Australia: a classic Classic example
Australia’s magnificent Derby win was a joy to watch because we all love to see a mighty horse winning a Classic impressively. It was also, though, a delight from a bloodstock point of view because it was a classic example of theory becoming practice. The old adage has long been that the best policy in trying to breed a good horse is to ‘send the best to the best – and hope for the best!’ In particular, this can translate to sending an Oaks winner to a Derby winner, and then hoping to breed a Derby winner. This, of course, rarely comes up trumps. In fact, it only came up trumps once in the 20th century. Furthermore, that Derby winner (Nijinsky ’s sonLammtarra) was the son of a ‘Claytons’ Oaks winner, his dam Snow Bride having only been declared the winner of the 1988 Oaks many months after the race had been run, courtesy of the eventual disqualification of the original winner Aliysa. No such help, though, was required for Australia’s dam to win the Oaks, as Ouija Board numbered an easy Oaks victory (in 2004) among her seven Group/Grade One victories. Her mating in 2010 with the 2001 Derby winnerGalileo seemed at the time a match made in heaven – and now that it has yielded an easy Derby victor, it can truly be seen as a classic union, writes John Berry.
Although Snow Bride was the only Oaks winner to breed a Derby winner by a Derby winner in the 20th century, two other winners of the premier fillies’ Classic bred Derby winners during the period with the help of other stallions. Mr. Jack Joel’s 1913 Oaks winner Jest bred his 1921 Derby winner Humorist from a wartime covering by Polymelus, while Lady Zia Wernher’s 1955 Oaks winner Meld produced the 1966 Derby winner Charlottown from a mating in 1962 with Charlottesville. While Charlottesville was not a Derby winner, another of Meld’s unions was with a stallion who had taken the great race. In 1960 she visited the 1954 Derby winnerNever Say Die. In the short term, this mating was a complete failure as the resultant colt (Mellay) never raced, the legacy of a pastern fractured in training. However, Mellay ultimately proved the merit of the mating by winning two sires’ premierships in New Zealand in the 1970s before becoming the country’s champion broodmare sire for five consecutive seasons in the 1980s.
Over and above the achievements of the Oaks winners Jest and Meld, numerous fillies of similar standard also bred Derby winners during the 20th century.
Lord Derby’s tiny filly Selene was not entered for the 1922 Oaks because of her lack of height, but went on to prove herself England’s best staying filly of her generation by taking that year’s Park Hill Stakes (often referred to as the “fillies’ St. Leger”) at Doncaster at the autumn. She subsequently became arguably the most influential broodmare of the 20th century, her many significant offspring being headed by the 1933 Derby winner Hyperion, a son of the 1918 Derby winner Gainsborough.
Another notable filly to win a race of similar standard was Arthur Budgett’s Windmill Girl, who won Royal Ascot’s equivalent of the Oaks, the Ribblesdale Stakes, in 1964 prior to breeding two Derby winners, Blakeney and Morston. Her sons won the Blue Riband of the Turf in 1969 and 1973 respectively. The former was by a horse arguably unlucky not to have won the Derby (his sire Hethersett, having strolled home in the Brighton Derby Trial, started favourite for the race in 1962 but was brought down in a pile-up coming down Tattenham Hill) while the latter was by the 1963 Irish Derby winner Ragusa.
The only other mare to breed two Derby winners in the modern era is, of course, Urban Sea. She did not win the Oaks, but ultimately proved herself at least as good as most Oaks winners by taking the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a four-year-old in 1993. Her two Derby-winning sons Galileo and Sea The Stars have now recorded a mighty double at Epsom by becoming the first pair of half-brothers to sire the Derby and Oaks winner in the same year, Australia’s Derby victory having been preceded by the Oaks victory of Sea The Stars’ first-crop daughterTaghrooda. Sea The Stars’ sire Cape Cross, incidentally, posted the notable achievement of being grandsire of both Classic winners, being responsible for Taghrooda’s sire and Australia’s dam.
Other Oaks fillies of recent years to have bred a Derby winner include Park Express, Slightly Dangerous and Furioso.
Park Express, winner in 1986 of the Lancashire Oaks and runner-up in the Yorkshire Oaks as well as recording a Group One victory in that year’s Phoenix (now Irish) Champion Stakes, bred the 2008 Derby winner New Approach from her visit in 2004 to the aforementioned Derby winner Galileo.
Slightly Dangerous was runner-up in the Oaks in 1982 before producing the 1993 Derby winner Commander In Chief to a mating with the luckless 1986 Derby runner-up Dancing Brave. She also bred a Derby runner-up (Dushyantor) and an Irish Derby runner-up (Deploy) - the former was a son of Sadler’s Wells, the latter a son of the 1978 Derby winner Shirley Heights. Slightly Dangerous also bred the 1997 Irish Oaks runner-up Yashmak, thus compiling the type of record one would hope from an Oaks runner-up who was by a Derby winner (Roberto) from an Oaks runner-up (Where You Lead) whose dam had herself won the Oaks (Noblesse).
