GIlltown Stud's Timeform 140-rated champion Sea The Stars (by Cape Cross) is well-established as one of Europe's leading sires and, in Knight To Behold, he has another high-class prospect on his roll of honour.
The Harry Dunlop-trained colt was a nose runner-up to White Mocha in a mile conditions race on his debut 13 months ago, he followed that with a narrow win over the same trip at Newmarket, and showed himself to be a potentially leading middle-distance three-year-old when, having gone to the front a mile from home, he won the Listed Derby Trial Stakes by three and a quarter lengths at Lingfield.
The horse who chased him home there has improved a lot since that day as he – Kew Gardens – has won the Group 2 Queen's Vase, Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris and Group 1 William Hill St Leger Stakes. That Aidan O'Brien-trained star runs in tomorrow's Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Knight To Behold finished well-beaten in both the Group 1 Investec Derby and Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby, but then dropped back to 10 furlongs for the prestigious Group 2 Prix Guillaume d'Ornano at Deauville and made all for an impressive four-length win, chased home by Patascoy and with Group 1 Prix du Jockey Club scorer Study Of Man another two lengths back in third.
Homebred by Neil Jones's Abergwaun Farms, Knight To Behold is a half-brother to Group 3 Blue Wind Stakes winner Beauty O' Gwaun (by Rainbow Quest) and to Japanese Group 3 scorer Cosmo Meadow (by King's Best) who earned just short of £1 million in prize money.
Their dam, Angel Of The Gwaun (by Sadler's Wells), is an unraced full-sister to Group 1 Derby third Let The Lion Roar and to Group 3 Gallinule Stakes third King In Waiting, but two of her half-siblings are of considerably more note.
Head In The Clouds (by Rainbow Quest) won the Group 3 Princess Royal Stakes, she was runner-up in the Group 2 Prix de Pomone and in the Group 3 St Simon Stakes, and in addition to her talented daughter Roses For The Lady (by Sadler's Wells), who won the Listed Vintage Crop Stakes and was second in the Group 1 Irish Oaks, her descendants include listed scorer and Group 1 Oaks third Lady Of Dubai (by Dubawi).
Her older full-brother Millenary was Europe's top three-year-old stayer in 2000 when his top success came in the Group 1 St Leger Stakes at Doncaster, and by the time he retired to stud his tally of wins was at 12, including the Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes, Group 2 Lonsdale Stakes, Group 2 Yorkshire Cup, and two editions of both the Group 2 Doncaster Cup and Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes.
Ballerina (by Dancing Brave), the winning grandam of Knight To Behold, is a half-sister to Group 3 Princess Royal Stakes winner and dual Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks runner-up Dancing Bloom (by Sadler's Wells), and also to River Dancer (by Irish River), the stakes-winning dam of Group 1 Irish 2000 Guineas and Group 1 Champion Stakes star Spectrum (by Rainbow Quest). He sired blacktype winners at all levels and under both codes.
Spectrum's full-brother Stream Of Gold was a Grade 1-placed Grade 2 scorer on turf in the USA, his winning half-sister Ballet Shoes (by Ela-Mana-Mou) became the dam of Group 1 Irish Oaks, Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks and Group 1 Prix de l'Opera heroine Petrushka (by Unfuwain), and their siblings also included an unraced mare called Well Head (by Sadler's Wells).
Her final foal was the champion and multimillionaire Conduit (by Dalakhani), winner of the Group 1 St Leger Stakes, Group 1 King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and two editions of the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Turf. Timeform rated him 130 at both three and four years of age.
There are also major winners in the fourth generation of the pedigree as third dam Dancing Shadow (by Dancer's Image) – who was placed in the Group 2 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood – was out of Sunny Valley (by Val De Loir) and that made her a half-sister to Sun Princess (by English Prince) and Saddlers' Hall (by Sadler's Wells).
The latter won the Group 1 Coronation Cup, Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes and Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes, he was runner-up in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and in the Group 1 St Leger, was rated 126 by Timeform, and went on to become a successful dual-purpose sire.
Sun Princess, of course, won the Group 1 Oaks by 12 lengths at Epsom, added the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks and Group 1 St Leger, was third in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and chased home All Along in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The Timeform 130-rated champion became the dam of ill-fated juvenile Group 1 scorer Prince Of Dance (by Sadler's Wells) – who died due to cancer shortly after disappointing at Epsom.
