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John P. Sparkman: Sprouting shoots from Desert
The rapid-fire victories of Chief’s Crown in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes and Contre-dance in the Grade 2 Adirondack Stakes at the 1984 Saratoga meeting created some serious buzz for the second crop of their sire, Danzig, at the subsequent Keeneland September yearling sale. The principal beneficiary of that excitement was the late Lee Eaton and partners, who sold a beautiful colt out of Foreign Courier, by Sir Ivor, an unraced daughter of their blue hen mare Courtly Dee, for $650,000.
Named Green Desert by his purchaser, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum, he was every bit as good as he looked, becoming the first of Danzig’s six Group 1 July Cup winners, winning three other group races, and running second in the Group 1 English 2000 Guineas. Retired to the Shadwell Stud of Sheikh Mohammed’s brother, Sheikh Hamdan, Green Desert quickly developed into a top-class sire of sprinters and milers, climbing as high as fourth on the English sire list in 1991.
In a long and extraordinarily consistent stud career, Green Desert sired 99 stakes winners to date (with eight 2-year-olds still in the pipeline) from 1,238 foals (8 percent), including 12 Group 1 winners, but none of them was an obvious successor at stud. Nevertheless, Green Desert has
developed into one of the best sires of sires of the era, with his sons Oasis Dream, Cape Cross, Invincible Spirit, Desert Sun, and Volksraad all established as top sires somewhere in the world.
The victory of Invincible Spirit’s brilliant daughter Moonlight Cloud in a loaded edition of the Group 1 Prix Jacques Le Marois on Aug. 11 is the latest reminder of Green Desert’s genetic importance. A winner of 7 of 17 starts from 2 to 5, including the 2002 Group 1 Stanley Leisure Sprint Cup, Invincible Spirit (out of Rafha, by Kris) has fashioned a high-class stud career from relatively humble beginnings at the Irish National Stud.
Moonlight Cloud is the best of his 68 stakes winners to date from 1,022 foals ages 3 and older, and while that 7 percent strike rate is not overwhelming, the quality of his best offspring, especially his fillies, has been remarkable. Invincible Spirit began his stud career in the best possible way with a classic-winning colt in his first crop.
Lawman (Laramie, by Gulch) counted the 2007 Group 1 French Derby and Prix Jean Prat among his four victories in seven starts, and he remains probably the best colt sired to date by Invincible Spirit. Lawman also has made a promising start at stud, with nine stakes winners in his first two crops, headed by 2013 Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas winner Just The Judge, 2012 Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes winner Most Improved, and 2012 Italian highweight and Group 1 winner Law Enforcement.
Vale of York (Red Vale, by Halling), the upset winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in 2009, and Mayson (Mayleaf, by Pivotal), the winner of the July Cup last year, are Invincible Spirit’s only other male top-level winners.
Moonlight Cloud, on the other hand, is one of five Group 1-winning fillies by Invincible Spirit, including yet another July Cup winner, 2009 European champion sprinter Fleeting Spirit (Millennium Tale, by Distant Relative).
Moonlight Cloud is the second stakes winner from the first five foals out of Ventura, by Spectrum, a stakes-placed filly bred and raced by the late, great trainer Vincent O’Brien, from one of the best families in the international stud book. James Wigan of London Thoroughbred Services purchased Ventura on behalf of his longtime client, American breeder George Strawbridge, for $748,020 at the end of her racing days at the 2001 Tattersalls Newmarket December sale.
Strawbridge sold Ventura, in foal to Manduro, for only $100,308 at the same sale eight years later. After Moonlight Cloud’s two wins in three starts as a juvenile in 2010, Ventura passed through the Newmarket ring again, in foal to Montjeu, for $425,716, with David Redvers buying her on behalf of Sheikh Fahad al Thani.
Last year, after Moonlight Cloud captured the Group 1 Prix du Moulin de Longchamp and her second of three consecutive runnings of the Group 1 Prix Maurice de Gheest, Vincent O’Brien’s namesake and grandson, M.V. Magnier, signed a $1,458,986 bill of sale for Ventura on behalf of the Coolmore partnership on the mare’s fourth trip through the Tattersalls auction ring.
