His Australian wing may have been one of the more recent additions to the Darley empire, but Sheikh Mohammed’s string down under is now shaping up as the most successful of his many divisions.
The Sheikh has owned horses in Australia since the 1980s, when he first sent some ex-European stayers to be trained by the late Colin Hayes. However, it was only the broadening of the Darley stallion roster in the early years of this century (the natural consequence of which was an expansion of Darley’s Australian breeding arm, with many of its European and North American stallions shuttling down under) which prompted him to begin racing there on anything like the scale on which he has been operating in Europe for 30 years.
Darley’s purchase of the Woodlands Stud racing and breeding empire from the Ingham family in 2008 made the Sheikh the largest-scale owner in Australia – and since then his results there have been remarkable.
The extent of the Sheikh’s Australian success is shown by the results of the country’s principal juvenile races this season. Saturday, June 11 saw the running of the fifth and final Group 1 two-year-old race of the season, the T. J. Smith Stakes at Eagle Farm in Brisbane – and it followed the previous four in being won by colt owned by Sheikh Mohammed, bred by Darley, trained by Peter Snowden (the trainer who was included in the Woodlands Stud deal) and ridden by Kerrin McEvoy.
Pride of place among the Sheikh’s youngsters goes to Sepoy, a son of the former Darley shuttle sire Elusive Quality and winner of the premier two-year-old race in both Melbourne (the Blue Diamond at Caulfield) and Sydney (the Golden Slipper at Rosehill). This rarely-achieved double marks Sepoy down as a very special horse.
The Golden Slipper is the first leg of the two-year-old Triple Crown in Sydney, the next two legs of which (the Sires’ Produce Stakes and the Champagne Stakes, both run at Randwick) were both taken by Helmet, a son of the Australian dual-hemisphere Danehill stallion Exceed And Excel and the British-bred Singspiel mare Accessories.
With Sepoy and Helmet each having won two Group 1 races, Benfica became Darley’s third individual Group One juvenile winner this season. This clean sweep of the country’s Group One two-year-old races appears unprecedented, and its completion came with the bonus of consolidating the position of Benfica’s sire Lonhro (a Woodlands-bred and –raced stallion who joined the Darley roster in 2008) at the head of this season’s sires’ table.