With family connections like these, it is no surprise that Knight To Behold has become a talented middle-distance performer. It will be interesting to see how high he can climb in the rankings.
Galileo's brilliant half-brother Sea The Stars (by Cape Cross) has made an excellent start to his career at Gilltown Stud and the 11-year-old notched up his eighth individual Group 1 winner when Stradivarius took the Qatar Goodwood Cup earlier this month.
The John Gosden-trained chestnut is owned and bred by Bjorn Nielsen, he has won four of his seven starts, and what makes his one and three-quarter length defeat of Group 1 Gold Cup hero Big Orange particularly meritorious is that he is only a three-year-old. Timeform rated him 122.
He won the final of three starts at around a mile as a juvenile, started off his current campaign with a six-length score in a 10-furlong handicap at Beverley in April, failed by just half a length to give away 13lbs over two and a half furlongs farther at Chester the following month, and then put his name into the history books as the first winner of the newly framed Queen's Vase at Royal Ascot.
Previously run over over two miles and with listed or Group 3 status, it was generally seen as one of the lesser blacktype staying events, but, in 2017 and as part of some enhancements to the stayers' programme, it was reduced in distance to 14 furlongs and boosted in status to Group 2.
The presumed hope is that the Queen's Vase might become to stayers what the Commonwealth Cup has to sprinters, a well-supported stepping stone for potentially top-class three-year-olds before they take on the older horses.
The latter has quickly become established as one of the best additions to the racing calendar, and if the next few winners of the former go on to the sort of profile that its latest victor has achieved, then it too will play an important role.
Stradivarius is now one of the ante-post market leaders for both the Group 1 William Hill St Leger Stakes at Doncaster next month and for the Group 2 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot in October.
He is a half-brother to the dual German 10-furlong Group 3 scorer Persian Storm (by Monsun) and out of Private Life (by Bering), a stakes-placed half-sister to the 15-furlong listed race winner Pretty Tough (by Desert King) and also to Parisienne (by Distant Relative), a juvenile stakes winner with a famous grandson.
That star is Protectionist (by Monsun), the Group 1 Melbourne Cup hero of 2014. He was a pattern-winning stayer before making the trip to Flemington, but an extended stay in Australia did not work out for him so he returned to Germany, added Group 1 success in the Grosser Preis von Berlin over 12 furlongs at Hoppegarten, and took up stallion duties at Gestut Rottgen in the spring.
His third dam, Poughkeepsie (by Sadler's Wells), is the grandam of Stradivarius and that one-time winner is among five successful runners from the dozen foals produced from Pawneese (by Carvin II), the Group 1 Oaks, Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) and Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes heroine whom Timeform rated 131 in her championship season: 1976.
Pawneese's half-sister Petroleuse (by Habitat), who won the Group 3 Princess Elizabeth Stakes, is the grandam of Peintre Celebre (by Nureyev), the Timeform 137-rated star who took the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris and Group 1 Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby) in 1997.
Although he has not achieved the sort of fame at stud as he did on the track, the brilliant chestnut has supplied 65 stakes winners, 12 of whom have won at the highest level, including the Group 1 standouts Pride, Vallee Enchantee, and Bentley Biscuit.
At this point, Stradivarius looks the most likely candidate to win the season's final Group 1 classic at Doncaster. Whether or not he has the stamina for the two and a half-mile Group 1 Gold Cup next year remains to be seen, but a repeat Goodwood Cup success is possible and he could be a leading candidate for championship honours in the stayers' division in 2018.
Given his relationship to Protectionist, Pawneese and Peintre Celebre, it would be interesting to see how he might get on if dropping back to a mile and a half next year, and also to see him get a shot at being a flat stallion, rather than being automatically targeted at the National Hunt sector.
Stellar Mass was clearly held in high regard early in his career because, although placed in two maidens, he made his third start in the Group 2 Beresford Stakes over a mile at the Curragh. He finished fourth that day, but was only beaten by a short-head, a neck and half a length, which was an encouraging performance. But then he was a beaten favourite in a maiden at Leopardstown a month later.
He was runner-up in another maiden on his seasonal reappearance, then finished only fourth and fifth in a pair of them over 10 furlongs, before finally opening his winning account at the eighth attempt.
