The Soaring Success of Dark Angel

Dark Angel at Yeomanstown Stud in January 2023 | Racingfotos.com

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It was fitting that Dark Angel's 100th stakes winner should have come in the Dick Hern S. at Haydock, a milestone which the ultra-reliable Yeomanstown Stud-based stallion reached thanks to the victory of the St. Albans Bloodstock home-bred filly Heredia (GB).

Dick Hern, who sent out 16 British Classic winners including three winners of the Derby as well as his best horse Brigadier Gerard (GB), would have thoroughly approved of Dark Angel. Hern was an archetypal 'old-school' trainer who excelled with every type of horse. Late in his career he prepared two consecutive Horses of the Year (in 1989 and '90). One, Nashwan, successively won the 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Eclipse S. and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S.; the other, Dayjur, was Europe's utterly dominant sprinter. Brigadier Gerard was a champion at two, three and four, from six furlongs to twelve.

Hern gave his charges a solid preparation at two and expected them to last for a few more years after that. Two of his best stayers, Little Wolf (GB) and Longboat (GB), won the Ascot Gold Cup over two and a half miles as five-year-olds, but each had shown very smart form at two, with Little Wolf winning over six furlongs at Hern's local course, Newbury. Little Wolf's high-class elder half-brother Smuggler (GB) had won from six furlongs to two miles. In short, the archetypal Hern horse was tough, started work early in life and thrived on that work over an extended period. One rather suspects that Hern would have loved the progeny of Dark Angel, a stallion whose sons and daughters in general come to hand quickly, hold their form for years, and are notably tough, sound, genuine and consistent.

The irony about Dark Angel's stock being so strongly associated with durability is that he himself did not have the chance to demonstrate whether he could have held his form over several seasons. He raced only as a two-year-old and his career lasted for precisely six months and two days during the spring, summer and autumn of 2007. During that time he raced nine times, showing himself to be a hardy, sound and enthusiastic racehorse. It is easy to believe that he could have put together a great sprinting career had he been asked to do so.

Trained by Barry Hills, an old-school conditioner in the Dick Hern mould, Dark Angel made his debut at Newmarket's Craven Meeting in the spring of 2007 and then ran at most of the traditionally prestigious meetings of the season: Chester, Royal Ascot, Newmarket's July Meeting, York's Ebor Meeting, Doncaster's St Leger Meeting. He then won the G2 Mill Reef S. at Newbury and contested both of Newmarket's juvenile autumn highlights, winning the G1 Middle Park S. before finishing unplaced behind subsequent Derby winner New Approach in the G1 Dewhurst S. It was a proper, old-fashioned two-year-old campaign from which he emerged with honour fully intact, the winner of four races.

A Changing Tide in the Stallion Market

Nowadays it is no longer unusual for a high-class two-year-old to be retired straightaway to stud. Dark Angel was only racing 16 years ago, but that was a different era. However, times were just beginning to change. 

Holy Roman Emperor (Ire) (Danehill) had been a top-class and super-tough two-year-old for Aidan O'Brien in 2006 and began 2007 appealing as a likely 2,000 Guineas winner. However, when it became clear that Coolmore Stud's star recruit, the 2006 2,000 Guineas winner George Washington (Ire) (Danehill), was infertile, suddenly there was a three-figure book of high-class mares looking for a suitable horse (preferably a fast son of Danehill) who could cover them. The solution was to take Holy Roman Emperor out of training and give him the job. Consequently Holy Roman Emperor started covering mares at Coolmore in March 2007, officially aged three but in reality not yet 36 months old.

Perhaps emboldened by this, Gay O'Callaghan put in an offer for Dark Angel in the final weeks of 2007, an offer so good that his connections felt that they could not refuse it.

The son of Acclamation (GB) proved popular at a first-season fee of €10,000, although this had come down to €7,000 by the time that he began to have runners in the spring of 2011. Once his offspring had started racing, though, it soon became clear that he was at least as good a stallion as he had been a racehorse and that he would never cover for a four-figure sum again. In Great Britain and Ireland he was represented by 27 individual winners of 44 races during 2011, headed by his first stakes winner Lily's Angel (Ire), successful in the Empress S. at Newmarket after changing hands for only £8,000 as a yearling.

