The battling Pretty Polly Stakes victory of Dar Re Mi at the Curragh on the Saturday of Irish Derby weekend continued the excellent run of success being enjoyed by the progeny of daughters of the Aga Khan's 1979 Prix du Jockey-Club winner Top Ville, writes John Berry. While this victory, Top Ville's second Group One success of the month as a broodmare sire, was good, the first one was even better: the historic fourth Gold Cup success of his grandson Yeats pictured, a son of the Top Ville mare Lyndonville.
While the Aga Khan is rightly revered as an owner-breeder, he does make occasional forays into the market-place; and, when he does, these are usually very fruitful. His very rare weanling or yearling purchases usually turn out to be good buys - Blushing Groom and Four Sins confirm this - while he has made some inspired strikes when major studs have faced dispersal. During the current decade he acquired some excellent bloodstock following the death of Jean-Luc Lagadere, while three decades or so ago he made two notable acquisitions, buying the stock of the then recently-deceased owner/breeders Francois Dupre (of Haras d'Ouilly) and Marcel Boussac (of Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard). Each purchase produced a fairly instant dividend for the Aga in the form of a Prix du Jockey-Club winner: one of the first horses he bred from the Boussac broodmare band was the 1984 winner Darshaan, while Top Ville was a yearling when Monsieur Dupre's horses changed hands.
The Prix du Jockey-Club was, of course, then still run at its traditional distance of 2400m, hence the description which anglophones have traditionally used for it: the 'French Derby'. Whether the Aga Khan realized at the time of Top Ville's purchase that he was buying a future middle-distance star, though, is debatable.
There is no doubt that races around 2400m would have seemed suitable for offspring of Top Ville's dam Sega Ville. Her sire and paternal grandsire - Charlottesville and Prince Chevalier - had both won the Prix du Jockey-Club and sired a Derby winner (Charlottown and Arctic Prince respectively), while she had won the Prix de Flore over 2100m and her dam La Sega (a daughter of Dupre's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Tantieme) had won the Prix de Diane ('French Oaks', as many anglophones say) over the same distance. However, at the time it would have been far from certain that Top Ville's sire, the 1972 2,000 Guineas winner High Top, represented an influence for stamina.
In the post-war years, High Top's great-grandsire Dante was a major factor in British breeding. The champion three-year-old in the wartime Britain of 1945, Dante achieved all his feature-race wins on Newmarket's July Course because of the temporary closure of the other principal tracks brought about by wartime restrictions (although, trained in Middleham in Yorkshire by Matt Peacock, he also won five races at Stockton, which was used during the war to allow racing to take place in northern England). A fast and precocious two-year-old, Dante won the Coventry Stakes over five furlongs and the Middle Park Stakes over six, before training on to finish second to Court Martial in the 2,000 Guineas and first in the wartime-substitute Derby. In essence, he was a fast and precocious Classic horse, although one with stamina in his pedigree and who could indeed stay middle-distances: he was one of five English or Irish Classic winners at twelve furlongs or beyond sired by Nearco, a total which also included Dante's St Leger-winning full-brother Sayajirao.
Darius , the best of Dante's many good offspring, was very much his father's son as regards his racing qualities. Winner of the July Stakes and the Champagne Stakes at two, he won the 2,000 Guineas and St. James's Palace Stakes at three, as well as running third in the Derby. As a four-year-old he won the Eclipse and was placed in the Coronation Cup. Darius in turn also became a top-class stallion and, mated with a daughter of the champion sprinter Abernant, he produced Derring-do, a high-class sprinter/miler whose best win came in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot.
Derring-Do, too, duly became a top-class stallion. High Top, a member of his third crop, was one of several to fashion the stallion's reputation as a source of speed. Others to do so included July Cup and Nunthorpe Stakes winner Huntercombe, 2,000 Guineas winner Roland Gardens, Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner Jan Ekels, top sprinter and subsequent champion broodmare Stilvi (whose sons included the Dewhurst winner Tromos, the Middle Park winner Tachypous and the Irish Derby winner Tyrnavos - and whose best current descendant is the Luca Cumani-trained Greek sprinter Ialysos), High Top's Jersey Stakes-winning full-brother Camden Town and 2,000 Guineas place-getter Dominion (who himself became a leading sire of sprinter/milers). High Top's best win came in the 2,000 Guineas, but he also won the Observer Gold Cup (now Racing Post Trophy) as a two-year-old. He too became an excellent sire, but not without taking this sire-line off in a different direction.
While he can be regarded as a sire of shorter-distance horses, Derring-Do did also sire a St. Leger winner (Peleid); and High Top (whose dam recorded her only victory at 14 furlongs and who subsequently became the grand-dam of the Prix du Jockey-Club and Irish Derby winner Old Vic, even though she came from the immediate family of the top-class sprinter Tudor Music) became better known as an influence for high-class stamina than for pure speed. High Top's first crop included the high-class fillies Triple First and Aloft, who proved best suited by 10 and 12 furlongs respectively. When Top Ville emerged from his second crop to land the Prix Lupin (over 2100m) and the Prix du Jockey-Club (after having recorded Group wins at two over 1800m and 2000m), High Top's reputation as a source of stamina as well as speed was secure. The likes of St. Leger winner Cut Above, Oaks winner Circus Plume, Irish Oaks winner Colorspin, Derby Italiano victor My Top, Premio Roma winner Looking For and King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes place-getter Top Class did nothing to alter this impression.