That is not the sort of profile that one would expect to see on a colt who was just weeks away from making the frame in Group 1 company, but the step up to 12 furlongs has transformed him from a disappointing runner into one who is a classic-placed pattern winner whose best may still be ahead of him.
The Jim Bolger-trained Stellar Mass was bred by the partnership of Tinnakill House and Alan Byrne, and he made €280,000 in Goffs as a foal. After his maiden success he took the Magners Ulster Derby, a premier handicap, over the extended 12 furlongs at Down Royal and, just one week later, he chased home Harzand and Idaho in the Group 1 Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby at the Curragh.
He was an odds-on winner of the Listed Her Majesty's Plate Stakes over 14 furlongs at Down Royal in July, followed that with a half-length defeat of subsequent listed scorer Almela in the Group 3 Ballyroan Stakes over a mile and a half at Leopardstown, and is due to take on the classic-placed pair Bondi Beach and US Army Ranger, and the high-class filly Zhukova, in the Group 3 KPMG Enterprise Stakes over the same course and distance tomorrow.
Stellar Mass is a son of Gilltown Stud's Timeform 140-rated standout Sea The Stars (by Cape Cross) and he is one of four blacktype earners out of Juno Marlowe (by Danehill), a mare who is a full-sister to three stakes winners. Her son Fairmile (by Spectrum) is a stakes-placed prolific winner, daughter Sun of Jamaica (by Cape Cross) was Group 3-placed in Germany, and the other sibling of note is Marzelline (by Barathea).
She began her career in England, trained by Walter Swinburn, and she won a 10-furlong Lingfield maiden on her second start. She was placed a couple of times after that, but it was not until she crossed the Atlantic that she hit her peak.
There she won a listed handicap over 11 furlongs at Del Mar, was beaten by just a nose when runner-up in the Grade 2 San Gorgonio Handicap over nine furlongs on turf at Santa Anita, and then chased home Santa Tersita in the Grade 1 Santa Maria Handicap over a half-furlong less on the Pro-Ride surface. Another notable performance was her fourth place finish in the Grade 1 Yellow Ribbon Stakes over 10 furlongs, also at Santa Anita.
Juno Marlowe got her wins over seven furlongs at Kempton and Newmarket and she achieved a career-peak handicap mark of 97. Her full-brother Leporello won the Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes at Windsor and Group 3 Select Stakes at Goodwood, and full-sister Calypso Grant won the Listed Masaka Stakes at Kempton.
Poppy Carew, another full-sister, was runner-up in that mile listed contest but won the Listed John Musker Stakes at Yarmouth. She was also a runner-up in the Group 3 Prestige Stakes at Goodwood as a juvenile, and finished third in the Group 2 Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket.
They have a stakes-placed half-sister called Flora Trevelyan (by Cape Cross), who is quite closely related to Stellar Mass, and of the rest of their winning siblings the one-time scorer Oh Hebe (by Night Shift) deserves a mention. That is because she has produced three blacktype horses at stud, most notably the ill-fated Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby scorer Devious Boy (by Dr Devious).
Why So Silent (by Mill Reef), the unraced grandam of Stellar Mass, was out of the Group 3 Lancashire Oaks and Listed Pretty Polly Stakes winner Sing Softly (by Luthier), a filly who also performed with merit when runner-up in the Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes and third in the Group 2 Park Hill Hill Stakes.
The best of her five successful offspring was Supreme Sound (by Superlative), who won 10 times, including the Listed Winter Derby at Lingfield and the Grade 3 Hawthorne Gold Cup, and he was runner-up in the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap at Monmouth Park.
In addition to Why So Silent, his half-sisters included Eliza Acton (by Shirley Heights) and Rosy Lydgate (by Last Tycoon). The former won once as a two-year-old and the latter was placed just once, but they are notable because of the horses who appear under them on a catalogue page. Rosy Lydgate is the grandam of Treaty Of Paris (by Haatef), who won the 2013 edition of the Group 3 Acomb Stakes.
Mile scorer Eliza Acton, on the other hand, is the dam of Stotsfold (by Barathea). He emulated his relation Leporello by taking both the Group 3 Winter Hill Stakes and Group 3 Select Stakes but then improved on that by adding the Group 3 La Coupe, Listed Gala Stakes, and Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes, and he was only beaten by about one and a half lengths when third to Gio Ponti in the Grade 1 Arlington Million. Sadly, he died of colic shortly after his listed-race success.
