grapevine that the chap who owned him was interested in selling half. We found out the price and thought 'blimey, that horse could fit our profile.' We bought half of him and raced him on. We were very unlucky in a few races; he kicked out one day and got hurt when he was odds-on favourite in a Group 2 and he was narrowly beaten in two Group 1s, and this year luckily won his Group 1 very impressively after being narrowly beaten in one two weeks earlier.”

“He's proven he's a super fast horse with a turn of foot, which is the profile we're looking for. He's a good-looking, tough Australian type of horse pretty much in the mould of his father, just not as big, but a nice 16-hand good-looking horse. We've been swamped not only for shares but by people looking for nominations. He'll cover a book far superior to the book his father covered the first few years. Already we've been able to help people select the mares they send and his book will be of a very good quality.”

Hellbent will have plenty to live up to both in his own sire as well as Hinchinbrook, who was born on the farm and got his second Group 1 winner, Seabrook (NZ), in the G1 Champagne S. on Apr. 21 on the same card that Snitzel sired the G1 All Aged S. winner Trapeze Artist (Aus).

“Hinchinbrook is a three-quarter brother to Snitzel and Snitzel was bred here by Francois Naude who is a long-term client of ours,” Mitchell said. “We sold Snitzel to Damion Flower and he went on and John Messara got him for Arrowfield and he's proven to be an amazing success. When we had Hinchinbrook the owner decided to keep him and race him so we had our finger on him from a very early time, and we were always keen to stand him. Sadly his mother died foaling him in the middle of the EI [Equine Influenza outbreak of 2008].”

Hinchinbrook's success this season doesn't stop with Seabrook; he has sired six stakes winners, four of those group winners, in 2017/18.

“Although another horse who never won a Group 1, he ran behind Black Caviar and Hay List and these great horses in Group 1s,” Mitchell said. “Although he never put his hand up for a Group 1 he was a Group 1 horse. He's done well and had another price rise this year [to A$55,000] and he's going to be very popular. He does cover a restricted book–he'll only cover about 130 mares–we try to keep him to two mares a day. But he's done a great job and he doesn't have the numbers some of the other horses have.”

I Am Invincible will have five sons at stud this year; in addition to the Group 1 winners Hellbent and Brazen Beau-whose first-crop yearlings have been well received at this year's yearling sales-there is Newgate's Singapore champion sprinter Super One (Aus) with his first yearlings next season, and newcomers Kobayashi (Aus) at Aquis and Overshare (Aus) at Spendthrift. Sons of Invincible Spirit, too, have been filling up the planes to Australia in light of I Am Invincible's success, and his sons at stud Down Under this year will include Group 1 winners Shalaa (Ire), Territories (Ire) and National Defense at Arrowfield, Darley and Sun Stud, respectively, while Cable Bay (Ire) covered 100 mares last year at Woodside Park Stud.

Arthur Mitchell and his younger brother Harry, who run the stud together, have a lifetime of experience in the Thoroughbred industry and know Yarraman Park like the back of their hands, having grown up on the land after emigrating from England at the ages of 13 and eight, respectively. While knowledge and experience doesn't necessarily predispose one to success in the game of standing stallions, the Mitchell brothers' record of unearthing useful-if not now, extraordinary-stallions from not the most obvious backgrounds speaks for itself.

“We've been standing stallions at various levels, some ok and some not so good, battling away,” Mitchell said. “And then we got into some better stallions; we got Catbird, who was a Golden Slipper winner, and had a bit of luck with him and a horse called Magic Albert who did very well.”

“But this horse is a once in a lifetime horse and he's exceeded everyone's expectations,” Mitchell admitted of I Am Invincible. “Our turn came and when it came it came in a big way.”

Mitchell was equally as optimistic about the outlook of the Thoroughbred industry in his country.

“I do think Australian breeding and racing is in a very vibrant state at the moment,” he said. “Our prizemoney continues to go up and is very strong and competitive. Especially with the Asian influence starting to buy more horses down here, we have some large Chinese-based owners and buyers and stud owners now; I think it's pretty vibrant and in the next few years at least I don't see any downside at all.”

“Our racing is strong and that's driven by prizemoney, which is in turn driven by our racing administrators. John Messara and Peter V'landys in New South Wales have been outstanding dealing with government and making sure we get a fair cut of the betting handle. That's been a huge thing for us. Racing here is viable, even at the country races we have prizemoney of 20,000 at the smallest meetings. It makes it viable for people now to have a horse, or a share in a horse, from all walks of life. That's been the wonderful thing in Australia even in our big races with our syndicates owning Golden Slipper winners. The man on the street can own a share in a Golden Slipper winner-that doesn't really happen anywhere else in the world.”

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