Unlike the brilliant sprinter-miler Moonlight Cloud, Ventura’s first foal, Cedar Mountain, by Galileo, was an out-and-out stayer, winning the 1 3/4-mile Round Table Handicap in course-record time and finishing second in the Grade 2, 1 1/2-mile Sunset Handicap. Ventura was the only black-type horse out of her dam, Group 3 winner Wedding Bouquet, by Kings Lake, but her half-sisters are dams or second dams of four stakes winners, led by Group 2 winner Probably, by Danehill Dancer.
Moonlight Cloud’s third dam, Doff the Derby, by Master Derby, was one of the best European-based broodmares of the late 20th century. Purchased privately by David Nagle’s Barronstown Stud, Doff the Derby had by that time already produced stakes winner Windy Triple K., by Jaklin Klugman. She produced five more stakes winners for Nagle, led by multiple European classic winners Generous, by Caerleon, and Imagine, by Sadler’s Wells.
Generous, a big, raking, long-striding horse, was the champion of his generation in England and Ireland, winning the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes at 2 and the Group 1 Epsom Derby, Irish Derby, and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at 3. Generous was only modestly successful at stud in Ireland and was permanently exported to New Zealand.
Imagine captured both the Group 1 Epsom Oaks and Group 1 Irish 1000 Guineas in 2001, when she ranked as the best 3-year-old filly in England and Ireland. Imagine has also been an exemplary broodmare, producing three group winners, led by Group 1 winner Horatio Nelson, by Danehill.
Doff the Derby’s Last Tycoon colt, Osumi Tycoon, was sold to Japan, where he won two group stakes, and Imagine’s full sister Strawberry Roan was a stakes winner who finished second in the Irish 1000 Guineas.
Though unraced herself, Doff the Derby was attractive to a high-level European breeder like Nagle because she was a half-sister to the great racemare and broodmare Trillion, by Hail to Reason, who earned championship honors in both the United States and France in the late 1970s. Trillion produced an even better racemare in Triptych, by Riverman, who won nine Group 1 events in Europe in the mid-1980s. Sadly, Triptych was struck by lightning and died before producing a foal.
Triptych’s full sister Barger was a Group 3 winner but produced two stakes winners and is the granddam of Group 1 winner Tawqeet, by Kingmambo. Tryptych’s and Barger’s unraced half-sister Trevilla, by Lyphard, is the dam of Group 1 winner Treble, by Riverman, the granddam of European champion sprinter Tamarisk, by none other than Green Desert, and the third dam of the undefeated Treve, by Motivator, the winner of this year’s Group 1 French Oaks.
Other branches of the great female family descending from Moonlight Cloud’s multiple stakes-winning fourth dam, foundation mare Margarethen, by Tulyar, have produced Grade/Group 1 winners Juvenia, Sabona, Landseer, Amorama, and Bullish Luck.
Moonlight Cloud is inbred 4x5 to Northern Dancer, with additional duplications of Round Table, Nasrullah, Native Dancer, and Never Bend in the fifth and sixth generations, which is all pretty standard stuff these days.
Unlike her dam, Moonlight Cloud is most unlikely to pass through the sales ring, barring the untimely death of her owner-breeder. Strawbridge has long been one of the most successful international breeders, regularly producing Group 1 and Grade 1 winners on both sides of the Atlantic from a relatively small broodmare band.
Moonlight Cloud defeated three of Europe’s best 3-year-old milers – Olympic Glory, Intello, and Dawn Approach – in the Marois, her fifth Group 1 victory. She also came close to ending the great Australian mare Black Caviar’s undefeated skein, falling a head short in last year’s Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
The 2013 Marois was her 11th victory in 18 career starts, and, all being well, she is likely to end her career in this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita. She finished eighth behind Wise Dan in last year’s running.