Furioso finished second in the Oaks in 1974 before breeding the 1983 Derby winner Teenosofrom her visit in 1979 to Youth, winner in 1976 of what was at that time the French equivalent of the Derby, the Prix du Jockey-Club.
Home On The Range, who raced in the same Louis Freedman colours as Furioso’s Oaks conqueror Polygamy, proved herself one of England’s best three-year-old fillies of 1981 by taking the Sun Chariot Stakes over 10 furlongs at Newmarket in the autumn. Mated with the 1971 Derby winner Mill Reef, she bred Reference Point, winner of the Derby in 1987.
Returning to Slightly Dangerous, betting for the 1982 Oaks in which she finished second (to subsequent King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes heroine Time Charter) was dominated for a long time by the Queen’s impeccably-bred filly Height Of Fashion, whose sireBustino had won the 1974 St. Leger and whose dam Highclere had scored the same year in France’s equivalent of the Oaks, the Prix de Diane. Height Of Fashion, England’s best staying two-year-old filly of 1981, won her Oaks lead-up race, the Lupe Stakes at Goodwood’s May Meeting, but did so in the style of a talented filly who was scoring despite being inconvenienced by an undulating track. This persuaded her owner and trainer (Major Dick Hern) not to run her in the Oaks, but the following month she proved herself to be as good as most Oaks winners by taking the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket’s July Meeting. Subsequently sold to Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum, she was covered in 1985 by the 1977 Derby place-getter Blushing Groom, thus breeding the easy 1989 Derby winnerNashwan.
Nashwan, incidentally, was not the only top-class 12-furlong performer sired by Blushing Groom, a top-class colt who had looked a non-stayer when third to The Minstrel in the Derby in 1977. His daughters included the aforementioned promoted Oaks winner Snow Bride, while his other sons included Rainbow Quest (a grandson of the aforementioned Where You Lead) who finished second in the Irish Derby and third in the Prix du Jockey-Club in 1984 before winning the Coronation Cup and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a four-year-old. On Rainbow Quest’s retirement to stud, his first book of mares included the 1980 Prix de Diane runner-up Aryenne – a mating which yielded the 1990 Derby winner Quest For Fame.
In Height Of Fashion’s absence, the 1982 Oaks was won by Time Charter. Among Time Charter’s matings once she had retired to stud was a visit to the 1978 Derby winner Shirley Heights in 1988. This union did not throw up a Derby winner, but it did still yield a high-class 12-furlong performer: the 1993 Jockey Club winner Zinaad, whose stud career in Germany was highlighted by the production of Kazzia, winner in 2002 of both the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks. Kazzia in turn enjoyed an all-too-short stud career as she died young. It is very easy to see that, had she enjoyed a full life, she might have bred Derby winner, because her brief term as a broodmare yielded one top-class middle-distance performer: Eastern Anthem, a son of the 1997 Coronation Cup winner Singspiel who became a Group One winner over 2400m by taking the Dubai Sheema Classic in 2009.
Ouija Board and Kazzia are not the only Oaks winners of the 2000s to have bred top-class middle-distance performers. The first foal of the 2001 Oaks winner Imagine (a half-sister to the 1991 Derby winner Generous) was the Group One-winning juvenile Horatio Nelson, who started second favourite for the 2006 Derby, only to be fatally injured during the race. That race was won by Sir Percy, whose dam Percy's Lass, a daughter of the aforementioned 1969 Derby winner Blakeney and a close relative to the aforementioned Derby winner Teenoso, was ante-post second favourite for the 1987 Oaks after winning an Oaks trial (the Sir Charles Clore Memorial Stakes at Newbury) only to have to miss the Classic because of a shoulder injury.
The 2000 Oaks winner Love Divine has done even better than Imagine. Hopes must have been high that she might breed a Derby winner from her visit to the 2001 Derby winner Galileo during his first season at stud in 2002. Such hopes, though, were not realized – but they were far from dashed, as the resultant colt, Sixties Icon, still became a Classic winner by taking the St. Leger.
A Derby winner such as Australia, whose sire won the Derby and whose dam won the Oaks, is clearly a rare and very precious jewel. He was bred on the classic recipe to win a Derby and that is exactly what he has done. However, while many are called and few are chosen in this respect, the theory is clearly a good one because, while the bull’s eye is infrequently hit, the general area of this particular target is frequently peppered, because the overall record of Oaks fillies, particularly when mated with Derby colts, as dams of high-class middle-distance gallopers is very good indeed.