The Group 1 Commonwealth Cup, a six-furlong event for three-year-olds, has been one of the best additions to the European racing calendar in recent years and the 2018 edition, its fourth one, has a tough act to follow.
The inaugural running went to sprint champion Muhaarar, who was chased home by subsequent Group 1 scorer Limato, and the second edition went to star filly Quiet Reflection from the current Timeform 123-rated Kachy. Last year Caravaggio led home subsequent Group 1 winners Harry Angel and Blue Point.
Now the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Eqtidaar, a Shadwell homebred, has added his name to the race's roll of honour. He beat Sands Of Mali by half a length, with Emblazoned another length back in third and a pair of long-shots – Stone Of Destiny and Hey Jonesy – heads back in fourth and fifth, followed another half-length away by the American raider Gidu and last year's Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes and Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes winner Heartache, who flashed past the post together.
With just two and a half lengths covering these first seven, the impression is that this was not a particularly strong renewal of the race. However, the winner was running for just the fifth time, he had been runner-up to Invincible Army in the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes on his seasonal reappearance over Friday's course and distance in early May – on soft ground – and he looks open to plenty of improvement.
He is an early May foal and, indeed, his physical third birthday was not until two days after that Ascot second.
Eqtidaar is the 16th Group 1 winner for the Irish National Stud's flag bearer Invincible Spirit (by Green Desert), a stallion who has over 100 stakes winners to his name, who also supplied the aforementioned Emblazoned, and who has emerged as a source of successful sire sons – something that will add to the attraction of this newest star when his time to retire comes about.
The colt is the third foal and third winner out of Madany (by Acclamation) and the better of those siblings is Massaat (by Teofilo), the Owen Burrows-trained colt who chased home Galileo Gold in the Group 1 2000 Guineas at Newmarket before going on to win the Group 2 Hungerford Stakes over seven at Newbury, beating Librisa Breeze by one and three-quarter lengths.
Massaat's only runs after that victory have been his third-place finish to Ribchester and Taareef in the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp at Chantilly in September and his runners-up spot to Limato in the Group 2 Challenge Stakes at Newmarket a month later.
Madany was trained by Barry Hills, won six-furlong contests at Haydock in July of her juvenile year, was runner-up in the valuable Tattersalls Millions 3YO Sprint at Newmarket, and missed out on blacktype when only fifth to Perfect Tribute in the Pavilion Stakes at Ascot, which carried listed status that year.
The mare is among a string of winners produced from one-time scorer Belle De Cadix (by Law Society) and her siblings include two horses of particular note.
Dolled Up (by Whipper) won the Group 3 Prix de Bois, was placed in the Group 2 Prix Robert Papin and Group 2 Criterium de Maisons-Laffitte, and her second foal – the first one died as a yearling – is current French three-year-old Fou Rire (by Iffraaj). That Fabrice Chappet-trained filly has won twice and finished fourth in the seven-furlong listed contest won by Intello Kiss at San Siro late last month.
Madany's other notable sister is four-time stakes winner and successful broodmare Zeiting (by Zieten). She is the dam of the Group 2-winning miler Combat Zone (by Refuse To Bend), of Group 3 Geoffrey Freer Stakes winner Royal Empire (by Teofilo), of Group 3 Strensall Stakes scorer and Group 1 Caulfield Cup runner-up Scottish (by Teofilo), and of three stakes-placed daughters.
That trio includes Zut Alors (by Pivotal), the Group 3 Prix Miesque third whose daughter Precieuse (by Tamayuz) won last year's Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches (French 1000 Guineas).
There is plenty of blacktype to be found also under the third generation of the pedigree, but those stakes winners out of and descended from Gourgandine (by Auction Ring) achieved their honours in India, and although those include classic wins and places in that country, and horses who showed plenty of stamina, it is connections under the fourth dam that tell us more about the strength of the family.
That mare is Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes runner-up North Forland (by Northfields) and, in addition to Gourgandine, she was the dam of Group 3 Prix des Chene heroine and Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac third Harmless Albatross (by Pas De Seul), of Group 2 Prix d'Harcourt scorer Fortune's Wheel (by Law Society), and of Group 2 winner Libertine (by Hello Gorgeous) who was third in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Pouliches.
Fortune's Wheel could be described as being a three-parts brother to Belle De Cadix, and Libertine has additional note as having Group 2 Lowther Stakes winner Infamous Angel (by Exceed And Excel) among her descendants, and Harmless Albatross excelled at stud.
Her star son is Grade 2 winner Volochine (by Soviet Star), she was also responsible for the listed scorers Almass (by Elnadim), Ghataas (by Sadler's Wells), Kahtan (by Nashwan) and Sakha (by Wolfhound), and for two others who were blacktype placed.
