An epic book of mares for Ulysses as Cheveley Park changes course
James Thomas speaks to Chris Richardson about the stud's new charge
It was Federico Tesio, that founding father of the breed, that famously said: "The thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended not on experts, technicians or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby. If you base your criteria on anything else, you will get something else, not the thoroughbred."
In Ulysses, a new recruit to Cheveley Park Stud this year, we have a horse that bares all the hallmarks of the thoroughbred of which Tesio spoke. He boasts a cast iron pedigree laced with Epsom Classic form, being by Galileo and out of the Oaks winner Light Shift.
He was brought along with typical patience by Sir Michael Stoute, running 13 times and eventually blossoming into a dual Group 1 winner when his strong-travelling style and potent turn of foot carried him to success in hot-looking renewals of the Juddmonte International and Coral-Eclipse.
His own racing CV may not bring much by the way of Classic form, but it is worth noting that he did go on to achieve the highest Racing Post Rating of any runner from the Derby he contested.
So Ulysses offers breeders a rare blend of pedigree and performance, attributes which can only have come at great expense to his new patrons. But if 2017 taught us anything about Cheveley Park Stud, it is that David and Patricia Thompson's operation is unafraid of making a bold play.
The acquisition of Ulysses came after the stud had made a notable foray into the breeze-up market, had signed for its first horses at Keeneland in 12 years and recruited Prix Morny hero Unfortunately, not to mention securing a trio of Grand National contenders at the 11th hour.
A change of course
Of course speed has been the watchword of Cheveley Park for over 40 years, but the conclusion of Ulysses' racing career coincided with a turning point for the stud with a couple of stalwarts heading into a well-earned retirement. So, in keeping with an emboldened policy, the Thompsons were not about to let the opportunity to stand the highest-rated retiree that year pass them by.
"We'd retired Kyllachy and Medicean and it was time to step up and make a decision," says the stud's long-serving managing director Chris Richardson. "We wanted a new horse to rejuvenate the Cheveley Park brand, and we feel that Ulysses is a horse who can be one of the first paving stones towards doing that.
"David Thompson was the one who was most enthusiastic and so impressed with Ulysses and said 'this is a horse I think would really benefit us', while Mrs Thompson spoke to Maria Niarchos herself and agreed the deal - that indicates how hands on they are.
"Speed has been the Cheveley Park make and mark for over forty years, going back to Music Boy, the horse that Mr and Mrs Thompson bought back in 1974. He gave them a Royal Ascot winner and won the Gimcrack and then went on to be leading first-season sire. But now it is the Thompsons' wish to try and breed a Derby and an Oaks winner."
Those Epsom aspirations may have seen the Thompsons readjust their targets, but the goalposts have also shifted for many of the commercial breeders out there, with stallions that offer precocity and speed over pedigree and performance often finding favour easier to come by.
"We've been sprinter-oriented for over forty years and now people are jumping on that bandwagon, so to speak, because it's been very successful," says Richardson. "Obviously we're going to continue with the speed angle, but if you want to protect the foundation of the industry breeders need to support this type of stallion. If we don't we're going to be on a very slippery slope."
But the sad fact is that we already find ourselves on that slippery slope. Each new stallion on the market presents a conundrum to breeders; is the certain risk each new horse presents worth the entirely uncertain reward?
Regrettably, if understandably, commercial realities dictate that stallions whose progeny should, in theory, come to hand sooner are often seen as a safer bet when it comes to securing return on investment.
"It would be fair to say that it has not been as easy as we'd hoped it might be," Richardson concedes candidly when asked about launching Ulysses. "The market is continuously changing and we have got to adapt to that. The sad thing is that owner-breeders are fading rapidly. The market is sire driven and commercially driven, so you could say we're paddling against the stream.
"We're in a fortunate position, though, as we stand eight stallions, we have over 140 mares and 137 horses in training with 16 different trainers. It's a huge operation and Mr and Mrs Thompson remain hugely passionate about their bloodstock interests. And that's where we can try and make a difference by investing in these stallions."
It is with the might of the Cheveley Park broodmare band with which the stud will give Ulysses a considerable head start to his life at stud, a privilege that should assure breeders that the son of Galileo will be given every chance to succeed in his second career.
"We're planning to send around 30 mares to him, and we may even send a few more," says Richardson. "The Niarchos family are going to be sending around a dozen mares too. It shows the commitment we're putting towards the horse and I hope that will give confidence to breeders to feel that this is an opportunity that should be embraced.
"We all know there are plenty of sons of the wonderful Galileo standing at stud but I hope the commitment we've given will win through."
And make no mistake, this is a commitment of serious proportions.
The Cheveley Park mares bound for Ulysses include Matron Stakes winner Echelon and her dual Group 1-winning daughter Integral; champion two-year-old filly Hooray; the Group 3 winner and Group 1-placed Infallible, already the dam of Mutakayyef and Intimation; and the Group 3 winner and Group 1-placed Heaven Sent, responsible for the stakes performers Seven Heavens and Firmament.
Moreover, the stud has actively sought new blood at the sales with which to support Ulysses. Among the new acquisitions are $1 million purchase Fools In Love, the dam of Group 2-winning juvenile Seahenge; the $2m Sky Mesa mare Mesa Fresca, the dam of Del Mar Oaks winner Harmonize; Troarn, a Listed-placed sister to Almanzor picked up for €600,000; and Zuhoor Baynoona, a Listed-winning sprinter bought for 560,000gns.
And Cheveley Park is boxing smart as well as hard in its quest to get behind Ulysses, as many of the upcoming matings are along similar lines to those responsible for Frankel, Churchill, Gleneagles and Winter, by marrying the genes of Galileo with the blood of sprinting mares.
