There is nothing unusual in talented flat horses going on to become high-class hurdlers or chasers. After all, a large number of all leading National Hunt horses began their careers as flat ones, or were bred for that job, as were almost all of the stallions who sire the top jumpers.
Those who show talent as National Hunt horses before becoming notable flat ones are rare, and when it happens they tend to be ones who were bred for the flat anyway. They also tend to be stayers on the level, a division that is often weak compared to those for the speedier types.
Many forget that the Group 1 Melbourne Cup and dual Group 1 Irish St Leger hero Vintage Crop won a maiden hurdle and novice hurdle after a flat maiden success and before getting his first good win on the level – the Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket. And, on what was his only other start under National Hunt rules, he was sixth to Granville Again in the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham just over three months before his first stakes race success.
He was a flat-bred son of the ace miler Rousillon (by Riverman), and the most recent winner of the Group 1 Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger is another flat-bred gelding who got his start under National Hunt rules.
Some will call him a classic winner, but a classic is for three-year-olds only, geldings are excluded from those in Ireland, England and France, and the Irish St Leger gave up its classic status when opened up to older horses in 1983, won that year by the four-year-old filly Mountain Lodge, a handicapper. The race is really Ireland's equivalent of the Gold Cup at Ascot, albeit over a much shorter distance, than a match for the world's oldest classic, the St Leger at Doncaster.
There are few blacktype races in the country for stayers and there is a case to be made for raising the distance of the Irish St Leger to two miles, to make it fit better as a 'Cup' race and to attract more of the top European stayers for whom, in many cases, 14 furlongs is a bit short. It is, after all, one of the feature races during Irish Champions Weekend.
But back to Wicklow Brave, another fine advertisement for the Ballylinch Stud sire Beat Hollow (by Sadler's Wells) and a third flat Group 1 star for him, among a total of 21 individual stakes winners. The regally-related stallion is also building up a growing reputation with his National Hunt runners, making him one of the top dual-purpose sires around, and his other pair of top-level flat winners are Beaten Up and Proportional.
The Willie Mulllins-trained Wicklow Brave won a trio of bumpers, got his first blacktype success over hurdles at the age of five, and he won the Grade 3 Vincent O'Brien County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015.
It was almost two months after that impressive success that he made his flat debut, scoring over two miles in heavy ground at Gowran Park. He followed-up with an odds-on success over 14 furlongs at Listowel and then took fourth in the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot before finishing down the field in the Grade A Galway Hurdle at that track's big summer festival.
A few weeks after that performance he was runner-up in the prestigious Ebor Handicap over 14 furlongs at York. He then finished a distant third behind runaway winner Order Of St George in the Group 1 Irish St Leger, was a two-length third in the Group 2 Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup over two miles at Ascot, and then resumed jumping.
He was third to Nichols Canyon in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and third to Identity Thief in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle – both in November – and then off the track until finishing a neck second to Dartmouth in the Group 3 Ormonde Stakes at Chester in May.
His surprise half-length defeat of Order Of St George in the recent Group 1 Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger, in which the pair finished 16 clear of the remaining two runners, was his fifth start of the current flat season, and followed a fourth-place finish (no blacktype) to Big Orange in the Group 2 Goodwood Cup and third in the Group 2 Lonsdale Cup at York.
Wicklow Brave was bred by Millsec Ltd, he is out of Moraine (by Rainbow Quest) and that makes him a half-brother to Brass Ring (by Rail Link), a three-time 12-furlong scorer in England who finished third to Quest For More in the Queen Alexandra Stakes and fourth in the Cesarewitch Handicap.
That gelding's full-sister Glacial Drift was a short-head winner of a two-mile Down Royal bumper on her debut but has been unplaced in all four of her starts on the flat, most recently in a 14-furlong Navan handicap last month. They have a two-year-old half-sister named Dreamtide (by Champs Elysees) and Moraine had a Bated Breath (by Dansili) filly in 2015.