North Forland, in turn, was a half-sister to Group 1 Prix Ganay and Group 1 Gran Premio del Jockey Club Coppa d'Oro heroine Infra Green (by Laser Light), and that star filly was both the dam of Group 3 scorers Ecologist (by Rainbow Quest), Green Reef (by Mill Reef) and Infrasonic (by Dancing Brave), and of Group 1 St James's Palace Stakes runner-up Greensmith (by Known Fact), and grandam of 1991's Group 1 St Leger hero Toulon (by Top Ville).
Eqtidaar holds an entry in next month's Group 1 Darley July Cup, and although it remains to be seen just how good he will be at his peak, he is a colt with a lot of potential, especially given his birth date.
The sprinters' division is especially strong right now and horses who, in many years, would have been good enough to take high rank, will struggle to compile an eye-catching CV. This will make the enhanced three-year-old sprint programme especially important as a testing ground for up-and-coming speedsters, giving them a chance to gain experience and build a profile before being pitched in at the very top.
Invincible Army already has plenty of racing experience, albeit entirely against his own age group, and it will be interesting to see how he gets on when moving into open company later in the year.
Short-headed by Masar in a six-furlong Goodwood maiden in late May of his juvenile year, he ran away with a similar contest at Newmarket before disappointing in fourth behind Cardsharp in the Group 2 July Stakes at the same venue.
He chased home Havana Grey in the Group 3 Molecomb Stakes on soft ground at Goodwood and Sands Of Mali on good ground in the Group 2 Gimcrack Stakes, beat Corinthia Knight by a length and a half to take the Group 3 Sirenia Stakes on the polytrack at Kempton, and then finished a three-quarter-length second to James Garfield in the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury.
With what some of those rivals have already achieved in 2018, that form – which earned him a Timeform rating of 112 – still looks good. It will also catch the eye on advertisements for a likely future stallion career for the son of leading international sire Invincible Spirit (by Green Desert).
The James Tate-trained colt made his seasonal reappearance at Ascot on Wednesday, and although it remains to be seen exactly what he achieved in beating the lightly-raced pair Eqtidaar and Enjazaat easily in the Group 3 Merriebelle Stable Pavilion Stakes over six furlongs on soft, it looked promising.
Invincible Army was bred by Rabbah Bloodstock Ltd and he is a half-brother to Master Rajeem (by Street Cry), who bypassed the flat and has won at up to three miles, two and a half furlongs over fences. Despite that stamina, however, the distaff side of the family is mostly about six to 10-furlong talent, starting with the Group 1 Falmouth Stakes victory of his dam, Rajeem (by Diktat).
She is the best of three winners out of Magic Sister, and although that mare was only placed, the daughter of Cadeaux Genereux (by Young Generation) is a full-sister to Hoh Magic, who was Europe's juvenile filly champion of 1994 after wins in the Group 1 Prix Morny, Group 3 Molecomb Stakes and Listed Dragon Trophy.
She was runner-up in the Group 3 Fred Darling Stakes first time out at three, finished fourth to Harayir in the Group 1 1000 Guineas, and then took third to Lake Coniston in the Group 1 July Cup. Timeform rated her 111 at two and 108 at three.
Gunner's Belle (by Gunner B), the third dam of Invincible Army, won three times at up to 10 furlongs and was among nine successful offspring – who won between three to 18 races apiece – out of triple scorer Crimson Belle (by Red God), with the brightest star among them being Crimson Beau (by High Line).
He won the Group 2 Prince of Wales's Stakes, Group 3 Prix de la Cote Normande and Listed Extel Handicap, he was runner-up to Troy in the Group 1 Benson & Hedges Gold Cup (now Juddmonte International Stakes) and to Dicken's Hill in the Group 1 Coral-Eclipse Stakes, and earned a Timeform rating of 124.
From what we have seen of him so far, Invincible Army appears to be a talented sprinter. He holds entries in next month's Group 1 Commonwealth Cup and Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Ascot, and has likely already done more than enough to have attracted the attention of a few stud farms.
It is likely that he will be kept to five and six furlongs, but given that his dam won a Group 1 over a mile, that Hoh Magic stayed that trip and that Crimson Beau is in the family too, it would be interesting to see how he might get on if asked to try seven furlongs, or even a mile.
Invincible Spirit's position as one of Europe's outstanding stallions is well-established and his classic prospects for 2017 include National Defense, last year's juvenile champion colt in France.
The grandson of Green Desert (by Danzig) is trained by Criquette Head-Maarek, he was bred by Ecurie Des Monceaux and Meridian International Sarl, and he earned an official rating of 118 after his four and a half-length defeat of Salouen in the Group 1 Qatar Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Grand Criterium) over a mile at Chantilly in October.
