One of the breeding industry’s most fascinating attractions is its constant ability to surprise. Just when you think you know the rules, along comes a break-out stallion whose success is far from predictable.

In fairly recent decades, breeders operating on a limited budget have had plenty of chances to access stallions destined to soar out of their price bracket. Ahonoora, Alzao, Fairy King, Night Shift and Indian Ridge all did so well at modest fees that they were ultimately snapped up by major stallion farms. Since then we have witnessed rags-to-riches stories by the likes of Danehill Dancer, Pivotal, Invincible Spirit, Kodiac, Dark Angel, Siyouni and Wootton Bassett.

To illustrate the point, Danehill Dancer’s highest published fee was €115,000, after he had started out at IR4,000gns; Pivotal’s high point was £85,000, many times his original £6,000; and the evergreen Invincible Spirit did so well that his fee rose to €120,000, 12 times his opening price.

Invincible Spirit’s three-parts brother Kodiac peaked at €65,000 after beginning at a bargain-basement €5,000, while Dark Angel merited a rise to €85,000, even though his original fee of €10,000 quickly fell to €7,000. Siyouni and Wootton Bassett both stood the 2023 season at €150,000, and may yet rise higher, though they were respectively priced at €7,000 and €6,000 on their retirement.

There’s a good chance that the next name to be added to the list will be that of Havana Grey, Whitsbury Manor Stud’s rising star. His achievements have been far better than might have been predicted for a stallion whose fee in his early years dropped from £8,000 to £6,500 and then to £6,000 in his third and fourth seasons. At the time of writing, the son of Prix Jean Prat winner Havana Gold has been represented by seven winners at Group level and eight at Listed level, while seven others have Group-placings to their credit. With four Listed-placed animals, that’s 26  stakes performers from two crops.

As many as 18 of them come from a first crop of 115, with eight from a second crop of 109. That second-crop total is surely set to rise further, as the Havana Greys are not just two-year-olds – six of the ten first-crop black-type winners won black-type events at three, including Nell Gwyn Stakes winner Mammas Girl and the smart Shouldvebeenaring, who was beaten only a neck in the Betfair Sprint Cup.

Havana Grey himself was fast and precocious

Havana Grey himself was fast and precocious, to the extent that he was winning for the fourth time when he led throughout to defeat Invincible Army in the Molecomb Stakes at the beginning of  August. He was no specialist two-year-old, though. He trained on so well that he added two Group victories at the Curragh, taking the Sapphire Stakes and the first running of the Flying Five Stakes, in which he again led most of the way.

Critics were quite harsh about the standard of the Flying Five, with Timeform saying it fell some way short of Group 1 standard – a view no doubt based partly on Havana Grey’s efforts in three other Group 1 events, in which he finished fifth, eighth and twelfth.

While there may be some dissent over whether Havana Grey was a worthy Group 1 winner, no such criticism can be levelled at his excellent son Vandeek. This 625,000gns breeze-up buy followed in Havana Grey’s footsteps in taking the Molecomb Stakes but then fared better than his sire when sent to Deauville for the Prix Morny. Whereas Havana Grey had been caught in the final furlong when second in a non-vintage edition in 2017, Vandeek faced a serious rival in the form of Ramatuelle, a filly who had won Group races on her two most recent starts by margins of five lengths and four lengths. Vandeek managed to catch Ramatuelle close home, before going on to land a second Group 1 with his impressive display in the Middle Park Stakes.

Breeders who were brave enough to use Havana Grey in his third season received terrific value for their £6,000 investment

All this success meant that many of the breeders who were brave enough to use Havana Grey in his third season received terrific value for their £6,000 investment. As many as 20 of Havana Grey’s 2023 sales yearlings achieved six-figure sums, including colts which sold for 600,000gns, 425,000gns and 320,000gns. The average price for the 64 sold fell little short of 100,000gns. Havana  Grey’s sales statistics paint an interesting picture of the way his career is going. The average for his first three crops has been roughly 28,000gns, 58,000gns and 98,000gns, with the median standing at 30,000gns, 42,000gns and 62,000gns.

Those 2023 yearlings come from a crop numbering more than 90 and Havana Grey was again very popular in his fourth season, when he’s credited with covering 166 mares. The Whitsbury Manor team are to be congratulated in maintaining so much interest in the young stallion in those often very difficult third and fourth years. No doubt it helped that Havana Grey’s first foals had included colts which sold for 130,000gns and €135,000.

In assessing any stallion it is essential to look at the material with which he’s been working. It is very much in Havana Grey’s favour that he seems to have an alchemist’s touch – appropriately, in a son of Havana Gold. While I hesitate to describe any mare as base metal, the The alchemist’s touch – the rise of Havana Grey bloodstock world views mares responsible for producing Havana Grey’s 15 black-type winners were not especially gifted. Eleven of them had official ratings in the 50s, 60s or 70s and only one was out of a black-type winner. So Whitsbury Manor can truthfully claim that here is a stallion who upgrades his mares – something he shares with those rags-to-riches stallions mentioned earlier.

The Whitsbury influence shows in the list of stallions responsible for the dams of Havana Grey’s black-type horses. Swiss Spirit, Cadeaux Genereux, Sakhee’s Secret, Foxwedge, Compton Place and Showcasing all represented the Whitsbury brand, with Showcasing representing another example of the farm’s ability to “make” a stallion. After spending three of his first four seasons at £4,500, Showcasing’s fee was to peak at £55,000.

The success of Havana Grey’s first crop in 2022 sent his fee up to £18,500 and a breeding right to him sold for 115,000gns in November last year. That breeding right already looks a bargain and will no doubt look even more so when his 2024 fee is announced.

