For the second year running, it was a son of Ulysses who came out on top in the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown. 

Last year’s renewal belonged to Piz Badile, whose narrow success over Buckaroo came en route to a truncated and mixed campaign highlighted by a second to Westover in the Irish Derby. This year’s winner White Birch had to be equally game, coming from off the pace in bad ground to join the maiden Up And Under before outbattling that rival to win by a head. The striking grey hasn’t been given any fancy entries by trainer John Joseph Murphy but he had several highly regarded colts well beaten behind him on Sunday and with the likelihood of further improvement to come, especially in light of his pedigree, he deserves to be included in big-race conversations. 

It is to Ulysses’ credit that he has thrown colts of the calibre of Piz Badile and White Birch in his first two crops. However, the pair are also very much reflective of the work put in by those parties behind his stallion career. A high-profile product of the Niarchos family’s powerful breeding programme as a Galileo son of their Oaks heroine Light Shift, herself a member of the successful Northern Trick dynasty, Ulysses came into his own as a four-year-old when a championship season was highlighted by wins in the Eclipse Stakes and Juddmonte International. With that potent mix of pedigree and performance behind him, he was installed at Cheveley Park Stud in Newmarket at a fee of £30,000, making him the most expensive new British-based stallion of 2018.

Much of Ulysses’ success has been the result of home support

Ulysses has understandably attracted the interest of numerous top international breeders, but even so much of his success has been the result of home support.

Piz Badile was an early reward for the Niarchos family, particularly so as he is inbred 3×3 to their good mare Lingerie, the dam of Light Shift. White Birch, meanwhile, was bred by Cheveley Park Stud, in keeping with four other of Ulysses’ stakes horses. In other words, Ulysses owes plenty to the backing of his home base, especially as the list also includes last year’s Chesham Stakes winner and Vertem Futurity third Holloway Boy, who sits alongside White Birch as one of two stakes winners from Ulysses’ second crop of 64 foals (bred off a reduced fee of £17,500).

Ulysses (right): sired back-to-back Ballysax Stakes winners. Photo – George Selwyn

As a result, there is a distinct Cheveley Park Stud look to Ulysses’ stud record to date. For instance, Holloway Boy, Group 3-placed Animato and Listed-placed Gwan So are each out of mares by the former stud stalwart Pivotal. Indeed, there are 28 foals bred this way for nine winners from 16 starters.

As for White Birch, he is out of Diagnostic, who is by another stud favourite in Dutch Art and out of Holistic, by Pivotal. Like many accomplished Cheveley Park Stud-breds, this is a family that has been in the hands of the Newmarket outfit for several generations, in this case starting with the acquisition of White Birch’s fourth dam Doctor Bid.

The family remains very relevant through the deeds of Cassandra Go, ancestress of the top Ballydoyle three-year-olds Auguste Rodin and Victoria Road

White Birch’s coat colour – he is almost white at the age of three – tends to be typical of this family, certainly the more successful members. At first glance, there might be a temptation to think that this is a throwback to Doctor Bid’s sire Spectacular Bid, the brilliant American three-year-old of 1979, but it also goes all the way back to Diagnostic’s sixth dam Native Street, a 1963-foaled daughter of Native Dancer.

This was once a family cultivated by Abraham ‘Butch’ Savin’s Aisco Stable, best remembered today as the owner of Mr Prospector, and one that currently remains very relevant through the deeds of Cassandra Go, ancestress of the top Ballydoyle three-year-olds Auguste Rodin and Victoria Road.

White Birch: pictured as a yearling, the Ballysax Stakes winner is grey like many of his family. Photo – Tally-Ho Stud

Savin bought into the family in 1965 with the purchase of Native Street at the Hialeah two-year-olds in training sale. By Native Dancer and out of Beaver Street, Native Street went on to carry Savin’s colours to victory in the 1966 Kentucky Oaks and 1965 Sorority Stakes before developing into an important mare, notably as the dam of Florida Derby hero Royal And Regal and Grade 1-placed Regal And Royal. 

