This year’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes was a really vintage edition of this always-excellent contest. The thrilling duel between Danedream and Nathaniel was, therefore, clearly the highlight of that Ascot fixture, but a significant supporting role was played by the 15-year-old broodmare Copy-cat, who nearly sired a running double. Her three-year-old son Chil The Kite was an impressive winner of an open handicap 35 minutes before her five-year-old son Pastoral Player finished second to Fanunalter in the Group Two Summer Mile. With both of her sons - who were bred in partnership by Whitsbury Manor Stud and Pigeon House Stud - being by inexpensive stallions (Notnowcato and Pastoral Pursuits respectively), Copy-Cat is clearly an extremely good broodmare, and as such she is doing her deceased sire Lion Cavern proud, writes John Berry.
Lion Cavern probably isn’t remembered by many as a particularly notable stallion, which is rather unfair as in an unsettled career he came up with a couple of outstanding horses. Furthermore, he did so after having been an extremely good racehorse himself.
Lion Cavern raced for Sheikh Mohammed during what can be seen as the halcyon days of the Sheikh’s ownership career. Having owned his first winner (the John Dunlop-trained Hatta) in 1977, by the mid-‘80s Sheikh Mohammed had taken over the mantle from Robert Sangster as the bloodstock world’s major player. As the decade drew to a close, it became the norm for Sheikh Mohammed to come up with a swag of stars each year. He owned the quinella in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Belmez and Old Vic, both trained by Henry Cecil) in 1990. That summer and autumn naturally saw him stock up with another batch of promising yearlings. One of the most expensive of these was a Mr Prospector colt out of Secrettame who, having been bred in Kentucky by Dr W. O. Reed, fetched $950,000, which put him among the top ten highest-priced yearlings sold in America that year. Along with Sheikh Mohammed’s other US-bought yearlings, the colt was brought to Europe. He was given the name Lion Cavern and sent to Andre Fabre’s stable in Chantilly.
It was understandable that Lion Cavern had been so expensive. Not only was Mr Prospector one of the world’s most successful and fashionable stallions, but Secrettame was also a very good mare. She had been a very good filly in her racing days, winning six races at distances up to 10 furlongs and being Grade Two-placed. Furthermore, while she had been good, several of her siblings had been even better: she was a half-sister to the 1980 2,000 Guineas winner Known Fact as well as to the top-class US-trained gallopers Tentam, Tamtent and Terete, as well as to Taminette, the dam of Tappiano, a terrific filly who won 17 races, three of which were at Grade One level. Another of Secrettame’s half-sisters, Badge Of Courage, eventually became the grand-dam of the Japanese Grade One winners Taiki Fortune and Taiki Dia. Being a Secretariat mare from this family, Secrettame was clearly entitled to be a terrific broodmare, which she had already shown herself to be, most notably by producing Gone West, who at that time had not yet proved himself a world-class stallion but who had won one Grade One race (the Dwyer Stakes) and two Grade Two contests (the Gotham Stakes and Withers Stakes).
Although a big horse, there was nothing backward about Lion Cavern, who was an imposing colt from the outset. He duly showed plenty of speed early in his two-year-old season in 1991, making his debut on 5th July at Maisons-Laffitte, where he won a 1200m maiden race by four lengths. Steve Cauthen had been riding for Sheikh Mohammed for several years, firstly in his role as stable jockey for Barry Hills and then as first jockey for Henry Cecil. By this time, though, the Sheikh was retaining Cauthen to ride his best horses irrespective of whoever trained them, so the American hoop headed over to Paris for take the mount. He rode the colt again twice at Deauville the following month and, although he was beaten each time, Lion Cavern ran well in both races: second to Kenbu (with the subsequent Poule d’Essai des Poulains winner Shanghai only fifth) in the Group Three Prix de Cabourg over 1200m, and third to Arazi and Kenbu in the Group One Prix Morny over the same distance two weeks later. As during the next three months Arazi went on to prove himself the best two-year-old in the world with easy victories in the Prix de la Salamandre, Grand Criterium and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, this was clearly very good form.
