02/21/2014 5:37PM

Sparkman: Solving Rubick's cube

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Coolmore Stud
Encosta de Lago, the sire of Rubick.

The course of great sire lines is sometimes decided by chance, but more often by careful planning, and there is no more careful planner in the Thoroughbred world than John Magnier, master of Coolmore. Magnier’s stated purpose in purchasing an interest in current star Australian 2-year-old Rubick is to replace his aging sire, dual Australian leading sire Encosta de Lago, but the chain of events that led to Rubick illustrates the role of both chance and planning in the fortunes of the Thoroughbred.

The element of chance in the sire line that leads to Rubick occurred in 1985, when Robert Sangster and Magnier’s homebred Fairy King broke a bone in his foot in his career debut at The Curragh. That turned out to be Fairy King’s only start, but since he was a year-younger full brother to the partners’ 1984 Irish 2000 Guineas and Eclipse Stakes winner Sadler’s Wells, then a first-year sire at Coolmore, Magnier gave him a chance alongside his brother.

Fairy King started out as a much cheaper alternative to Sadler’s Wells, but while Sadler’s Wells was carving out a career as one of the greatest stallions in Thoroughbred history, Fairy King worked his way up from the poor man’s alternative to become leading sire in France in 1996.

In keeping with Magnier’s penchant for fully exploiting his assets, Fairy King also shuttled to Australia on two occasions, and on his first trip to the Antipodes in 1992, he sired Encosta de Lago, out of the very well-bred Star Way mare Shoal Creek. Encosta de Lago was bred by Nasser Lootah’s Emirates Park, but Magnier bought a share of him, and he developed into a high-class miler at age 3 in Australia.

Third in the listed Debutant Stakes and the Group 2 Maribyrnong Plate in his only starts at 2, he scored his first victory in the Group 2 Ascot Vale Stakes at 1,200 meters (about six furlongs) early in his 3-year-old season. Easy victories in the Group 1 VicHealth Cup at 1,400 meters (about seven furlongs) and the Group 2 Bill Stutt Stakes at around a mile followed in quick succession.

Classic victory in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas eluded Encosta de Lago, though, when he finished third, beaten a head and 1 1/4 lengths by Alfa and Intergaze. Encosta de Lago raced only once more, finishing eighth in the Group 1 Salinger Stakes at about six furlongs.

Although he was a Group 1 winner, Encosta de Lago had not done quite enough to be considered a top-shelf stud prospect, and he began his stallion career at Philip and Patti Campbell’s Blue Gum Stud at Euroa, Victoria, at a fee of 8,500 Australian dollars (about $6,300).

Part of the problem, perhaps, was that Fairy King sired only one other stakes winner, Group 2 winner King Ivor, in that first Australian crop, and he did not yet possess the exalted reputation he developed in subsequent years. Encosta de Lago, however, had just about every other attribute you could want in a prospective sire.

He is an exceptional individual, and his dam, the minor winner Shoal Creek, by Star Way, was a half-sister to brilliant Group 1 Golden Slipper Stakes winner Flying Spur, by Danehill, who would eventually lead the Australian sire list in 2007. Encosta de Lago’s second dam, Rolls, by Mr. Prospector, was a full sister to stakes winner Smackover Creek, and his third dam, Grand Luxe, by Sir Ivor, was a half-sister to champions L’Enjoleur, by Buckpasser; La Voyageuse, by Tentam; and Medaille d’Or, by Secretariat, all offspring of Encosta de Lago’s champion fourth dam, Fanfreluche, by Northern Dancer. Pedigrees, whether in Australia or elsewhere, really do not get much better than that.

Encosta de Lago quickly proved that those pedigree assets outweighed his soundness deficiencies by siring four stakes winners, including Group 2 winners Gold Lottey (out of Lottey, by Bellotto) and Chong Tong (Coquetry, by Zoffany), in his first crop of 84 foals. His first Australian Group 1 winners, Delago Brom (Brompton Cross, by El Qahira) and Titanic Jack (Gold Tunic, by Stage Door Johnny), appeared in his second crop, making it abundantly clear that Encosta de Lago was on his way to even better things.

