QIPCO Championsí Day, Britainís richest raceday, produced a bargain-basement hero at its inauguration last year when Cirrus Des Aigles landed the most valuable race ever run in Britain. That admirable gelding was not quite able to repeat the feat this year, instead finishing an honourable second to the mighty Frankel, but the day Ė which had kicked off with the Caulfield Cup victory of Cirrus Des Aiglesí rags-to-riches compatriot Dunaden Ė again produced an inexpensive winner, the QIPCO Championsí Sprint being won by Maarek. This son of Pivotal clearly showed very little ability in the early stages of his career (hence his being sold by Shadwell as an unraced three-year-old for 2,500 GBP) but he now displays even more speed than was formerly shown by his talented dam Ruby Rocket, a daughter of the deceased Indian Ridge stallion Indian Rocket, writes John Berry.
Indian Ridge, who turned out to be one of the best stallions to have stood in Ireland in recent decades, was still unproven when Indian Rocketís dam Selvi visited him at the Irish National Stud in 1993. Indian Ridge had been a good and progressive sprinter, winning the Jersey Stakes over seven furlongs at Royal Ascot as a three-year-old in 1988 and the Kingís Stand Stakes over five furlongs at the same meeting 12 months later. He retired to the Irish National Stud at the end of that latter campaign, which meant that his first crop were (mostly unraced) two-year-olds when Selvi visited him in the spring of 1993. Even though his merit as a stallion was still unknown, he was clearly a suitable mate for her as she, too, had been a sprinter (albeit not a very good one).
Selvi had failed to win a race when trained for her breeder Tom Warner by the late Michael Jarvis. However, she had been placed in the odd sprint maiden race and, more to the point, she was related to some good sprinters. Warnerís Red House Stud, on the outskirts of Newmarketís neighbouring village Exning, always operated in tandem with two top-class Leicestershire studs which, like Red House, became synonymous with the production of fast horses: David Gibsonís Barleythorpe Stud and Robert Percivalís Glen Andred Stud. Warner generally used Barleythorpe stallions (such as Selviís sire Mummy's Pet, an outstanding sprinting sire who was by the equally influential sprinting sire Sing Sing, who was a son of Hyperionís brilliantly fast grandson Tudor Minstrel, who could arguably be regarded as the Frankel of his day) and his best colts (such as Petong, a son of the Barleythorpe incumbent Mansingh) would retire to Barleythorpe.
It was understandable that Selvi, despite her failure to win a race, should be retained for breeding by Tom Warner, being a daughter of Mummyís Pet from a family which had served him well. She visited the Irish-based Taufan in her first season at stud before going to the Barleythorpe sires Petong and Cyrano De Bergerac. The spring of 1993, though, saw her back in Ireland, aged eight and visiting Indian Ridge.
Although Indian Ridge was unproven at the time of Indian Rocketís conception, he was very proven by the time that the colt was a yearling. We now know that Indian Ridge followed his sire Ahonoora in developing into a top-class stallion (mostly of short-distance horses) and by the autumn of 1995 this was already becoming fairly plain, his second-crop daughter Ridgewood Pearl being well into her run of five consecutive Group One mile victories which had begun at May in the Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh and which would culminate that October in the Breedersí Cup Mile at Belmont. Indian Ridgeís yearlings were understandably popular that year, which made it an easy decision for Tom Warner to put his colt into Tattersallsí October Sale, where the strong and speedily-bred youngster was bought for 36,000 gns by Shadwell Estates.
Indian Rocket joined the stable of John Dunlop, the main trainer for Shadwell principal Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum. However, he did so under the ownership not of Sheikh Hamdan, but of his friend Khalil Alsayegh. A natural two-year-old, Indian Rocket soon carried Khalil Alsayeghís colours to victory. Having run green on debut in a six-furlong two-year-old maiden race in May 1996 at Lingfield (in which his greenness led him to be beaten a short head), he made no mistake second time out, winning a six-furlong maiden at Chepstow the following month.
Indian Rocket largely went from strength to strength throughout his two-year-old campaign. His first six races saw him register two seconds places and four victories, with him climbing in class all the time. His second win came in a conditions race at Haydock, his third in a Listed race at Ripon and his fourth in the Group Two Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury, which he won by two and a half lengths from Proud Native, with the good George Strawbridge-owned filly Seebe (a half-sister to Selkirk who went on to finish second in the following yearís Poule díEssai des Pouliches and who is now one of her owner/breederís best broodmares) a neck back in third. The only blot on Indian Rocketís first season copy-book came on his final appearance, when he was well beaten behind Bahamian Bounty in the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket.
