The Grey Panel


Tepin provides a nod to Stravinsky

Royal Ascot kicked off splendidly this year, notwithstanding the dreadful weather. The Queen Anne Stakes, a Group One older horses’ mile race, is a wonderful way to start a race-meeting and, while her victory wasn’t quite in the class, BC Mile heroine put herself into the annals by showing herself to be a true champion on both sides of the Atlantic. The race was less good for Aidan O’Brien, who often saddles the Queen Anne winner but whose stable currently seems to lack a top-class older mile. Even so, Tepin’s victory must have provided him with some satisfaction as he trained both her sire () and her maternal grandsire (), writes John Berry.

Aidan O’Brien was still in the early stages of his tenure at Ballydoyle when the US-bred Stravinsky, whom the Coolmore team had bought at Keeneland for $625,000, joined the stable as a yearling in the autumn of 1997. Over the next two years the attractive bay colt did plenty to help the young trainer cement his position in his new quarters.

O’Brien may still have been relatively unseasoned as a trainer of high-class Flat horses in 1998, but he had enough confidence in both himself and Stravinsky to send the colt over to England for his debut that summer. That was understandable as he had sent over to England earlier in the year to take the 2,000 Guineas; while the previous summer had seen him send out the first of his eight (so far) Coventry Stakes winners courtesy of Harbour Master. He had clearly already handled enough good horses to know a good one when he saw one (not least because he had already saddled the winner of Ireland’s top juvenile race, the National Stakes at the Curragh, twice, courtesy of in 1996 and King Of Kings 1997) and he obviously rated Stravinsky very highly. Not only was the colt dispatched across the Irish Sea for a debut in the ever-competitive Convivial Maiden Stakes over six furlongs at York’s Ebor Meeting, but he went off the odds-on favourite in it. Stravinsky did not let his supporters down, winning easily under Mick Kinane, who that year had succeeded Christy Roche as the Ballydoyle stable jockey.

Stravinsky’s other two runs at two were both very good, even if he was beaten both times. In the Group One Prix de la Salamandre over 1400m at Longchamp he finished second to (albeit he was demoted to sixth for having caused interference). In the Group One Dewhurst Stakes over seven furlongs at Newmarket, sharing favouritism with the Henry Cecil-trained , he finished third to and , beaten two lengths and a neck.

Notwithstanding that the best horse in his immediate family (, a half-brother to Stravinsky’s US Grade One-winning dam ) had been a top-class sprinter, there was reason enough to hope that it might be worthwhile training Stravinsky in the spring of 1999 for the Classic races over a mile. Fire The Groom (who had started out racing in Europe trained by Luca Cumani before joining Willie Shoemaker’s stable in America, from which she won the Grade One Beverly D Stakes over 9.5 furlongs as a four-year-old in 1991) had shown top-class form beyond a mile, and it made sense to treat Stravinsky, despite his free-going style of racing, as a potential Guineas horse rather than merely saving him for the top sprints which would come along later in the season. At the time this was a particularly important point because neither of the big sprints at Royal Ascot carried Group One status, meaning that there was no Group One sprint in Europe until July (when the July Cup was run at Newmarket).

Come the spring of 1999, therefore, Stravinsky was seemingly being set for the 2,000 Guineas. However, after he had been beaten narrowly first up at the Curragh at the end of March when he travelled easily through the race but found little in the seventh and final furlong of the Loughbrown Race, plans to race him at a mile were scrapped. Consequently, he did not run again until Royal Ascot in June when he again failed to finish the race off well, weakening at the end of the seven-furlong Jersey Stakes, in which he finished fourth to Lots Of Magic. He duly dropped back to six furlongs for his third run of the year, heading to Newmarket for the July Cup. The shorter distance brought out the best in him as he won very easily.

Stravinsky’s July Cup victory was outstanding. He had 16 opponents, but none of them could get near him. His four-length winning margin understates his superiority over a field of top-class sprinters which included the recent Royal Ascot winners and Mitcham, as well as the likes of , (who retired to stud at the end of that year and who was then one of the stars of Stravinsky’s first book of mares) and , as well as Stravinsky’s lesser-fancied stablemates and Lavery. Had Mick Kinane ridden him harder, he would have won by considerably farther – but even under tender handling he still broke the track record, clocking 1:09.51 for the undulating but largely uphill run.

