Heavy ground can distort the margins of actual superiority on the track, but when a maiden is won by a dozen lengths or more, it often happens that the winner is quite a good horse.
In late March, a 10-furlong Cork maiden saw the 4/9 favourite trounce a 6/1 chance by 16 lengths. The winner then took a Group 3 contest at Leopardstown before confirming himself as being one of the brightest stars in Europe; Harzand is now a dual Derby hero.
Usually one would not expect the recipient of such a drubbing in maiden company to do more than, perhaps, become a useful handicapper, but the runner-up that day went on to thrash four rivals by 14 lengths and farther in a similar contest at Sligo just over a month later, again on heavy ground.
He followed that with a third place finish behind Ebediyin in a four-runner event over 12 furlongs at Naas 10 days later, and then went to Royal Ascot where he sprang a 33/1 surprise in the Listed Queen's Vase over two miles.
The horse that Harzand beat so easily at Cork in March is Sword Fighter, and now that the latter has added a two-length win in the Group 2 coral.ie Curragh Cup, there is the chance that two of the year's English classic stars could come from that same maiden. And if you fancy the chances of that Aidan O'Brien-trained colt at Doncaster in September, you can currently get odds of between 8/1 to 12/1, depending on where you look.
Sword Fighter, a son of Coolmore Stud's prolific champion sire Galileo (by Sadler's Wells), was bred by Ciaran 'Flash' Conroy's famous Glenvale Stud. He holds entries in the Group 2 Qatar Goodwood Cup, the Group 2 Betway Great Voltigeur Stakes and the Group 1 Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger, and it could be that the Ballydoyle team have another potential staying star in their string.
The first striking thing about the colt's pedigree, when you look at the distaff side of his family, is the amount of speed it contains, and not just milers but those who excelled as sprinters. When matched with Galileo, that is usually a recipe for a mile to 10 furlong horse that just might get 12, but not for a stayer.
Galileo clearly passed on a stamina influence to his son, and it is likely that the colt's broodmare sire is responsible for the rest as, though a miler, Grand Lodge (by Chief's Crown) got middle-distance horses. There is a Group 3 Princess Royal Stakes winner under the fifth generation, but she was by runaway Derby hero Shergar (by Great Nephew) and too remote from Sword Fighter to have any bearing on his aptitude or prospects.
Tarbela, the dam of Sword Fighter, was trained by John Oxx but did not show much aptitude for racing, finishing unplaced in five of her six starts, from six furlongs to a mile, and beaten by a total of 13 lengths when third in a seven-furlong Limerick maiden on her only start at two. She was sold for €40,000 at Goffs, as a broodmare prospect, and on the most recent of three subsequent appearances in the auction ring, she made €160,000 at that same venue nearly four and a half years ago.
By that point she had produced the seven and eight furlong listed scorer Big Audio (by Oratorio), a gelding who, despite being by a top-class 10-furlong horse, was beaten by a long way on his only attempt at that distance. The foal she was carrying at the time of that sale is a gelding named Anachronism (by Arcano), Sword Fighter arrived the following year, and she has a two-year-old full-brother to that rising star, named North Carolina.
Tarbela is a half-sister to Tarwila (by In The Wings), a 12-furlong Curragh winner who got her blacktype when finishing third behind Jammaal in the Listed Trigo Stakes over a quarter-mile less at Leopardstown, and she is also a half-sister to dual mile scorer Teen Ager (by Invincible Spirit), a gelding who got six of his nine wins over seven furlongs.
It is already clear that a pattern is beginning to emerge. The sire appears to determine the effective distance range for many in this family.
Tarbela's half-sister Tahara (by Caerleon), therefore, could have been turned out to be a middle-distance horse, but her career was restricted to just two outings, both as a three-year-old, and both unplaced efforts, one over six furlongs at Newmarket and the other over seven at Sandown.
Of course, some of the Caerleons (by Nijinsky) were highly effective at a mile and under, and so it was reasonable to presume that a daughter of his, out of Tarwiya (by Dominion) could show speed in that range too. And speed is what she is associated with at stud, as she is the dam of the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp heroine Gilt Edge Girl (by Monsieur Bond) and of Group 2 Flying Childers Stakes winner Godfrey Street (by Compton Place).
Tariysha (by Daylami) could also have been expected to stay a mile, or more, but she did not race, and when she was bred to the sprint star Oasis Dream (by Green Desert), the result was Group 1 Prix Morny winner Arcano. He also won the Group 2 July Stakes at Newmarket, ran just twice at three, and after five seasons at Derrinstown Stud he moved to Allevamento di Besnate, in Italy, in 2016.
Tarwiya's tendency to swish her tail in races helped in making her memorable, but so too did her high-class racing record. The Aga Khan homebred, whom John Oxx trained, won the Group 3 C L Weld Park Stakes and Listed Rochestown Stakes over seven furlongs as a juvenile, and the best of her blacktype placings were her half-length defeat by Twafeaj in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes, then over six furlongs, and her third place finish to the outstanding pair Marling and Market Booster in the Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas.
The best of her siblings were the ill-fated pair Namaya and Blue Dakota, sons of the Group 1 Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp winner Namid (by Indian Ridge). The former was third to George Washington in the Group 2 Railway Stakes as a juvenile and later won a mile premier handicap at the Curragh.
Blue Dakota also died at the age of five, having first sired a handful of progeny at Hedgeholme Stud. As a juvenile he won his first three starts by an aggregate of 13 and a half lengths before scoring a narrow win in the Group 3 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. Those few offspring of his include the five-times sprint winning mare Ingenti.
These are the highlights of the first four generations of Sword Fighter's pedigree. In winning good races over 14 furlongs and over two miles, this three-year-old has proved that he stays much farther than might have been expected given the distaff family he represents. Further improvement is required if he is to win at the highest level, but he is a well-bred son of Galileo and clearly on the upgrade, so anything is possible.