That performance, which gave his sire the 15th individual Group/Grade 1 winner needed to place his name on the list of internationally protected names, came just over six weeks after his impressive six-length debut success over the same trip at Deauville.
Between those two wins he finished third to Akihiro and High Alpha in the Group 3 Prix des Chenes at Chantilly. The first-named is an Andre Fabre-trained, twice-raced son of Deep Impact (by Sunday Silence), and the runner-up, who was a three-length listed scorer on his previous start, finished fourth to Frankuus in the Group 3 Prix de Conde over nine furlongs at the same venue on his only subsequent outing.
National Defense, who made €280,000 at the Arqana August Deauville Yearling Sale, is the third foal and third winner out of an unraced mare called Angel Falls (by Kingmambo).
The eldest of the trio is Cascading (by Teofilo), whose only win came in a 12-furlong Epsom maiden and who earned her blacktype when a three-quarter-length third in a listed contest over that same trip at Newbury, and the one in the middle is Andalouserie (by Poet's Voice), a seven and a half-furlong winner in France.
The mare's current two-year-old, a son of Makfi (by Dubawi), was the subject of a €110,000 private sale transaction at Deauville in October, and Angel Falls is due to visit Shalaa (by Invincible Spirit) after she has her Siyouni (by Pivotal) foal this year.
Angel Falls is out of the Group 3 Prix d'Aumale winner Anna Palariva (by Caerleon) and that makes her a half-sister to three stakes winners, headed by the Group 3 Prix de la Grotte winner and Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas runner-up Anna Salai (by Dubawi).
The prolific Iguazu Falls (by Pivotal) won the Listed Surrey Stakes at Epsom, was twice Group 3-placed in England as a juvenile and has been third in the Group 2 Al Fahidi Fort Stakes at Meydan, while Advice (by Seeking The Gold) is a pattern-placed four-time listed scorer in France.
Their lightly-raced and placed half-sister Anemometer (by Sunday Silence) has also done her part for the family as she is the dam of the Australian-bred Grade 1-placed South African listed scorer Dubai Gina (by Dubai Destination).
All of this suggests that National Defense could be a leading mile to 10-furlong performer in 2017, and as he is based in France he could be a candidate to try for the classic double of Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) and Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby).
Whether or not he will stay beyond the distance of that latter classic remains to be seen, and although his third dam is the Group 3 Park Hill Stakes winner Anna Of Saxony (by Ela-Mana-Mou), progeny of Invincible Spirit who are effective at 12 furlongs and beyond are rare compared to the number he gets from five to 10 furlongs.
In addition to the lightly-raced and aforementioned Anna Palariva, Anna Of Saxony is the dam of the Group 3 Queen's Vase third Ancestor (by Polish Precedent), of listed-placed stayer and prolific National Hunt scorer Aachen (by Rainbow Quest), and of one-time winner Anna Amalia (by In The Wings), who is the dam of the Listed Cheshire Oaks winner Anipa (by Sea The Stars) and of the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Invitational Stakes heroine Ave (by Danehill Dancer).
The fourth dam of National Defense is the unraced Anna Matrushka (by Mill Reef), whose offspring also include the Group 2 Prix Hubert de Chaudenay winner Pozarica (by Rainbow Quest) and the dual middle-distance Group 2 scorer Annaba (by In The Wings).
The mare is also the grandam of the Group 1-winning miler Anna Monda (by Monsun) and her unraced daughter Accessories (by Singspiel) has produced the notably quick Australian pattern stars Bullbars (by Elusive Quality), Helmet (by Exceed And Excel), Epaulette (by Commands) and Pearls (by Exceed And Excel).
The middle pair of that quartet are, of course, reverse shuttle stallions, with Helmet having sired Group 1 scorer Thunder Snow among his first crop and Epaulette proving popular at the yearlings sales in 2016.
If you go back another generation of the family then you will find another mix of speed and stamina, with fifth dam Anna Paola (by Prince Ippi) having won the Group 2 Preis der Diana (German Oaks), her classic-placed and pattern-winning daughter Anno Luce (by Old Vic) being the dam of the brilliant hurdler Annie Power (by Shirocco), and others on the page including Group 1 Irish Derby third Annus Mirabilis (by Warning), the seven to nine-furlong horse Autumn Glory (by Charnwood Forest) and ill-fated juvenile Group 3 scorer Piping Rock (by Dubawi).
All of National Defense's juvenile starts were over a mile, which is something that we often associate with potential middle-distance horses. It is not impossible that he will stay beyond the 10 and a half furlongs of the Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club, a race his sire has already won before with Lawman, but it is more likely that the influence of his sire will cap his range at that classic distance, and he could be among the season's leading eight to 10-furlong horses.