Stravinsky’s second Group One weight-for-age victory, in the Nunthorpe Stakes over five furlongs at York the following month, was equally good. He didn’t win by as far (passing the post one and a half lengths ahead of runner-up Sainte Marine) but he never looked in any danger of defeat and his even-money SP looked a safe bet throughout the race.

While it was a true pleasure for lovers of top-class horses to watch Stravinsky’s two big sprinting wins, the sadness was that that was that. He never ran in Europe again as connections opted to keep him fresh for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in the autumn - and when that race finally came along he either didn’t handle the dirt or had had enough for the season (or both). He finished sixth of 14 behind at Gulfstream Park, and then headed off to Ashford Stud in Kentucky, the winner of merely three races but proven as an outstanding sprinter.

Since then, Stravinsky has proved a useful stallion around the world, without being anything like as dominant at stud as he was on the racecourse. And that is despite having started his stud career with every advantage. At the time of Stravinsky’s retirement, Coolmore were actively promoting sons of his sire . Time has told, of course, that Nureyev’s close relative has proved a much more influential sire of sires (particularly for Coolmore, thanks to the 2001 Derby winner and others). Sadler’s Wells, though, took his time in establishing himself as a reliable sire of sires, and the 20th century ended with Nureyev at least as much in focus. Stravinsky took centre stage in this spotlight.

Coolmore’s brochure for the year 2000 had a striking front cover, a montage of two first-season sires, each in their racing days ridden by Mick Kinane in Michael Tabor’s colours: Stravinsky and his year-younger stablemate , Europe’s dominant juvenile of 1999 who took up stud duties at the age of three after fracturing a cannon bone the previous autumn. The caption read, “Fasliyev and Stravinsky, both by Nureyev, both 1999 Gr. 1 winners over 6 furlongs and both champions, sprint into the first Coolmore ranks of the 21st century.”

In addition to this pair (who stood on either side of the Atlantic, Stravinsky in the USA and Fasliyev in Ireland) Coolmore’s international rosters also included the top-class Nureyev horses in Ireland and in the States. Fasliyev was promoted thus: “Undefeated champion 2-y-o elect by sire of sires Nureyev”. As it has turned out, neither of the two new recruits was able to consolidate Nureyev’s patriarchal status; and nowadays, following Peintre Celebre’s retirement, Coolmore’s rosters contain no stallion who descends along the top line from Nureyev. That, though, should not detract from the fact that Stravinsky has made a notable contribution to high-class racing.

Stravinsky spent six years on the Ashford Stud roster, starting out in 2000 at $35,000 and ending in 2005 at $25,000. Since then he has been in Japan (initially at Shizunai Stallion Station and more recently under the auspices of the Japan Bloodhorse Breeders’ Association). He also spent several years shuttling to Cambridge Stud in New Zealand. Remarkably, he produced three Group One winners in his first American crop (born in 2001) but none in any of his subsequent northern hemisphere crops. The common denominator between those three US-bred English Group One winners was that they were all sprinters, but the three comprised one Group One-winning juvenile (, winner in England of the Middle Park Stakes in 2003) and two horses ( and ) who each recorded their finest hour in 2007 at the age of six.

Stravinsky’s NZ-conceived crops contained a larger number of high achievers. He produced six individual Group One winners there, ranging from the champion juvenile through the excellent (who completed the VRC Oaks / AJC Oaks double in 2005/’06) to some doughty mature gallopers such as and .

As is often the case with outstanding racehorses who retire to stud hugely popular (consequently covering many high-class mares and thus siring many well-bred fillies) but who enjoy only mixed results, Stravinsky has made a greater mark as a sire of broodmares than of racehorses (or stallions). His daughters collectively have produced the winners of 24 Group/Grade One winners, with his credits in this respect including not only Tepin but also such outstanding gallopers as in the northern hemisphere, and , and down under.

Tepin’s Royal Ascot victory was a special occasion, and it has provided a nice reminder of the way in which Stravinsky lit up the sprinting scene 17 years ago.

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