These are the highlights of the first few generations of the pedigree, although if you go back farther you will find that the sixth dam of Stellar Mass is 1962's dual classic-placed Yorkshire Oaks heroine West Side Story (by Rockefella), who was a grand-daughter of 1944's 1000 Guineas winner Picture Play (by Donatello) and whose only start at two had been quite remarkable: she was runner-up in the Cheveley Park Stakes! Timeform rated West Side Story 127.
This means that he represents a branch of the famous Joel family from which standouts such as Royal Palace (by Ballymoss), Welsh Pageant (by Tudor Melody), Desert Prince (by Green Desert) and Make Believe (by Makfi) emerged or descended, but his connection to them is so distant as to have no relevance to his talent or potential.
It will be interesting to see how much further upwards in the rankings Stellar Mass can go, and he could be a talented stayer in 2017, perhaps even making a return visit to Irish Champions Weekend but, instead of this year's target, for the Group 1 Irish St Leger at the Curragh.
Gilltown Stud stallion Sea The Stars has rapidly established himself as one of the best sires in Europe and the Timeform 140-rated champion recorded an important double at the weekend. It's not just that his sons Zelzal and Mutakayyef respectively won their first Group 1 and Group 2 contests that is notable, but the distance over which they achieved the feat.
A half-brother to the dual Derby hero and prolific champion sire Galileo (by Sadler's Wells), Sea The Stars was not guaranteed to stay beyond 10 furlongs during his glittering career. Yes, his dam Urban Sea (by Miswaki) stayed further than expected by winning the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and yes, some of the progeny of ace miler Cape Cross (by Green Desert) stay a mile and a half, but if what he had inherited from his parents was the speed influences in their pedigrees, instead of a blend of speed and stamina, then his distance range would have been limited.
As we all know, Sea The Stars stayed 12 furlongs just fine, winning both the Derby and the Arc over the trip, and many of his 28 stakes-winning progeny, almost two-third of whom are pattern winners, also handle middle-distances. Sea The Moon and Taghrooda, from his first crop, won classics over a mile and a half, this year's dual Derby hero Harzand is currently the brightest star from his third crop, and of his eight pattern winners in 2016 six have achieved the feat over 10 or 12 furlongs.
His Group/Grade 3 scorers Afternoon Sunlight, Casual Smile and My Titania have got their top wins over shorter, but all too often we focus more on a stallion's Group 1 and Group 2 stars when assessing him, sometimes overlooking his lesser stakes and pattern horses.
Doing so with Sea The Stars might have led one to presume that all of his offspring will automatically stay at least 10 furlongs and prove best over that trip and farther, and for anyone who may have been sliding into that way of thinking, those big wins on Saturday and Sunday will be a wake-up call.
The older of the pair has proved his ability to stay a little farther, and the younger colt may get 10 furlongs if asked, but their most recent performances show us that Mutakayyef and Zelzal are milers.
The former, a five-year-old gelding trained by William Haggas, is a first-crop son of his sire and he easily beat Dutch Connection by two and a quarter lengths in the Group 2 Fred Cowley MBE Memorial Summer Mile Stakes on fast ground at Ascot on Saturday, earning a Timeform rating of 123. The following afternoon the Jean-Claude Rouget-trained three-year-old Zelzal broke the track record when beating Stormy Antarctic by two lengths in the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat at Chantilly.
Zelzal made a six-length winning debut over seven and a half furlongs on the polytrack at Deauville in early March and followed-up by four lengths over a mile at Chantilly a month later, also on polytrack, thereby making him yet another recent Group 1 star to have graduated from early experience on the artificial tracks.
Recent Coral-Eclipse and Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud winners Hawkbill and Silverwave are others, as are last year's classic stars Jack Hobbs and Covert Love. The Group 2 scorers Endless Time and Wings of Desire, both of whom have been reviewed here, are all-weather graduates with Group 1 potential.
Zelzal's turf debut proved very disappointing and it is the one blot on his record. He was one of the favourites for the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) at Deauville in May, but beat just two home, finishing a dozen lengths behind impressive winner The Gurkha. He bounced back from that to take the Group 3 Prix Paul de Moussac over a mile at Chantilly a month later, and now he has won in style at the highest level.