Savin retained Street’s Glory, Native Street’s 1972 unraced filly by Dr Fager, and sent her to Mr Prospector, then standing his first season at his Aisco Farm in Florida. The outcome was Fager’s Glory, also unraced but latterly important as the dam of Rahaam, a minor winner trained by Sir Henry Cecil on behalf of Sheikh Mohammed who foaled Coventry Stakes winner Verglas, in later years a popular stallion in Ireland having risen out of obscurity in France, and the high-class sprinter Cassandra Go, latterly a blue hen for Trevor Stewart. It is this branch of the Fager’s Glory family that has really flourished, with Cassandra Go’s daughters Halfway To Heaven (also by Pivotal), Tickled Pink and Theann producing the likes of Rhododendron, Magical, Victoria Road, Photo Call and Land Force between them. And it would seem that the best could be yet to come in Rhododendron’s first foal, Auguste Rodin, who has been talked of in recent days as a potential candidate for Britain’s Triple Crown.

While Rahaam was a daughter of one very disappointing American-based stallion in Secreto, her 1986-foaled filly Doctor Bid was the product of another in Spectacular Bid, by then coming to the end of his time at Claiborne Farm (he would spend his final years in New York). Like her dam and granddam, Doctor Bid never ran but she left behind seven winners for Cheveley Park Stud led by the Listed-winning stayer One Call (by Alleged), in turn the dam of Californian Grade 2 scorer One Off and Swedish Listed scorer Oblique.

Remarkably, White Birch isn’t the only Classic hopeful to have emerged out of that particular Tally-Ho consignment since it also included the unbeaten Horris Hill Stakes winner Knight and Group 2-placed Indestructible

The most influential, however, has been Doctor’s Glory, who was from the small first crop of another nondescript stallion in Elmaamul (and bred during his short spell standing for Shadwell in Kentucky). She was talented for Richard Hannon, winning on debut as a two-year-old at Newbury and later scoring off 86 in a Newmarket handicap. At stud, she posted the remarkable record of 11 winners from as many runners, among them the 2004 Horris Hill Stakes winner Cupid’s Glory, fellow Group 3 winner Clinical and the Listed scorers Courting, Prescription and Magnificence. To date, 11 stakes horses descend from Doctor’s Glory, eight of them bred by Cheveley Park Stud; in addition to the above, they also include two other high-class greys in Clinical’s Classic-placed son Lockheed and Listed winner Fury, who ran fifth to Frankel in the 2,000 Guineas.

Incidentally, White Birch’s granddam Holistic was the only one of Doctor’s Glory’s 12 foals not to make the track but the daughter of Pivotal has made up for it at stud as the dam of four winners from as many foals. While none have yet to land black-type, three of them are well-rated including Diagnostic, a four-time winner for William Haggas who capped her career with a win in the 2018 All-Weather Fillies’ And Mares’ Championships Conditions Stakes. Her first foal, Anatomic, is one of 43 winners to have emerged so far from Ulysses’ first crop and he is followed by White Birch. The colt was pinhooked by Tally-Ho Stud for 75,000gns as a foal and sold to John Murphy after bidding stalled inside the ring at 48,000gns during Book 2 of the Tattersalls October Sale. Remarkably, he isn’t the only Classic hopeful to have emerged out of that particular Tally-Ho consignment since it also included the unbeaten Horris Hill Stakes winner Knight and Group 2-placed Indestructible.

Ulysses has spent the past three seasons at a reduced fee of £10,000. He has been afforded every opportunity by some powerful connections but as the past two seasons have shown, he is also capable of throwing a high-class colt. With Holloway Boy and White Birch on the Classic path, not to mention older horses such as Piz Badile and Mighty Ulysses back for four-year-old campaigns, he could just be in for a very good year.

Auguste Rodin: the Vertem Futurity winner, pictured with groom Aine Murphy, descends like White Birch from Fager’s Glory. Photo – Bill Selwyn