Top Ville, who had been trained for the Aga Khan at Chantilly by Francois Mathet, duly followed in the footsteps of his forebears by becoming a very good stallion - and in particular he followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a sire of horses who excelled at middle distances or longer. Standing at the Aga Khan's Haras de Bonneval in Normandy, he produced the Irish Oaks victrix Princess Pati in his first crop, along with the Aga Khan's Kirmann, winner of the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket over the same distance. He produced an even better racehorse for the Aga in his second crop: Shardari, who won the Cumberland Lodge Stakes and St. Simon Stakes over 12 furlongs as a three-year-old before proving himself even better at four, winning the Princess Of Wales's Stakes at the same distance and the Group One International Stakes at York over 300 yards shorter. The same crop also included another Group One winner, the Coronation Cup hero Saint Estephe. A steady supply of high-class stayers continued to flow, his third crop containing Darshaan's Prix Vermeille-winning half-sister Darara and his fourth another good racemare: Floripedes, winner of several good staying prizes in France from George Bridgland's stable. Subsequent crops included the St. Leger winner Toulon and the King Edward VII Stakes winner Beneficial. Top Ville did have one son who stood out as effective over considerably shorter distances - Norwich - but he too eventually proved more synonymous with stamina, joining Beneficial in becoming a leading National Hunt sire in Ireland.
Top Ville was retired from stud duties as an 18-year-old in 1994, back in France after a mid-career stint at Dalham Hall Stud as a costly part (alongside Dancing Brave and Reference Point) of the first phase of Sheikh Mohammed's plan to make his Newmarket headquarters a leading stallion-station. It now transpires that High Top and Top Ville have not been able to do much to take the Dante sire-line into the 21st century. Like so many lines which formerly seemed set to thrive forever, this line is currently waning - and Top Ville's best sire-sons (the aforementioned Irish-based pair of Beneficial and Norwich, plus the deceased Un Desperado, sire of triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate) are unlikely to be able to extend it as most of their male offspring are geldings. High Top's paternal half-brother Dominion, primarily via his very fast son Primo Dominie, appeared at one time the other hope for the Dante sire-line, but it can no longer be guaranteed that his branch of the line will survive indefinitely either.
Where High Top and Top Ville are going to leave a long-term mark, though, is as broodmare sires. High Top began this trend, most obviously via his Classic-winning daughter Colorspin. She became the dam of two champions - the middle-distance star Opera House who became a very good sire in Japan, and the dual Ascot Gold Cup winner Kayf Tara, who is now England's best dual-purpose stallion - as well as a third Group One winner, Prix de l'Opera heroine Zee Zee Top. Kayf Tara is actually one of four outstanding stayers bred by daughters of High Top, the others being the Gold Cup winner Classic Cliche, the disqualified Gold Cup winner Royal Gait and the Prix du Cadran winner San Sebastian. Other top-class racehorses produced by daughters of High Top include Classic Cliche's Prix Vermeille-winning half-sister My Emma, Coronation Cup victrix In The Groove, Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Ibn Bey and his Yorkshire Oaks-winning half-sister Roseate Tern, Hollywood Gold Cup winner Greinton, Irish 2,000 Guineas winner Turtle Island and the top-class sprinters Owington and Efisio.
With top-class successes for his daughter's offspring still coming in thick and fast, it is too early to write the definitive review of Top Ville's record as a broodmare sire, but the evidence to date is that he will be as influential in this role as was his distinguished father. As in High Top's case, the charge has been led by some of his most talented daughters, as Darara and Floripedes have both proved outstanding broodmares. The reputation of the latter rests largely on her son Montjeu (although Montjeu's French Listed-winning half-brother Le Paillard was Grade One-placed in America) but Darara's record is truly prolific. Dar Re Mi's latest victory means that Darara has now bred Group One winners in three continents (River Dancer (hk) - Diaghilev having scored at that level in Hong Kong and Darazari in Australia) while she has had Dariyoun and Rhagaas both Group One-placed in France; and another son, the subsequent successful NZ-based sire Kilimanjaro, was Group Two-placed at Royal Ascot. Leaving aside these high-class horses, Top Ville mares have also bred (in addition to the peerless Yeats) the likes of King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes winner Belmez, Irish Derby winner Winged Love, 1,000 Guineas heroine Ameerat, Prix de Diane winners Caerlina and Egyptband, Prix Lupin winner Voix Du Nord, Prix Jean Prat winner Turtle Bowl, Park Hill Stakes winner Book At Bedtime, four-time Irish Group winner Idris and Yorkshire Cup runners-up Boreas and Largesse.
Many of Top Ville's best grand-children - most notably Montjeu and Yeats - have been produced with the help of Sadler's Wells, but it might be more accurate to describe this as an understandable occurrence, rather than a 'nick', because he has done very well too with (lesser) stallions from other lines. In short, there is no doubt that Top Ville is a very good broodmare sire who, like his father before him, is proving that being a sire of sires is not the only way to have a lasting influence on the breed.