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O.P. « 2009-Jun-18, 01:36 AM »

Viking states his case

Derby Day was memorable for Sea The Stars’ impressive victory around Epsom’s famously undulating circuit, but THE Derby was not the only Derby run that day, the other being the Queensland Derby at Eagle Farm in Brisbane, writes John Berry.

Australia’s final Derby of the season lacks the prestige and quality of the race from which it takes its name – in fact, it arguably was not even the biggest race at Eagle Farm that day – but this year it contained an extra point of interest, provided by the deceased NZ-bred broodmare Dixie Belle, who gained the posthumous honour of featuring in the pedigrees of two Group One winners on the same card. Born in 1967, Dixie Belle has now 32 years later emerged as the third dam of Queensland Derby winner Court Ruler and the fourth dam of Black Piranha, whose victory in the same day’s Stradbroke Handicap finally saw him break through at the highest level, following placings already this year in the George Ryder Stakes at Rosehill, the Doncaster Handicap at Randwick and the Doomben 10,000 at Doomben.

Dixie Belle was a decent filly in New Zealand, winning four races from six to 9.5 furlongs, including the Introductory Handicap at Ellerslie. She was a good broodmare too, nine of her 10 foals making it to the races, and six of them winning. The star was Queensland Guineas winner He'll Do. Best of the remainder were Rebel Fire, who was placed in the AJC Oaks at Randwick, and her full-brother Sumaroles, who recorded 14 victories and was Stakes-placed in Adelaide. Another of Dixie Belle’s winning otut tutpring, Freequently, went on to breed the NZ St. Leger winner Freequent. Mated with Pompeii Court, Freequently in turn produced Court Ruler’s dam Free Court. Black Piranha, on the other hand, descends from Dixie Belle via her only unraced foal, Smuggler Belle.

If this duplication of Dixie Belle in the day’s results produced an interesting angle for review, a further aspect of Court Ruler’s pedigree provides another pleasing connection.

Dixie Belle was one of the many winners sired in New Zealand by the imported stallion Test Case, winner in England of the 1960 Gimcrack Stakes at York. Trained by Jack Jarvis in Park Lodge Stables, Newmarket, Test Case won the Gimcrack three years before his half-brother Gentle Art ran second to Talahasse in the same historic juvenile race. As a son of the inaugural King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Supreme Court, Test Case was a grandson of the 1937 Ascot Gold Cup winner Precipitation, whose male-line descendants were at the time doing such a good job in maintaining the sire-line of the Godolphin Barb, as the likes of the Derby winners Airborne and Santa Claus, the St Leger winners Chamossaire and Premonition, the Ascot Gold Cup winner Sheshoon, the Goodwood Cup winner Predominate and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Sassafras indicate. (Sadly, Precipitation’s influence has subsequently waned to the extent that he currently has no male-line descendants standing as stallions in Europe, thus leaving it to the American side of the Godolphin Barb line, via Man O' War, to keep that founding father’s flag flying around the world, its latest big-race success coming on the Queensland Derby card via the Queensland Guineas victory of Express Air, a son of the Warning stallion Piccolo).

After his racing career, Test Case was exported to New Zealand, where he proved a very successful stallion, responsible for the likes of dual Derby winner Ben Lomond (who was inbred 3x3 to Precipitation), Wellington Derby winner Llanthony, Wellington Oaks winner Marnie and, in Australia, VRC Oaks place-getter Quezette. At the time, male-line descendants of Precipitation were exerting a huge influence on staying races in Australasia, most notably via Precipitation’s son Summertime (a 7-time winner in the UK who went on to be thrice champion sire in New Zealand, four times the leading NZ-based sire judged on combined Australasian progeny earnings, and the only stallion ever to sire three consecutive AJC Derby winners) and Summertime’s son Sobig (whose many top-class sons included Melbourne Cup winner Think Big, Caulfield Cup winner Sobar and Cox Plate winner So Called). Other imported sons of Precipitation to shine in New Zealand were Count Rendered (largely thanks to his outstanding son Syntax) and Agricola (winner in 1967/’68 of the Australian General Sires’ Premiership, and responsible for the likes of AJC Derby winner El Gordo and AJC Oaks winners Farmer's Daughter 2nd and Lowland). Furthermore, Test Case was not the only imported son of Supreme Court to shine at stud Down Under: Pipe Of Peace, who was trained by Sir Gordon Richards and ridden by Scobie Breasley to land the 1956 Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, proved a leading sire in Australia, responsible for the likes of the outstanding sprinter Black Onyx and the 1968 VRC Derby winner Always There 2nd.

So, while Test Case was pursuing his successful stud career in New Zealand, he was principally revered as a member of what could at the time almost have been described there as the all-conquering Precipitation sire-line. However, nowadays he is seen as something completely different: a member of what is now known as the Eight Carat family.

