Five things we learned over Christmas and new year
British-breds to the fore and Flemensfirth flying
1. Thistlecrack heads a merry Christmas for British-bred jumpers
Is British jumps breeding enjoying a golden age? An owner of one of the handful of remaining British National Hunt stallion studs fighting over custom from a diminished group of domestic jumps breeders would probably let out a hollow laugh.
But there must be hope that the fine results enjoyed by horses carrying the GB suffix in 2016 encourages more British breeders to support some of the top-notch stallions available in the country (and boarding studs, for that matter).
A one-two in the King George VI Chase for British-breds Thistlecrack (by Overbury Stud stalwart Kayf Tara and bred by Robin and Scarlett Knipe) and Cue Card came on the same card that compatriot Yanworth (a son of Yorton Farm resident Norse Dancer bred by Wood Farm Stud) landed the Christmas Hurdle. It was agonisingly close to a clean sweep of Grade 1s for British-based sires at Kempton that day as Might Bite – a son of Shade Oak Stud new recruit Scorpion – fell when clear in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase.
Desert Orchid Chase winner Special Tiara (bred by David Young and another for Kayf Tara) is also British-bred, as is easy Limerick Grade 2 scorer Penhill, who admittedly was bred by Newsells Park Stud for the Flat but pays a compliment to the operation’s former resident Mount Nelson, newly installed at Boardsmill Stud.
All that success over Christmas was the fairy on top of the tree in a year that British-breds also won the Grand National (Rule The World), RSA Chase (Blaklion), Champion Bumper (Ballyandy), Long Walk Hurdle (Unowhatimeanharry) and Greatwood Hurdle (North Hill Harvey).
Ballyandy, Blaklion, North Hill Harvey, Thistlecrack and Special Tiara all serve to remind that Kayf Tara must rank as one of the best jumps sires to have stood in Britain.
2. Awesome foursome of bumper winners for stalwart Flemensfirth
Beeches Stud veteran Flemensfirth has been the sire to follow in bumpers, with four individual winners since Christmas.
Miss Sapphire, bred by Brittas House Stud and Canterbrook Stud out of bumper winner Howyakeepan, scored on debut in a mares’ contest for Willie Mullins at Limerick last Monday to kick off the hot spell.
The following day Ballyward, bred by Patrick Molloy out of winning hurdler and chaser Ifyoucouldseemenow and also trained by Mullins, was an impressive six-length winner at Leopardstown, while Cadeyrn led home a one-two for Flemensfirth with a convincing victory at Chepstow.
Caderyn, trained by Michael Scudamore, was bred by Grange Stud out of Kapricia Speed, a Vertical Speed half-sister to Grade 1-winning hurdler Geos and smart French jumps sire Kapgarde, making him a half-brother to Grade 3 scorer Barney Dwan. Incidentally, Kapgarde supplied yesterday’s Cheltenham Listed bumper winner Cap Soleil.
Flemensfirth’s fourth seasonal bumper winner was the Noel Meade-trained Minella Fair, who got off the mark under rules at the third time of asking by ten lengths at Limerick on Thursday.
Minella Fair was bred by Robert O’Callaghan and is a brother to the classy Time For Rupert, a creditable fifth to Synchronised in the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
For good measure, Flemensfirth is the damsire of Next Destination, a Dubai Destination gelding bred by Niall Flynn and trained by Mullins to win the bumper that concluded yesterday’s card at Fairyhouse.
Both Ballyward and Miss Sapphire are out of mares by Saddlers’ Hall, a cross that is worth noting. From 36 runners bred on that pattern, 19 have won including Beg To Differ, fourth in the Welsh National last week, and Two Taffs, runner-up in a competitive novice handicap chase on the King George VI Chase card at Kempton.
3. Grade 1 double gives reason to lament early death of Voix Du Nord
Voix Du Nord was only 12 when he succumbed to a heart attack at Haras de Cercy in France in 2013 but it was already clear he was a considerable loss, as his small first crop included Taquin Du Seuil, winner of the Challow Novices’ Hurdle a few months before, and dual Auteuil Grade 3 scorer Ceasar’s Palace.
Quite what a blow Voix Du Nord’s early death was has become apparent this season and especially over the Christmas period.
The son of Valanour has been represented by nine runners since last Monday and, remarkably, five of them won. The tally included two Grade 1 winners in Defi Du Seuil, who struck in the Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow, and Vroum Vroum Mag, winner of the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Taquin Du Seuil, winner of the BetVictor Gold Cup in November, was far from disgraced when fifth in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.
Vaniteux, Vibrato Valtat and Voix D’Eau are other high-class performers by Voix Du Nord, the winner of the Criterium de Saint-Cloud and Prix Lupin in his own racing career.
The early death of another Cercy stallion, Saddler Maker, from a hind-leg fracture aged 18 last May is also cause for serious regret.
The son of Sadler’s Wells is the sire of top talents Alpha Des Obeaux, Apple’s Jade, Bristol De Mai and Bouvreuil and another name was added to that list when son Messire Des Obeaux scored in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle on New Year’s Eve.
4. Haras de Montaigu highflyer Martaline in flying form
The French stallion ranks may not have Saddler Maker or Voix Du Nord any more but they are still graced by a fine source of National Hunt talent in Haras de Montaigu stalwart Martaline.
The 18-year-old son of Linamix hit a rich vein of form over Christmas, even with his outstanding daughter Kotkikova only fifth (though not beaten far) in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle on her debut for Nicky Henderson.
Martaline was on the mark with yesterday’s Relkeel Hurdle winner Agrapart, competitive handicap hurdle scorer Theligny, Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase second Marracudja and Leopardstown Grade 1 Novice Chase third Disko.
Eye-catchingly for the future, Martaline has delivered two bumper winners in Britain and Ireland since Christmas – £160,000 Cheltenham sale purchase Carter McKay, bred by Mrs L Lawson, won at Leopardstown for Willie Mullins, while Marten, a £70,000 Cheltenham auction graduate, was saddled by Ben Pauling to win at Warwick. Sons Isodon and Judgement Day were also placed in bumpers.
Martaline is set to stand at Montaigu this year for a fee of €15,000, making him one of the most expensive jumps-oriented sires in Europe.
5. Devilder family the breeders to follow with red-hot spell
As Guy Pariente showed with Kendargent, or Jim Bolger with Galileo, a single-minded support of a stallion can reap rewards if that stallion turns out to be a good conduit of class. Nicolas Devilder, a prominent figure in the AQPS world, and his family have once again proved that with the late Saddler Maker.
The Devilders bred, solely or in partnership, Saddler Maker’s star offspring Messire Des Obeaux, Alpha Des Obeaux, Label Des Obeaux and Bouvreuil.
Another Devilder-bred offspring of Saddler Maker to look out for is the Gordon Elliott-trained four-year-old filly Dinaria Des Obeaux, who dotted up in a Cork maiden hurdle by 29 lengths last month.
The Devilders’ horses are recognisable by the ‘Obeaux’ marque and they also made their presence felt over Christmas with Dipper Novices’ Chase second Clan Des Obeaux (by Kapgarde) and Welsh National third Houblon Des Obeaux (Panoramic).