11/01/2013 3:17PM

Sparkman: Mastercraftsman a master of the turf

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Sea The Stars, Europe’s Horse of the Year in 2009, naturally dominated the hype machine surrounding prospects for leading European freshman sire this year, and, indeed, he has done well enough, with 10 winners through last Monday, including Group 3 winner My Titania.

However, the standout among first-year sires in Europe has been the horse who came closest to beating Sea The Stars during his undefeated 3-year-old season: Mastercraftsman, who forced the champion into an all-out drive for his one-length victory in the Group 1 Juddmonte International Stakes.

Mastercraftsman almost certainly sealed freshman sire honors in Europe for 2013 on Oct. 26, when his sons Kingston Hill and Craftsman won the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy and the Group 3 Killavullan Stakes, respectively.

By Danehill Dancer out of Starlight Dreams, by Black Tie Affair, Mastercraftsman was bred in Ireland by Paul Shanahan’s Lynch Bages and purchased privately by the Coolmore partnership of Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, for whom Shanahan serves as racing manager. The precocious Mastercraftsman won his first start at 2 at The Curragh in May 2008 and returned to that course almost two months later to capture the Group 2 Railway Stakes. Both wins came over yielding ground that never really suited him.

Mastercraftsman showed a much better turn of foot on firm ground a month later, running away with the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes and beating Art Connoisseur by
4 1/2 lengths. In his next start, heavy going bogged him down again in the Group 1 National Stakes at seven furlongs, and he just held on to beat Shaweel by a nose.

That third hard race might have taken too much out of him because he did not show his true form three weeks later at Longchamp, finishing fourth behind winner Naaqoos in the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere.

Despite that defeat, Mastercraftsman was rated as Europe’s champion 2-year-old male, but he did not have a prep race before the 2000 Guineas the following spring. The tall, leggy colt did not appear comfortable coming down the hill into the Dip, and by the time he began to rally up the final hill at Newmarket, Sea The Stars was gone, and Mastercraftsman finished fifth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths.

With Sea The Stars awaiting the Epsom Derby, Mastercraftsman had a much easier task in the Irish 2000 Guineas, and he duly romped to a 4 1/2-length win over Rayeni. Next, in the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, Mastercraftsman showed his Newmarket form was all wrong by beating Delegator (who finished second behind Sea The Stars in the English Guineas) by a neck.

Mastercraftsman’s trainer, Aidan O’Brien, had been trying to beat Sea The Stars all season, sending out Fame And Glory to run second to the champion in the Epsom Derby and Rip Van Winkle to occupy the same position in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes. Mastercraftsman made Sea The Stars work harder than he had all season in the Juddmonte International at York at about 1 5/16 miles, as he followed his pacesetters Georgebernardshaw and Set Sail before taking the lead smoothly two furlongs out, with Sea The Stars trailing. For almost a furlong, Sea The Stars could make little impression on Mastercraftsman, but he finally wore him down inside the last 100 yards to win by a length.

Mastercraftsman tried Sea The Stars once more in the Irish Champion Stakes, but on softer going was beaten five lengths in third, with Fame And Glory second. Mastercraftsman subsequently easily handled Dundalk’s synthetic surface in the Group 3 Diamond Stakes, which served as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup, contested in 2009 over Santa Anita’s Pro-Ride track. In the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Mastercraftsman broke slowly from his inside post and never was able to find a way out. The colt stuck his head inside pacesetter Midshipman at the eighth pole but then had to check when the hole closed and finished an unlucky fourth behind Furthest Land, beaten 1 1/2 lengths.

Mastercraftsman retired to Coolmore Stud’s Irish headquarters in 2010 with the reputation as the best son of Danehill Dancer, England’s leading sire in 2009. Physically, though, he has little in common with his compact, muscular sire. Standing about 2 1/2 inches taller than Danehill Dancer, Mastercraftsman is a massive, powerful individual, perhaps a touch upright in his pasterns, and more closely resembles some of the leggier high-class stayers along his female line.

Shanahan purchased Mastercraftsman’s dam, Starlight Dreams, in foal to Luhuk, for only $40,000 at the 2001 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, with Kate Conroy signing the ticket. Her third foal, Genuine Devotion, by Rock of Gibraltar, had already won the Grade 3 Locust Grove Handicap at Churchill Downs by the time Mastercraftsman came along, and Mastercraftsman’s full sister Famous, a $1.46 million Goffs yearling, later placed in the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes.

Starlight Dreams’s half-brother Matahif, by Wassl, was a stakes winner in England, and two of her half-sisters were stakes producers, but the real attraction for an ambitious breeder like Shanahan was her more distant female family. Her dam, Reves Celestes, by Lyphard, was a half-sister to English highweighted stayer Celestial Storm, by Roberto, and to Group 2 Ribblesdale Stakes winner Thawakib, by Sadler’s Wells, the dam of Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Sakhee, by Bahri.

Another half-sister, Le Vague a l’Ame, by Vaguely Noble, was the dam of Grade 1 winner River Memories, by Riverman, and the family traces back to foundation mare Dangerous Dame, by Nasrullah, the ancestress of Broad Brush, Exceller, Capote, and many others.

Mastercraftsman’s combination of race record, conformation, and pedigree guaranteed a large and varied book at Coolmore, and his first Northern Hemisphere crop of 131 2-year-olds already includes 24 winners through last Monday. Four of them are stakes winners, headed by Kingston Hill, Craftsman, and Group 3 Prestige Stakes winner Amazing Maria.

Bred in England by Ridgecourt Stud, Kingston Hill is the fifth foal but only the second winner out of Audacieuse, a talented daughter of the great sire and broodmare sire Rainbow Quest. Trained in France by Elie Lellouche, Audacieuse placed twice at 2 but came into her own at 3, winning her maiden in her second sophomore start. Subsequently unplaced in a couple of Group 3 events, she returned to winning form in the Prix de Liancourt at Longchamp at about 1 1/4 miles in the autumn, beating Slippering by five lengths. Unplaced again behind Petrushka in the Group 1 Prix de l’Opera, Audacieuse closed out her career with another easy win going about 1 5/16 miles in the Group 3 Prix de Flore at Saint-Cloud.

Audacieuse is a half-sister to Group 3 winner Waiter’s Dream, by Oasis Dream, and multiple stakes winner Lord Jim, by Kahyasi, and her dam, the winner Sarah Georgina, by Persian Bold, is a half-sister to French classic winner Danseuse du Soir, by Thatching, and two other stakes winners from a family tracing back to the great Orby mare Orlass. Orlass is the ancestress of innumerable top European racehorses, including Hethersett, Providential, Narrator, Saraca, and American standout Droll Role.

As we have learned all too often, one crop does not a sire make, but there is every reason to think that Mastercraftsman’s early success will continue. He has shuttled each season to the Southern Hemisphere, and it will be no surprise if his progeny find comparable success Down Under, given the almost complete dominance of the Danehill male line in the Antipodes.

Whether that will make Mastercraftsman a better sire than his more heralded contemporary Sea The Stars is another matter entirely. Mastercraftsman was a dual Group 1 winner at 2, while Sea The Stars was only a Group 2 winner as a juvenile, so the latter’s progeny are expected to improve more with age.

Still, given Mastercraftsman’s head start, Sea The Stars will have to be very good to catch him, as he did in the Juddmonte International.