Going into this year's Breeders' Cup meeting, few contenders would be able to boast as impressive a record for 2009 as Magical Fantasy, whose victory in October in the Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Santa Anita on 10th October was her third Grade One triumph of the year, and her fourth overall. Her current campaign has thus provided a tremendous advertisement not only for Kirtlington Stud, who bought her back as a yearling for 20,000 gns at Tattersalls October Yearling Sale in 2006 before selling her privately to James Nicol, but also for her late sire Diesis, who died shortly after that sale, aged 26, on November 18th 2006 - 24 years after posting a mighty achievement on the racecourse, writes John Berry.
Being run two weeks apart and with their distances only differing by a furlong, the Group One double of the Middle Park Stakes (six furlongs) and the Dewhurst Stakes (seven furlongs) ought to be a feasible target for any two-year-old with pretensions to a champion's status, but it is actually rare enough to find a juvenile who runs in both of England's premier long-established two-year-old events, never mind one who wins them both. Diesis, though, not only ran in both, but also won both, thus becoming the only horse in the modern era to complete this tremendous double, an honour which he still holds.
It was no surprise that Diesis turned out to be a very good racehorse. By arriving at Henry Cecil's Warren Place stable as a yearling in the autumn of 1981, he was following in some mighty hoofprints, being a full-brother to the champion miler Kris. Between 1978 and 1980, Kris had ventured forth from Warren Place to contest 16 races, winning 14 of them and running second (to Tap On Wood in the 1979 2,000 Guineas and to Known Fact in the 1980 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes) on the only two occasions on which he tasted defeat. It would thus be easy to assume that Kris and Diesis were bred in the purple, but that was not really the case - or certainly didn't seem to be the case at the time of Kris' birth. Although bred, under the guidance of the late Leslie Harrison, by the late Lord Howard de Walden and thus coming from one of the world's greatest studs, they hailed from an untalented mare (Doubly Sure) who at that time appeared to be from one of the stud's lesser families. When Kris was conceived, Doubly Sure appeared to be Lord Howard's least promising mare, hence the decision to send her to an unproven and inexpensive stallion: the sprinter Sharpen Up, whose fee at the time was 500 pounds. The mating proved to be inspired so, with Kris already an unbeaten Group-winning juvenile (of Newbury's Horris Hill Stakes) by the end of 1978, Doubly Sure re-visited Sharpen Up in 1979. Diesis was the result - and a subsequent repetition of this mating would produce the very good racehorse and adequate sire Keen (while to other sires the mare would produce the stallions Rudimentary, Presidium and, to Lyphard, Doubletour).
Kris' record, of course, continued subsequently to improve after Diesis' conception so, when the latter arrived at Warren Place late in 1981, he did so as the full-brother to a true star. Diesis in turn also proved a star, albeit a shooting one. While Kris had not contested top-class races until he was three, Diesis dominated at two, winning the Middle Park Stakes before strolling home in Britain's juvenile championship, the Dewhurst Stakes. This race proved to be virtually a walk-over when it became clear before halfway that the seemingly invincible Gorytus (as handsome as he was well-bred, the son of Nijinsky and Hyperion's 1,000 Guineas-winning grand-daughter Glad Rags 2nd had looked a potential superstar when easily winning both his previous races, the Acomb Stakes at York and the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster) was well below his best, running as if he had been 'got at' (although no evidence of any narcotic interference ever came to light). As the betting for the Dewhurst had been 1/2 Gorytus, 2/1 Diesis, 33/1 bar, it is understandable that, with Gorytus out of the picture, things were extremely easy for Diesis!
Whereas Kris had progressed well from two to three (and four), Diesis didn't. He started favourite for the 2,000 Guineas in 1983 and finished eighth (while Gorytus, who never recaptured his pre-Dewhurst brilliance, started second favourite and finished fifth) before being beaten at 1/3 in the Heron Stakes at Kempton. He was then retired to stud, apparently having sustained no serious injury but seemingly having 'jarred up'.
With his older full-brother Kris standing at their owner/breeder's Thornton Stud in Yorkshire (where he would become a rare example of a northern-based stallion winning the General Sires' Premiership, courtesy of Oh So Sharp's Triple Crown in 1985) it made economic sense for Lord Howard de Walden to dispatch Diesis across the Atlantic. He thus followed his father, because Sharpen Up's rise to prominence from relatively humble beginnings at Newmarket's Side Hill Stud had allowed the members of the syndicate which owned him to cash in on his success by selling him to Gainesway Farm in Kentucky in advance of the 1981 stud season. Diesis' fee in his first season at Mill Ridge Farm in Kentucky ($35,000) was not far behind Sharpen Up's fee at Gainesway ($50,000) - and it is an interesting comment on the strength of the bloodstock market in the '80s that, even with 25 years of inflation having ensued, it is hard to see a first-season sire with his record commanding a fee any higher than that nowadays.