Zelzal was bred by Viktor Timoshenko, and Al Shaqab Racing secured him for €180,000 at the Arqana October Yearling Sale. He is the second foal out of the mile winner Olga Prekrasa (by Kingmambo), which makes him inbred 4x3 to Mr Prospector (by Raise A Native), he has an older half-sister called Vejer (by Dalakhani), and his dam had a Redoute's Choice (by Danehill) filly in 2014.
The grandam of Zelzal is Opera Aida (by Sadler's Wells), who was unplaced on her only start. The mare is a half-sister to the Listed Cheshire Oaks third Crystal Curling (by Peintre Celebre) and to the dams of listed scorer Sparkling Portrait (by Excellent Art) and Group 3 Minstrel Stakes winner Three Rocks (by Rock Of Gibraltar).
She is out of State Crystal (by High Estate), the Group 3 Lancashire Oaks winner who was runner-up in the Group 2 Sun Chariot Stakes and third in both the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks and Group 1 Prix Vermeille, and that mare is, in turn, one of seven winners from 11 foals out of the one-time scorer Crystal Spray (by Beldale Flutter). That makes her a half-sister to four runners of particular note plus an unraced filly who went on to be represented by a big race winner abroad.
Dubai Success (by Sadler's Wells) won the Group 3 John Porter Stakes at Newbury and the races in which he was placed included the Group 2 Princess of Wales's Stakes, the Group 2 Geoffrey Freer Stakes, the Group 3 Sagaro Stakes and Group 3 St Simon Stakes. His full-brother Tchaikovsky picked up third place in the Group 1 Irish Derby, beaten by a total of 10 and a half lengths behind Montjeu.
Solar Crystal (by Alzao) won the Group 3 May Hill Stakes and was third in the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac, but her younger sister Crystal Music (by Nureyev) was better, winning the Group 1 Fillies' Mile at Ascot as a juvenile and placed in both the Group 1 Coronation Stakes and Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas the following year. She also has the better record at stud, with three blacktype earners among her progeny and the Group 1-placed Group 2 scorer and young Beeches Stud stallion Ocovango (by Monsun) for a grandson.
Crystal Melody, a year-younger full-sister to Crystal Music, did not race, but her daughter Grande Melody (by Grand Lodge), a stakes-placed winner in France as a three-year-old, went to California later and was a narrow winner of the Grade 2 Dahlia Handicap over eight and a half furlongs on turf at Hollywood Park.
Like several of her talented relations, she was bred by Watership Down Stud. (Solar Crystal and State Crystal were bred by Michael Poland.) That top-class operation sold her for €200,000 as a yearling, she raced in the well-known Joseph Allen colours, and it is he who bred her smart son Broadway Boogie (by Distorted Humor), whose more recent piece of blacktype was when placed in a nine and a half furlong listed contest at Bordeaux Le Bouscat in late May.
It is these first few generations of the pedigree that make the most important contribution to Zelzal's genetic make-up and they present us with more than enough evidence to show why he always had the potential to become a good horse, and also that there is a chance that he will stay at least 10 furlongs. We won't know the limits of his stamina until he tries farther than the mile, and it will depend on the mix of speed and staying elements that have been passed on to him.
If you go back further into his family then you will find branches that lead to an array of stars, all of which are only remotely connected to Zelzal, but interesting nonetheless.
His fifth dam is the unraced Crystal Fountain (by Great Nephew), and in addition to being the dam of the 10-furlong Group 2 scorer Crystal Hearted (by Broken Hearted) and grandam of the 12-furlong Grade 2 winner Always First (by Barathea), she was a half-sister to the brilliant Royal Palace (by Ballymoss). This is, therefore, the family of top-level stars such as Fairy Footsteps (by Mill Reef), Light Cavalry (by Brigadier Gerard), Welsh Pageant (by Tudor Melody), Desert Prince (by Green Desert), and even further removed, Dubawi Heights (by Dubawi) and her classic-winning three-parts brother Make Believe (by Makfi), who is in his first season at Ballylinch Stud.
Zelzal, a son of Sea The Stars and from the immediate family of the classic-placed Group 1-winning miler Crystal Music, is a leading candidate for the best mile races in the second half of the season, and with some of the good horses in the first four generations of his family being ones who stayed 10 and 12 furlongs, it is possible that he too will be effective at beyond a mile.
