Dark Angel Rises

Nine of the top ten sires in Britain and Ireland in 2015 by prize money were direct male-line descendants of Northern Dancer, runner-up Dubawi being the notable exception. Most of the other leading sires of last year trace back to Northern Dancer via what might be called the ‘usual’ channels, namely sons Sadler’s Wells, Danzig and Storm Bird (and his son Storm Cat). Champion Galileo and his son Teofilo represent the Sadler’s Wells line, Shamardal (via Giant’s Causeway) the Storm Cat line, while Danzig’s sons Green Desert (with Cape Cross, Invincible Spirit and Oasis Dream) and Danehill (Kodiac and Fastnet Rock) between them account for five of the top ten.

That leaves Dark Angel (actually not so dark these days!), fourth in the prize-money table, a ‘different’ and rather more remote (but still direct) Northern Dancer descendant, who represents a now flourishing branch emanating from Northern Dancer via one of his sons who couldn’t be counted among his most successful stallions. That was Try My Best, the second of five colts (fourth of them sons of Northern Dancer, the fifth, Monteverdi, a grandson) to win the Dewhurst Stakes for Robert Sangster and Vincent O’Brien in the eight runnings between 1976 and 1983. Storm Bird was himself another of that quintet, while Sadler’s Wells might have been the 1983 O’Brien-Sangster representative in the Dewhurst had it not been for Try My Best’s excellent brother El Gran Senor doing duty instead that year.

Try My Best wasn’t a complete failure at stud, but was ultimately exported to Japan in 1992 having failed to sire anything as good since Last Tycoon (see this recent post) nine years earlier*. Coolmore clearly had plenty of faith in Try My Best as at one time Last Tycoon and another of his sons Waajib** were acquired to stand alongside him (with El Gran Senor at stud for Coolmore in Kentucky). However, Waajib too was dispatched to Japan, sooner rather than later in his case having made even less of a success of his stallion career than his sire.

As a racehorse Waajib was the odd man out in this sire line in being a late developer. He ran only once at two (without success) and was at his best at four (winning the Prix du Rond-Point – nowadays the Prix Daniel Wildenstein – at Longchamp) and five when successful in the then Group 2 Queen Anne Stakes. Waajib  couldn’t be dismissed as a total flop at stud, boasting a Group 1 winner in Royal Applause, though that may have been more to do with that colt’s dam.

Indeed Royal Applause was a rarity in that his dam produced more Group 1 winners than his sire. Flying Melody had already foaled the speedy filly Lyric Fantasy, winner of the Nunthorpe as a two-year-old in 1992, and came up with a third Group 1 winner four years later when In Command won the Dewhurst. In Command was a rarity by Sadler’s Wells in that he didn’t train on, while Lyric Fantasy (by Sadler’s Wells’ brother Tate Gallery) was also best as a two-year-old.

In between, Royal Applause was unbeaten in four starts as a two-year-old in 1995 when his wins included the Coventry, the Gimcrack and the Middle Park Stakes. He too had an anti-climactic three-year-old season which began with defeat in the 2000 Guineas, but he confirmed that sprinting was his game at four with further wins in the Duke of York Stakes, Cork & Orrery Stakes and Sprint Cup and places in both the July Cup and Prix de l’Abbaye.

Standing at the Royal Studs, Royal Applause proved more successful as a stallion than either his sire or grandsire, his fee starting out at £6,500 but peaking at £20,000. His only Group or Grade 1 winner was the filly Ticker Tape, winner of the American Oaks and Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup on export to the States. More in his own image, though, another of Royal Applause’s best horses was the sprinter Acclamation whose dam Princess Athena was a Queen Mary winner.

Acclamation missed out on a Group 1 sprint, but won the Diadem Stakes at Ascot as a four-year-old when also finishing second in the King’s Stand, third in the Nunthorpe and fourth in the Prix de l’Abbaye. Another success story at stud, Acclamation stood his first season at Rathbarry in Ireland at a fee of €10,000 before reaching a high of €35,000.

Besides dual King’s Stand winner Equiano (who will have smart sprinters Strath Burn and The Tin Man running for him in 2016) and Dark Angel, Acclamation’s stallion sons also include Lilbourne Lad, who had his first two-year-olds in 2015, and first-season sire this year Harbour Watch.

Injury prevented the unbeaten two-year-old Harbour Watch from racing again, but Dark Angel set something of a contentious precedent, which Lilbourne Lad followed, by retiring to stud sound at the end of his two-year-old season. That was largely an indictment on the programme (or lack of one) available for three-year-old sprinters at the time. Prior to the introduction of the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot for three-year-olds in 2015, the top two-year-old sprinters of the previous season had to either try their luck against older rivals or attempt to last out a mile (as Royal Applause had failed to do) in a Guineas.

Maybe Dark Angel’s premature retirement to stud was also prompted by the records of Acclamation, Royal Applause, Waajib and Try My Best as three-year-olds. Acclamation ran only twice without success at that age, Royal Applause gained just a minor win at Doncaster, Waajib was successful only in maiden and minor company while Try My Best was retired after trailing home last as even-money favourite in the 2000 Guineas.

In the one season he did race, the Barry Hills-trained Dark Angel nonetheless managed to emulate a couple of his forebears – he won the valuable St Leger Yearling Stakes as Acclamation had done (that race moving from Doncaster to York in the interim) and was successful in the Middle Park like Royal Applause for the same stable.

Building on the success of his grandsire and sire, Dark Angel has already sired a couple of top sprinters to date in Lethal Force, winner of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes and July Cup in 2013 (and whose first crop are now yearlings) and last year’s Nunthorpe winner Mecca’s Angel who will be challenging for top sprinting honours again this year.

Lot 204 TBK1 0308©Tattersalls.com
The yearling sister to Mecca’s Angel who was sold for 825,000 guineas at Tattersalls last October

A full sister to Mecca’s Angel was sold at Tattersalls last October for 825,000 guineas after a season in which Dark Angel’s two-year-olds Gutaifan***, Log Out Island, Birchwood, Steady Pace and Easton Angel were all at least placed in pattern races. They were bred when Dark Angel was standing for €12,500 but his fee has rocketed to €60,000 this spring on the back of his success in the last twelve months. Dark Angel finished fourth in the British/Irish prize money table in 2015 behind Galileo, Dubawi and Cape Cross, and as the current Flat season gets under way in earnest is in second place in this year’s standings at the time of writing.


*Try My Best sired a second Group 1 winner when eight-year-old My Best Valentine gave him a posthumous success in the Prix de l’Abbaye in 1998

**These were different times – it’s hard to imagine a Hamdan Al Maktoum-owned horse, as Waajib was, going to stud at Coolmore nowadays!

***Prix Robert Papin and Flying Childers winner Gutaifan followed in his father’s footsteps by being retired to stud at the end of his two-year-old season

[Image of sister to Mecca’s Angel courtesy of http://www.tattersalls.com]