Royal Ascot could welcome a new aspect of international competition this year if an ambitious plan by Australian stud owner Anthony Mithen to send a first juvenile trained down under to run at the meeting comes to fruition.
Two-year-olds in each hemisphere cannot compete against each other in normal circumstances, but Mithen, principal of Rosemont Stud in Victoria, sent nine mares to Starspangledbanner to northern hemisphere time in 2015, after the horse missed an intended shuttle trip to Coolmore in County Tipperary due to a bout of colic.
After selling two of those mares in foal to Starspangledbanner at the Arqana December Breeding-Stock Sale in 2015, Mithen was left with five fillies and two colts at Rosemont Stud, where the stallion used to stand due to his fertility issues until he was relocated to Coolmore’s Australian base in the Hunter Valley for southern-hemisphere covering duty.
It is one of those fillies bred to northern hemisphere time, named Luck Favours, who is proving to be the most precocious and is likeliest to turn up at Royal Ascot.
The Mark Young-trained charge is set to be given the necessary vaccinations this week in the hope she comes to hand quickly enough to justify the expense of the endeavour.
Appropriately, there is a royal connection to Luck Favours as she is out of Marcia Proba, a Falbrav half-sister to Group 1-winning sprinter Sweet Idea, who was added to the Queen’s broodmare band at the end of her racing career.
The filly was put through her paces in light work on Wednesday and Mithen reported: “We’re probably just a step away from the stage of putting her in a barrier trial and applying some proper pressure. She’s still going through her gears.
“If you’d asked me two months ago if this would happen I would’ve shrugged my shoulders and said it’s too fanciful. But last week she did half a trial and showed there’s hope there.
“The track rider just held her up and didn’t push her out, but he was very complimentary and said it felt that if he’d let her go, she would have responded well. She’s giving us a nice feel and she’s bred to be reasonably quick.”
Another of Rosemont Stud’s homebred Starspangledbanner northern hemisphere two-year-olds, a half-brother to Vinery Stud Stakes winner Montoya’s Secret, is also being vaccinated for a possible trip to Europe this year.
“He’s probably got to do it all pretty quickly, certainly to get to Royal Ascot, but I’ve also been contacted by representatives of Goodwood as well, who have said that if there are any hold-ups with the horses there are other carnivals up there to consider,” said Mithen.
It is a big team effort at Rosemont Stud to get the Starspangledbanner two-year-olds to Europe.
“Mark Young, who pre-trains horses for us and trained for my late father-in-law for plenty of years, is the trainer entrusted with them,” added Mithen. “He’s used to carrying out a few crazy special missions for me!
“But Peter Moody has been helpful as our racing manager and has had some input, and Troy Corstens has also cast his eye over them and had them in his stable to try to work out the pecking order. He of course trained Starspangledbanner in the first place, so there’s a nice little coming together on the project.
“If it won’t be mission accomplished, it’ll certainly be mission attempted.”
Mithen has been in contact with Nick Smith, director of racing and communications at Ascot, as well as IRT [International Racehorse Transport] about the plan, with spaces on the plane that will bring top sprinter Redkirk Warrior and other Australian challengers to Britain for the royal meeting provisionally reserved.
“I’m working on the theory that the Aussie two-year-olds are probably a whole lot more precocious and forward than the Europeans, given our climate and need for speed – so why not play on a world stage?” said Mithen.
“We’d be silly to think about bringing stayers up to that neck of the woods as we just can’t compete, and that’s been proved by the Europeans plundering all our Cup races.
“If Wesley Ward can do it with those big, hulking American two-year-olds each year at Royal Ascot, perhaps a few Aussie two-year-olds bred to northern time can do it as well.”
A key element to Mithen’s plan to bring the Starspangledbanner two-year-olds from Australia to Royal Ascot is the sire’s outstanding record at the meeting.
He won the Golden Jubilee Stakes there himself and his depleted first crop of two-year-olds yielded two winners in 2014 – Anthem Alexander and The Wow Signal.
“There are only around a dozen northern hemisphere-bred two-year-olds by Starspangledbanner on the ground, so I’m thinking if the sire could get two Royal Ascot winners despite having only 20 runners all that year, the percentages are on our side,” said Mithen.
He added that the other two-year-olds by the sire he owns will enter the Australian racing system but will likely not race until they are four-year-olds as they will be so far behind their southern hemisphere-bred counterparts.
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