While it made economic sense for Lord Howard de Walden to accept Mill Ridge's offer for Diesis, it is debatable whether it actually made sense for the horse to be there. Although Sharpen Up was a fast grandson of Native Dancer (via Native Dancer's son Atan whose only victory had come in a five-furlong maiden on the dirt at Aqueduct in New York) most other aspects of Diesis' background suggested that he would have been more at home as a sire in Europe rather than in the States. Sharpen Up's dam Rocchetta, a sister to the Yorkshire Oaks winner Outcrop, was from a good French staying family, while her sire Rockefella was by the Derby winner Hyperion from the Oaks winner Rockfel. The background of Diesis' dam Doubly Sure was similarly European, and the facts that she was by the great stayer Reliance (who had won France's top three-year-old staying events - the Prix du Jockey-Club, Grand Prix du Paris and Prix Royal-Oak - in 1965 as well as finishing second to Sea Bird in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe) and that her dam was by the Derby winner Crepello added further credence to any theory that Diesis might be better served breeding for European conditions. Furthermore, Diesis, a beautiful horse, was the epitome of the elegant and lengthy European Classic racehorse.
It duly turned out that the majority of Diesis' best winners were indeed those horses who made their way to Europe. Of his 13 Group/Grade One winners in the northern hemisphere, seven did their winning in Europe. The majority of these were middle-distance performers (namely the Oaks winners Diminuendo, Ramruma and Love Divine, the Eclipse winners Halling and Elmaamul, and the Premio Roma winner Knifebox) while only the Prix de l'Abbaye winner Keen Hunter was a sprinter; while in north America Continuously, Husband, Magistretti, Storm Trooper and, most recently, Magical Fantasy all won their Grade One races over middle distances on grass, with only the juvenile Rootentootenwooten taking a Grade One on dirt. Diesis' Group One winner farther afield, last year's Caulfield Cup hero All The Good, definitely conforms to type, beginning his career in Britain, where he won the substitute Ebor Handicap last year before landing his big prize down under over 2400m on turf.
Despite thus being arguably not best placed to exploit his stud potential to the full, Diesis remained a reliable source of high-class gallopers throughout his life. As Magical Fantasy's recent wins have shown, he is still posthumously an influence in high-class races, a situation which is likely to pertain for many years to come as he is now recognized as a sire of both sires and broodmares. His best sire-son is clearly Halling, who has sired numerous Group One performers, the pick of which is currently this year's Grand Prix de Paris winner and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe third Cavalryman. Elmaamul has sired the Prix Jacques Le Marois winner Muhtathir (who is now a stallion responsible for the Group/Grade One winners Doctor Dino, Satwa Queen and Mauralakana) as well as Sweet Return, thrice a Grade One winner on turf in the States. Diesis' dual Group Two-winning son Daggers Drawn (who was very like his father, being a very attractive and scopey chestnut who showed top-class form at two for Henry Cecil's stable before surprisingly failing to 'train on' at three) has sired a Group One winner in New Zealand. Other sons of Diesis to have made a small impression at stud include the Hong Kong Mile winner Docksider and the Group One place-getter Sabrehill. Furthermore, another son, Three Valleys, embarked on a stud career for Juddmonte in 2007 after proving himself very much in his sire's image: another sizeable and handsome chestnut, he came close to completing the Middle Park/Dewhurst double (he was first past the post in the former before failing a post-race drugs test, and he finished second in the other). Like his father, Three Valleys never subsequently reproduced his juvenile brilliance, but happily his connections persevered longer than Diesis' team had done - with worthwhile results, because he won a turf Grade Two in America as a four-year-old and a turf Grade Three there at five.
While Halling and Muhtathir currently look likely to do the most to maintain Diesis' male-line influence, via his daughters Diesis looks set to remain in pedigrees for many years to come. He has been represented as broodmare sire in 2009 in England by St Leger winner Mastery and in America by Beverly D Stakes heroine Dynaforce (and in Uruguay by the Grade One winner Erin Dancer, although some may feel that that result is less relevant). Mastery thus became the third St Leger winner to be produced by a daughter of Diesis (following Lucarno and Love Divine's son Sixties Icon), while the day of Sixties Icon's St Leger victory saw an even better grandson of Diesis win a big race: Dylan Thomas, a son of Danehill and the Diesis mare Lagrion, won the Irish Champion Stakes, part of his impressive record which ultimately included a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, a King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes, an Irish Derby, a Prix Ganay and two editions of the Irish Champion Stakes. Other Group/Grade One winners bred by daughters of Diesis include Irish 1,000 Guineas and Coronation Stakes heroine Crimplene, Prix de l'Abbaye winner Carmine Lake, Prix Lupin winner Flemensfirth, Middle Park Stakes winner Hayil, Cheveley Park Stakes winner Queen's Logic (a half-sister to Dylan Thomas), Italian Oaks winner Zanzibar, Gran Criterium winner Kirklees (a half-brother to Mastery), Turf Classic winners Manndar and Honor In War, Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap winner Cetewayo, and United Nations Handicap winner Senure. Of these good horses, one who must have particularly pleased Leslie Harrison was Queen's Logic: not only was she out a Diesis mare, but she was also by another of Lord Howard de Walden's home-breds, the 1994 St. James's Palace Stakes winner Grand Lodge.
A beautiful horse and an outstanding juvenile, Diesis will always be remembered by those lucky enough to have watched him race. Happily, his descendants are still ensuring that, three years after his death, memories of him remain strong.