On 18 February 2010, this column featured the Victorian-based stallion Bel Esprit, focusing on the fact that he was responsible for a recent Group Two winner who at the time looked certain to win at Group One level at some point in the future. That Group Two winner, of course, was Black Caviar, so the prediction proved an accurate one. If one were to make the same prediction now about a recent Group Two winner, one would make it about the extremely impressive VRC Sires' Produce winner All Too Hard, who is the star of the first crop of the young New South Wales-based sire Casino Prince. If this prediction proves accurate, it really will be a case of deja vu: All Too Hard is a half-brother to none other than Black Caviar herself, writes John Berry.
Much of the credit for these two exciting horses - one a proven champion and one seemingly a potential champion - obviously has to go to their dam, the Desert Sun mare Helsinge, who is clearly an outstanding broodmare. However, Bel Esprit (who had already sired a Group One winner prior to the emergence of Black Caviar into the major league, his daughter Bel Mer having won the Robert Sangster/Swettenham Stud Stakes in Adelaide in March 2009) should be regarded as a very good stallion even without taking Black Caviar into consideration - and it is likely that similar remarks will be applicable to Casino Prince, who is as yet more-or-less unproven in his second career but who boasts impressive credentials.
If Casino Prince does indeed thrive as a stallion, he will write further chapters into what has been an interesting story thus far.
Casino Prince's life started in a manner conventional for a high-class horse: he was bred by one of Australian racing's most prominent identities Gerry Harvey at his historic property Baramul Stud in New South Wales, which will be forever revered as the home of Star Kingdom throughout his stud career. With Harvey being a major shareholder in the Magic Millions Sales Company, the young Casino Prince was sent to the Magic Millions Yearling Sale in Adelaide in 2005, presumably as a vote of confidence in that sale, which is hardly convenient for a New South Welsh vendor. From there he headed back to his state of origin, having been bought for $140,000 by Anthony Cummings who, originally South Australian, had long since settled in Sydney, where he trains at Randwick close by the stables of his famous father Bart.
At this point in Casino Prince's story, however, the dramatis personae veered away from racing's establishment, with Sydney ambulance driver Steve Smith finding himself the fortunate senior part-owner of the colt, courtesy of a promotional competition run by Star City Casino. Smith must have started to count his blessings the day that he found that he had won a horse - and continued to count them subsequently when it became clear just what a good horse he had won. The colt made his debut only 11 months after passing through the sales-ring, finishing second in a midweek maiden race at Warwick Farm early in February 2006. If seeing the colt start off his career so promptly by running so well in town must have been a dream come true, Smith continued to live the dream thereafter.
Ten days after Casino Prince's debut, Cummings saddled the colt at a Saturday meeting at Sydney's premier racecourse, Randwick - and Smith found himself a winning owner. They went to Rosehill two weeks later for another win over 1100m, and another fortnight saw Casino Prince take his record to three wins from four starts by landing the Group Three Skyline Stakes over 1200m at Randwick, beating the impeccably-bred Bart Cummings-trained colt Empire's Choice by just over a length. This tremendous start to the colt's career came with a further bonus: he was now qualified for the Golden Slipper.
Casino Prince clearly seemed to be a colt tough enough to cop plenty of work. With three weeks between the Skyline Stakes and the Slipper, he didn't rest on his laurels: Anthony Cummings gave him a trial eight days before the big race. Casino Prince duly turned up at Rosehill on the big day looking tremendous and went off the $4.60 favourite - but sadly there was no fairytale ending: he beat only two home. It became clear that the colt had had enough for the time being, and that the poor run in the Slipper was not merely an aberration, when he ran equally disappointingly in the Sires' Produce Stakes seven days later.
Worryingly, Casino Prince's three-year-old season started as badly as his two-year-old campaign had ended. He finished among the back-markers in both the San Domenico Stakes Stakes and the Golden Rose very early in the spring, and connections must surely have been worrying that he might prove to have been one of a very long list of good two-year-olds who fail to 'train on'. Rather than try to swim against the tide, they gave the colt another spell, brought him back, and hoped for the best. Victory in a trial at his home track just after Christmas emboldened them to send him down to Melbourne for the rich late-summer three-year-old races down there, and he duly headed south. Two ordinary runs at Caulfield, though, must have had them questioning this decision - but then Casino Prince re-found his form. It became plain that he was now ready for a greater test of stamina, and when Cummings moved him up to the mile of the Group Two Alister Clark Stakes at Moonee Valley, Casino Prince found his way back to the winner's enclosure. An even better run followed three weeks later when he went down by only a short-head to the champion filly Miss Finland in the Group One Australian Guineas at Flemington. Three more runs that season, all in Group One company against older horses (two in Sydney and one in Hong Kong) were good but unproductive, and Casino Prince thus concluded what ultimately ended up as having been another creditable season.
