For many years the first juvenile blacktype event of the season was the Listed Marble Hill Stakes at the Curragh, but now that five furlong contest is preceded by a race at York.
The 2016 edition of the Listed Langleys Solicitors EBF Marygate Fillies' Stakes attracted 11 runners, and although the combination of an unremarkable time on fast ground with the first four finishers being within two lengths of each other at the line suggests that considerable improvement will be needed from them if they are to make the progression to pattern level, each of the first three has boosted her future paddocks value by earning blacktype.
The honour of being the first two-year-old stakes winner of the year goes to the Richard Fahey-trained Vona, a daughter of Yeomanstown Stud stallion Dark Angel (by Acclamation). She beat the Mark Johnston-trained favourite Boater (by Helmet) by a length, Perfect Madge (by Acclamation) was a head back in third, and this victory makes her look like a bargain buy.
She was bred by Colm McEvoy and she made just €15,000 when sold at the Tattersalls Ireland September Yearling Sale. Being the daughter of such a notable sire one might suspect that the distaff side of the family must be light on blacktype to result in such a price, but this is not the case.
She is the seventh foal out of an unraced mare called Trading Places (by Dansili) yet has just two winning siblings and one of those was still a maiden when the filly went through the ring. He is the five-year-old gelding Dynamo (by Galileo) who has won twice in recent weeks for the Richard Hughes stable, including a two-mile handicap at Lingfield.
The mare's poor strike-rate is a little surprising given that she could be described as being a three-parts sister to a Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe hero, and that relation is Rail Link. His wins also included the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris, his stakes-winning progeny feature the Group 1 Australian Cup scorer Spillway and Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner Epicuris, and he stands at Haras de Cercy in France.
Rail Link is a half-brother to the Group 2 Prix du Conseil de Paris winner Crossharbour (by Zamindar) and to Group 3 scorers Chelsea Manor (by Grand Lodge) and Mainsail (by Oasis Dream), and his five-times winning dam Docklands (by Theatrical) is a half-sister to Trading Places.
The two mares are also half-sisters to the Listed Prix de Lieurey winner Mooring (by Zafonic), who has a listed-placed daughter of her own, to Group 3 July Stakes winner and Group 2 Lockinge Stakes runner-up Wharf (by Storm Bird), and to a trio that have produced blacktype winners at stud.
Fonage (by Zafonic) won twice and is the dam of the Listed El Gran Senor Stakes winner Zafonical Storm (by Aljabr), Galley (by Zamindar) was placed a few times but is the dam of the 10-furlong listed scorer Cape Magic (by Cape Cross), and Colza (by Alleged), who won a mile maiden on her only start at two, is the dam of the Group 1 Criterium de Saint-Cloud winner Linda's Lad (by Sadler's Wells). He stands at Haras de Grandcamp.
Not only is the amount of blacktype in the second generation of Vona's pedigree striking, but it is almost all mile and middle-distance talent, so quite different from what is required to win a five-furlong listed event for precocious two-year-olds.
The stars in the fourth generation of the family are quite distant from her, but as her fourth dam is the 16-times scorer and multiple blacktype winner Charming Alibi (by Honey's Alibi), they have to be mentioned because, in addition to Vona's third dam Golden Alibi (by Empery), that mare's progeny included Dahlia (by Vaguely Noble). The classic and prolific Group 1 star was one of the greatest fillies of all time and she went on to become one of that select group of mares to get at least four Group/Grade 1 winning progeny. Her quarter were Dahar (by Lyphard), Dahlia's Dreamer (by Theatrical), Delegant (by Grey Dawn II) and Rivlia (by Riverman), and her descendants also include the Group 1 St Leger winner Nedawi (by Rainbow Quest) and Group 1 Gold Cup scorer Rite Of Passage (by Giant's Causeway).
By remarkable coincidence, Charming Alibi is also the fourth dam of today's Listed War Command Rochestown (C&G) Stakes winner Peace Envoy (by Power), although he and Vona represent very different branches of the family.
The speed from Vona's sire is clearly a factor in her aptitude, and as not all of his progeny are sprinters, one would imagine that the amount of stamina present in the distaff side of her pedigree must give her a chance of staying seven furlongs or a mile in time.
It will be interesting to see how much she can improve on this winning effort or if it will be a performance-of-a-lifetime one as there was good reason why she was sent off at 33/1 that day. She was last of nine at Southwell in early April and then fourth behind the promising Mehmas at Chester, that run coming just eight days before York. And yet what you would expect of the bulk of the distaff side of her pedigree is that she might not have been ready to race until the autumn, possibly over six or seven furlongs.
Vona is catalogued as Lot 39 for the Goffs London Sale on 13th June.