05/16/2016 11:47AM

Sparkman: Wake Forest wins Man o' War for Mill Reef line

Michael Amoruso
Wake Forest, by Sir Percy, wins the Grade 1 Man o' War Stakes at Belmont Park.

I first met Mill Reef the day men first landed on the moon. An afternoon outing from graduate school in Baltimore to Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stud near Upperville, Va., turned into a master class in what a top-class yearling looked like, tutored by a delightful little bay colt by Never Bend out of Milan Mill, by Princequillo.

Mill Reef won 12 of 14 career starts and was European Horse of the Year in 1971, when he became the second Epsom Derby winner to capture the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Mill Reef also led the English sire list in 1978 and 1987, and his Derby-winning son Shirley Heights was an outstanding sire with 63 stakes winners, including champion French 3-year-old and leading French sire Darshaan.

Darshaan also sired two pretty good stallions in 2003 French Horse of the Year Dalakhani and 1996 2000 Guineas winner Mark of Esteem, but neither appears likely to extend the fading male line of Mill Reef. Dalakhani’s best sons Conduit and Reliable Man have made little impression at stud, and Mark of Esteem’s Epsom Derby-winning son Sir Percy has been inconsistent. Sir Percy, though, is the sire of last Saturday’s Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes winner Wake Forest, a 6-year-old German-bred horse whose previous profile is pretty typical of Sir Percy’s more accomplished offspring.

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Sir Percy’s win in the 2006 Epsom Derby was his only victory after a sparkling 2-year-old campaign that earned him topweight among English-trained juveniles of 2005. Bred by Harry Ormesher’s Old Suffolk Stud and trained by Marcus Tregonning for Anthony Pakenham who purchased him for only 20,000 guineas at the Tattersalls Newmarket December foal sale, Sir Percy won all four of his starts at 2, culminating with a neck victory over Horatio Nelson in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes.

Second to the brilliant George Washington in the 2000 Guineas, he held on gamely to win at Epsom over a field that, frankly, was not up to that classic’s usual very high standard. Unplaced in four subsequent starts, he took a very high-class pedigree with him to Kirsten Rausing’s Lanwades Stud in 2008. His dam, Percy’s Lass, by 1969 Epsom Derby hero Blakeney, had won the Group 3 September Stakes and was half-sister to Group 1 winner Braiswick, by King of Spain, from the great English family founded by Urshalim, by Panorama, that includes champions and/or classic winners Teenoso, Rule of Law, Give Thanks, Harayir, Old Country, Lacquer, Sovereign, and Favoletta.

Despite those handsome credentials, Sir Percy has never been popular with English breeders, and Wake Forest is the first Group 1 or Grade 1 winner among his 17 stakes winners from 492 foals age 3 and up, a 3.5 percent strike rate. Bred in Germany by leading breeder Gestut Fahrhof, he is the first stakes winner out of stakes-placed Wurfspiel, by Lomitas, from one of the best families in the German Stud Book.

Wurfspiel is a half-sister to German classic winner and highweight Wurftaube, by Acatenango, dam of German Derby winner Waldpark, by Dubawi, and granddam of 2011 St. Leger winner Masked Marvel, by Montjeu. Her female line has been treasured in Central Europe since the legendary Kincsem, Wake Forest’s 14th dam, won all 54 of her races in the 1870s.

Listed as sold as a yearling for 40,000 Euros (about $57,000) at the 2011 Baden Baden yearling sale, Wake Forest won both his starts at 2, including a valuable conditions race open only to graduates of that sale. He developed into a solid runner over the next three years for leading German trainer Andreas Wohler, winning the Group 3 Preis der Deutschen Einheit and the Grosser Preis von LOTTO Hamburg Trophy, before being purchased for 140,000 Euros (about $157,000) at the 2015 Arqana Arc sale by agent Pete Bradley on behalf of Michael Dubb, Sheep Pond Partners, and Bethlehem Stables. Trained by Chad Brown, Wake Forest ran second to Kaigun in the Grade 2 Pan American Handicap in his first start in the colors of his new owners. Kaigun was well behind him in the Man o’ War.

Unfortunately, victory as a 6-year-old in the Man o’ War is not a popular credential for a stud career either here or abroad, and there are really no obvious current candidates to extend the illustrious male line of Mill Reef. Dalakhani remains at stud at the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval, but at 16 it is increasingly unlikely that he will produce an heir to the line of that delightful little bay colt who charmed me in a Virginia paddock so long ago.