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story posted Thursday 29th May 2008 16:53

The long and winding Roads

The pictured Apache Cat's history-making win in the Doomben Ten Thousand on Saturday - which made him only the second horse to win five consecutive Australian Group One races - has kept his maternal grandsire Whiskey Road in the news, writes John Berry.

Not that the deceased Nijinsky stallion needed much help in that respect, with his best-known son Strawberry Road currently occupying a prominent position in the worldwide broodmare sires' Stakes table on the homepage of this site.

Strawberry Road is the damsire of seven individual Stakes winners so far this year, and this septet has collected a total of eight Stakes races. Six of the seven winners are, unsurprisingly, in America - where Strawberry Road spent the entirety of his stud career - but the seventh is in Australia, the land of the great horse's birth.

Strawberry Road's road to America actually started right in the heart of American horse country, with his father Whiskey Road being bred in Kentucky in 1972. Whiskey Road was a superbly-bred horse, being a member of the first crop of Nijinsky and a son of the champion filly Bowl Of Flowers, a half-sister to the great Ribot full-brothers, Graustark and His Majesty. Impressive though that pedigree looked at the time of his birth, it became even grander, especially as His Majesty was crowned champion sire in America in 1982 before eventually finding even greater fame as the maternal grandsire of Danehill. As with so many sons and grandsons of Northern Dancer in the '70s, Whisky Road went into training with Vincent O'Brien, but he proved himself merely adequate as a racehorse, winning one race, the Boyne Stakes at Leopardstown, from four starts. A stud career Down Under beckoned, and he headed for Strathallan Stud at Braidwood in New South Wales.

Whisky Road duly proved himself a huge asset to the Australian breeding industry. He sired good winners all across the distance spectrum, his first crop including both Bronze Spirit (AJC The Galaxy) and Just A Dash, who stopped the nation with his success in the 1981 Melbourne Cup. Subsequently and at intermediate distances came the likes of Marwong (VATC Caulfield Guineas), Whisked (VATC Thousand Guineas) and Cimarra (SAJC Oaks). As a broodmare sire he was responsible, prior to Apache Cat's emergence as a star, for the likes of Whisked's great Nassipour gelding Tie The Knot (Rosehill Guineas, Tancred Stakes, two Sydney Cups, three Chipping Norton Stakes etc.), Booked (Queensland Oaks), Drum (Oakleigh Plate), Bohemiath (Adelaide Cup) and Anamato (Australasian Oaks). But far and away his greatest achievement was to sire Strawberry Road.

Strawberry Road's dam Giftisa was bought as a weanling by Jim Pantos in New Zealand for $3,000, but during her racing career even that sum seemed money badly spent. She retired a maiden after seven starts, and her first season at stud - 1978 - saw her among Whisky Road's second book of mares. The service fee was $1,500, and her cheaply-produced first foal, to be named Strawberry Road, was born on 29 September 1979. Two years later, Pantos sent the small colt to the Queensland stable of Doug Bougoure, under whose care he won a maiden handicap at Eagle Farm in August 1982 on his third start. Bougoure immediately sent his charge out for a spell, declaring that he would set him for the AJC Derby, which most observers thought was akin to planning to fly to the moon.

Resuming the following January, Strawberry Road won four out of four in Queensland before heading south to Sydney. On his first start there he failed by only a short-neck against the previous year's Golden Slipper winner Marscay in the Hobartville Stakes (1400m). He then ran third in both the Canterbury Guineas and the Rawson Stakes before winning the Rosehill Guineas over 2000m. He then stepped up to 2400m to realize Bougoure's dream in style, winning the Derby at a rain-sodden Randwick by five-and-a-half lengths from Veloso, with third-placed Chiamare sixteen lengths farther back. After this rewarding campaign, Strawberry Road headed home to Queensland and finished off his punishing three-year-old campaign by winning the Derby there, having kept himself fit in the ten weeks since the AJC Derby with wins at Doomben over 2020m and 1350m as well as a third over 1866m at Eagle Farm!

Strawberry Road raced as a spring four-year-old in Melbourne, winning the Freeway (now Manikato) Stakes over 1200m, the Centennial (now Feehan) Stakes over 1600m before re-affirming his champion's status with a three-and-a-half-lengths success in the Cox Plate over 2040m. Over the summer, a sale reportedly fell through because of unsatisfactory X-rays on one of Strawberry Road's knees - which was hardly surprising as in the 15 months from his debut he had had 22 starts, which had yielded 13 wins. He failed to show his true form in the autumn in Sydney, finishing his Australian career by running unplaced in the Tancred Stakes at Rosehill on 14th April 1984.

By this time, a controlling interest in Strawberry Road had been bought by John Singleton and Ray Stehr, and the horse, reportedly valued at AUS$2 million, was sent to Europe under the care of Sydney trainer John Nicholls. Amazingly, he bounced back in style, proving his extreme toughness as well as his class by winning Germany's top race, the Grosser Preis von Baden, under Kiwi jockey Brent Thomson less than five months later. Five weeks after that he ran a heroic fifth of 22 - behind Sagace, Northern Trick, All Along and Esprit De Nord, and ahead of the likes of Sadler's Wells, Rainbow Quest, Time Charter and Sun Princess - in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, despite his jockey Greville Starkey having a rush of blood to the head and sending him clear 600m from home.

The following year saw Strawberry Road racing in new colours - those of Daniel Wildenstein - and trained in France by Patrick Biancone. There he followed up victory in the Prix d'Harcourt by landing the Group One Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, before heading across the Atlantic to finish third in the Turf Classic at Belmont and second in the Breeders' Cup Turf at Aqueduct, beaten only a neck by the mighty Pebbles in what was probably his greatest performance. He was subsequently sold again, to Allen Paulson, and eventually retired to Paulson's Brookside Farm in Kentucky in 1987. There he proved himself an outstanding stallion, achieving a lifetime figure of 11 percent Stakes-winners-to-foals (39:361) in a stud career which sadly ended prematurely with his death in 1995. He sired three Breeders' Cup winners for Paulson (Fraise, Escena and Ajina), and his offspring also included Grade One winners Dinard, Fowda and Royal Chariot.

As this year's broodmare sires' statistics make plain, Strawberry Road's influence now persists in the second generation. He made an early mark as a broodmare sire with the likes of multiple Grade One winner Affluent and Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Vindication, and his daughters continue to thrive. And what is particularly pleasing is that one of his 2008 Stakes winners - All American, winner of the Group Three Skyline Stakes at Randwick - was bred by Strawberry Hill Stud, which is owned by his former part-owner John Singleton and was named in his honour. All American's dam Milva is one of several Strawberry Road mares which Singleton has imported to Australia, another being Strawberry Girl, from whom he has bred the shuttle stallion Danroad, as well as Tippitaka, winner for Singleton of the 2005 Magic Millions Three-Year-Old Trophy, sponsored by the sales company of which he is senior partner.

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