Havana Grey: the latest Whitsbury Manor success story. Photo – Bill Selwyn

Different Partners

Of course, a substantial rise in a stallion’s fee can change the nature of the mares sent to him, with the emphasis often moving away from the speedy mares responsible for the stallion’s early success. Even though Havana Grey is himself inbred 4 x 3 to Danzig’s fast son Green Desert and has a line of Danehill, much of his success as a stallion has been based on mares with more Danzig blood, often from the Danehill line. His five runners out of Exceed And Excel mares are all winners, including Vandeek and the Listed winners Holguin and Royal Grey.

Danehill’s sons Holy Roman Emperor and Dansili and grandson Foxwedge are also among the broodmare sires of Havana Grey’s black-type winners. Also on the list are Danzig’s son Elnadim (damsire of Group 3 winner Mammas Girl). Several of the good winners have three or more lines to Green Desert, the most notable being the Group 3 two-year-old winner Elite Status, with four lines (4x5x4x4).

During his 16-race career, Havana Grey only once tackled a distance as long as six furlongs, so he was very much a specialist sprinter. This raises the question of how he will fare with a more Classic type of mare which goes hand in hand with a substantially higher fee. His connections will have nothing to fear if his career follows a similar trajectory to those of Indian Ridge and Pivotal, two other major five-furlong winners which made their name with their early English crops.

Indian Ridge was the most versatile of the three, as his first group success came over seven furlongs, in the Jersey Stakes. However, his last and most important success came over five furlongs in the King’s Stand Stakes, a race which also ranked among Pivotal’s best wins.

Pedigrees contained some stamina elements

There is another common thread between the three stallions: the pedigrees of all three contained some stamina elements. Perhaps these will prove as useful to Havana Grey as they were for Indian Ridge and Pivotal when stamina became more of a feature in their mares. Indian Ridge’s sire Ahonoora was brilliantly fast at his best, as he first displayed when blitzing the opposition in the Stewards’ Cup. Ahonoora’s speed later brought him victories in the King George Stakes and York’s Sprint Championship. Although Ahonoora came from a very fast female line, his sire Lorenzaccio will always be best remembered for beating a below-par Nijinsky in the Champion Stakes.

Lorenzaccio’s stamina helped Ahonoora sire a wide range of winners, including several very smart middle-distance Group winners, headed by Derby winner Dr Devious. Indian Ridge followed suit. While he shone primarily as a sire of sprinters and milers, such as Ridgewood Pearl (Irish 1,000 Guineas and Breeders’ Cup Mile), Domedriver (Breeders’ Cup Mile), Namid (Prix de  l’Abbaye), Compton Place (July Cup), Cassandra Go (King’s Stand Stakes) and Indian Haven (Irish 2,000 Guineas), there was also a sizeable number of smart middle-distance performers out of daughters of such as Sadler’s Wells, Kahyasi, Unfuwain, Alleged and Bering, There were also fast performers out of mares by Secreto and Darshaan, so sometimes his speed proved dominant.

One of the most notable middle- distance winners was his son Definite Article, who went very close to winning the Irish Derby, despite having another top sprinter, Moorestyle, as his broodmare sire. Indian Ridge even sired the occasional stayer, such as Patkai, winner of the Queen’s Vase and Sagaro Stakes.

It was a similar story with Pivotal, even though he gained both of his important victories over five furlongs. He went on to sire numerous Group 1 middle-distance winners, such as Sariska (Oaks and Irish Oaks), Addeybb and Farhh (winners of the Champion Stakes), African Story (Dubai World Cup), Avilius (Tancred Stakes), Siyarafina and Queen’s Jewel (both winners of the Prix Saint-Alary), Izzi Top and Chorist (winners of the Pretty Polly Stakes), Buzzword (Deutsches Derby) and Halfway To Heaven (Nassau Stakes). In addition, the brothers Wings of Desire and Eagle Top both finished second in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

The explanation was that all four of Pivotal’s grandparents – Nureyev, Marie d’Argonne, Cozzene and Stufida – had stayed at least a mile. Indeed, Marie d’Argonne and Stufida had both won over a mile and a quarter, with Marie d’Argonne being tried at up to 13.5 furlongs. This stamina resurfaced when Pivotal was mated to daughters of such as Lando, In The Wings, Muhtarram, Azamour and Sunday Silence, but also occasionally with mares by speedier stallions.

Teofilo never raced after the age of two means that we never learned the extent of his stamina

The main potential source of stamina in Havana Grey’s pedigree is his grandsire, the champion two-year-old Teofilo. The fact that Teofilo never raced after the age of two means that we never learned the extent of his stamina, but he represents the same Galileo-Danehill cross as Frankel, as well as the important mile-and-a-half winners Japan, Mogul and Highland Reel and the stayers Kyprios and Search For A Song.

Plenty of Teofilo’s progeny have displayed a good measure of stamina. For example, his very productive partnership with daughters of the terrifically speedy Oasis Dream has yielded such as Twilight Payment, winner of the two-mile Melbourne Cup. Another of his sons, Cross Counter, was also successful in the Melbourne Cup, even though his dam Waitress did her winning at around seven furlongs. Other examples of Teofilo’s latent stamina include Subjectivist, winner of the Prix Royal-Oak and Ascot Gold Cup despite being inbred 3 x 3 to the Group 1 six-furlong winner Danehill. Then there’s Scope, another winner of the Prix Royal- Oak. His dam Look So was typical of her sire Efisio in that she did her winning over seven furlongs and a mile.

The chances are, then, that Havana Grey will sire the occasional smart performer over a mile and a quarter or more as his career progression brings him more mares with middle-distance pedigrees. I suspect, though, that his main talent will remain his ability to pass on his own speed and toughness.

Vandeek runs away with the Richmond Stakes. Photo – Bill Selwyn