The Grey Panel


Phardante far from forgotten

Punchestown’s spring National Hunt Festival, Ireland’s principal jumps meeting, received little publicity in the wider world thanks to coinciding with various big Flat fixtures, including the Guineas Meeting at Newmarket and Kentucky Derby/Oaks weekend at Churchill Downs. However, its clash with the Guineas Meeting turned out to be rather appropriate because one of the stallions to make the biggest mark at Punchestown (, maternal grandsire of three Grade One winners at the Festival) will forever be best remembered for his triumphs in the Jockey Club Stakes at Newmarket’s Guineas Meeting in both 1986 and 1987. In particular, the first of those two victories was especially memorable, with Phardante inflicting a notable defeat on the previous year’s Derby winner , writes John Berry.

For a decade from the late 1970s, Phardante’s trainer Guy Harwood handled a succession of terrific horses including Ela-Mana-Mou, To-Agori-Mou, Lear Fan, Dancing Brave, Assatis, Warning, Sadeem, Ile De Chypre, Cacoethes and Digression. Scouring the world’s yearling sales, often alongside James Delahooke, he unearthed a stream of big, strong colts who developed into terrific gallopers. Many of these came from America, but Phardante was an exception, being bought as a yearling in France for 340,000 francs (roughly £28,100). As the price suggests, Phardante was not a blue-blood, but he conformed to the stable’s type by being a handsome, imposing colt; and it did not take him long to live up to his looks, because he won the first four of his five starts as a two-year-old in 1984. These victories (over six furlongs at Ascot and over seven furlongs at Kempton, Salisbury and Lingfield) established him as being well above average, even if his limitations were seemingly exposed on his final start of the year when he tackled Pattern company for the first time, finishing only seventh of the eight runners in the Royal Lodge Stakes over a mile at Ascot, won by .

Phardante and Reach faced each other again in the following year’s Derby, but neither was good enough to get near the winner Slip Anchor. Admittedly, nothing else was good enough to get near Slip Anchor that day either, as Lord Howard de Walden’s son of Shirley Heights strolled home by seven lengths, having made all the running. Subsequent Irish Derby winner was Slip Anchor’s closest pursuer, with Reach sixth and Phardante eighth, the pair split by the subsequent six-time US Grade One winner . The merit of Phardante’s performance is further highlighted by the fact that he had both (who landed a shock win the following month in Ascot’s Group One King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, beating and ) and the 2,000 Guineas winner behind him. Phardante, whose form that season admittedly lacked the consistency which he had shown as a juvenile, was clearly progressing nicely. He had chased home Derby fifth on his resumption, and later in the season he put up a great performance to finish second in the St Leger, beaten only three quarters of a length by Oh So Sharp (with Lanfranco a neck back in third) as that great filly completed the Fillies’ Triple Crown.

Phardante’s four-year-old season was clearly going to be one to look forward to – but, even saying that, few could have predicted just how well it would go in the spring of 1985. Slip Anchor was naturally the horse most pundits were looking forward to seeing that year – so it came as a major shock when Slip Anchor was beaten a neck by Phardante (who was typically well ridden by Harwood's regular jockey Greville Starkey) in the Group Two Jockey Club Stakes over a mile and a half at Newmarket’s Guineas Meeting on his resumption. This proved to be Slip Anchor’s first and last race of the season, but Phardante was kept busy. He ran another eight times that year and, even if he could not repeat the achievement of beating a horse of the calibre of Slip Anchor (who, admittedly, must surely have run way below his best in the Jockey Club Stakes), he put up several more very good runs.

Hard though it is to believe nowadays (bearing in mind that racing in Belgium has more or less disappeared off the map), two of Phardante’s races that year where in Belgium, trips which yielded victory in the Grand Prix de Bruxelles over 2200m at Groenendael and a close third to and in the Grand Prix Prince Rose at Ostend. He also ran in Germany, where he finished fifth to the German champion in the country’s premier weight-for-age race, the Grosser Preis von Baden over 2400m; but arguably his most distinguished defeat came at Newmarket, where he failed by only short head behind in the autumn over two miles in the Jockey Club Cup.

Phardante ran another seven times as a five-year-old in 1997, when he posted several more excellent performances, most notably at Newmarket, where he won the Jockey Club Stakes on the Rowley Mile for a second time and finished second to in the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes on the July Course. The worth of the latter performance was emphasized three weeks later when Celestial Storm split two true champions, and , in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot.

At the end of the year Phardante was recruited as a National Hunt sire by Liam Cashman, who retired him to Rathbarry Stud in Ireland at a fee of 1,000 Irish pounds.

It might seem strange that a horse as good and tough as Phardante should go to stud at such a low fee, but, while Belgian racing has changed a lot since the mid 1980s, the stallion market has remained the same. In other words, then as now, stallions who do not ‘tick all the boxes’ for ‘commercial breeders’ were and are ignored; and stayers who have raced a lot tend not to tick those boxes. Furthermore, Phardante did not possess a particularly stunning pedigree.

Phardante’s sire was, like his sire , a small horse who showed top-class form around a mile when trained in France. He won three Group One races: the Prix de la Foret over 1400m at weight-for-age as a two-year-old, and the Prix Lupin over 2100m and the Prix du Moulin du Longchamp over 1600m at three. However, while Lyphard (a Group One winner of the Prix de la Foret over 1400m and of the Prix Jacques le Marois over 1600m) took off as a stallion, starting off in France before moving to America where he sired many stars including the aforementioned , Pharly did not.

Pharly’s stud career started in France where he came up with (a Group One winner of the Grand Prix de Paris in the days when that race was still run over 3000m) and ended in England, where he continued to consolidate his reputation as a sire of stayers, most notably courtesy of the numerous victories of his terrific son , winner of five consecutive Jockey Club Cups (1991 to 1995 inclusive) as well as two Goodwood Cups and one Doncaster Cup. By a sire of stayers from a family largely of middle-of-the-road stayers and jumpers, Phardante was clearly (and sadly) never going to be of any interest to the majority of Flat breeders, even if there was one top-class French two-year-old filly (, Group One winner of the Criterium des Pouliches at Longchamp in 1975) in his immediate family.

Naturally, some of Phardante’s sons contested staying races on the Flat and he had some winners in that sphere, but more or less all of his offspring were bred for National Hunt racing. He came up with some very good jumpers, including Grade One-winning steeplechasers and , dual Grade One-winning hurdler and Grade Two-winning steeplechaser . And now his daughters are breeding some very good jumpers indeed.

At the Punchestown Festival alone, Phardante was maternal grandsire of three Grade One winners: and his half-brother , and . Jezki had previously won the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse last December, while two other grandsons of Phardante ( and ) have also won Grade One National Hunt races this season. In previous seasons, Grade One-winning grandsons of Phardante have included , , , and .

It might be significant that the majority of the Grade One winners produced by Pharly mares are by Sadlers’s Wells stallions; but, then again, that might just be a reminder that many of the best National Hunt sires in recent times are/were sons of .

Phardante proved to be merely one of many very good staying Flat horses in recent decades to have been completely ignored by the Flat breeding community, so it is nice to see his descendants making their mark in big races, even if solely over jumps. He would almost certainly have sired some good stayers on the Flat if given the chance to do so; but, then again, we shall, sadly, never know.

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