The saying goes that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. But a deeper, more profound knowledge isn’t always a route to safety and success, at least not in the world of bloodstock breeding, as I learned during my 20-odd years advising on Juddmonte Farms’ matings.
During that time I saw plenty of the descendants of the winning Nijinsky mare Musicanti, including her talented daughter New Orchid (by Quest For Fame). And with that knowledge, I rather doubt that I would have approved when the team at Haras d’Haspel decided to send New Orchid’s unraced daughter Needleleaf to Oasis Dream in 2018. Of course, the joke would be on me, as the mating resulted in the imperious Native Trail, who has surely secured the title of champion European two-year-old with his sequence of four victories, including the Group 1 National Stakes and Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes.
Native Trail’s trainer Charlie Appleby has made no secret of the fact that his youngster already weighs in at 540kg, compared to the average of roughly 480kg, even though the colt is only two. Francesca Cumani put it well when she said that the colt has the wow factor, because he is taller, with more presence and more bulk, than the rest of them. Appleby succinctly describes Native Trail as a man among boys, a heavy-topped horse with a big shoulder who hits the ground hard.
Apparently Native Trail already weighed 540kg when he was bought for 210,000gns at the Tattersalls Craven Breeze-Up Sale. The youngster had been pinhooked for 67,000gns by the former top-class jump jockey Norman Williamson with Mags O’Toole.
Williamson, who now operates Oak Tree Farm in County Meath, explained that “he hasn’t changed a lot from a yearling. He was a huge yearling, he’d a huge, big backside on him and that’s why I took the chance of breezing him, I thought he’s so strong maybe he won’t need time and he didn’t.”
Native Trail has clearly inherited oodles of class and precocity from his sire, the champion two-year-old Oasis Dream. But Oasis Dream is a 15.3-hands son of the 15.2-hands Green Desert, himself a son of the 15.3-hands Danzig. Native Trail must clearly have inherited his size and tallness from another part of his pedigree and we need look no further than the colt’s second dam New Orchid and third dam Musicanti.
Musicanti was produced for Juddmonte from a mating between the sizeable Nijinsky and Populi, who was acquired by James Delahooke for $2,000,000 as an eight-year-old in 1983. Unfortunately, Populi failed to produce anything for her new owner which matched the quality of her first three foals, a trio of stakes winners headed by the top middle-distance horse Vanlandingham.
Musicanti, though, won over 2,900 metres at Saint-Cloud and was beaten little more than a length when fourth in a Listed race. Tried on dirt and turf after being switched to the US, Musicanti failed to win any of her seven American starts before joining Juddmonte’s broodmare band in Kentucky.
It’s fair to say that Musicanti wasn’t the most attractive of mares. Standing 16.2-hands high, she was big, plain and lengthy, but she inherited Populi’s deep shoulder. She was no more attractive on the move, as she had a pounding action. However, Musicanti wasted no time in proving her worth as a broodmare.
One of Juddmonte’s resident stallions, Distant View, seemed to be a good match both from the viewpoint of physique and pedigree. The neat, strong Distant View stood 15.3 hands and he was a son of Mr Prospector, who sired nine black-type winners – an attractive 15% – from Nijinsky mares. Thanks to Musicanti, Distant View was to join several other sons of Mr Prospector, including Kingmambo, Seeking The Gold, Fappiano and Woodman, by siring a Group or Grade 1 winner from a Nijinsky mare.
Her first foal, the tall, good-shouldered Distant Music, inherited plenty of size from Musicanti and stood around 16.2 hands. But that didn’t stop him enjoying an unbeaten juvenile career which culminated in victories in the Group 2 Champagne Stakes and Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes, so there are distinct parallels between Distant Music and Native Trail. Like his younger relative, Distant Music won his races with a telling burst of acceleration – just as Distant View had done when he landed the Sussex Stakes.
Musicanti was to produce ten further foals, including four more by Distant View, without managing to duplicate her impressive start. Only one of the ten – her Quest For Fame filly New Orchid – was to earn black type, when third in the Group 3 Lancashire Oaks and a close second in the Listed Aphrodite Stakes, both over a mile and a half.
If anything, New Orchid was even bigger than Musicanti and she stood just under 17 hands and she too had her dam’s pounding action. Naturally, attempts needed to be made to pull her progeny down in size, and once again Juddmonte appeared to have an ideal candidate among its own stallion team, in the shape of Observatory. This conqueror of Giant’s Causeway in the millennium Queen Elizabeth II Stakes had the dual attraction of being a son of Distant View and of standing only 15.3 hands. His dam Stellaria was small, strong and low to the ground.