Under normal circumstances, Lion Cavern would probably have continued to race in France through the autumn. However, circumstances were not normal: Arazi looked unbeatable, so England’s leading juvenile races looked more appealing than their French equivalents. Lion Cavern duly came to Newmarket for the Middle Park Stakes at the start of October. There was no Arazi in the field – but there turned out to be a horse almost as good: the Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained Rodrigo De Triano would subsequently prove himself a true star with victories in 1992 in the 2,000 Guineas, Irish 2,000 Guineas, Juddmonte International and Champion Stakes. Lion Cavern’s effort in finishing second to Rodrigo De Triano in the Middle Park, beaten a length, was clearly very good – as was shown by the fact that he was sent off the 4/9 favourite for the Group Three Horris Hill Stakes over seven furlongs at Newbury three weeks later. He duly trotted up in that race, winning by two lengths from a largely unremarkable field, from which only one star (Jeune, who ultimately showed top-class form in both hemispheres) would eventually emerge.
With Lion Cavern having raced so well in England as a two-year-old, Fabre and Sheikh Mohammed elected to bring him across the Channel again for his first start at three. Running up Newbury’s straight seven furlongs for the second time, Lion Cavern got his second season off to a splendid start by landing the Group Three Greenham Stakes in April 1992, beating the previous season’s Middle Park Stakes third River Falls by a head with Rodrigo De Triano only fourth and two subsequent Group One winners (Alflora and Alhijaz) among the also-rans. Under the circumstances, it was slightly surprising that his connections did not run Lion Cavern in the 2,000 Guineas, which was won by Rodrigo De Triano. Instead, they ran another Mr Prospector colt, Steinbeck, who was unplaced under Fabre’s jockey Thierry Jarnet, with Cauthen having elected to ride the Craven Stakes winner Alnasr Alwasheek, who was owned by Sheikh Mohammed’s brother Sheikh Ahmed (and who finished only ninth). Lion Cavern, meanwhile, was kept in France for the Poule d’Essai des Poulains eight days later, in which he finished third, beaten a length, behind Shanghai and Rainbow Corner. Strangely, he was only Fabre’s second string in that race, Rainbow Corner (who was owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah) starting favourite on the strength of his second place behind Arazi in the previous season’s Grand Criterium and, more recently, victory on his seasonal resumption in the Prix de Fontainebleau.
Disappointingly, Lion Cavern’s form tailed off as his second season progressed. A beaten odds-on favourite when only second behind the former top juvenile Dilum in the Group Three Prix de la Porte Maillot over 1400m at Longchamp at the end of June, he failed to finish in the first three in his remaining three races that season, his best performance coming when fourth of eight behind the Sheikh Mohammed-owned, John Gosden-trained Wolfhound in the Group One Prix de la Foret over 1400m at Longchamp in the middle of October (in which Cauthen, slightly surprisingly, opted to stay loyal to Lion Cavern, leaving Wolfhound to be ridden by Pat Eddery). He was sent to Bill Mott’s stable in America to race as a four-year-old in 1993, where he reaffirmed the impression that he was a very good horse, but just a shade below the highest class. He won two of his five starts in the States, landing the Grade Two True North Handicap over six furlongs at Belmont under Julie Krone as well as a seven-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream Park. He also finished third to Birdonthewire in the Grade One Vosburgh Stakes over seven furlongs at Belmont, ridden by Jerry Bailey.
While Sheikh Mohammed was already breeding from a large broodmare band by the early ‘90s, at that time he had not yet amassed nearly such a large squad of stallions as he has today under the Darley banner. However, he was starting to put together a good line-up of sires at Dalham Hall Stud, his principal stud near Newmarket, and Lion Cavern clearly merited a place (on form, pedigree and physique) on the roster there. He did well too, even though it is easy to overlook that fact. The bloodstock business is a funny one: he came up with some very good horses, but they seemingly did not appear instantly enough because he was moved on at the end of 1999, by which time had covered six crops and his eldest offspring were aged four.
