It is hard to give the mighty Black Caviar any further plaudits over and above the ones which she has already received, but the recent announcement that she has been voted Australia’s Horse of the Year for the past season is indeed another significant laurel for her garland. There is a similar situation in America, where an Eclipse Award is as treasured by the connections of a horse as an Oscar is by someone in the movie business. In Britain, though, despite the efforts in some areas by Racing For Change and the British Horseracing Authority to gain publicity for the sport, racing is missing a trick by the absence of a clear-cut Horse of the Year award. Although there are several such titles, none of them can be regarded as definitive. It was not ever thus, as those who recall such heroic Horses of the Year as Moorestyle and Provideo will attest, but sadly nowadays British racing misses out on the excitement generated by the crowning of an equine king or queen. Perhaps the least marginalized awards are those sponsored by Cartier, whose recipients are sometimes far from the obvious candidates. Take, for instance, Red Clubs’ award in 2007 as Cartier Sprinter of the Year. During the season he had finished last more often than he had finished first and he had been much more notable for running well in the top sprints than for winning them, but the regularity of his appearances and the number of minor placings which he had accrued meant that he ended, almost by default, as top point-scorer. The irony of a horse with his record being supposedly declared a champion probably did his stud prospects more harm than good – which was unfortunate as it is now clear that he was a very good stallion, writes John Berry.
Different people have different ideas of what credentials are preferable in a prospective stallion. The writer of this column has two rough-and-ready guides: that a horse should have shown himself to be sound enough to race regularly for at least three successive seasons and sound enough to race at least 20 times. Plenty of good sires did not pass this test, of course – including plenty who could have passed it easily had their connections wished – but Red Clubs was not one of them: he raced regularly at the ages of two, three and four, ran 25 times and posted his best performance on the 24th of those appearances.
The first of Red Clubs’ 25 races came at Newmarket’s Craven Meeting in April 2005, when he was just short of two years and three months old. However, he had already made two public appearances before this: he’d been sold as a weanling at Tattersalls December Sale in November 2003 and then again as a yearling at the same venue in October 2004. He fetched 40,000 gns on each occasion, which was unfortunate because it meant that Flowerose Ltd, who had had the foresight to pinhook him as a foal, made a loss on him, which they didn’t deserve to do, because time eventually showed that they had bought a lovely horse.
Having been bred in Ireland by Mr J. Fike, Red Clubs was consigned on the first occasion by Islanmore Stud in Ireland and by another Irish nursery, Glenvale Stud, the second time, when he was bought by the Lambourn trainer Barry Hills, bidding in conjunction with the BBA Ireland. The colt was thus already a well-travelled youngster when he joined Hills’ stable, having crossed the Irish Sea three times, but once resident at South Bank he was able to put down some roots, quickly becoming one of the stable stalwarts. He also became a stalwart for his Hong Kong-based owner Ronald Arculli, who has had some wonderfully tough horses over the years, many of them trained by the now-retired Robert Armstrong and many of them bearing names starting with the word ‘Red’ – such as this year’s Ed Dunlop-trained Yorkshire Cup hero Red Cadeaux.
Although clearly one of Hills’ most precocious juveniles of the 2005 season, Red Clubs didn’t run particularly well first time out, finishing sixth of the eight runners in a five-furlong maiden race in which time eventually told that he was easily the most talented of the competitors. He clearly benefitted from the experience, though, winning a five-furlong maiden race at the end of the month at Goodwood’s first fixture of the year, coming home half a length in front under Willie Supple (on what turned out to be the only occasion when he was ridden to victory by someone other than the trainer’s son Michael). If that win was good, his next two runs were even better: both were in better races and he won them more impressively. His second victory came in a six-furlong conditions race at Newmarket at the end of May and his third success came in Royal Ascot’s premier two-year-old race, the Group Two Coventry Stakes, run that year at York as a result of demolition work ongoing at Ascot. Like all editions of the Coventry Stakes, this race contained some colts who went on to do very well (including Red Clubs, fourth-placed Amadeus Wolf and ninth-placed Cool Creek) and some who might as well have disappeared off the face of the earth shortly afterwards.
Although Red Clubs was thus the leader of his generation in the early summer of 2005, he didn’t retain pole position for long. He raced five more times that year but was unable to win again. However, they were all good runs. His seventh place when hot favourite in the July Stakes wasn’t as bad as that position might imply, and his subsequent runs (third to George Washington in the Phoenix Stakes, second to Amadeus Wolf in both the Gimcrack and the Middle Park, and fourth to Sir Percy, Horatio Nelson and Opera Cape in the Dewhurst on his first attempt beyond six furlongs) all set the tone for the rest of his career: a rigorous racing programme in which he ran very well virtually throughout but rarely won.