Lethal Force (Ire), who cost €8,500 as a yearling, should also be mentioned in dispatches in any review of Dark Angel's first juveniles as he finished a close fourth of the 23 runners in the G2 Coventry S. at Royal Ascot. That admirable grey, though, didn't fully come into his own until his four-year-old season in 2013, when he completed the great summertime six-furlong double of the G1 Diamond Jubilee S. at Royal Ascot and the G1 July Cup at Newmarket. Lily's Angel too did even better at four than she had done at two, her wins in 2013 including the G3 Chartwell Fillies' S. over seven furlongs at Lingfield.

Just this quick snapshot of the stars of Dark Angel's first runners tells the tale of what was to come: a torrent of horses who came to hand early and then thrived on their racing, continuing to improve as they got older. Just how durable they really could be, though, obviously took several years to be established, but in the spring of 2017 it became crystal-clear.

Two of Dark Angel's first-crop two-year-old winners in 2011 were Sovereign Debt (Ire) and Gabrial (Ire). The former won a maiden race at Doncaster in June and a nursery at Ascot in July; the latter scored on debut at the Chester May Meeting before following up in the Two-Year-Old Trophy at Beverley and then, like Lethal Force, running in the Coventry S. at Royal Ascot. They were clearly both precocious two-year-old sprinters; but, as it turned out, that was only the start. Six years later, in the spring of 2017 at the age of eight, Sovereign Debt was in the form of his life. He won the £150,000 All-Weather Championships Mile Conditions Stakes at Lingfield in March; the G2 Sandown Mile in April; and the G3 Diomed S. at Epsom's Derby Meeting in the first week of June. At both Sandown and Epsom, the runner-up was Gabrial. The latter finished second in the Diomed S. again the following year aged nine, with Sovereign Debt recording his 15th and final victory (on his 62nd start) as a nine-year-old in June 2018 when taking a listed race, the Ganton S., over a mile at York.

Attracting Outside Interest

As horses such as these began to show the full extent of Dark Angel's merit as a stallion, his fee began to climb and he found himself covering ever more impressive books of mares. In August 2015 it was announced that Sheikh Mohammed had bought a block of shares in the horse to ensure that he was guaranteed plentiful access to the stallion. Dark Angel had stood for €27,500 that spring but his progeny were winning good races so regularly (at the time that this deal was announced, he had already been represented by 13 individual stakes winners that year alone) that his fee would rise to €60,000 in 2016 (before reaching €80,000 in 2018).

It is not always the case that seemingly better opportunities bring even better results, but in Dark Angel's case that is what has happened. His roll of honour is now gilt-edged. His 14 Group/Grade 1 winners on the Flat are headed by a sprinting great: the mighty gelding Battaash, who in the five seasons 2016 to 2020 inclusive won 13 of his 23 starts (starting with a five-furlong two-year-old maiden race at Bath in May 2016 and ending with his second successive G1 Nunthorpe S.) including 12 stakes races, showing himself to be arguably Europe's fastest horse at ages three, four, five and six.

Aside from Battaash, Harry Angel (Ire) and Mecca's Angel (Ire) stand out among Dark Angel's fastest offspring. The brilliance of Mecca's Angel, a member of Dark Angel's third crop, was particularly impressive bearing in mind that she was conceived at a fee of €7,000 and then changed hands for 16,000gns as a yearling. These two speedsters won 10 Group races between them. Harry Angel's finest hours came when he won both the G1 July Cup and the G1 Haydock Sprint Cup (by four lengths) in 2017; while Mecca's Angel is best remembered for matching Battaash's feat of winning the G1 Nunthorpe S. twice.

The aforementioned Lethal Force and this year's G1 Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee S. hero Khaadem (Ire) are other top-class sprinters sired by Dark Angel. Khaadem is currently in the form of his life at the age of seven, having continued to progress since winning at Newmarket and Doncaster as a two-year-old in 2018 and then kicking off his three-year-old campaign in 2019 by beating subsequent G1 King's Stand S. and G1 July Cup hero Oxted (GB) in the Carnarvon S. at Newbury.

