Watership Down On Song For Darn Hot Sale

The yearling brother to Too Darn Hot and Lah Ti Dar | Amy Lanigan


A leading bloodstock agent, making one of the more imperative farm visits before the Tattersalls October Sale, is scribbling notes on a fabulous yearling colt. He shakes his head and smiles. “It's almost enough to make you believe in genetics,” he says.

But it is not just a regal page that favours this colt. It would be hard for any Thoroughbred not to sparkle on such a day, in such a setting: this remote Hampshire valley enclosed by blue sky and hazy hills, their shadow creeping down towards the gleaming pasture, with trees peering over the tiles of an intimate stableyard to admire the young horses on parade.

Timeless as the scene is, however, recent events have conspired to make this particular colt, lot 325, the 'now' horse of Book 1. For he is the latest off the conveyor belt for Watership Down Stud's Dar Re Mi (GB) (Singspiel {Ire}) and her regular beau, Dubawi (Ire), and, as such, the beneficiary of the most important update in the catalogue.

For what is already one of its richest pages lists a brother as merely a 2016 colt, 'in training'. But this has proved to be none other than Too Darn Hot (GB), who has so quickly emerged as the most exciting juvenile colt in the land. Flamboyant winner of all three starts, notably the G2 Champagne S. at Doncaster last month, he is hot favourite to crown a huge week for Watership Down in the G1 Darley Dewhurst S. just down the road from Tattersalls on the Rowley Mile on Saturday.

Moreover the catalogue also records another sibling, Lah Ti Dar (GB), merely as winner of her first two starts, albeit these included the Listed Pretty Polly S. back in the spring. That performance qualified her as favourite for the Oaks, but she then shared a similar misfortune to that experienced two years previously by So Mi Dar (GB)—the result of Dar Re Mi's first tryst with Dubawi, and herself fancied for the same Classic after winning the G3 Musidora S. Both had to miss Epsom after setbacks. But just as So Mi Dar came back in the autumn to prove her Group 1 calibre, beaten half a length in the Prix de l'Opera, so has Lah Ti Dar finished runner-up in the G1 St Leger since the publication of the catalogue.

Little wonder, then, if the drums have been beating about a colt who, although an April foal, can only have impressed those who have been pulling him out of his stall at the Highflyer Paddock all weekend.

On the afternoon of TDN's visit, however, Simon Marsh—who supervises Watership Down for owners Andrew and Madeleine Lloyd Webber—was anxious that one potential star should not detract from what he regards as a team of immense and consistent quality overall. In a 20-strong Book 1 draft, after all, Too Darn Hot's brother is one of only four to have graduated from the farm's boutique home-breeding programme. The rest are prepared on behalf of valued clients such as Bjorn Nielsen, Andrew Rosen and Trevor Harris, their number now increased by the support of Philippa Cooper, Al Wasmiyah Farm and Robin Geffen.

“When we started [in 1992], the idea was that we would sell our colts, race the fillies and try to build a very small, select broodmare band,” Marsh explains. “And we've never wavered from that. Though Andrew supports the stud fantastically, he has always said that it must stand on its own two feet.”

Marsh is fiercely determined to reject any inference that this self-sufficiency has been achieved by anything other than plain luck. But even he accepts that this particular colt's family turned on a moment that could easily have played out differently, had those involved not shown exceptional perseverance.

True, it had not required genius to perceive the eligibility of Darara (Ire) (Top Ville {Ire}) as a foundation mare. She was a Group 1-winning half-sister to that outstanding broodmare sire Darshaan (GB) (Shirley Heights {GB}). And, yes, Marsh still feels very lucky that she fell within reach, at Ir£470,000 at Goffs in 1994.

“When we bought her, she had a Sadler's Wells yearling who ended up being [G1 Ranvet S. winner] Darazari (Ire),” Marsh recalls. “And she had [G2 King Edward VII S. runner-up] Kilimanjaro (GB) (Shirley Heights {GB}) in utero. And then came the horse that made 3.4 million guineas, Diaghilev (Ire) (Sadler's Wells) [subsequently winner of the G1 QEII Cup in Hong Kong]. So when we bought her, none of this was there. She produced four Group 1 winners subsequent to us buying her. But although we had this fantastic success, selling out of her, she was then barren for four years in a row. And, at that stage, we didn't have a filly out of her.”

