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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Stage set for sire's biggest and best-bred crop yet

James Thomas runs the rule over the upwardly mobile Ballylinch Stud resident

Lope De Vega: the dual Classic winner stretches out in his paddock at Ballylinch Stud
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Influential Spanish playwright, poet and novelist Felix Lope De Vega was renowned for the sheer volume of his literary output. During his career he reportedly penned 3,000 sonnets, around 500 plays, and three novels, making him a prolific operator by anybody's standards.

He shares his name with Ballylinch Stud resident Lope De Vega, who is also a prolific operator in his specialist field, siring winners.

But while one of the criticisms levelled at the Spaniard is that he favoured quantity over quality, the same cannot be said of his equine namesake, as from just four crops of racing age Lope De Vega has sired an impressive 58 stakes performers, 18 Group winners - including six who struck at the highest level - and 12 Listed scorers.

The son of Shamardal enjoyed a fruitful nine-race career for Andre Fabre and owner-breeder Gestut Ammerland, with his fast start at stud mirrored in a race record laced with precocity, winning his first two starts before running to a Racing Post Rating (RPR) of 112 when a close fourth to Siyouni in the 2009 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere on his final juvenile outing.

Having proved high-class at two, Lope De Vega took things to the next level at three when recording a Classic double in the 2010 Poule d'Essai des Poulains - beating Dick Turpin by half a length - and Prix du Jockey Club - when comfortably seeing off Planteur by three lengths.

He retired to Ballylinch Stud in 2011 at a generous-looking introductory fee of €15,000, and served a 131-strong debut book that comprised of 65 per cent winners (85 mares), 33 per cent stakes-placed performers (43) and 15 per cent black-type winners (20), according to Weatherbys' data.

That debut crop - aged six, as of Monday - has returned a punchy set of results, with 23 per cent (23) of those foals having gained black type and 14 per cent (14) having landed a stakes race.

The undoubted highlight of that first crop is Belardo, whose five-race champion two-year-old campaign was crowned with a runaway win in the Dewhurst Stakes. A strong supporting cast from that freshman season also included the likes of Italian Group 2 winner Hero Look, and the Group 3 scorers Burnt Sugar - who landed the Sirenia Stakes - and Royal Razalma - who claimed the Cornwallis Stakes.

Belardo clears away from Kodi Bear to land the 2014 Dewhurst Stakes
And things have showed no sign of slowing since those first two-year-olds hit the track, as his four crops of racing age have now yielded a sextet of top-level winners.

Lope De Vega's first crop not only contains Belardo, who went onto add the Lockinge to his CV before retiring to Darley's Kildangan Stud in 2017, it also features eight more Group winners, including The Right Man, who came with a late rattle to land the Al Quoz Sprint at Meydan, and three-time Group 2 winner and Falmouth Stakes runner-up Very Special. The Right Man and Very Special both serve to highlight how well Lope De Vega's progeny progress, having recorded their peak RPRs at the age of five and four respectively. 

His second crop includes Jemayel, who also improved a chunk from two to three to land the 2016 Prix Saint-Alary in a driving finish from Camprock, and the Group 3-winning two-year-old and Irish 2,000 Guineas third Blue De Vega. While his second top-level winner at two came in 2017 when Capla Temptress, from Lope De Vega's fourth crop, ran out a cosy winner of the Grade 1 Natalma Stakes at Woodbine.

His European record currently stands at 166 winners, supplied at a phenomenal strike-rate of almost 67 per cent, all of whom were bred at a fee of just €15,000 or less.

Lope De Vega's Australian-bred crops meanwhile, conceived during his shuttle expeditions under the banner of the now defunct Patinack Farm, have supplied Sir Rupert Clarke Stakes winner Santa Ana Lane and Vega Magic, who landed the Darley Goodwood and the Memsie Stakes. Vega Magic is also his sire's highest-rated offspring by RPRs, having run to a mark of 124 when a close second to Redzel in the inaugural running of The Everest at Randwick last October.


