Zoffany giving cause for hope he's a wondersire in waiting
Martin Stevens scrutinises the record of the former flying freshman
A reliable indicator of a young horse laying down the roots of a fruitful stallion career is if they can maintain momentum between a bright start with their first two-year-old runners until their more expensively bred offspring, conceived in the wake of that encouraging freshman season, hit the track.
The finest current example of a sire carrying off that feat is perhaps Siyouni, whose fourth crop of three-year-olds were still bred at his introductory fee of €7,000 in the year before his price would leap to €20,000. Yet that group includes 1,000 Guineas runner-up and Prix Saint-Alary heroine Laurens and Thursday's Belmont Park Grade 3 winner La Signare among 11 stakes performers.
It is a similar case with Siyouni's peer Showcasing, whose fourth European crop are also of Classic age. Bred at a fee of £4,500, in the year the sire's debut two-year-olds would dazzle on the track and he would subsequently earn a price rise to £15,000, they feature among their number four stakes winners including Dice Roll, a narrowly beaten third in the Poule d'Essai des Poulains.
Both Siyouni and Showcasing have also reaped the benefit of talented horses from their early crops staying in training and maintaining their form over several seasons – the likes of Finsbury Square for the former and Tasleet for the latter – to complement the exploits of the younger offspring.
Consequently, success has snowballed for each stallion and their fees have risen and risen, never dipping, since their first two-year-olds ran, without having to wait for the boost their better bred juveniles might be expected to give them in the months ahead. Siyouni stood at €75,000 this year; Showcasing, £35,000.
Zoffany, one year younger than Siyouni and Showcasing and one year behind them in terms of the progression of his stallion career, has not bridged the gap between his fabulous first crop and his more expensively bred progeny gracing racecourses quite as spectacularly as those two horses. Indeed, the Coolmore resident's fee dipped to €25,000 this year from a high of €45,000 in 2016, after his stunning sophomore season.
But recent results have given cause for hope that the stars are still aligned for him to break through and join Siyouni and Showcasing in the major league of the European stallion ranks.
First of all, there are the five-year-olds from Zoffany's celebrated first crop who are still running with credit this year. There have been ten stakes winners among those pioneers for their sire, including the trio who gave him that memorable Royal Ascot two-year-old treble – Illuminate, Washington DC and Waterloo Bridge – as well as Gran Premio del Jockey Club winner Ventura Storm.
Not a stakes winner, but still the joint-highest representative of the son of Dansili on Racing Post Ratings, was another of that age group – Epsom and Curragh Oaks runner-up Architecture.
Rebranded as a hardy stayer down under, Ventura Storm was a creditable third in the Group 1 Australian Cup this year, while Washington DC, placed three times at the highest level, suggested he still has such a race in his grasp when running Battaash to a head second in the Temple Stakes last month.
Then at Epsom last week the Zoffany mare Wilamana notched a first Pattern victory at the age of five, recording a comfortable verdict over Anna Nerium in the Princess Elizabeth Stakes.
A quieter spell
Zoffany's next crop always had a hard act to follow and the fact the stakes winners it yielded can be summarised as three at Listed level on the continent – even if one of them was the Secretariat Stakes third Afandem – might help explain why the sire's fee required pruning back from a high of €45,000 to €35,000 in 2017.
The absence of two-year-old stakes winners from his third crop last year was likely responsible in large part to Zoffany's price going from €35,000 to €25,000 for 2018, but one of his maiden winners last autumn, the Ger Lyons-trained filly Who's Steph, endeared herself to many this spring, not least her new owner George Strawbridge, with two tenacious triumphs in Classic trials and losing little caste in defeat when seventh in the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
What inspires most confidence in Zoffany at the moment, though, are the green shoots among his final less expensively conceived crop – this year's two-year-olds. It should be noted, however, that this group was actually bred off a dearer fee than the sire's first three sets of juveniles – €12,500 versus €7,500 – even though breeders were committing to use him before they could see his first runners on a racecourse. Instead, they were being drawn in by the warm reception for his debut yearlings in the sales ring.
Regardless, Zoffany's two-year-olds of 2018 are still rather more inexpensively bred than those we can look forward to seeing next year – that post-freshman season crop that cost €45,000 to produce.
So his supporters will have been pleased to see him field three winners among this age group, including Crisaff's Queen, a filly bred by Chasemore Farm from its Deep Impact mare Monster Munchie and sold as a yearling for £8,000. The Agostine Affe-trained filly won a Listed race at Rome last month, which would not usually set the pulse racing, but she did do it by three and a half lengths and it would be no surprise to see her owners cash in on their bargain purchase.
Another Zoffany juvenile filly, Main Edition, has won both her starts for Mark Johnston, including at Goodwood last time by three and a quarter lengths, while the Hugo Palmer-trained colt Blonde Warrior eased to a three-length victory on his second start at Yarmouth on Thursday and had the Superlative Stakes mentioned by his handler as a target post-race.
Aidan O'Brien appears to have a winner in waiting by the sire in Coral Beach, placed in all her three starts including when a close second to the exciting Fairyland on her debut.
With 153 foals produced in 2016 – his largest crop to that point – we have every right to expect plenty more two-year-old winners to emerge this year.
Many breeders will be hoping he does, as Zoffany was sent 211 mares at that €45,000 fee in 2016, many of the results of which will come under the hammer at the yearling sales this autumn. Then there were another 217 covers at €35,000 a go last year, with the offspring now foals.
What raises the stakes is the number of well-bred mares breeders have entrusted to Zoffany. He appears to have especially been identified as a worthy outcross for Galileo mares, having covered 33 in 2016 and 30 in the following year.
If you are a believer in the power of a Galileo mare to add a splash of class to a mating – and the young sire's outstanding record as a broodmare sire would do nothing to disabuse you of that theory – you might infer the high volume of them among Zoffany's recent books as further proof that the stallion is something of a sleeping giant.
IN FOCUS: ZOFFANY'S NORTHERN HEMISPHERE CROPS
2013 – five-year-olds of 2018
133 foals bred off a €7,500 fee
72 winners including 10 black-type winners – Ventura Storm-G1, Foundation-G2, Illuminate-G2, Knife Edge-G2, Waterloo Bridge-G2, Dolce Strega-G3, Washington DC-G3, Wilamina-G3, Argentero-LR, Light Up Our World-LR
2014 – four-year-olds
80 foals bred off a €7,500 fee
45 winners including 3 black-type winners – Afandem-LR, Opinion Maker-LR, Spitzbergen-LR
2015 – three-year-olds
109 foals bred off a €7,500 fee
26 winners including one black-type winner – Who's Steph-G3
2016 – two-year-olds
153 foals bred off a €12,500 fee
1 winner including one black-type winner – Crisaff's Queen-LR
2017 – yearlings
211 mares covered off a €45,000 fee
2018 – foals
217 mares covered off a €35,000 fee
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