There is also another important cross that has been a rich source of talent in recent times that plays right into Cheveley Park's hands. That is, of course, pairing Galileo and his sons with daughters of Pivotal. Variations of this nick have already supplied Group 1 winners such as Hydrangea and her older brother The United States, Rhododendron and Cracksman.
"It was a major factor," says Richardson when asked about the significance of the Galileo-Pivotal cross. "We're lucky enough to have over thirty mares by Pivotal and six or eight mares by Kyllachy, so that aspect was a very important part of the decision to go for a horse like Ulysses.
"Obviously we've got Mayson, who's out of a Pivotal mare, we've got Garswood who's out of a Kyllachy mare, so our stallion lines have continued to expand and what we needed was something totally fresh."
It is not only Cheveley Park Stud aiming to stimulate Classic bloodlines, as the BHA development fund is committing £1.9m to the cause of middle-distance and staying horses up to 2020 in a pledge that is as heartening in scope as it is size.
The new initiatives cover a range of age groups and races below Pattern standard, including new handicaps for staying fillies, each of them worth £50,000 by 2020, and a series of handicaps for staying three-year-olds that will range in value from £50,000 to £125,000.
There is also another raft of races confined to the progeny of middle-distance stallions to be introduced - as well as maidens confined to the progeny of middle-distance dams, while the next few years will also see more two-year-old races programmed over nine furlongs and beyond.
"I hope the work that's being done behind the scenes will produce the desired result," says Richardson. "I'm most heartened by the fact that Nick Rust and Steve Harman are doing their very best to improve things for owners, which in turn will improve things for breeders.
"It's a little frustrating that there has been such a delay in the official announcements about these initiatives. It needed to happen and there's been a lot of work going on, which is most encouraging, but actions speak louder than words.
"If owners want horses there has to be the breeders to breed them and we must encourage those breeders to stay in the business. If the likes of the Arc and the Derby and the Oaks as we know them are going to survive there needs to be incentives to use these types of horses."
There is no quick fix to shore up the future of the middle-distance horse, but £1.9m of prize-money is a windfall that should not be ignored.
Trends may come and go, but the racecourse will always be the ultimate arbiter in horseracing, and if breeders and owners are allowed to lose sight of that, the consequences really don't bare imagining.
But with Ulysses there is little imagination required. He is a horse with a deep pedigree, a top-class race record, and a legion of home support from an operation that knows how to nuture a stallion's career.
"The great thing is that the Thompsons are still committed one hundred per cent and I hope that the investment in Ulysses will, in years to come, prove a very exciting and instrumental part of the future of the stud," says Richardson.
Breeding is, of course, all about the future, but a future that relies on the principles of the past. Like Tesio said, if you base your criteria on anything else, you will get something else.
We may well find ourselves in very different times to those during which Tesio delivered his famous line about the thoroughbred's dependency on the Epsom winning post, but we are still dealing with the same thoroughbred nonetheless.
STRONG SUPPORT SOME OF THE CHEVELEY PARK STUD MARES VISITING ULYSSES IN 2018
Winning Shamardal half-sister to Rio De La Plata bought for €270,000
Dam of stakes winner and Group 3-placed Eternally from the family of Garswood and Infallible
Matron Stakes winner and dam of dual Group 1 winner Integral
Winning daughter of Echelon and half-sister to Integral
Fools In Love
Stakes winner and dam of Seahenge bought for $1m
Group 3 winner and Group 1-placed dam of stakes performers Firmament and Seven Heavens
Cheveley Park Stakes and Lowther Stakes winner
Stakes winning dam of stakes winner Queen Of Ice, related to Spacious
Group 3 winner and Group 1-placed dam of Group 2 winner Mutakayyef and Group 3 winner Intimation
Dual Group 1 winner in the Sun Chariot Stakes and Falmouth Stakes
Dam of Del Mark Oaks winner Harmonize bought for $2m
Half-sister to three stakes winners from the family of Blame bought for $525,000
On Her Toes
Dual Listed winner and Group 3-placed
Queen Of Ice
Listed winner from the family of Spacious and Dimension
Dual Group 3 winner in Prestige Stakes and Oak Tree Stakes
Stakes-placed sister to Group 1 winner Chorist
Group 3-placed from the family of Vintage Tipple bought for €180,000
Winning half-sister to Lady Eli bought for 300,000gns
Stakes-placed sister to Almanzor bought for €600,000
Stakes winner and half-sister to Group 2 winner Royal Youmzain bought for 560,000gns
SOME OF THE NIARCHOS FAMILY MARES VISITING ULYSSES IN 2018
A Storm Cat half-sister to Kingmambo from the immediate family of East Of The Moon, Karakontie, Rumplestiltskin, Real Steel and Dawning
A Group 1 winner in the Prix Marcel Boussac and the dam of the stakes-placed Ratiocination
A winning half-sister to Poule d'Essai des Poulains hero Karakontie whose dam is out of a winning half-sister to Kingmambo
A winning daughter of War Front out of the dual Grade 3-winning and multiple Grade 1-placed Pachattack
A winning daughter of Oaks winner Casual Look and a $1.45 million yearling
Gilt Edge Girl
A Group 1-winning sprinter in the Prix de L'Abbaye
Listed placed and the dam of two stakes performers from the family of Campanologist and Singspiel
A Grade 3-winning daughter of Giant's Causeway out of a half-sister to the prolific Cowboy Cal purchased for $700,000
The dam of four stakes horses, including the Group 1 winners Bago and Maxios