As with Musicanti, New Orchid made a great start, her first foal being the Group 1 Haydock Sprint Cup winner African Rose. The filly’s trainer Criquette Head did well to recognise that she was a sprinter, considering that her sire had won at up to 9.2 furlongs and her dam had stayed a mile and a half.
New Orchid came close to repeating the magic with Helleborine, her second daughter by Observatory. With three wins from three starts, including a five-length victory over Immortal Verse in the Group 3 Prix d’Aumale, Helleborine started odds-on to land the Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac and was far from disgraced in finishing second to future Classic winner Misty For Me.
Unfortunately, as with Musicanti, New Orchid was unable to maintain the magic and she was eventually sold as a 15-year-old. Part of the problem was that she consistently produced very big foals, mostly weighing more than 140lb (roughly 64kg) despite her being mated mainly to medium-sized stallions. A perfect example was Sand Blast, her 2011 colt by Oasis Dream who weighed in at a whacking 159lb (72kg). He was so big that it was decided he didn’t have a future as a Flat performer and he was consequently dispatched to Doncaster’s Spring Sale in the hope that he would appeal to National Hunt buyers. After selling for £10,000, he eventually managed to win a two-and-a-half mile novices’ hurdle at Worcester.
New Orchid was naturally returned to Observatory on several occasions, producing two further daughters and a son. The son, Forecast, has won a novice chase this year but neither of the daughters – Conservatory and Needleleaf – made it to the races and were both sold for 60,000gns (Conservatory at three, Needleleaf at two). Both were sold before their older sisters had had much chance to prove themselves as broodmares.
African Rose began her broodmare career with a visit to none other than Oasis Dream but again the chemistry failed to work and her filly, African Plains, was still without a win at the end of a seven-race career. However, African Rose’s fourth foal was Fair Eva, the Frankel filly who ran away with the Group 3 Princess Margaret Stakes.
Helleborine also came good with her fourth foal, the exhilarating Group 2 Coventry Stakes winner Calyx. It is worth mentioning that Calyx’s sire, Kingman, is bred along similar lines to Oasis Dream, with Oasis Dream’s sire being the grandsire of Kingman and Oasis Dream’s dam Hope being the second dam of Kingman.
Of course, I shouldn’t have written off Oasis Dream as a suitable mate for this family after just a couple of failures. Oasis Dream is currently credited with 128 black-type winners from 1,643 foals, which equates to 7.8%. That means that nearly one in every 13 of his progeny fail to win a stakes race, so it isn’t fair to judge a nick’s worth on a very small sample (even if it is perfectly understandable for a breeder to make a hasty evaluation, in a bid to stop throwing good money after bad.)
For the record, Oasis Dream’s other foals from this family include the non-winning Sunset Stanza and fair miler Country Western, both out of New Orchid’s half-sister Musical Horizon, and Uphold, a durable middle-distance winner out of New Orchid’s half-sister Allegro Viva.
Oasis Dream also has a 2020 colt out of Calyx’s half-sister Sandstone, and a 2020 filly out of Conservatory, a sister to Native Trail’s dam, who sold for 40,000gns as a foal. There is also a Kingman yearling out of Needleleaf, who is a more-than-half-sister to Native Trail. Godolphin were clearly aware that Native Trail hadn’t revealed the full extent of his talent in winning the Superlative Stakes in July, because they snapped up the filly for €950,000 at Arqana in August.
The questions now are whether Native Trail will dominate his generation to the same extent next year and how far will he stay? There is obviously an argument that some of his opponents are not nearly so physically advanced, so Native Trail will be a man among men, not boys, as a three-year-old. That said, the similarly big and advanced Zafonic had no difficulty in adding the 2,000 Guineas to his juvenile Group 1 successes, including the Dewhurst Stakes, and the same could be said of the 16.2-hands Churchill.
As to stamina, there can be little doubt that Native Trail is going to be very well suited by a mile and his style of racing suggests that he may in time get another quarter of a mile, as did Oasis Dream’s Group 1 or Group 2 winners Midday, Lady Jane Digby, Monitor Closely, Free Port Lux, Hard Dream, Sri Putra, Querari and Folega.