10/19/2013 12:47PM

Sparkman: The surprising emergence of Iffraaj


The hottest young sire in Europe is without doubt Galileo’s champion son New Approach, sire of champion Dawn Approach and classic winner Talent in his first crop of 3-year-olds. The name and pedigree of perhaps the second-hottest young sire on the other side of the Atlantic, though, is much less familiar to Americans.

Until his first crop raced three years ago, in fact, the name of Iffraaj was not all that familiar to most European breeders either. Though Iffraaj had been a good racehorse, winning seven of his 13 starts including three Group 2 events at seven furlongs, his sire, Zafonic, was considered a disappointing sire and hardly a candidate to become a sire of sires.

Nevertheless, Iffraaj sired French highweighted 2-year-old Wootton Bassett in his first crop, and quickly followed up with New Zealand champion 3-year-old filly Fix in his first Southern Hemisphere crop. Iffraaj’s current crop of European 2-year-olds, conceived when his first runners were juveniles, includes three of the best 2-year-olds in England, headed by recent Group 1 Shadwell Fillies Mile winner Chriselliam.

Bred by Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum’s Darley, Iffraaj began his racing career in the colors of Sheikh Mohammed’s younger brother Sheikh Ahmed under the tutelage of trainer Michael Jarvis. Third in his first start at 2, a seven-furlong maiden race at Sandown Park behind Post and Rail and future Epsom Derby winner North Light, Iffraaj won by a neck over about the same distance against easier opposition at Warwick a few weeks later.

Iffraaj finished fourth, giving three to 11 pounds to the first three finishers, in a seven-furlong handicap at Newmarket’s Craven meeting the following spring, but did not reappear on the racecourse for nearly a year due to leg problems. Upon his return, Iffraaj began his 4-year-old campaign a different horse, winning three straight handicaps over six and seven furlongs, culminating with a brilliant two-length victory in the prestigious Wokingham Handicap at the Royal Ascot at York meeting, running the six-furlong distance in a sensational 1:08.70 under 132 pounds over the relatively flat York straight course.

That performance earned him a shot at the Group 1 July Cup three weeks later, but the soft ground at Newmarket was no use to him, and he trailed home 14th of 19. Given two months to recover, he returned to his best form in the Park Stakes at Doncaster, holding on to win the seven-furlong, Group 2 race by a nose over Sleeping Indian. In his final start at 4, Iffraaj again encountered soft ground in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp and finished seventh of eight behind Court Masterpiece.

Kept in training at 5, but transferred to run in Godolphin’s blue colors for trainer Saeed bin Suroor, Iffraaj was as good as ever. Palpably short in his first start when seventh behind Les Arcs in the Group 1 Golden Jubilee at Royal Ascot, Iffraaj worked much harder in the July Cup, succumbing by a head to Les Arcs in the final strides. It seemed obvious that there was a Group 1 win in Iffraaj’s future at that point, but he raced only twice more, winning the Group 2 Lennox Stakes at Goodwood and capturing a second Park Stakes to close out his career.

Even without a Group 1 win on his résumé, Iffraaj’s pedigree and outstanding conformation were sufficiently attractive to draw mares to his court, and he retired to Kildangan Stud in 2007. His sire, Zafonic, by Gone West, was undefeated in four starts as a juvenile, and his three Group 1 wins earned him the Cartier Award as champion European 2-year-old male. Zafonic was a brilliant 3 1/2-length winner of the English 2000 Guineas in his second start at 3, but bled in his next start, the Group 1 Sussex Stakes, and did not run again.

Zafonic’s stud career followed a similar pattern of initial sensation followed by disappointment and disillusionment. His first-crop son Xaar won four of five starts during a brilliant 2-year-old campaign, but failed in his attempt at the English 2000 Guineas. Despite siring 60 stakes winners at almost a 10 percent stakes winners to foals strike rate, Zafonic never sired another colt of equal brilliance. His daughter Flashy Wings, a Group 2 winner, was highweighted English 2-year-old filly of 2005, and his son Zafeen won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace in 2003, but the string of fast 2-year-olds and champion milers expected after Xaar’s early brilliance never materialized.

Zafonic did sire a few Continental Guineas equivalent winners in Dupont (Germany and Italy), Shenck (Italy), and Pacino (Germany), but he sired only four Group 1 winners (Count Dubois, Xaar, Zafeen, and Zee Zee Top) and developed a reputation for siring horses with defects similar to his own.

Iffraaj’s dam, Pastorale, by Nureyev, won her first two starts before breaking down in the Irish 1000 Guineas, and the immediate success at stud of her Group 1-winning half-brother Cape Cross, by Green Desert, no doubt had a great deal to do with Iffraaj getting a decent chance at stud. Pastorale’s half-sister Arvola, by Sadler’s Wells, is the dam of a reasonably good sire in English and French highweight Diktat, by Warning. Pastorale’s dam, Park Appeal, by Ahonoora, was champion 2-year-old filly in England and Ireland, and a half-sister to Irish Oaks winner Alydaress, by Alydar, and to Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes winner Desirable, by Lord Gayle. Desirable is the dam of English champion and classic winner Shadayid, by Shadeed.

Regardless of how good the pedigree, though, there are very few Group 2 winners (or indeed Group 1 winners) who sire an unbeaten French highweight 2-year-old in their first crop. Wootton Bassett (out of Balladonia, by Primo Dominie) capped his first season in training with a convincing win in the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Grand Criterium), but did not win again in four starts at 3. Iffraaj’s first crop also included 2011 Group 3 Italian 1000 Guineas winner Stay Alive (out of Pursuit of Life, by Pursuit of Love) and French Group 3 winner Espirita (Belle Esprit, by Warning).

Like most Darley stallions, Iffraaj shuttles to the Southern Hemisphere. He sired New Zealand champion 3-year-old filly Fix (Destined, by Danehill) and four other stakes winners in his first crop when standing at Haunui Farm in Karaka, New Zealand.

Iffraaj suffered through a marked lull after that first-crop success, a market reaction that affects many contemporary stallions due to the declining number and quality of mares they attract after their initial stud seasons, but his fourth crop, conceived after his good-looking first crop of yearlings sold well in 2009, has confirmed that he is a top-class sire in the making. His daughter Rizeena (Serena’s Storm, by Statue of Liberty) got the ball rolling with an impressive victory in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot and followed up by winning the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes at the Curragh in September.

Rizeena was expected to confirm her championship qualities in the Group 1 Shadwell Fillies Mile at Newmarket on Sept. 27, and she ran very well indeed, but Iffraaj’s daughter Chriselliam (Danielli, by Danehill) rallied from well off the pace to beat her paternal half-sister to the wire by a length.

Two weeks later, Iffraaj’s Group 3 Cornwallis Stakes winner Hot Streak (Ashirah, by Housebuster) fell a half-length short of catching stablemate Astaire, by Intense Focus, in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes, and it will not be long before Iffraaj matches his sire’s career total of four Group 1 winners.

In theory, Iffraaj’s fifth crop, 2-year-olds of 2014 conceived after the rousing success of his first crop on the racecourse, should be even better than his current crop of 2-year-olds.

If that proves true, it will indeed be something to see. With the exceptions of Machiavellian and Dubawi, the Mr. Prospector male line has had some difficulty in transferring its brilliance to European conditions. Iffraaj may well add to the momentum created by Dubawi’s enormous success in Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.