Here, however reluctantly, is where Marsh and his employer need to take some credit. Because those four barren years took the mare into her twenties, and it would have been the easiest thing in the world to wave the white flag and retire her. As it was, determined to eke out any last chance to get Darara an heiress, Marsh phoned Professor Twink Allen at the Animal Health Trust to see whether he might have any inspiration.

“And he told me he'd been doing some research on some non-Thoroughbred mares, leading to something that could possibly work in this instance,” Marsh recalls. “So Twink and Huw Neal performed this procedure on her, flushing her fallopian tubes, the first time it had ever been done with a Thoroughbred.”

The mare was sent to Selkirk, who was noted for his fertility; was immediately confirmed in foal; and rewarded everyone with a filly. But the same dividend would prove rather more momentous after a mating with Singspiel the following year.

“We chose him because we wanted her to remain in Newmarket under the watchful eye of Huw Neal, while also going back into the Sadler's Wells line,” Marsh explains. “And that resulted in Dar Re Mi. We did cover Darara one more time, after that—and she had Rewilding (GB) (Tiger Hill {Ger}), who was born when she was 24. So it is a remarkable story: the fact that she came up with Dar Re Mi so late in her life, and then Rewilding, who was probably the best of all her produce. I do think a lot of people would long since have given up. For Dar Re Mi then to go on and do what she did on the track, and then to become such an amazing producer herself, it's incredible.”

A triple Group 1 winner herself, Dar Re Mi has plainly imparted class to her progeny. But does the family have any more specific traits?

“I think they all want to get on with it,” Marsh reflects. “Darara herself wasn't a big mare, but she was quite feisty. Interestingly Dar Re Mi seems to have been throwing foals either to Darara or herself. Darara was a neater mare, probably only 15.3, with a lovely head and eye on her, very much like Darshaan; Dar Re Mi is very attractive too but a bigger mare. So a filly like Lah Ti Dar is very much a product of the mare; whereas Too Darn Hot looks more like Darara. But Dar Re Mi is throwing the most incredible individuals, one after the other.”

Though Frankel (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) and Oasis Dream (GB) (Green Desert) were granted their turn, Dar Re Mi has produced such knockouts with Dubawi that they would now seem to be together for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.

“The nick seems to work so well, why would you change it?” asks Marsh. “We're very lucky: she's got a filly on the ground, and we believe she's carrying another one. So hopefully we'll have four full sisters to go forward with.”

As a rule, of course, Too Darn Hot would himself have been sent into the ring this time last year. “But he had a minor problem that we were advised would mean he wouldn't pass a sales vet,” Marsh explains. “Otherwise, he'd have been sold and would now belong to somebody else. His precocity hasn't really been a major family trait. They've tended to take their time. De Treville (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) actually ran as early as June but Dar Re Mi herself ran once as a 2-year-old, So Mi Dar the same, Lah Ti Dar not at all. But Too Darn Hot has always been quite precocious, ever since he went to be broken. In fact we didn't even send him in to John Gosden's until beginning of July, and yet he came out and won on August 9.”

Marsh gives credit to the skills of Malcom Bastard and his team, in their pre-training role, but it can only be auspicious that the colt going under the hammer on Wednesday should bear such a strong resemblance to his sibling.

“Again, he's an absolutely magnificent horse,” Marsh enthuses. “He's very like his brother. He may be a little bit bigger but he's very much the same model: extremely strong; a beautiful head and eye; great hindleg; very good bone. There's very little not to like about him.”

But if Watership Down is to extend its remarkable record as a top ten Book 1 consignor since 2004, it will be because the quality stretches across the draft. And if they have been showing themselves in Park Paddocks as they did at home, then this colt might not even prove your top pick.

For one thing, there's a “really nice, big, scopey” Muhaarar (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) filly [360] out of Evita (GB)—the daughter of Selkirk delivered by Darara after her fertility therapy. But while Marsh can hardly do justice to the whole draft, in the time and space available, he offers a few signposts.

“We've another very nice Dubawi, for instance, a colt out of J Wonder (Footstepsinthesand {GB}) [421],” he says. “He's a really nice, typical Dubawi, with a lot of presence and a great pedigree.”

Indeed, the dam is a dual Group-winning sister to Group 1 winner Chachamaidee (Ire) out of a half-sister to 1,000 Guineas winner Virginia Waters (Sadler's Wells).

