The sheiks and the sultans will swing their super-sized chequebooks amidst the world’s foremost sales to attain their horseflesh. Other players in this game have to run a little more in the shadows, or box a bit more clever to land their quarry.
This is a pedigree column, so be warned, today’s subject doesn’t really have one, or not one dripping with blue blood or blue hens. When you look up his page from his yearling sale, the top update crows that he has a half-sister who ran third in the time-honoured Supa IGA Maiden at Nhill, a dot in western Victoria. But here’s a case when a pedigree perhaps doesn’t have to be good, just good enough.
Lion’s Roar was bought not at Sydney Easter or the Magic Millions, but at the 2019 Karaka sale, and from Book 2 in fact. When many of the big guns had fallen silent, trainer John O’Shea and Champion Thoroughbreds’ maven Jason Abrahams nabbed him for all of NZ$65,000.
On Saturday he carried Champion’s red and white silks to a commanding victory in the Group 1 Randwick Guineas. It gave O’Shea his first Group 1 success on his long road back since returning to public training in 2017. And it took Lion’s Roar’s record from seven starts to four wins and two placings (one of those at Group 1 level too) – raising his earnings for the 20-odd owners banded together by Champion from across Australia to almost $850,000.
And there’s major hope for much more to come. The three-year-old gelding’s designed target this autumn is still coming up, in the 2000-metre Rosehill Guineas on Saturday week. Lion’s Roar’s pedigree wasn’t proven when he went under the hammer, but it wasn’t exactly abject.
He was from the first crop of Contributer, the imported son of High Chaparral O’Shea trained at Godolphin to win two Group 1s amid his Apollo-Chipping Norton-Ranvet clean sweep in the autumn of 2015.
On the dam’s side there’s a Group 1 winner in the recent past in granddam The Mighty Lions. The daughter of Grosvenor was a Flemington winner who took the Avondale Gold Cup of 2004. She also threw, as her third foal, Minnaleo (Black Minnaloushe), who had a win and two placings from three races in New Zealand before an early retirement. Minnaleo’s first foal was Minnamosa (Alamosa). Though best known for her third at Nhill that day in 2018, she’s gone on to record three wins and 15 placings in the bush from her 33 starts to date. But what a pedigree boost she’s had, breeding-wise, through the deeds of her younger half-brother, picked up for a snip at Karaka.
“It’s interesting because you can go to Magic Millions and people will pay three or four hundred thousand dollars for a yearling and there are no Group 1 winners on the page,” Abrahams tells It’s In The Blood. “But Lion’s Roar’s grandmother won one, and one of our criteria is to try to find yearlings with a Group 1 winner in their pedigree, not too far back.”
Still, it wasn’t what lay on paper but what trod the earth which caught O’Shea and Abrahams’ attention at that yearling sale. They’d been keen to buy into the first crop of Contributer, but thought they had missed the boat. Mapperley Stud, which stands the sire, had offered a colt by him in Book 1. It fell to Godolphin for NZ$250,000 – outside of the price range of Champion’s carefully tailored business model, designed to suit small to medium-sized owners.
But while looking around, the two old colleagues had their heads turned by one that walked past which ticked several of their personal boxes. “We saw him walk past and we followed him back to his box and asked the farm what was he?” Abrahams says.
“He was in Book 2, but John and I didn’t even have a Book 2 catalogue, but they showed us his pedigree and we found out he was a Contributer. He was a big strapping yearling with a bit of character about him.
”John said he had a lot of features that reminded him of his dad. He’s probably not as leggy as his dad; he’s just a medium-sized horse but he’s very strong, and John said he walked and held himself in a similar fashion.”
This purchase was well within Champion’s budget, which Abrahams put at around $100,000 for a Book 2 lot. (That $250k Contributer they’d missed out on? He’s called Jeronimos, and an hour before Lion’s Roar’s Randwick Guineas triumph he ran second in a Hawkesbury Class 1).
The yearling Lion’s Roar had matched up with Abrahams’ charter, as a potential middle-distance horse in several ways, but an early step had to be taken.
“He was probably never going to be a stallion prospect, because he was a pretty burly fella and a playful colt. So we bought him and gelded him and syndicated him,” Abrahams says.
“But he just looked like a tough, sound, colt who would handle work, and you really need that in Sydney. “If you’re going to knock around every two weeks in middle distance races, they need a fair bit of work to be pumped into them to be ready, particularly if you’re going to get stuck into them as a late two-year-old and a threeyear-old.”
Furthermore, Abrahams and O’Shea saw in Lion’s Roar the type of robust galloper suited to modern Australian trends. “If you’re buying a New Zealand horse to get over a bit of ground, unless you get a really exceptional horse, you’re only window really is to win races at three, before the imported middle distance horses arrive here,” Abrahams says.
“If you’ve got a horse who you can’t put much work into or is not a good eater or is just going to take a whole heap of time, and who won’t handle a good few hard track gallops, you’re really not going to get there in the time you need to get there for that window, when you’ve got to make your hay.”
Encouragingly, The Mighty Lions had also thrown Vaquera, a High Chaparral mare who was third in the 2013 Group 1 Queensland Oaks, and won three from 18 for Gai Waterhouse.
“The lack of depth to Lion’s Roar’s pedigree was fine because we weren’t paying a lot of money anyway for him, and I knew Vaquera was actually a tough horse, who used to run around every second week,” he says. “And she was by High Chaparral, so Lion’s Roar was very similarly genetically made up in comparison to Vaquera.”
Not one to ponder long over a broodmare sire – “when you look at good horses, the broodmare sire can come from anywhere” – Abrahams is more enthused over the High Chaparral sire line. “We’ve struggled with it a bit in Australia but now High Chaparral has a bunch of young stallions coming through, like Dundeel and his son Castelvecchio,” Abrahams says.
“Contributer is getting a lot of runners now and they’re starting to come out earlier than I expected. He had a Group 2-winning filly last week in New Zealand (Llanacord), and then by Saturday he had a Group 1 winner as well. “What I really like about him now is he’s getting fillies. That sire line is notorious for colts being better than fillies. So I feel that he might be a superior stallion, because he’s doing it really well with fillies. “Most of that sireline have struggled with fillies because they’re not big eaters and they’ve all been a bit fizzy mentally, so they’ve struggled in the Australasian training environment. But the fact Contributer is getting these fillies is a really good leading indicator to him being a better than average stallion over time.”
If Lion’s Roar can continue to shine in his three-year-old window, and indeed beyond, his story will certainly be one in which the results will bear out a hunch about his sire that was in a way thrust upon O’Shea and Abrahams, two men who were certainly in the right place at the right time at that Karaka sale two years ago.
Story: Trevor Marshallsea is the best-selling author of Makybe Diva and Winx – Biography of a Champion.