Who will be wondermare Winx's first date? A look at the runners and riders
Martin Stevens discusses the stallions who might get the call-up
The remarkable racing career of Australian wondermare Winx comes to an end on Saturday when she contests her last race, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Randwick. But as one chapter closes, another begins and speculation is now rife as to which stallion will be appointed for her first mating.
Connections have remained tight-lipped about the seven-year-old's future in the paddocks, although her co-owners have indicated they are hoping to breed from her themselves.
"How could you sell a national treasure?" Peter Tighe remarked at the Longines-sponsored World's Best Racehorse ceremony in January, where Winx was recognised as the joint-highest rated performer of 2018 alongside Cracksman. "She's a national treasure in Australia.
"What she has done for us, I think it’s only fitting that we make sure she has the best possible life after racing. Breeding is a new chapter. I’m not a breeder as such, I’m purely an owner, but I will make an exception for her."
With the co-owners not having let slip which stallions they might favour for their history-making mare, the Daily Telegraph in Australia on Tuesday devoted its front page, adorned with pictures of hearts and roses, to the big question of the first mating.
We might not know the identity of which horse Tighe and his co-owners deem to be Mr Right, but we can safely assume it will be a blue-chip stallion with a high profile and a correspondingly expensive fee, earned through their achievements at stud, on the track or both.
Aside from that, all options are open. And there really are plenty of options, because Winx's pedigree makes her so easy to mate; she is by the late shuttle stallion Street Cry, who was by Machiavellian out of a mare by Troy, and the sires of her first three dams are Al Akbar, Voodoo Rhythm and Sovereign Edition.
Extraordinarily, considering his ubiquity in Australian thoroughbred families, Danehill is nowhere to be seen on her page. Nor are the likes of Green Desert, Last Tycoon, Sadler's Wells or Zabeel.
Narrowing down the field of Winx's potential suitors is a tough assignment, then, but the most obvious place to start is Australia's leading stallions by progeny earnings of 2018/19.
Leading the way, by a margin of more than A$6 million thanks to son Redzel's second win in the lavishly funded Everest, is Snitzel. The son of Redoute's Choice must be the bookies' favourite to get first dibs on Winx as champion sire in Australia in 2016/17 and 2017/18 and the source of 13 Group 1 winners including the likes of Russian Revolution, Shamus Award and Trapeze Artist as well as Redzel.
Proponents of the cover by Snitzel, who stood at Arrowfield Stud at A$220,000 (£120,000/€140,000) last year, might point to the fact that he is the sire of Winx's useful half-brother El Divino and that his Listed-winning son Sandbar, a close fourth to The Autumn Sun in the Golden Rose in September, is out of a mare by Street Cry.
I Am Invincible, one of the hottest sires in Australia in recent years, must also figure highly among Winx's co-owners' calculations.
The Yarraman Park Stud flagbearer has risen from relative obscurity and a lowest price of just A$11,000 to a blockbuster fee of A$192,500 (£105,000/€125,000) after supplying Group 1 winners Brazen Beau, Hellbent, I Am A Star, Media Sensation, Oohood, Viddora and Voodoo Lad.
The son of Invincible Spirit was the second most expensive stallion in Australia of 2018 and is second in the current season's sire standings, giving best only to Snitzel in both circumstances.
Coolmore's stalwart shuttler Fastnet Rock also deserves consideration, in fourth place behind Snitzel, I Am Invincible and Street Cry by prize-money in Australia for 2018/19 and with no other stallion currently standing down under able to match his tally of 36 top-level winners sired.
Darley's frequent flyer Exceed And Excel is another elder statesman and, like Fastnet Rock, a former Australian champion sire who should be in the running for the prize of Winx. He has 12 Group 1 winners to his name and is proving influential in the second generation of pedigrees, all while remaining more relevant than ever, as son Microphone's victory in this month's Inglis Sires' Produce Stakes proved.
Similarly, Exceed And Excel's studmate Lonhro has achieved great things in both hemispheres – an Australian sire championship in the south, Gronkowski from fewer seasons in the north – and he would bring to the mix some esteemed Antipodean bloodlines. His sire Octagonal was by the great Zabeel out of record-setting broodmare Eight Carat, while Group 1 winners Niello, Lankan Rupee and Mahaya are members of his maternal family.
The next generation
If Lonhro might be a little too much of an age mismatch for Winx – he is 13 years her senior – then perhaps the mare's co-owners might consider his exciting young son Pierro, who with three crops on the ground has delivered the Group 1 winners Arcadia Queen, Levendi and Pinot and last month's Hong Kong Derby victor Furore.