A useful Pivotal mare, equally, is always a start in life and Marsh very much likes the Kingman (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) colt out of Wannabe Loved (GB) bred by Normandie Stud [190].

“This horse has done exceptionally well during prep,” he enthuses. “He has great bone and presence about him. They also have a really good-looking Frankel (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) filly out of [Listed winner] Gale Force (GB) (Shirocco {Ger}) [382]; not too big, just a neat filly that goes very well; and an exceptional Le Havre (Ire) (Noverre) colt [138]. He's a beautiful horse and I'm a big fan of the sire. I feel everything's in front of him at the moment, he has some really good crops to come through.”

Another exciting French sire with two colts in the draft is Siyouni—who has, incidentally, been favoured with Watership Down's top-class racemare The Fugue (GB) (Dansili {GB}) after she started with three visits to Dubawi producing two fillies and, this year, a colt. The first of the fillies is with Gosden, who trained The Fugue to win four Group 1 prizes, and—as “an absolute spitting image of her mother”—is likely to be given a debut towards the backend.

“What I love about Siyouni is that he seems to be really stamping his stock, they're incredibly good-looking horses,” Marsh says. “The colt out of [Group 2 runner-up] Phiz (Ger) (Galileo {Ire}) [34] is a really nice type; and so, too, is the other one [140] out of Stirring Ballad (GB) (Compton Place {GB}), a very strong powerful horse with a great walk on him, from a really good, fast Oppenheimer family.

“We've also got two Dark Angel (Ire) (Acclamation {GB}) colts. One [148] is out of Swiss Diva (GB) (Pivotal {GB}), a really good-looking, good-walking son of the sire from that very fast Lordship Stud family. He should go down really well at the sales. The other [291] is again he's a really, good solid type, a half to two stakes winners, with great bone.”

Likewise doubly represented, this time among the fillies, is Lope De Vega (Ire) (Shamardal). “One [200] is from the Niarchos family of Whakilyric (Miswaki) and Hernando (Fr) (Niniski), out of a half-sister to a very good horse in Curtain Call (Fr) (Sadler's Wells),” Marsh says. “The other, out of Crysdal (GB) (Dalakhani {Ire}) [315], is again very attractive filly with a great walk.”

Running through some of the other fillies, Marsh continues: “We've an exceptional Galileo filly out of Bufera (Ire) (King's Best) [277], bred and raised at our farm in Ireland. The mare has a filly on the ground by Galileo and is back in foal to him. Bjorn [Nielsen] also has a Sea The Stars (Ire) (Cape Cross {Ire}) filly [64], a half-sister to Biographer (GB) (Montjeu {Ire}); again a really strong, good-looking filly from the family of Bosra Sham (Woodman), a fantastic family, very few better in the Stud Book.

“Another filly from a really good family is a very good-looking, neat sister to War Decree (War Front) [79], who looked the real deal when he won the [Group 2] Vintage S. They're out of a Street Cry (Ire) (Machiavellian) mare—and he's proving to be a fantastic broodmare sire.”

Marsh is eager to credit stud manager Terry Doherty for its excellent record at this sale. “Terry has been here since we started the farm, we didn't even have post and rail, it was a completely blank canvas,” he says. “He's just a brilliant horseman, and his eye and expertise in preparing these yearlings is second to none. We've a fantastic team, both here and at Kiltinan. The one thing we've always had is consistency of personnel. People have been with us for a long time, and I think that's been really important.”

Charlie Gordon-Watson and Michael Youngs have also made a valued contribution throughout to an operation that has punched well above its weight on the track.

“But that's also because we've had a lot of luck,” Marsh underlines. “We've a few mares in partnership, but this year bred only 12 that belong 100 per cent to Watership Down. Right now we've just six horses in training. People have said we've been unlucky, to have these Oaks favourites from the same family missing the race. But I would say that we've been incredibly lucky to have horses able to be Oaks favourite in the first place.

“And we've so much to look forward to. We know Dar Re Mi is carrying a filly. So Mi Dar is in foal to Galileo. Lah Ti Dar is staying in training. For these horses to have been able to play at the top table is extraordinary—and a testament to so many people involved in getting these horses from conception to the racecourse. Because it's the people who are really important.”

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