LOPE DE VEGA - THE FACTS AND FIGURES

Pedigree 11yo ch Shamardal - Lady Vettori (Vettori)

Stands Ballylinch Stud, County Kilkenny

2018 fee €60,000

Runners 249

Winners 166

Strike-rate 67%

2017 yearling average £147,500


And it is hard not to think that the best is yet to come, with a significantly bigger and more expensively-bred crop of juveniles due to hit the track in 2018.

Back when the Ballylinch team - headed by the esteemed John O'Connor - were basking in the afterglow of the striking early results recorded by Lope De Vega's progeny, the decision was taken to hike his fee to €40,000 for 2015, the second largest increase in percentage terms that year, with his 220 per cent rise exceeded only by Showcasing, whose fee rose by 233 per cent - albeit from a lower base.

Breeders were clearly eager to avail themselves of the opportunity of using the sire responsible for supplying the previous season's champion juvenile, as in 2015 Lope De Vega's book contained 185 mares. And it was not just the quantity that increased that year, as his book contained 77 per cent (142) winners, 47 per cent (87) black type-getters and 26 per cent (48) stakes winners. If ever there was a book of mares to push Lope De Vega to even greater heights, it is likely to look an awful lot like this.

That high-achieving harem includes a trio of French Oaks winners, namely Aquarelliste - who also won the Prix Ganay and Prix Vermeille, Confidential Lady, and Golden Lilac - who, like Lope De Vega himself, is a dual Classic winner bred by Gestut Ammerland having also landed the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches as well as the Prix d'Ispahan.

Golden Lilac: the Group 1 Prix d'Ispahan winner is set to be represented by a Lope De Vega colt in 2018
There are plenty of other high-class and well-related talents too, such as Date With Destiny - the daughter of George Washington already responsible for the Listed-winning Beautiful Morning, Maid To Master - a winning sister to Mastercraftsman, and Venus De Milo - a dual Group 3 winner and four-time Group 1 place-getter.

More expensively-bred crops invariably lead to a greater number of Classic-type mares featuring in a stallion's book, but that is not to say we cannot expect a bold showing from Lope De Vega's two-year-olds in 2018. 

Of course, he was a high-class juvenile himself before maturing into a Classic performer, and as he descends from the Storm Cat line it stands to reason that his progeny can be expected to display their share of precocity before progressing with age. 

Among the plethora of well-related two-year-olds set to represent Lope De Vega in 2018 are siblings to the likes of Poule d'Essai des Pouliches heroine Elusive Wave, Phoenix Stakes winner Sudirman, Prix Royal-Oak and Coronation Cup hero Ask, three-time Italian Group 1 winner Dylan Mouth, Prix Jean Romanet scorer Romantica, Gimcrack Stakes victor Blaine and Irish 2,000 Guineas runner-up Endless Drama, to name but a handful.

And while the names and pedigrees of the mares contained within Lope De Vega's 2015 book create plenty of anticipation on their own, the results that crop enjoyed at the yearling sales add even more fuel to the fire.

In 2017 Lope De Vega's European yearlings, bred at €40,000, averaged almost £147,500 for 74 sold. They include the colt out of Group 3 winner Dolled Up bought by Kerri Radcliffe for 600,000gns at Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Sale, and the 500,000gns colt from the family of Footstepsinthesand bought by Roger Varian during Book 2.

The likes of Godolphin, Cheveley Park Stud, Shadwell and Juddmonte also signed for his offspring during the most recent round of yearling sales.

Moreover, Lope De Vega's fee has continued to rise, having stood 2016 at €45,000 and 2017 at €50,000, while he is due to stand 2018 at €60,000. And with the quality and quantity of his books keeping pace with his rising fee, the 2018 season could be the start of a very steep upward curve for Lope De Vega.

He may be named after a playwright known for the quantity of his output rather than the quality, but when his fifth crop of two-year-olds debut later this year Lope De Vega will have plenty of both. So dim the lights and raise the curtain, as Lope De Vega is about to take centre stage.


Sires of 2018 series...

Stand by for a bold show from an upgraded juvenile crop by Showcasing

Dark horses promise a bright year ahead for Mastercraftsman

Martin Stevens on the perfect storm that could be brewing for Siyouni

And it is hard not to think that the best is yet to come, with a significantly bigger and more expensively-bred crop of juveniles due to hit the track
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