It is shaping up to be an extremely tough first season for the 13 new sires that are entering stud for the first time, as most of them would qualify as being a big chance of sire success in nine seasons out of 10, and it will take a tough customer to win through.
Just such a one is PUCCINI, winner of the Gr. 1 New Zealand Derby and Gr. 1 Thorndon Mile. He also won three Group Two Guineas races and two Group Threes in an eight-win career that also embraced 23 seconds, thirds and fourths from a total of 57 lifetime starts and earnings of almost A$1.1 million.
A tough customer indeed, and he is, furthermore, sired by a sire noted for the racing longevity of some of his stock and from a female family full of iron horses. The Matamata stud at which he stands is one of my favourite horse properties in New Zealand, sitting in lightly contoured country in the lea of the Peria Hills.
Puccini was trained by Matamata mentor Peter McKay until early in his five-year-old season, when he was taken over by Victorian trainer Darren Weir, and then for the closing season by Kiwi expat Wayne Walters.
He made just four starts in his debut year, ending in a second and then a close third in the Listed Champagne Stakes at Ellerslie. At three, after working up to a win over 1800 metres at Taupo, he took on the Gr. 1 New Zealand 2000 Guineas and came on strongly at the death for a close fourth after being forced wide in his run.
That he should have been very close to winning became obvious six weeks later when he won the Gr. 2 Great Northern Guineas, beating both the Riccarton placegetters. He was then fourth in the Gr. 1 Levin Classic on very fast ground before scoring in the Gr. 2 Waikato Guineas in his first start at 2000 metres. He collected his third Guineas in the Gr. 2 Avondale Guineas, beating Rising Romance and Glorious Lad, and went on to beat the same pair even more easily in the Gr. 1 New Zealand Derby. Over in Australia he was not disgraced when fifth of 18 in the Gr. 1 Australian Derby to Criterion.
Second up as a four-year-old, Puccini defeated Thorn Prince to win the Gr. 3 Marton Metric Mile at Awapuni, and after a Group One miss at Hastings he beat Kisses to win the Gr. 3 Thompson Handicap at Trentham.
He dead-heated for second in the Gr. 1 Captain Cook Stakes behind Shuka and was third under 58 kilograms to Sakhee’s Soldier in the Gr. 2 Rich Hill Mile before winning his second elite race, the Gr. 1 Thorndon Mile. His autumn proved disappointing in three major Group One starts and an Australian Listed fourth.
McKay took Puccini back across the Tasman in the spring before transferring his care to Weir, for whom he was immediately second in the Gr. 3 Eclipse Stakes over 1800 metres. That autumn, the five-year-old was third second-up in a Flemington Group Three over 1400 metres, but Group Three and Listed fourths over staying trips were his best efforts before a Group Three second in Brisbane in the Premier’s Cup.
As a six-year-old, now with Walters, he again basically campaigned over 2000 metres-plus, collecting a string of placings in Listed races and country Cups. His best effort was a second in the Gr. 3 Lord Reims Stakes in Adelaide.
Looking at his race record, especially in Australia, it does seem that Puccini’s connections were bamboozled into thinking that he was a horse who needed 2000 metres or further because of his New Zealand Derby victory. It has often been proved that the necessary attribute for winning Ellerslie Derbies is class and not usually stamina. Puccini clearly did stick on fairly well, but his form as an older horse clearly says his best trips were a mile or a little more.
Puccini was elected champion New Zealand three-year-old and topped the Free Handicap for 1600 metres or more, above top fillies Rising Romance, Lucia Valentina and Kirramosa. His World Thoroughbred Rating for 2014 of 115 is testimony to his class and ability, and breeders should not be misled by the late tailing off of his race career. He was a class act.
I have written a lot of late on his sire Encosta de Lago, whose sire sons have been racking up success after success, while the ‘old fella’ has just notched his second successive clean sweep of the Australian broodmare sire tables.
His 113 stakes winners (25 Group One) include the iron geldings Chautauqua (joint world champion sprinter), champion three-year-old Racing to Win, Sacred Kingdom (Hong Kong Horse of the Year and four-time champion sprinter) and Sirmione, all of whom raced on and on.
As a broodmare sire he has 70 stakes winners (nine Group One) including the Australian Oaks victress Sofia Rosa, Japonisme, Divine Prophet (Caulfield Guineas), Invader (ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes) and Impending (Stradbroke Handicap).
Encosta de Lago has been champion sire twice and was also second on four occasions. As a broodmare sire he was champion sire in 2015-2016 and is now champion again with more than A$18 million, plus another NZ$1 million here, and he heads the lists by races won and individual winners in both seasons. Truly a great sire and destined to be a major sire of sires.
The dam sire Paris Opera (Marscay) was not one of Okawa’s great successes, but his eight stakes winners included the well-travelled toughie Interval (AJC St. Leger, Avondale Guineas).
The next two sires along the bottom line are Sir Godfrey (Riverman) and Resurgent.
This is the 18 family from Manto via Flora McIvor that has been in Australia almost two centuries and in New Zealand three-quarters of that time.
The dam of Puccini is the good racemare Miss Opera, whose six sprint wins include the Listed Castletown Stakes and also placed in the Gr. 3 Lowland Stakes. Her seven foals to race are all winners, including two stakes winners and two stakes placegetters.
Heading that list is Sir Slick, champion New Zealand middle-distance horse, whose 22 wins include six Group Ones – the Zabeel Classic, New Zealand Stakes, Waikato International Stakes, Otaki-Maori WFA and two Thorndon Miles. He was truly an iron horse.
His brother Mr. Jinky was second in the Gr. 2 Avondale Guineas, and his half-sister the stakes-placed Shortblackmini is dam of stakes winners Amarula (Gr. 2 Hawke’s Bay Guineas) and Little Wonder (Gr. 3 Darley Plate).
This is a remarkable line, and the many stakes winners from sixth dam Victoire include Solvit (Cox Plate), Heat of the Moment (champion Australasian three-year-old filly), Vite Cheval (champion New Zealand two-year-old, Australasian older horse), Timon (Wellington Cup), Romantic Son, Lord Cheval, Congrats, Nat the Brat, Pump Up The Volume, Let Her Rip and French Gypsy.
So what mares will suit the new sire, who looks to be top value? Mares with Volksraad, Vice Regal, Rip Van Winkle, Savabeel, Racing Is Fun, Istidaad and Centaine have already gelled with the family. Anything that carries the Northern Dancer nicks with Turn-to (Hail To Reason and Sir Ivor) or Star Kingdom, also male lines of Mr. Prospector will suit. His sire Fairy King’s brother Sadler’s Wells will help, especially if through a daughter, as will three-quarter brother Nureyev, while Danehill will add extra sex balance to the Northern Dancer lines.
Value, soundness and durability plus a dose of class – what more would a breeder wish for?