Star of Lion Cavern’s first crop was the Roger Charlton-trained Harmonic Way, who was raced by his Greek breeder Mrs Alexandra Chandros. A super-tough sprinter, Harmonic Way ended up racing for five seasons and running 40 times. He improved throughout these seasons, winning the Stewards Cup at Goodwood as a four-year-old in 1999 under 8 stone 6lb, the Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot the following year under 9 stone 6lb and then going on to run some great races in stakes company, most notably landing the Group Two Cork And Orrery Stakes at Royal Ascot as a six-year-old in 2001. In one sense Harmonic Way came good too late, because his sire had already been moved on from Dalham Hall by the time that he showed his best form; in another sense, though, he came good too soon, because in advance of the 2002 Royal Ascot meeting, the Cork And Orrery was promoted to a Group One race (and renamed the Golden Jubilee Stakes).
A quicker-maturing member of Lion Cavern’s first crop was Silent Tribute, a Listed winner as a juvenile. She, though, also was not much help to him as regards retaining his place at the Dalham Hall because she did not 'train on', not even racing after the age of two. Another very good member of the same crop also did little to plead his sire’s cause: Dublin Lion was a very good sprinter/miler, but he raced out of sight and out of mind as far as most British breeders were concerned, winning at Grade Three level in Japan. Best of the horses bred by Sheikh Mohammed from Lion Cavern’s first crop was Beraysim, a Listed winner over seven furlongs at Goodwood as a three-year-old in the colours of Sheikh Ahmed. She now ranks as the dam of Zoowraa, a Listed-winning two-year-old in England in 2010 for Sheikh Ahmed.
The best horse sired by Lion Cavern in England, though, was his third-crop daughter Crimplene. Born in 1997, she was bred by Darley and trained for Sheikh Mohammed’s relative Sheikh Marwan al Maktoum by Clive Brittain. She won two races as a two-year-old and finished third in the Group One Cheveley Park Stakes, but unfortunately her father had already gone to America by the time she really came good. As a three-year-old in 2000, she enjoyed a splendid summer, winning successively the Group Two Henkel-Rennen in Dusseldorf (Germany’s version of the 1,000 Guineas) and then three Group One races within the British Isles: the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes and Nassau Stakes. Sadly, Crimplene has not produced a foal able to match her own achievements, although her first foal Crimson Sun was Group Three-placed for Godolphin as a two-year-old.
Having been sold in advance of the 2000 breeding season to Wimbledon Farm in Kentucky, Lion Cavern began to shuttle from there to Lynden Park Stud in Victoria. It was here that he produced his second outstanding horse: Apache Cat, a member of his second Australian crop who was trained by the former Olympic show-jumper Greg Eurell to win seven Group One sprints. Remarkably, five of these victories came in successive races (over distances ranging from 1000m to 1400m) in the first half of 2008, when the horse was at his peak, aged five. He subsequently scored twice more at the highest level, landing the MVRC Australia Stakes over 1200m and the BTC Doomben 10,000 over 1400m as a six-year-old.
Unfortunately, by the time that Apache Cat hit his straps, Lion Cavern was long dead. His last British-conceived crop had contained the super-tough Irish-trained Latino Magic, who contested 56 races, ran well in nearly all of them and posted a career-best when winning the Group Three Meld Stakes over 10 furlongs at the Curragh as a four-year-old in July 2004. Sadly, Lion Cavern died the following month. He had spent four seasons at Wimbledon Farm, shuttling to Victoria after the first three of them, but subsequent to the 2004 season he was sold to stand in Greece at Elia Stud Farm near Athens, where he died from colic shortly after arrival.
Ultimately, Lion Cavern proved himself to be a decent stallion, even if not nearly as distinguished as his full-brother Gone West. He had been a precocious racehorse himself, but at stud he suffered from the fact that his best horses took significantly longer to hit their best form than he himself had done. Sadly, he is no longer in a position to produce more good sons and daughters, but at least his grandchildren are doing well, the aforementioned Pastoral Player (successful in a Group Three seven furlong race at Haydock in June) being one of nine Group/graded stakes winners so far produced by daughters of Lion Cavern. These also include the Group/Grade One winners Hibaayeb, Lone Rock and Rainbow Peak.