Having raced nine times as a two-year-old in 2005, Red Clubs clocked up the same number of starts at three. These runs yielded two victories – which, to demonstrate his toughness, came more than five months apart. He made a winning reappearance when taking the Group Three Greenham Stakes over seven furlongs at Newbury in April; and he saluted the judge on his eighth start of the year by landing the Group Two Diadem Stakes over six furlongs at Ascot in October, winning by more than a length with his nine beaten rivals headed by the tough sprinters Baltic King, Fayr Jag, Assertive (who had finished third in the Greenham), Ratio and Somnus. As he had won the Greenham first-up, it was understandable that he contested the 2,000 Guineas, but even in advance it seemed likely that the mile would be farther than ideal for him (as his 25/1 SP indicated) and, by finishing 12th in a 14-runner race won by George Washington, he guaranteed that he would not be asked to run that far again. In sprints, though, he posted some good, if not outstanding, performances, including when second to Moss Vale in a Group Three sprint at the Curragh and fifth behind Reverence in Group One company in both the Nunthorpe Stakes at York and the Haydock Park Sprint Cup.
If Red Clubs had ended his three-year-old season as seemingly a horse who had been a very good two-year-old but who seemed unable to progress much further thereafter, the next 12 months showed him in a very different light. Barry Hills again kept him busy as a four-year-old, at which age he raced seven times. He was only able to win one of those seven races, but he showed enough high-class consistency and posted so many creditable performances that, in a season which lacked an obvious true sprinting star, he was voted the Cartier Champion Sprinter. Many felt that Sakhee's Secret was the best sprinter trained in Britain in 2007, and certainly that horse’s July Cup victory (with Red Clubs finishing third of the 18 runners) was extremely good. However, Sakhee’s Secret seemed thereafter unable to find the very fast ground which he supposedly needed to show his best form, and Red Clubs proved overall to be the higher achiever.
Red Clubs’ good runs at four included second place behind his old rival Amadeus Wolf in the Group Two Duke Of York Stakes, fourth behind Soldier's Tale, Takeover Target and Asset in the Group One Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot and fourth behind the two-year-old Kingsgate Native , Desert Lord and Dandy Man in the Group One Nunthorpe Stakes. He also finished last on a couple of occasions (but, then again, the only horses who never put in a below-par run tend to be those who don’t race very often) but that was more than offset by his finest hour: he became a Group One winner on his 24th start by beating Marchand D'or, Balthazaar's Gift, the Australian import Mutawaajid, Sakhee’s Secret (who was said not to have handled the heavily-watered turf) and Asset to land the Haydock Park Sprint Cup in September.
With this form and coming from a family which, although having no pretensions to Classic status, regularly threw up very fast horses and from which one good sprinting stallion (Petong, who like Red Clubs had won the Haydock Park Sprint Cup) and one other Royal Ascot-winning juvenile (Gypsy Fiddler, successful in the Windsor Castle Stakes in 1990) had already emerged, Red Clubs was an obvious candidate for breeders looking to produce fast, precocious horses inexpensively. His sire Red Ransom, who hailed from the Hail To Reason sire-line which generally puts some stamina into a pedigree, was not the most obvious sire of such a horse, but then again Red Ransom was such a high-class stallion that he could never be regarded as a negative in a pedigree. And, conversely, the sires of Red Clubs’ first and second dams (First Trump and Mansingh) were just the sort of sires one would expect to see in the pedigree of a bread-and-butter sprinting stallion. There are plenty of breeders in Ireland looking to breed fast, precocious horses inexpensively (or, rather, there were, because nowadays there are fewer than there were even five years ago) and Ireland was thus an obvious place for him to stand. He duly headed there, to Tally-Ho Stud, albeit at the surprisingly high fee of 12,500 euros.
The strange thing about Red Clubs was not that he died before he had sired any runners, but that he did so without fanfare. His stud career was not helped by the fact that his fee in his first season was much higher than a horse of his credentials could possibly justify, which meant that his status fell quickly in line with his tumbling price: having covered in 2008 supposedly for 12,500 euros, he was advertised at 10,000 euros in 2009, a fee which which then dropped to 6,500 euros, barely more than half the initial sum, for 2010. He seemingly suffered a fatal injury, possibly early in 2011, but no stud fee appeared to have been published for that year, and his passing was not highlighted by the press releases which such an event might normally have triggered.
Even though Red Clubs left this world unheralded, it soon became clear that he had left it as a good stallion. His first crop of juveniles did well in 2011. As regards individual juvenile winners, he shared second spot (with Acclamation) in the combined British and Irish table with 29, behind only Holy Roman Emperor (30). As regards two-year-old races won, he and Dark Angel topped the table with 44, ahead of Acclamation and Holy Roman Emperor (41). His most successful juvenile in the British Isles was the Group Three winner Roger Sez, while the tough Vedelago won two stakes races in Italy prior to achieving a Group One placing when third in the Gran Criterium. This year Red Clubs’ results have been even better. His current juveniles include two top fillies (Sky Lantern who became a Group One winner by taking the Moyglare Stud Stakes, and the Queen Mary Stakes heroine Ceiling Kitty) while Faithfilly has won a Listed race in France. Furthermore, one can assume that The Gold Cheongsam, the recent winner of a hugely valuable sales race at Doncaster, might become a stakes winner sooner rather than later. Of his three-year-olds, Vedelago has won a Group Two race over 1600m in Italy, showing that Red Clubs wasn’t ‘just’ a sire of sprinting juveniles.
It is a shame that Red Clubs didn’t live longer because he was clearly a good stallion. There is always a demand for stallions who can impart speed and precocity – especially if that can be backed up by the kind of durability which Red Clubs had shown in his racing days.