05/15/2017 9:15AM

Sparkman: Zhukova hardly a reversal of fortune for Fastnet Rock

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Barbara D. Livingston
Zhukova, a daughter of "reverse shuttle" stallion Fastnet Rock, wins the Man o' War Stakes on Saturday.

Although preceded by a few other stallions as proof of concept, it was the late, great Danehill who popularized the “shuttle stallion” model, with Coolmore sending him back and forth from Ireland, where he stood during the European breeding season, to Australia for the breeding season there. Eight times leading sire in Australia, Danehill overcame initial indifference in Europe to lead the English sire list twice and the French sire list three times.

Appropriately enough, in recent years it has been Danehill’s sons who have led the charge as “reverse shuttle” stallions - Australian-bred and -raced horses good enough to stand at home and try their luck in Europe as well. Darley’s champion Australian sprinter Exceed and Excel has proven himself a good sire of speedy performers, headed by promising second-year sire Excelebration, but the best of the reverse shuttlers has been Fastnet Rock, another champion Australian sprinter who is the sire of last weekend’s winner of the Grade 1 Man o’ War Stakes, Zhukova.

One of eight Australian champions (23 worldwide) among Danehill’s world-record 354 stakes winners, Fastnet Rock was bred in Australia by Linley Investments and acquired by Coolmore and partners after failing to meet his reserve at the 2003 Inglis Easter yearling sale. Out of Group 3 winner Piccadilly Circus, by Royal Academy, from an excellent Australian family, he failed to win in seven starts at 2, but placed in the Group 1 AJC Sires Produce Stakes. Fastnet Rock earned both champion sprinter and champion 3-year-old colt honors at 3, with wins in the Group 1 Lightning Stakes and Oakleigh Plate, but developed travel sickness and could not run when shipped to England for the 2005 Royal Ascot meeting.

An immediate and smashing success at stud in Australia, he led the Australian sire list in 2012 and 2015 through the exploits of champions Atlantic Jewel (out of Regard, by Zabeel), First Seal (Episode, by Scenic), Rock ‘n’ Pop (Popsy, by Sir Tristram), and 19 other Antipodean Group 1 winners.  He began shuttling to Coolmore’s Irish headquarters in 2010, and again met immediate success, with multiple Group 1 winner Fascinating Rock (Miss Polaris, by Polar Falcon) in his first crop and Epsom Oaks winner Qualify (Perihelion, by Galileo) and Group 1 winner Diamondsandrubies (Quarter Moon, by Sadler’s Wells) in his second.       

Zhukova is his sixth Group 1 or Grade 1 winner sired during his now annual Irish sojourns, and his 24th Northern Hemisphere-conceived stakes winner among his worldwide total of 115 stakes winners. Bred in Ireland by Mrs. C.L. Weld, Zhukova is the fourth foal and first stakes winner out of Weld’s 2006 Irish 1000 Guineas winner Nightime, who was the first of 30 classic winners sired to date by perennial leading English/Irish sire Galileo.

Zhukova failed to meet her reserve of around $915,000 at the 2013 Tattersalls October yearling sale, and began her racing career for Mrs. C.C. Regalado-Gonzalez. She won five of her eight starts at 3 and 4, including the Group 3 Blue Wind and Kilternan stakes. Purchased during the European closed season by John D. Murrell, she won the 2017 Noblesse Stakes in Ireland before her easy six-length score in the Man o’ War.

Nightime’s second foal, Sleeping Beauty, by Oasis Dream, placed in stakes, and Nightime is  half-sister to stakes-placed Mermaid Island, by Mujadil, dam of stakes winner Ondina, by Manhattan Rain. Zhukova’s second dam, Caumshinaun, by Indian Ridge, was also a stakes winner, from a family that traces to the outstanding broodmare Kingsworthy, by Kingstone, granddam of American champion Convenience. Nightime has an unraced juvenile colt named Pitch Dark, by Dubawi, and a yearling filly by Zoffany in the pipeline.

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Although he won his only Group 1, the Ladbroke Sprint Stakes, over six furlongs and never won beyond seven furlongs, Danehill was noted for siring top-class runners over all distances, ranging from brilliant sprinters like Fastnet Rock, three-time leading Australian sire Redoute’s Choice, and Exceed And Excel, to 12-furlong champions Dylan Thomas, Champs Elysees, and Duke of Marmalade, to 2 1/2-mile Ascot Gold Cup winner Westerner. Fastnet Rock has not yet gotten a Gold Cup winner, but his European runners have shown far more stamina than anticipated.

Fascinating Rock, his first major European star, was best at 10 furlongs, winning the Group 1 Champion Stakes and Tattersalls Gold Cup over that distance. Qualify’s Oaks win was, of course, over 1 ½ miles, and Diamondsandrubies captured the 10-furlong Group 1 Pretty Polly Stakes. Fastnet Rock’s success with such long-winded runners is doubtless because he covers more stamina-bred mares in Ireland than in Australia, where the emphasis is always on speed.

Substantial credit for that stamina must also go to Galileo, who is the broodmare sire of six of Fastnet Rock’s European-conceived stakes winners, including Group 1 winners Qualify, Rivet, and Intricately, in addition to Zhukova.