Sea The Stars (by Cape Cross) was one of the most brilliant racehorses of recent years, a Timeform 140-rated champion who began his career with an eye-catching fourth-place debut effort at the Curragh as juvenile and then swept through a sequence of eight races that culminated with a two-length score in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
He won a maiden and the Group 2 Beresford Stakes on his other outings as a juvenile, kicked off the new campaign with victory in the Group 1 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, followed that with a one and three-quarter length defeat of Fame And Glory in the Derby at Epsom, and then beat Rip Van Winkle by a length in the Group 1 Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. He beat Mastercraftsman by the same margin in the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes at York and, on his penultimate start, extended his margin of superiority over old rival Fame And Glory to two and a half lengths in the Group 1 Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.
With his rating and race record he was always going to be a hugely popular new addition to the stallion ranks, but as he could also boast being a half-brother to the dual Derby hero and phenomenal sire Galileo (by Sadler's Wells), Sea The Stars went to Gilltown Stud as one of the most exciting new stallion prospects for a long time.
Nothing is ever guaranteed in this business, but with everything he had going for him it was going to be a considerable shock if this grandson of Green Desert (by Danzig) failed to get Group 1 winners. He has not disappointed. Indeed, he is living up to everything for which we could have hoped, and earlier this month, from his third crop, he got his first winner of the Group 1 Investec Derby.
Already by this point he had been represented by runaway Group 1 Deutsches Derby star Sea The Moon and the Group 1 Oaks and Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes heroine Taghrooda, both of whom came from his first crop, along with additional Group 1 scorer Vazira. The dual Derby-placed Group 2 winner Storm The Stars features in his second one, and his current tally stands at 28 stakes winners. Seven of those have achieved the feat in 2016, and six of them at pattern level.
Harzand heads that shorter roll of honour and the Aga Khan's homebred colt, who is trained by Dermot Weld, may bid for a Derby double at the Curragh on Saturday. Cloth Of Stars and Mekhtaal won Group 2 classic trials in France and, hopefully, will bounce back from their disappointing classic runs, Mutakayyef won a listed contest at York, while Astronereus and Zelzal are Group 3 scorers, the latter a colt with the potential to move up a lot in the rankings.
The septet is completed by Across The Stars, the Sir Michael Stoute-trained three-year-old who finished down the field behind Harzand at Epsom (didn't handle the track) but bounced back at Ascot last week to beat Beacon Rock by one and a quarter lengths in the Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes.
This was a second win from six starts for the colt, he finished third behind subsequent Derby fifth Humphrey Bogart in the Listed Derby Trial at Lingfield in May, and it will be interesting to see where he goes next. His trainer said, in post race interviews, that he does not think of the colt as being a St Leger horse, and there is evidence in the pedigree both to support and refute a position that 12 furlongs might be as far as he'd really like to go.
Sea The Stars was never asked to try that longer distance, and neither have most of his most talented progeny, but his son Astronereus is interesting in this debate. A half-brother to Le Havre (by Noverre), who did not run again after his victory in the 10 and a half furlong Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby), and out of a half-sister to high-class sprinter/miler Polar Falcon (by Nureyev), this is a horse whose stamina beyond 12 furlongs might have been in doubt.
The Amanda Perrett-trained five-year-old won the Group 3 Al Rayyan Aston Park Stakes over that trip at Newbury last month, but last season won a listed handicap over 14 furlongs at York shortly before finishing a half-length third in a valuable handicap over that same distance at Goodwood, and he holds an entry in the Group 1 Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger, also over 14 furlongs, at the Curragh in September.
His ability to perform well at just over half a furlong shorter than the St Leger distance, albeit in lesser company than would be faced in a Group 1 contest, suggests that at least some of the leading progeny of Sea The Stars will stay. And why not? Most 12-furlong racehorses sire some who stay farther than they did.
Despite what we see in the case of Astronereus, the distaff side of the pedigree is likely to be important in this regard, and with Across The Stars one of the first things to stand out about his family's record is that his grandam, Glowing With Pride (by Ile De Bourbon), was runner-up in the Group 2 Park Hill Stakes over the St Leger course and distance.
That mare's son Pridwell (by Sadler's Wells) won the Group 1 Aintree Hurdle and was runner-up in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle, among various other top performances, and his half-brother Inchcailloch (by Lomond) stayed beyond three miles over fences, despite being the son of a 2000 Guineas winner. Surely this would suggest that the recent Ascot star would stay the trip at Doncaster.
Maybe, but not necessarily. It may come down to what he has inherited from his dam and from her sire.