Disappointingly, Indian Rocket failed to win as a three-year-old. He only ran five times in 1997 so was clearly not finding things as straightforward as he had done the previous year, but even so he still managed to show the odd glimpse of top-class form, most notably when third to his paternal half-brother Compton Place and Royal Applause in the Group One July Cup, with the Group One winners Bahamian Bounty and Coastal Bluff immediately behind him. He also finished third in the King George Stakes at Goodwood, only a length behind the winner Averti.
It was clear that Indian Rocket was probably going to find it hard to break through into the ranks of Europeís truly elite sprinters, so his connections took him out to race in Dubai, where the Maktoum family was making a big effort to raise the standard of the local sport. He duly became one of the best sprinters in the UAE, winning the Jebel Ali Sprint at Jebel Ali (setting a new course record). He also went to America, where he won a five-furlong Listed race (the Churchill Downs Turf Sprint) on the grass at Churchill Downs. He eventually retired after four seasons of honourable racing as an autumn five-year-old at the end of 1999.
Indian Rocket clearly deserved to find himself a place at stud. He hadnít been a truly top-class sprinter, but he had been a tough and durable one Ė and, most pertinently in the eyes of many Ďcommercial breedersí, he had been a fast and precocious Group Two-winning juvenile. Such horses generally appeal to commercial breeders, who tend to patronize them in droves (in the early days of their stud careers, at least) as long as the stud fee isnít too high. He duly retired to Tally-Ho Stud in Ireland and understandably proved popular with breeders aiming to produce potential two-year-old winners on a limited budget.
Indian Rocket sired a reasonable amount of winners during his terms at Tally-Ho, which was probably as much as could have been expected from a stallion who was generally covering fairly undistinguished mares. Easily the best of these winners was Maarekís dam Ruby Rocket, a member of his first crop. Her dam Geht Schnell (one of the studís resident mares and one bred to be a good sprinting mare, being a daughter of a half-sister to the excellent sprinter Anita's Prince) ultimately bred stakes horses by four Tally-Ho stallions (the others being Danetime, Brave Act and Inzar) so she clearly gave Indian Rocket plenty of help Ė but, even so, one has to credit the stallion for a degree of Ruby Rocketís speed. This speed saw her win five races including Listed sprints at the ages of both two and three. Overall, she finished in the first three in stakes races on 10 occasions, which speaks volumes for her toughness as well as for her ability.
Generally, though, Indian Rocketís results at Tally-Ho fell a long way short of those achieved by his stud-companion Danetime, who was in the process of proving himself an extremely good sprinting sire. The pair had started off at the same fee (3,000 Irish pounds) but, while Danetimeís fee was going up, Indian Rocketís was going to have to come down. There seemed little point in his retaining his place on the roster alongside, and in completion with, the clearly-superior Danetime, so it made sense in every respect to move him on after he had generated four seasonsí worth of stud fees. He was duly sent to Tattersallsí December Sale in 2003, where he fetched the relatively small sum of 67,000 gns, bought by the French Bloodstock Agency.
Indian Rocketís new owners took him to France to stand at Haras des Faunes, where he was able to attract a small amount of patronage, despite France being a place where far fewer breeders concentrate on trying to produce inexpensive two-year-old sprinters than is the case in, say, the British Isles. Remarkably, he began to churn out a solid flow of winners, to the extent that Haras de Faunes was able to raise his stud fee (to 3,500 euros) in advance of the 2009 season, following the success of his first and second French-bred crops (who had just completed their three-year-old and two-year-old campaigns respectively).
Stars of these crops had been Matwan (a Listed-winning two-year-old in 2008) as well as the stakes-placed juveniles Jane Blue, Bluster, Kenz and Faylan. We can also now say that his first-French-crop daughter Damdam Freeze turned out to be a star as she is now the dam of the Group Three-winning, Group One-placed sprinter Kendam. Sadly, though, just as Indian Rocket was getting himself established as one of Franceís best specialist sires of sprinters, he died from peritonitis towards the end of 2009, aged 15. Since then, his reputation has continued to grow, although obviously that is small comfort for the team at Haras des Faunes. Just like their father had done before them, it has become clear that Indian Rocketís smart juveniles tended, like Ruby Rocket, to be durable as well as precocious. In 2010, Bluster, after a string of good stakes placings, recorded his first stakes victory at the age of four, taking the Prix Servanne over 1200m at Chantilly. The same year saw the emergence of another good two-year-old, Prix Zeddaan winner Captain Chop.
QIPCO Championsí Day, Britainís richest raceday, came this year at the end of a week which had seen colossal sums of money outlaid on yearlings boasting the most obviously fashionable pedigrees. Under the circumstances, it does no harm for horses such as Cirrus Des Aigles (whose sire Even Top featured in this slot 12 months ago) and Maarek to remind us that success on the biggest stage is not solely the prerogative of the biggest spenders, that good horses donít necessarily cost a lot and that they can have pedigrees featuring inexpensive stallions, such as Indian Rocket, who spend their entire career out of the limelight.