Once a decade or so, a stallion appears on the scene who far outstrips any realistic expectations held on his behalf, writes John Berry.
In the British Isles, Pivotal is probably the most obvious current example. Indian Ridge, who died in October 2006 at the age of 21, is another recent high-achiever. Both horses were sprinters who, presumably, were retired to stud with the hope that they could generate a good income for their owners by establishing themselves as reliable sources of ‘cheap speed’. Both stallions, of course, proved far, far more influential than that, becoming recognized as possessing the rare ability regularly to upgrade the mares they covered, and to sire winners of the most prestigious races at a mile and beyond, as well as merely in sprints.
Going farther back, Indian Ridge can be seen as having followed in his father’s footsteps, because his own sire Ahonoora, who was sold as a yearling in 1976 for 7,600gns, had previously proved himself worthy of similar praise. A 50/1 shot when carrying 8 stone to victory in the 1978 Stewards Cup at Goodwood (when trained at Loretta Lodge, Epsom, by the late Brian Swift), Ahonoora graduated to Pattern class the following year under the care of the late Frankie Durr at Fitzroy Stables, Newmarket, winning the Group Two William Hill Sprint Championship (now the Group One Nunthorpe Stakes) at York and the Group Three King George Stakes at Goodwood, both over five furlongs. He retired to the Irish National Stud in 1980 at a fee of £2,250 as a cheaper alternative to the stud’s established sprinting stallion African Sky (sire of that year’s Group One King’s Stand Stakes winner African Song).
It didn’t take Ahonoora long to prove himself a far better sire than African Sky, and a far more versatile one too. His first crop were three-year-olds in 1984, and they included the dual Group-winning sprinter Princess Tracy, who set a European record for six furlongs when winning the Phoenix Sprint at Phoenix Park, and Ahohoney, winner of the Group Three Prix Fille de l’Air at Saint-Cloud over 2100m. That year also saw him sire his first Group One winner, as Park Appeal, a member of his second crop, won the Moyglare Stud Stakes over seven furlongs at the Curragh before doubling her Group One tally in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket. Unsurprisingly, his fee for 1985 was more than four times the sum charged the previous year (when Indian Ridge was conceived), the price of IR£12,000 making him the Irish National Stud’s second most expensive stallion, behind Tap On Wood (15,000 Irish guineas). His career continued onwards and upwards, with Park Express, trained like Park Appeal for the Burns family by Jim Bolger, taking his status up a further level in 1986 by winning the Group One Phoenix Park Champion Stakes over ten furlongs.
In the next few years, Ahonoora sired more and more top horses, including Don't Forget Me (winner of the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas in 1987), the excellent racemares Ruby Tiger, Noora Abu and Ginny Binny, top sprinters Indian Ridge and Statoblest, the very good Jim Bolger-trained colts Topanoora, Project Manager, Nashamaa and Armanasco, and the good fillies Princess Athena and Negligent. His last season at the Irish National Stud was 1987 (when his fee was 20,000 Irish guineas), because he was recruited by Coolmore later that year. Tragically, Ahonoora only served two seasons for Coolmore, because he died aged only 14 when on shuttle duties in Australia in 1989. Happily, though, his last Irish crop, conceived in the first part of that year, included Inchinor, an excellent racehorse and even better stallion.
However, Ahonoora’s finest hour came courtesy of a member of his penultimate crop, his son Dr Devious winning the Derby in 1992. Dr Devious’ dam Rose Of Jericho, although a daughter of Alleged, had already produced the good sprinter Archway, so it spoke volumes for the extent to which Ahonoora had shed his short-distance tag that he was able to combine with her to produce the winner of the world’s greatest race over twelve furlongs.
Nineteen years after his death, we are, of course, well accustomed to seeing Ahonoora’s name continuing to crop up in pedigrees. Indian Ridge was the greatest of his many good sire-sons, but his daughters have done similarly good work in keeping his name in lights, not least through the exploits at stud of Park Appeal’s son Cape Cross. Acclamation, another very successful stallion, is a son of Princess Athena, while Diktat and Iffraaj are from daughters of Park Appeal and Shinko Forest is a son of Park Express. Princess Tracy, who was exported to Australia, proved an outstanding broodmare. To Danehill she produced the Group One winner Danasinga and the dual Group Three winner Cullen, while to Last Tycoon she produced the four-time South African Group One heroine Tracy’s Element (herself now a Stakes-producing broodmare), Urge To Merge (the dam of South African Group One winner Suntagonal) and the good NZ-based stallion Towkay (whose Hong Kong-trained son Armada ran a great race on Sunday to finish second in the Yasuda Kinen in Japan). She even bred the South African Group Two winner to Topasannah to the disappointing stallion Commanche Run.
It is now, though, Park Express who has given Ahonoora what must be regarded as his second greatest day. Having sired the Derby winner sixteen years ago, he has now joined the elite band of stallions to earn Derby glory as both sire and maternal grandsire, courtesy of Park Express’ son New Approach galloping bravely and brilliantly to glory on Saturday. Of course, a large part of the credit for New Approach’s talents must go to his sire Galileo, the 2001 Derby winner who seems to be stepping nicely into the void left in Coolmore’s stallion ranks by the retirement of his father Sadler’s Wells. But Park Express and her father too deserve their share of honour. Park Express came from quite a good family – her Pampapaul half-sister Myra’s Best won a Listed race as a two-year-old, bred two Stakes winners and is the grand-dam of the Group One winner Waky Nao, while her grand-dam Lachine won the Ebbisham Stakes at Epsom and became the great grand-dam of Bandari – but Ahonoora appeared to be the catalyst to take the family from the ranks of the very good to those of the great. Already dam of the Group One-placed filly Dazzling Park as well as of the effective stallion Shinko Forest, Park Express foaled New Approach when she was aged 22. This wonderful mare, who went blind at the age of sixteen and who died two years ago aged 23, can be very proud of her posthumous achievement. And so can Ahonoora.