Across The Stars is out of Victoria Cross, a stakes-placed miler who was lightly-raced and and a beaten favourite on her only attempt at 10 furlongs. She was bred by Hascombe and Valiant Studs, as is her talented son, and she has three other progeny who have earned blacktype.
Valiant Girl (by Lemon Drop Kid), a nine-furlong Goodwood winner, was narrowly beaten over 10 furlongs at Newbury before crossing the atlantic. There she won again over nine furlongs, was well-beaten when stepped up in grade and again at 12 furlongs, and then she dropped back to nine to take a Grade 3 handicap at Gulfstream Park West.
Her sire won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, the son of Kingmambo (by Mr Prospector) stands at Lane's End Farm in Kentucky, and his progeny include two other notable individuals that the Oppenheimers bred. Cannock Chase (out of Lynnwood Chase, by Horse Chestnut) won the Grade 1 International Stakes over 12 furlongs at Woodbine, while 2009's Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes and Group 2 Jockey Club Stakes winner Bronze Canyon is a half-brother to Across The Stars.
In addition to the aforementioned jumpers, Victoria Cross is a half-sister to the speedy eight-times scorer Everglades (by Green Desert), to the dual Group 2-classic placed miler Much Commended (by Most Welcome) and also to Prize Giving (by Most Welcome), a Listed Dee Stakes winner in England who went on to become a Grade 1-placed Grade 2 scorer in California.
Much Commended went on to become a successful broodmare. Her prolific stakes-winning daughter Magic Eye (by Nayef) was a miler, and her 12-times winning son Dabbers Ridge (by Indian Ridge) was best from seven to eight furlongs. She is also responsible for Much Acclaimed (by Sulamani), a mile winner who was well beaten when initially trying farther on the flat. But after he made a winning debut over hurdles, he won a 12-furlong handicap at Galway, a premier handicap over 14 furlongs at the Curragh and then a blacktype handicap hurdle over two miles at Listowel.
Clearly there is a strong case to be made for the potential ability of Across The Stars to stay the St Leger distance, but if this 600,000gns Tattersalls October Yearling Sale graduate has got a genetic tendency towards speed from his dam and broodmare sire, both of whom were milers, then this will limit his range and so it is entirely possible the mile and a half, or even 13 furlongs, would be as far as he wants to go.
Races that are seen as being classic trials are important contests in their own right, but analysis of them tends to be done with a view to the future. Close finishes are disappointing, as they have probably not revealed any potential stars, but an easy winner is exciting, especially when the horse has a top-notch pedigree.
Mekhtaal did not race as a juvenile and the underfoot conditions he encountered on his first two starts were described at heavy. He beat five rivals in a newcomers' race over 10 furlongs at Saint-Cloud in March but was then second of four, at odds of 2/5, in a conditions event over the same trip at Maisons-Laffitte a month later.
If he was to have any classic aspirations then he would have to win or at least go close to success in the Group 2 Prix Hocquart four weeks later. The ground that day was described as good, progeny of his sire are known to be better suited to decent ground rather than to soft or heavy turf, and the result was an impressive six length win.
Mekhtaal was bred by the partnership of Haras Du Mezeray and Skymarc Farm, he is trained by Jean-Claude Rouget, and he is a €300,000 graduate of the Arqana Deauville August Yearling Sale. He represents the third crop of Gilltown Stud stallion Sea The Stars (by Cape Cross), whose best so far include the classic winners Sea The Moon and Taghrooda, and he comes from a family that is no stranger to producing winners at the highest level.
His half-brother Democrate (by Dalakhani) won the Group 2 Prix Hocquart in 2008, the best of five wins for his half-sister Aigue Marine (by Galileo) came in the Grade 3 Long Island Handicap at Aqueduct, and his siblings also include the blacktype-placed pair Apophis (by Rainbow Quest) and Crosswind (by Cape Cross). They have a two-year-old half-brother named Aiguillon (by New Approach), who made €210,000 at Deauville last year, a yearling half-sister from the first crop of juvenile champion and classic-winning miler Dawn Approach (by New Approach), and their dam is the Group 3 Prix Fille de l'Air scorer Aiglonne (by Silver Hawk).