Born in 1975 (and a daughter, interestingly, of the Man O’War-line stallion Pieces Of Eight ), Eight Carat was an unsuccessful racehorse in England when trained in Lambourn by Mark Smyly. However, her pedigree made her a very attractive proposition. The fact that she was a close relative of Test Case was, in fact, only a small part of her appeal. Descending from the great filly and broodmare Mumtaz Mahal (as did the great racemare Petite Etoile and her great-great-great-granddaughter Zarkava, winner of last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe), Eight Carat hailed from the immediate family of two great stallions – Royal Charger and Nasrullah – while a more recent celebrity to come out of the family had been the 1968 King’s Stand Stakes winner D'urberville, to whom Eight Carat’s dam Klairessa was a full-sister. After producing one foal in Britain (Cotehele House, who was to follow her mother Down Under and there produce Danewin, who compiled the remarkable record of winning five Group One races and finishing second in five more), Eight Carat made her way first to Australia and thence to New Zealand, where she went on to establish a dynasty at Cambridge Stud – and, while she was doing so, her family has continued to shine in Europe, thanks to the likes of her half-sister Habibti, who was European champion sprinter of 1983, and, more recently, Habibti’s grandson Morshdi, winner in 2001 of the Derby Italiano and the Grosser Preis von Baden.

Eight Carat’s dynasty is well-recorded: suffice to say that Group One winners descending from her now include, in addition to the aforementioned Danewin, such stars as Octagonal, Kaapstad, Mouawad, Marquise, Shower Of Roses, Diamond Lover, Don Eduardo, Viscount, Tristalove, De Beers and Viking Ruler (pictured). Furthermore, Danewin’s full-brother Commands, who was ‘only’ a Group Three winner, is now an extremely successful stallion. Of these talented relatives, Viscount can in one sense be regarded as the sire of the moment, being responsible for the hugely exciting young Singaporean sprinter Rocket Man, who lost his unbeaten record last month when finishing an excellent second to Sacred Kingdom in a tremendous edition of the Krisflyer International Sprint. However, most recently Court Ruler’s Queensland Derby triumph has elevated Viking Ruler to the ranks of proven stallions.

Trained by Clarry Connors at Warwick Farm in Sydney, Viking Ruler, who cost $1.5 million as a yearling, was not the most talented colt to descend from Eight Carat, but he gained the coveted credential of becoming a Group One winner when he won the Spring Champion Stakes over 1800m at Randwick in September 2001. He went into the race a maiden after four starts, and frustratingly the victory proved to be his only success, although he consolidated his reputation on his next start when a decent fourth, beaten only 1.7 lengths, behind the future Horse Of The Year Lonhro (a son of Viking Ruler’s relative Octagonal) in the Caulfield Guineas, and then when finishing second, beaten a neck, in the Group Two AAMI Vase at Moonee Valley. Unfortunately Viking Ruler proved to be hard to train following this productive spring three-year-old campaign: he ran only once in the autumn, when second to Lonhro in the Group Two Royal Sovereign Stakes at Warwick Farm, and managed only one start at four, running poorly in the Chester Manifold Stakes (Listed) at Flemington more than a year later.

Viking Ruler had clearly done enough to be regarded as a very attractive prospect – and the fact that he is a son of Danehill was clearly a further credential – and he duly received the high accolade of a place alongside the likes of Zabeel and Keeper on the Cambridge Stud roster in New Zealand. From there he has regularly shuttled to Oak Lodge Stud in Co. Kildare, Ireland. It has to be said that Viking Ruler has taken his time in getting his stud career off the ground in Australasia; and neither has he metaphorically set the world on fire in Europe. As regards his relative lack of achievement in the northern hemisphere, though, he can be quickly forgiven because, like so many good Australasian horses (such as, in the past, Blazing Saddles and Flying Spur) he has found it hard to attract good patronage in Europe. Even so, his Irish crops include the Stakes performers Romany Princess and Measurement, members of his first and second crops respectively.

Viking Ruler also had a Stakes-placed juvenile, Tief, from his first NZ crop, but it was only once these horses had turned three that they began to record good results with any regularity. Pretty Vegas proved one of the best three-year-old fillies in New Zealand that season, while the gelding Red Ruler did even better, winning the Group Two Championship Stakes at Ellerslie before running second to his compatriot Nom Du Jeu in the AJC Australian Derby at Randwick. This season Red Ruler has posted very solid weight-for-age form, while his later-maturing contemporary Kroner, trained by Bart Cummings, has also come to the fore, with two Listed sprinting wins in recent weeks. Viking Ruler’s status has been further reinforced by his second crop, of which Court Ruler is clearly the star.

Viking Ruler’s current relatively low stud fee reflects the fact he has taken time to find his feet as a stallion. However, he has now shown that he is capable of siring high-class performers, and thus remains a value option for breeders looking for a well-credentialled stallion at an affordable price. How fitting it has been that the horse to validate his credentials is a descendant of a daughter of his distant relative Test Case.