His first real champion, the brilliant Alinghi (Oceanfast, by Monde Bleu), appeared in his fourth crop. Australia’s champion filly at 2 and 3, Alinghi won 11 of 18 starts, including the Grade 3 Ballston Spa Breeders’ Cup Handicap in an injury-shortened U.S. campaign.

Encosta de Lago’s early success inevitably attracted Magnier’s attention, and in 2004, Coolmore bought out other shareholders and transferred him to Coolmore Australia at Jerry’s Plains, New South Wales. Encosta de Lago has gone from strength to strength since then, leading the Australian sire list in 2008 and 2009.

As his stud career winds down, Encosta de Lago has sired 101 stakes winners from 1,808 foals ages 3 and up (5.6 percent stakes winners from foals), including 66 group or graded winners and 20 Group 1 winners. That number includes Australia’s leading first-crop sire of 2013, Northern Meteor (Explosive, by Fappiano), who died last year after only four seasons at stud. Northern Meteor’s sensational first crop includes current Group 1-winning 3-year-olds Zoustar and Romantic Touch.

The stud success of Encosta de Lago and Northern Meteor, of course, go a long way toward explaining Magnier’s interest in Rubick, but the Encosta de Lago colt has plenty of other assets going for him. Bred by Teeley Assets Ltd., Rubick was a star at the 2013 Magic Millions Gold Coast yearling sale, attracting a $483,138 bid from David Raphael.

His outstanding conformation is matched, if not exceeded, by his top-shelf pedigree. Rubick is the third foal out of Group 3 winner Sliding Cube, by Rock of Gibraltar, a three-quarter-sister to Australia’s greatest living sire, Redoute’s Choice, by Danehill, from a fabulous Australian branch of one of the best families in the American Stud Book, tracing to foundation mare Best in Show.

Although she won the Group 3 San Domenico Stakes, Sliding Cube may have been the least talented of the five stakes winners out of her dam, Shantha’s Choice, by outstanding Australian sire Canny Lad. Redoute’s Choice won four Group 1 races, including the Caulfield Guineas, and his full brother Platinum Scissors captured the Group 1 Spring Champion Stakes. Their half-brother Manhattan Rain, by Encosta de Lago (and thus a three-quarter-brother to Rubick), captured the Group 1 Sires’ Produce Stakes. Manhattan Rain’s full brother Echoes Of Heaven was only a listed stakes winner but ran second in the Group 1 South Australia Derby.

Shantha’s Choice was a half-sister to two Group 1-winning sprinters, Hurricane Sky, by Star Watch, and Umatilla, by Miswaki, both successful sires, and her half-sister Show Dancing, by Don’t Say Halo, is the dam of Group 1 winner Al Maher, by Danehill, another sire of Group 1 winners. Best in Show’s family includes such luminaries as Belmont Stakes winners Rags to Riches and Jazil, current star 3-year-old filly Streaming, and champions Peeping Fawn, Aldebaran, Xaar, El Gran Senor, and Try My Best, among others.

Thus it is something of an understatement to say that Rubick has a “sire’s pedigree,” which is practically a prerequisite for standing at any of Coolmore’s global outposts. He has certainly showed championship potential in his two starts early in his 2-year-old season. Winner of a 1,000-meter (about five-furlong) maiden race at Randwick on Jan. 25, he captured the about-5 1/2-furlong, Group 3 Blue Diamond Prelude Stakes on Feb. 8 at Caulfield. Rubick’s acid test will be in Saturday’s Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes at about six furlongs at Caulfield.

Whether Rubick’s name is a clever play on his dam’s name, slightly misspelling the name of the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, or perhaps in honor of the video-game character of that name, his future as both a racehorse and potential stallion could hardly be brighter. And that is all according to plan for the master planner of Coolmore.