The mare's siblings include the stakes-placed Last Attempt (by Cape Cross) and the Japanese winner Gaily Tiara (by Caerleon), and the latter is the dam of the Group 1 Prix Saint-Alary scorer and Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) runner-up Germance (by Silver Hawk), who could be described as being a three-parts sister to Mekhtaal's dam.
Majestic Role (by Theatrical), who is the grandam of Mekhtaal, won the Listed Tyros Stakes at the Curragh and was runner-up in the Group 1 Prix de la Salamandre, both as a two-year-old, and she was among five stakes-winning progeny for a one-time scorer named Autocratic (by Tyrant). Proconsular (by Procida) was a stakes winner in France, Norman Style (by Malacate) won a listed contest in Germany, and Supreme Commander (by Saumarez) blacktype wins came in both those countries.
Fair of The Furze (by Ela-Mana-Mou) was the best of the quintet and the Group 2 Tattersalls Gold Cup heroine made quite an impact at stud too. Fair Question (by Rainbow Quest) won the Group 2 St Leger at Dortmund, Elfaslah (by Green Desert) won the Listed Diamond Stakes at the Curragh, and White Muzzle (by Dancing Brave) was a top-class middle-distance horse who went on to success at stud in Japan.
His wins featured the Group 1 Derby Italiano and Group 2 Grand Prix de Deauville, he was only beaten by a neck when runner-up to Urban Sea in the Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and he was twice runner-up in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, chasing home Opera House in 1993 and King's Theatre 12 months later. He stood at Shadai Stallion Station and those of his progeny who earned the equivalent of £1 million or more in prize money included the Group 1 stars Nihonpiro Ours, Shadow Gate, Ingrandire, and Kikuka Sho (Japanese St Leger) winner Asakusa Kings.
Elfaslah, on the other hand, was the dam of Group 1 1000 Guineas runner-up Muwakleh (by Machiavellian), of pattern-placed Inaaq (by Lammtarra), of Group 2-placed six-figured earner Elmustanser (by Machiavellian), and of dual Group 1 star Almutawakel (by Machiavellian).
He won the Group 1 Prix Jean Prat over nine furlongs at Chantilly as a three-year-old and added the Group 1 Dubai World Cup over a furlong further at Nad Al Sheba the following spring. He lost out by a nose when runner-up to River Keen in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes over nine at Belmont Park, was only beaten by a neck when runner-up to Limpid in the Group 1 Grand Prix de Paris over 10 at Longchamp, and he was also placed in the Grade 1 Oaklawn Handicap and in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Almutawakel had accumulated almost £2.2 million by the time he retired from the track, he joined the team at Derrinstown Stud in 2001, but retired five years later and died in 2007. His progeny include the dual New Zealand Group 1 star Wahid, Group 1 Derby Italiano scorer Awelmarduk, and also Silver Cup, the Group 2 Premio Regina Elena (Italian 1000 Guineas) heroine who went on to win a trio of Grade 2 handicaps in California.
There is another of Majestic Role's siblings who deserves a mention and that is Audition (by Dara Monarch). She was unplaced in France and only two of her seven foals were winners, but those two were Judge Decision and Just For Fun, both of whom were by Lead On Time (by Nureyev). The former was a Group 2-placed mile stakes winner who was only beaten by two lengths when fifth behind Shanghai in the Group 1 Poule d'Essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas), and the latter a one-time scorer from whom several talented horses descend.
Just For Fun's winning progeny include the prolific dual-purpose horse Rombaldi (by Kahyasi), a blacktype winner over hurdles in France, and she is also the dam of Funny Girl (by Darshaan), a placed mare who has achieved a notable strike-rate and produce record at stud.
That mare's string of winners is headed by the dual 12-furlong listed scorer Suzi's Decision (by Act One) and by Group 2 Prix de Sandringham heroine Laugh Out Loud (by Clodovil), a talented miler who was third in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket before moving to the USA to continue her racing career. Laugh Out Loud's first foal is a Galileo (by Sadler's Wells) colt who was born last year.
It remains to be seen just how good Mekhtaal will be when he reaches his peak, but he was impressive at Deauville, he is bred to achieve anything, and he looks sure to stay a mile and a half. He also looks likely to play a prominent roll in next month's Group 1 Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby), which is over 10 and a half furlongs. If he does reach the top then he will surely find a good stallion role as he is by a leading representative of the Green Desert (by Danzig) sire line and from the immediate family of two Group 1 stars who went on to sire Group 1 winners at stud.