All Too Hard, of the same vintage as Pierro, has not sired a Group 1 winner of his own yet and would probably only have an outside chance of Winx visiting his court at Vinery Stud. But the mating would be quite pleasing from the point of view that it would unite the influences of Australia's two turf queens of the new millennium, the champion three-year-old All Too Hard being a half-brother to none other than Black Caviar.
Among the second-season stallions in Australia, Zoustar stands head and shoulders above his peers, having been represented by the triple Group 1 winner Sunlight and four other Group scorers. He is in line for a big fee increase at Widden Stud for the coming season, and is rapidly developing the stature of the sort of stallion who would be a suitable match for Winx.
Of the other sophomores, Spirit Of Boom has overachieved from the opportunities granted to him, and Dundeel is coming up on the rails as a useful sire, but both are likely longshots for receiving a mare of such high standing.
It's questionable whether any of the Australian freshmen have yet accomplished enough to merit being considered eligible bachelors for Winx, although the inexpensive Sidestep sent out a signal he might be better than his price-tag – A$7,700, up to A$22,000 this year – when first-crop daughter Kiamichi netted the Golden Slipper last month.
Conventional thinking dictates that outstanding racemares will be covered by proven stallions in their early years at paddocks. The reasoning is that combining two unknown quantities is too big a risk to take with such valuable commodities.
That is not to say mare owners don't enact such matings. Taghrooda visited Kingman when both were in their debut seasons at stud, while Zarkava went to Sea The Stars in his first year, after she had delivered her first foal, the same stages of their second careers that Treve and Shalaa were at when they met in 2017.
Foremost among the young stallions in Australia who might seduce Winx's owners into stepping into the unknown are the two US Triple Crown heroes who will be shuttling to Coolmore's Australian base this year, American Pharoah and Justify.
The chances of a mating with American Pharoah might increase if the son of Pioneerof The Nile gets off to a good start with his first northern hemisphere-bred two-year-olds in the coming months. As for Justify, there are a few clues on paper that the cross with Winx might click, as Justify's late lamented sire Scat Daddy threw Moyglare Stud Stakes winner Skitter Scatter and Royal Ascot scorer Con Te Partiro to other daughters of Street Cry.
The Autumn Sun, the five-time Group 1 winner by Redoute's Choice out of a Galileo mare from a top Aga Khan Studs family, might also make shortlists now it has been confirmed he will retire to Arrowfield Stud at a fee of A$77,000 (£42,000/€49,000).
The foreign legion
Winx's connections eschewed international competition for their superstar mare, as is their entitlement, so it has to be debatable whether they would ship her overseas for her first cover.
If they were minded to do so, top of the list might be Japan's champion sire Deep Impact, who is held in high esteem in Australia with offspring Real Impact and Tosen Stardom having shone in the country and indeed Winx's dam Vegas Showgirl having been covered by him last year. He will have to recover from a neck injury that has ruled him out of the rest of the northern hemisphere breeding season though.
Mind you, Deep Impact is not the Japanese stallion ranks' only attraction; Lord Kanaloa is showing every sign of becoming an exceptional progenitor, most obviously through his brilliant daughter Almond Eye. Incidentally, a Lord Kanaloa-Winx foal would have inbreeding to an unlikely name in 1969 Derby winner Blakeney.
Then of course in Newmarket there is Frankel, whose handful of runners in Australia has yielded Group 2 winner Miss Fabulass, the Group 1-placed Eminent and Frankely Awesome and stakes performers Farooq, Finche and Merovee.
Frankely Awesome is out of the Street Cry mare Street Secret, and the cross has another exciting representative in Outbox, who is unbeaten in three starts for Simon Crisford.
Jokers in the pack
So obsessed with sprinting and miling and against staying has breeding become that we just assume that the object of Winx's mating is a foal who will excel over no further than middle distances.
But why not harness the mare's ability to stay ten furlongs and send her to a stamina stallion with the aim of producing a horse who could compete from 12 furlongs up to the longer distances of Australia's great cup races?
In that respect, there would be worse calls than Fiorente, the Melbourne Cup winner by Monsun who has acquitted himself well at Sun Stud, his early crops containing an Australian Guineas runner-up in Hawkshot and Victoria Derby second in Stars Of Carrum.
Or, while we're roaming the realms of the highly unlikely, how about Needs Further, the Tasmanian-based son of Encosta De Lago whose daughter Mystic Journey became the first filly from the island state to land a Group 1 when she defeated Hawkshot to take the Australian Guineas last month?
We can only guess which stallion Winx's owners will opt for but one thing is for certain: the resultant foal will be the object of inordinate attention at the sales should they be put on the market and then on the track in the coming years.
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