Dark horses promise a bright year ahead for Coolmore sire
Martin Stevens puts the spotlight on a stallion with lots of unexposed talents
Perhaps because my attention was focussed on the record-breaking action in the ring as the European sales season reached its climax, rather than on the racecourse, the number of backend maiden winners that Mastercraftsman accumulated in 2017 came as quite a shock when it came to researching his prospects for the year ahead.
The exploits of the sire's best two-year-old, Alpha Centauri, are well known – a Listed victory and close second in the Albany Stakes at Royal Ascot for Jessica Harrington – while Wind Chimes, trained by Andre Fabre for Coolmore, had loudly announced herself as a Classic hope for 2018 with two wide-margin triumphs from two starts, including in the Listed Prix Herod. Another who had caught the eye, more subtly, was Lubinka, a maiden in three starts for Peter Chapple-Hyam who stayed on steadily into sixth in the Fillies' Mile.
But the glut of lightly raced winners who appeared from the autumn onwards were more of a surprise. Five of those achieved a Racing Post Rating of 83 or better – the benchmark set by the queen of backend maiden winners of recent years, Enable, when she scored at Newcastle in November 2016 – and another three posted figures just below.
The joint-best of those were My Lord And Master, who ran to a mark of 89 when he landed a Nottingham maiden over an extended mile by six lengths for William Haggas on his second start in November, and The King, a half-brother to proficient sprinter Lightning Moon who coasted to victory over a mile at Gowran Park on his second start for Harrington in September.
Next, with an RPR of 84, is Stream Song, a half-sister to top-class middle-distance mare Journey out of Prix Royal Oak scorer Montare, who landed a mile novice stakes over a mile at Newmarket for John Gosden.
Then, on 83, are Glencadam Master, out of unlucky-in-running Oaks sixth Coquet, who showed plenty of resolve to take a mile novice stakes at Kempton for Gosden just before Christmas on his third start, and the Mark Johnston-trained Lucky Deal, a half-brother to Group 3 winner and recent €1.3 million Arqana December sale-topper Haggle who broke his maiden when eased down to win a Chelmsford ten-furlong conditions race by two lengths in November.
Extra Elusive, a half-brother to Gimcrack Stakes winner Ajaya, was a comfortable winner of a mile novice stakes on debut for Roger Charlton in late October and boasts an RPR of 82, while Still Standing – another for Harrington, who appears to have an affinity for Mastercraftsman stock – won well over a mile at Naas on his third start several days later and was awarded a rating just one pound lower.
Extraordinarily, Still Standing had been knocked down to his vendor for just €1,000 when the first lot through the ring at the Goffs February Sale at the start of 2017.
Furthermore, Jamie Osborne took Lush Life – a half-sister to Laddies Poker Two, the Wokingham Handicap winner and dam of four-time Group 1 heroine Winter – for her first start at Kempton in November, and the filly duly obliged with a victory by clear water and an RPR of 76.
Meanwhile, in France in the same month, Emerald Master was sent by German trainer Mario Hofer to contest a ten-furlong maiden at Saint-Cloud and the €46,000 BBAG vendor buyback returned home triumphant after beating none other than Rabdan – Al Shaqab Racing's Frankel colt out of US Grade 1 winner Shotgun Gulch – by two and a half lengths.
The vast quantity of such exciting three-year-olds with untapped potential that Mastercraftsman has to go to war with in 2018 might be startling but in actual fact we were entitled to expect a bold show from the sire with his juveniles last year.
They were, after all, conceived in the immediate afterglow of his freshman season with progeny in 2013, when he led his peers by number of winners and prize-money, with Racing Post Trophy winner Kingston Hill, the classy Amazing Maria and The Grey Gatsby among his early representatives.
In 2014 Mastercraftsman's fee at Coolmore was hiked from €12,500 to €35,000 and his book-size increased from 188 to 221, with the number of black-type winners he covered going up from 20 to 45. He could have been expected to have covered more Classic types of mares, with more owner-breeders coming on board, and so it should have been foreseeable that the resultant offspring would generally take slightly longer to come to hand with some protected by their connections.
Many of Mastercraftsman's talented first-crop two-year-olds of 2013 turned into top-class three-year-olds, of course, and by the end of 2014 he had two European Classic heroes to his credit: The Grey Gatsby, who won the Prix du Jockey Club and famously took the scalp of Australia in the Irish Champion Stakes later that season, and Kingston Hill, who took the St Leger after finishing second to Australia in the Derby.
By 2015 the sire's fee had risen further still to €40,000, with 164 mares covered including 33 who had struck in black-type events, so his most expensively bred crop are two-year-olds in 2018.
Among the individuals who will boast the most illustrious pedigrees are colts out of Group 1 winners Allegretto and Chinese White and the half-brother to Classic-placed trio Galileo Rock, Saddler's Rock and Tarfasha; those three, bred to excel over middle distances at three and older, again highlight how the sire's young progeny might only start to show their hands towards the end of their juvenile seasons if they appear this year at all.
MASTERCRAFTSMAN – THE FACTS AND FIGURES
Pedigree 12yo gr h Danehill Dancer-Starlight Dreams (Black Tie Affair)
Stands Coolmore, County Tipperary
2018 fee €25,000
2017 yearling average £86,000
There are also plenty of Mastercraftsman offspring sold as yearlings last autumn to look forward to, with the sire's average price for that age group growing to around £86,000 in 2017 from £63,000 in the preceding year. The priciest of all, a half-brother to three-time Group 2 winner Libranno sold for 380,000gns at Tattersalls, is in training with John Gosden for Godolphin, while a half-brother to last season's Sandown Classic Trial second Intern went the way of Orbis Bloodstock for €310,000 at the Goffs Orby Yearling Sale.
All this talk of dark horses aged two and three, and we haven't even scratched the surface of the accomplished older performers by Mastercraftsman – bred off lower fees as the sire was on his way up – who could reappear in 2018; the likes of Master The World, winner of the Listed Churchill Stakes at Lingfield in November, and the improving handicappers Drochaid and Great Court, the last named added to the Qatar Racing battalions at a cost of 200,000gns at Tattersalls in November, and not disgraced when seventh on his next start in Listed company.
Nor have we mentioned Mastercraftsman's cross-hemisphere achievements, with Thee Auld Floozie, Mime and Saint Emilion running well in Group 1 contests over the last year in New Zealand, where the sire used to shuttle to Windsor Park Stud. Or the export potential of his runners, as his Irish-bred daughter Off Limits took the Grade 1 Matriarch Stakes at Del Mar in November, and several of his progeny, such as Packing Dragon and Pingwu Spark, have managed a fair level of form in Hong Kong.
With some of those better established names sure to maintain their form or progress further, and those later-blossoming juvenile maiden winners that quietly mounted up in late 2017 set to convert their promise to premier performance - not to mention all those well-bred two-year-olds - it is looking as though Mastercraftsman could be in for a very good year indeed.
Read our reviews of 2017 in the bloodstock world