Moraine, who won over 12 furlongs, is a daughter of the Group 3 Prix de Royaumont scorer Cantilever (by Sanglamore) and, in addition to flat blacktype earners, that mare's siblings include two jumpers of note.
Battle Group (by Beat Hollow), who is very closely related to Wicklow Brave, is a talented but quirky gelding who won two editions of a Grade 3 handicap hurdle over an extended three miles at Aintree, with the latter success coming just two days before he won the Listed John Smith's Handicap Chase over three miles, one furlong at the same venue.
The other one was Upgrade (by Be My Guest). He was bred by Juddmonte Farms, was by a champion sire, but bypassed the flat, won the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival as a four-year-old, won the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novice Chase at Sandown two years later, and he also won Grade 2 chases at Cheltenham and Ascot among a career tally of 10 wins from 49 starts.
Cantanta (by Top Ville), the third dam of Wicklow Brave, won once on the flat, she was out of the Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas and Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks heroine Sarah Siddons (by Le Levanstell) and that made her a sibling to two racehorses of particular note.
Her full-sister Princess Pati won the Group 1 Irish Oaks and Group 2 Pretty Polly Stakes in 1984, was third to Sadler's Wells in the Group 1 Phoenix Champion Stakes, and was the dam of the Group 2 Yorkshire Cup runner-up Parthian Springs (by Sadler's Wells) and Cambridgeshire Handicap scorer Pasternak (by Soviet Star).
Her half-brother Seymour Hicks (by Ballymore) won the Group 2 Great Voltigeur Stakes and later became a successful National Hunt sire whose brightest star was the Grade 1 Cheltenham Gold Cup and dual Grade 1 King George VI Chase hero See More Business.
Sarah Siddons has three other progeny who deserve a mention, even though one was unplaced and the other two unraced.
Miss Kemble (by Warning), who ran once, is the grandam of the multiple mile Group 1 star Excelebration (by Exceed And Excel), a young Coolmore Stud stallion whose first juveniles are winning in 2016, and also of his multiple Group 3-winning half-brother Mull Of Killough (by Mull Of Kintyre).
Gertrude Lawrence (by Ballymore), an unraced full-sister to Seymour Hicks, was the dam of the stakes-winning sprinter Lady Ambassador (by General Assembly) and that filly, in turn, became the dam of the Group 1 Prix Vermeille heroine and Group 1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe runner-up Leggera (by Sadler's Wells).
Then there's Dansara (by Dancing Brave), unraced dam of the multiple pattern-placed stakes-winning middle-distance horse Self Defense (by Warning), who was also a blacktype scorer over hurdles. The mare is also the grandam of a string of blacktype earners who include the Group 2 Prix de Royallieu winner Sea of Heartbreak (by Rock of Gibraltar), Group 3 Ballysax Stakes scorer Puncher Clynch (by Azamour) and Group 1 St Leger runner-up The Last Drop (by Galileo).
Wicklow Brave, an €11,000 graduate of the Tattersalls Ireland September Yearling Sale – the 2016 edition of that prestigious sale starts at 10am tomorrow – made a second appearance in the Fairyhouse auction ring when, as a three-year-old, he was sold for €43,000 at the Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale.
His 155 handicap mark over hurdles, down from a peak of 166, is that of a solid Grade 2 horse. His flat mark was raised recently to 118, that of a solid pattern-level runner but still some way short of being a proper Group 1 horse.
Such a mark can, however, enable Group 1 success in a weak division or contest, especially if good fortune strikes, as it did for him at the Curragh. Admirable though he is as a flat stayer, Wicklow Brave was lucky to catch the 124-rated Order Of St George on an off-day and in what pretty much turned out to be a two-horse race. He was also the beneficiary of a great ride by Frankie Dettori.
He is only seven so there are likely to be plenty of other group and graded events for him to contest, some of which he can win, and Wicklow Brave is a fine advertisement for his connections, for his sire and for the Group 1-producing distaff line that he represents.