Dark Angel's best milers have included the US Grade I winners Raging Bull (Fr) and Althiqa (GB); the recently-retired Top Ranked (Ire) who thrived after being exported to Australia where won the G1 Epsom H. at Randwick in October 2022; and Persuasive (Ire) who won her first five races before finally signing off as an autumn four-year-old by beating Ribchester (Ire) and Churchill (Ire) in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II at Ascot in October 2017.

The one way in which the stock of Dark Angel differ from the profile of horses trained by Major Dick Hern is that, while Hern trained plenty of stayers, Dark Angel's stock almost exclusively excel as sprinters or milers. There is always the exception which proves the rule, of course, and in Dark Angel's case that exception was his second-crop son Guitar Pete (Ire), who raced 55 times between May 2013 and March 2021.  After starting out on the Flat, Guitar Pete thrived over jumps, his wins including the G1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle over two miles at Leopardstown in February 2014 and the G3 Caspian Caviar Gold Cup Steeplechase over two miles and five furlongs at Cheltenham in December 2017. He might be untypical of Dark Angel's stock as regards the distances and type of race at which he excelled, but as a grey horse who is as tough as old boots he is very much his father's son.

The Flourishing of a Sprint Line

Dark Angel retired to stud on his racing record rather than his pedigree, which at the time that he was sold as a yearling in 2006 at Doncaster's St Leger Yearling Sale for 61,000gns was seen as a page likely to produce the smart sprinter which his muscular physique suggested he should be, but probably not a stallion. In retrospect, of course, it is now tautologous that he has a stallion's pedigree (because he is a stallion). The most obvious aspect which makes it a stallion's pedigree is that he is a member of the first crop of the Royal Applause (GB) horse Acclamation (GB), who was a very good sprinter himself (most notably winning the 2003 G2 Diadem S. at Ascot, which is now the G1 British Champions' Sprint S.) and has turned out to be a far more influential sire than could have been reasonably expected at the outset.

Acclamation was not an obvious candidate to become a notable sire of sires, but that is exactly what he has become, with two of his sons, Dark Angel and Mehmas (Ire), having ended 2022 in the top 20 in the General Sires' Table for Great Britain and Ireland. Furthermore, another son, Aclaim (Ire), sired the 1,000 Guineas winner Cachet (Ire), while Harbour Watch (Ire) was represented by King George VI And Queen Elizabeth S. hero Pyledriver (GB).

Dark Angel himself is now part of the furniture in the uppermost tiers of the General Sires' Table. He is currently sitting in fourth place in the 2023 table behind Frankel (GB), Siyouni (Fr) and Sea The Stars (Ire). Last year he finished fifth behind Dubawi (Ire), Frankel, Sea The Stars and Galileo (Ire). If he were to finish this season where he currently lies, his 'form figures' for the General Sires' Table in the nine years 2015 to 2023 inclusive would be 442763554, figures which represent an extremely high degree of sustained excellence.

Looking ahead, Dark Angel is still aged only 18 and should be among Europe's most successful sires for years to come. Among his sons to retire to stud, things are looking promising. Lethal Force was the first to get Dark Angel going as a sire of sires, retiring to Cheveley Park Stud as a five-year-old in 2014 and producing some fast horses including Golden Horde (Ire) who was twice Group 1-placed as a two-year-old in 2019 before winning the G1 Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot in 2020.

In August alone, his son Guitaifan (Ire) has been represented by GI Beverly D S. heroine Fev Rover (Ire), while another, Heeraat (Ire), enjoyed a particular successful Goodwood, with Aberama Gold (GB) winning the Stewards' Cup (on his 60th start) and White Lavender (Ire) finishing second to the great sprinting mare Highfield Princess (Fr) (Night Of Thunder {Ire}) in the race which Battaash won four years in a row, the G2 King George S. Furthermore, Harry Angel is shaping up as a useful young sprinting sire in both Europe and Australia, where he was one of only two first-season sires, along with Justify, to be represented by three individual stakes winners during the 2022/'23 season.

The other marker which adds depth to a stallion's career is his success as a broodmare sire. In this sphere, Dark Angel's influence is also becoming noteworthy, particularly through the exploits of one of the rising stars of the stallion ranks, Havana Grey (GB), who sired his first Group 1 winner last Sunday and is himself out of the Dark Angel mare Blanc De Chine (GB).

 

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