Casino Prince's four-year-old season mirrored his previous term. His connections did not even race him in the spring this time, but once he started running (in a Group Two sprint at Moonee Valley at the end of January 2008, in which he ran well to finish third) he ran frequently and well. He had eight more runs that season, all in Group One races, and he posted some terrific performances. After finishing an excellent third to Sirmione and Princess Coup in the Australian Cup over 2000m, he headed back to Sydney to land that all-important Group One victory, beating Tuesday Joy and Sniper's Bullet in one of the several weight-for-age highlights of the Autumn Carnival, the Chipping Norton Stakes over 1600m at Randwick. He followed this with some more very good runs, including when third to the champion three-year-old Weekend Hussler in the George Ryder Stakes over 1500m at Rosehill and second, beaten only a half-neck, to the lightly-weighted three-year-old Triple Honour in Australia's premier mile race, the Doncaster Handicap at Randwick. He signed off in Sydney by finishing third to Racing To Win in the All Aged Stakes over 1400m at Randwick before heading north to Brisbane, where he found 57 kilos too hefty a burden in that state's premier sprint, the Stradbroke Handicap at Eagle Farm.
By the time that Casino Prince was running his final races, another interesting character had entered his story. Nathan Tinkler, a 32-year-old electrician in the mining industry, had recently made his fortune by selling his coal mine to McArthur Coal for $275 million, having only bought the mine two years previously using a $500,000 loan. Further wise investments saw Tinkler's worth estimated in 2008 at $441 million, and he duly set about making a splash in horse racing, motor racing, rugby league and soccer. His racing venture began with him buying a squad of expensive yearlings - and, as he had appointed Anthony Cummings as his principal trainer, Casino Prince must have been looming large in his consciousness as a potential foundation stallion for his new stud, Patinack Farm. He duly bought the horse, who thus retired to Patinack Farm in the Hunter Valley to start covering in September 2008, having proved both his class and his toughness in a rigorous 3-season, 24-race career.
Casino Prince also offered breeders a very interesting pedigree. Both his sire and his dam were bred on the same pattern: by a top-class shuttle sire and from an imported mare from a very good northern hemisphere family. His sire needed no introduction: Flying Spur, a son of Danehill from the great family descending from the influential Canadian mare Ciboulette, had won the Golden Slipper in 1995 and had been crowned Australia's champion sire in the 2006/'07 season. Casino Prince's dam Lady Capel was by Last Tycoon (Australia's champion sire of 1993/'94) out of the French stakes performer Kew Gardens, a daughter of the champion French stallion Kenmare. Kew Gardens had proved to be a very good broodmare after being exported to Australia. Lady Capel had been a decent filly, winning at Flemington and Moonee Valley, but her full-sister Palia had done even better, winning the Group Three Emancipation Stakes at Randwick. Palia in turn would eventually become the dam of Onemorenomore, a Group One-winning two-year-old for Nathan Tinkler in 2009 (by which time Anthony Cummings had ceased to be his trainer). Another full-sibling to Lady Capel, Just Awesome, had been a Listed-winning sprinter in Sydney, while Mrs Squillionaire, a minor winner in New Zealand who was by Last Tycoon from Kew Gardens, became the dam of the top-class Hong Kong-trained sprinter Green Birdie, a Group One winner in Singapore in 2010. Further back, the family had come up with several good stallions in the northern hemisphere including Piccolo (whose dam Woodwind was a half-sister to Kew Gardens), Broad Brush, Sakhee, Exceller, Capote, Mull Of Kintyre - and even the top-class National Hunt sire Oscar.
With these credentials and with Patinack Farm to support him, it is no surprise that Casino Prince, who has two Listed-winning half-brothers (Tagus and Lord Of The Land), has got off to a good start with his first two-year-olds during the current season. He had his first winner when Casino Card (who had cost only $1,500 as a yearling) scored over 1100m at the Gold Coast on New Year's Eve, and his tally of individual winners currently stands at four, which puts him second only to Husson (who has been represented by five winners) in the freshmen's numerical standings. He is, though, the clear leader in the first-season sires' financial table, thanks to his greatest stroke of luck. Having covered Helsinge in 2008 before it became apparent just what a special mare she was, he found himself represented by a sale-topping yearling last year (All Too Hard was bought by John Hawkes for $1,050,000) and is now represented by arguably the best two-year-old to have run in Australia so far this season. The Golden Slipper, for which All Too Hard (who races in Nathan Tinkler's colours) is now vying for favouritism, will tell us more, but if Casino Prince can build on this very promising start, he will be set for a successful stud career.