As night turns into day, so you can be sure that the Cassandra Go family will remain the gift that keeps giving. While various high-profile operations, notably Coolmore, continue to fare well out of it, the primary beneficiary remains Trevor Stewart, in whose colours the popular grey daughter of Indian Ridge triumphed in the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot 21 years ago.
The family was front and centre yet again at Keeneland on Friday as her grandson Victoria Road, another bred by Stewart, came out on top in a thrilling finish to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Out of the Invincible Spirit mare Tickled Pink, the colt took five tries to break his maiden for Aidan O’Brien but has been on a rapid upward curve in recent months, with a win in the Prix de Conde at Chantilly preceding his Breeders’ Cup tilt. While he has evidently thrived on racing, the experience of a busy campaign stood him in good stead at Keeneland; partnered by Ryan Moore, he had to weave his way through runners from his position on the inner before answering all of his rider’s calls to narrowly prevail over Silver Knott in a head-bobbing finish.
“I was shouting at the TV,” said Stewart on Saturday morning. “And then it looked as those horses might come over on top of him and he had to go through that gap, and that’s when I nearly hit the TV. But he scythed through – he’s a tough colt, very determined and nothing fazes him.
“And then we had the drama of whether he had won or not.”
With his nose down at the wire, Victoria Road had indeed sealed victory to hand his connections a second winner of the afternoon after Meditate’s success in the Juvenile Fillies’ Turf. It also provided an all-important first-crop Grade 1 winner for his young sire Saxon Warrior, one of a handful of stallions at stud in Europe to offer access to the Deep Impact sire line.
While Saxon Warrior’s stud career is all about potential – and with six stakes horses already to his credit, the future would appear bright for the Coolmore stallion – Cassandra Go’s legacy has long been firmly established in light of her place as the dam of Halfway To Heaven, whose three Group 1 victories included the 2008 Irish 1,000 Guineas, Abernant Stakes winner Tickled Pink and fellow Group 3 scorer Theann. In turn, Halfway To Heaven has enhanced the family significantly under the cultivation of Coolmore, notably as the dam of champion mares Magical and Rhododendron, the winners of nine Group 1 races between them. And now Rhododendron is doing her bit for the family herself as the dam of Auguste Rodin, whose win in the Vertem Futurity propelled the Ballydoyle colt to favouritism for next year’s 2,000 Guineas and Derby. Like Saxon Warrior, he is a son of Deep Impact, in his case one of only 11 foals from the final crop of the Japanese supersire.
As for Theann, she has foaled the North American Grade 1 winner Photo Call as well as the Richmond Stakes winner Land Force, now a young stallion at Highclere Stud.
Tickled Pink, by comparison, had yet to move in elite circles at stud prior to the emergence of Victoria Road, for all that her each of her previous four foals had been winners.
“With Cassandra Go, I always hoped she’d do it at stud,” said Stewart. “And then with Tickled Pink, I was starting to despair a little bit. She’d been to some very good stallions, like Frankel and Shamardal, and they were winning a lot of races and running to good ratings but there was no big black-type horse.”
This is a family that tends perform strongly commercially year in year out. As such, while the 115,000gns paid by MV Magnier for Victoria Road out of the Ballyhimikin Stud draft at last year’s Tattersalls October Sale wasn’t an insignificant sum, it pales into comparison against the values of various other relations. They include Tarhib, a Dark Angel filly out of Cassandra Go’s daughter Allez Alaia who sold for a Book 2 sale record of 1,050,000gns in 2019; she also added further black-type to the family on Saturday when running second in the Wentworth Stakes at Doncaster.
“Victoria Road was a beautiful yearling,” said Stewart. “He walked like a cat and he has his dam’s head. But perhaps Tickled Pink’s record was looking a bit tired at that stage. He’s also not too big, but as Aidan said to me when I was visiting, he’s just a perfect size.”
He added: “Aidan is brilliant. It took a while for the colt to break his maiden but the secret seems to have been getting him the experience and then going up in trip.
“And I was so lucky as I was all set to use No Nay Never on the mare this season. But I rang Christy [Grassick, Coolmore manager] and asked would he speak to Aidan and see what he thought about Victoria Road. And Aidan came back and said it was a no-brainer to send the mare back to Saxon Warrior. Of course, it was also a no-brainer for me given the price! [Saxon Warrior stood the past season for €20,000 while No Nay Never commanded €125,000].
“Then for a while it didn’t look like it would happen, though Aidan kept telling me that he’d be alright. Obviously the exciting thing is what he might do next year as they seem to think he’ll keep progressing.
“Now the question is how many mares should I be sending to Saxon Warrior next year, especially as the Deep Impact nick seems to work with the family. I didn’t get to bed until 3am and then I woke up at 6am thinking about it all and what to do with the mares next year.”
In a relatively short space of time, Cassandra Go’s line has come to span the globe. Coolmore obviously have plenty of it while Katsumi Yoshida paid $2,700,000 for Photo Call in 2019. However, a number of Cassandra Go’s daughters and granddaughters remain in Stewart’s ownership, thereby continuing an association with the mare that began with her purchase for 82,000gns through Joss Collins of the BBA as a foal. Cassandra Go was sent back through the ring as a yearling but retained for 200,000gns – very fortuitously as it turned out – and sent to Geoff Wragg, for whom she won six races including the King’s Stand and Temple Stakes.
“The best day’s racing I’ve had was when Cassandra Go won the King’s Stand,” says Stewart. “Halfway To Heaven winning the Irish 1,000 Guineas was also very special. That is the one race I would really like to win and to breed the winner of it was wonderful.
“But Victoria Road is obviously also very special. Winning on home turf is one thing but to do it in America at the end of a long season, especially for two-year-olds, is extremely difficult.
“It’s so lovely. Every so often one comes up, and this one by a first-season sire as well. You need so much luck in this game – it was luck I bought Cassandra Go and then luck that I ended up sending her to Geoff Wragg, for me the best trainer there was.”
Cassandra Go died last year at the age of 24 having produced ten winners. But her story is not over given that there is an unraced two-year-old colt out of her named Change Sings, also by Saxon Warrior and in training with Paddy Twomey. Her final foal, a yearling filly by Night Of Thunder, is named Chaumet More.
“The two-year-old is very nice,” says Stewart. “He’s a late foal and he’s been given lots of time but he’s very straightforward and they seem to like him. Perhaps he’s our new weapon.”