How Cape Cross went from pacemaking miler to Epsom colossus
Sired two Derby heroes and his Oaks winner has produced another
As so often seems to happen with thoroughbreds, Cape Cross was something of an accidental champion.
On the track, his elite calibre was so marginal that a single success at the highest level - when holding out by a neck at 20-1 for the 1998 Lockinge Stakes - came as a presumed pacemaker. Otherwise he chipped away with the odd podium here, the odd stakes win there. A pair of Group 2 wins as a five-year-old appeared to measure his hardihood as much as his class.
Twenty years ago this week, in fact, he ran third in the Craven before proceeding to a midfield finish behind Entrepreneur in the Guineas. Horses like that come through every year. Very few of them, however, are out of champion juvenile fillies. As such, Cape Cross had put together a sufficient package to be offered to breeders by Kildangan Stud at Ir£8,000 when retired in 2000.
True, the depth and quality of his family tree would only become apparent as he began to make his own remarkable contribution. For one thing, it was not yet evident how deep an impact would be made by his own sire, Green Desert, as a sire of sires; nor even that of the overall Danzig sire-line, then also being extended by Danehill. Both branches, of course, have been characterised by an ability to produce horses that stay better than might seem likely on paper - and Cape Cross would very much prove a case in point.
His dam, equally, soon had a good deal more to recommend her even than her dual Group 1 campaign for Jim Bolger at two. After her wins in the Moyglare and Cheveley Park, Park Appeal had been purchased privately from Paddy and Seamus Burns by Sheikh Mohammed. The rest of her racing career proved a washout, but she would nonetheless prove a marvellous investment.
Moreover Park Appeal’s own family was meanwhile only growing in lustre. The daughter of Ahonoora - himself, of course, sometimes a surprising influence for stamina - was a half-sister to Desirable, who also won the Cheveley Park and later produced a Classic winner in Shadayid. Park Appeal’s mother, Balidaress, also went on to produce an Irish Oaks winner in Alydaress plus the dam of Russian Rhythm, Balistroika.
The higher Cape Cross built, then, the deeper the foundations became. Not that he wasted any time finishing the ground floor, into double figures before Royal Ascot with his first crop. But he was not your typical champion rookie sire. His first runner was sixth in the Brocklesby and, subsequently second in a Lockinge, would wind up placed in the Lennox at the age of 11.
And that debut crop was crowned by none other than Ouija Board, who would herself just keep on rolling. On her last two starts, in her fourth season, she registered a seventh Group/Grade 1 success at the Breeders’ Cup and then finished third to Deep Impact in the Japan Cup.
But it was her seven-length Oaks success, in 2004, that would start to shape the definitive legacy of Cape Cross. Not least because it appears to have prompted the Tsui family to send Galileo’s dam, Urban Sea, to Kildangan the following spring.
As a direct result, few modern sires can be said to have made such a profound impression on Epsom. For Ouija Board proved the first of three Classic winners sired there by Cape Cross, followed in the Derby by Urban Sea’s son Sea The Stars (2009) and then Golden Horn (2015).
This pair, though retired at three, left no doubt that they too matched their brilliance with a strong work ethic. Sea The Stars went six-for-six in the most exacting company available, from the Guineas to the Arc. Golden Horn’s connections were bolder yet, proceeding from Longchamp to the Breeders’ Cup, only to be thwarted by Found.
But it was the Derby either side of Golden Horn’s that topped and tailed his sire’s Epsom stature. The 2014 running was won by Ouija Board’s son Australia; and last year, of course, it was won by a son of Sea The Stars in Harzand - already the young sire’s second Epsom Classic winner, following the Oaks success of Taghrooda from his first crop.
Like Ouija Board, Taghrooda also finished third in the Arc, consolidating the success of both Cape Cross’s Derby winners in Europe’s all-aged championship. Another of his sons, Behkabad, started favourite when fourth in 2010, having won the Grand Prix de Paris that summer. Between Epsom and Longchamp, then, Cape Cross put together a CV wildly beyond the competence of many stallions whose commercial appeal supposedly warrants a higher fee.
As it was, though Ouija Board’s Classic campaign elevated him to €50,000, Cape Cross had slipped to €35,000 by the time Sea The Stars swept the board - and to €20,000 when pensioned last year, shortly before Awtaad demonstrated his undiminished capacity to produce a Classic winner.
As a result of this kind of pricing, in fairness, Cape Cross had seldom been short of custom. Quite apart from his shuttling shifts, which produced Able One and Seachange, in his first flush of success he was favoured with what was then the biggest Flat book in Britain or Ireland, at 188 mares.
The net result, in honesty, was that there could be quite long, deep troughs between his peaks. But what heights those peaks could reach, and what a long shadow was duly cast by news of his death on Friday, aged 23.
If things have played out wondrously, for a jobbing stakes miler, then the curious twists of fate might also have been traced in the hidden tracks of his story. Balidaress, the granddam of Cape Cross, was bred by Charlie Haughey - who, as Minister for Finance, was then providing Irish studs such a helpful tax regime - from the daughter of a mare once owned by that noted lover of horses, Winston Churchill. Haughey sold Balidaress, apparently against advice, only for her dam to be killed in a road accident soon afterwards.
Haughey would never have discarded his filly, of course, had he known the dynasty she would found. But then who could ever have anticipated those happier accidents that together ensure a lasting sequel to the story that ended yesterday?