Tavistock & Zabeel in spotlight

29 May 2014

By John Costello, courtesy of The Informant

There were celebrations at Cambridge Stud last weekend after the young and the old - a first-season sire and a lately retired multiple champion - achieved black-type quinellas on either side of the Tasman.

At Ellerslie it was Tavistock, representing the up-and-coming brigade on the Cambridge stallion roster, who claimed first and second in the Listed Great Northern Foal Stakes, a feature race for two-year-olds that has been on the Auckland Racing Club's calendar since 1886.

Despite still racing rather greenly, Avisto (Tavistock-Miraculous Miss, by Exceed and Excel) was a decisive winner and Midnitemagicman (Tavistock-Keep Alight, by Keeper) came on well for second.

Over in Brisbane, where the Doomben meeting was the major Australian interest for New Zealand racing fans on Saturday, freakish old Zabeel, his retirement after a stupendous stud career announced earlier this year, sired the quinella in the Gr. 3 Channel Seven Premier's Cup, 2200 metres. His five-year-old son Zephyron (ex Diamond Like, by Danehill) followed up a previous-start win in the Lord Mayor's Cup at Rosehill, down in Sydney, by defeating another of Zabeel's good, hard-wearing sons, the eight-year-old Precedence, by three-quarters of a length.

What needs to be said about Zabeel that hasn't been said a dozen times before? The dominant Australasian sire of the past two decades, as 15 Dewar Awards testify, he has also become an outstanding sire of broodmares. In fact, while his sons claimed the staying limelight at Doomben last Saturday, the two-year-old star of the day as winner of the Gr. 2 BRC Sires' Produce Stakes was Time For War, by Snitzel from a Zabeel mare, Lady Zabella.

Zabeel (by Sir Tristram-Lady Giselle, if you needed to be reminded) is enjoying his retirement paddock at Cambridge Stud at rising 28 years of age. Most of his progeny now racing were sired after he turned 20 (though not the 10-win veteran Precedence, whose dam, US-bred Kowtow, conceived when Zabeel was a spritely lad of 19). Yet the vitality of Zabeel's progeny is undiminished and continues to amaze.

The Premier's Cup, incidentally, was a heartening reminder of the strength of the Kiwi-bred when Australian races extend beyond the sprint distances. European raiders and imports have indeed changed the picture at Melbourne Cup level, but the New Zealand flag flies as strongly as ever across Australia's wider distance-racing spectrum.

There were two European imports in the Premier's Cup field, German-bred Weldpark and British-bred Danchai. But they finished down the track while New Zealand-breds filled the first four placings, the Zabeel pair followed closest by Pretty Pins (Pins-Luna Tudor, by Military Plume) and Zennista (Zenno Rob Roy-Zarnitsa, by Maroof).

In fairness, eight of the 14-horse field were bred in New Zealand. But their numerical dominance was reflected in the result ? they filled the first seven placings! Behind Zennista were Perfect Start (Perfectly Ready), Military Move (Volksraad) and Lauren Tate (Pins).

This column referred to Zephyron after his win in the Sydney Lord Mayor's Cup two weeks ago.

Saturday's Doomben win confirmed that, while Zephyron may never recoup the whole of his $2 million Karaka purchase price, he is maturing at five years of age into a decent stayer with bigger prizes (the Brisbane Cup will be next) very possibly within his compass.

Michael Hawkes, who with his brother Wayne and father Michael makes up the formidable training team Hawkes Racing, was quoted afterwards as saying: “Like most Zabeels he is getting better with age. Onwards and upwards!”

The Hawkes team scored an interstate double on the day, Makybe Diva's three-quarter-sister La Amistad (by Redoute's Choice) stunning in the ease with which she took out the Listed McKell Cup at Randwick. Another up-and-coming stayer for the Hawkes arsenal!

Meanwhile, back in New Zealand, Tavistock's quinella in the Great Northern Foal Stakes ? and his other two two-year-old winners from his first crop ? might have been somewhat unexpected for pedigree buffs.

Tavistock was a good looking son of Montjeu, that champion stayer by Sadler's Wells and a formidable influence for stamina at stud both on his shuttle visits to New Zealand's Windsor Park Stud and at home in the Northern Hemisphere. There are plenty of stamina influences in Tavistock's maternal family, too, through his damsire Quest For Fame (by Rainbow Quest, by Blushing Groom) and with Hyperion coming down through the bottom line.

On the racetrack, however, Tavistock was that uncommon horse - a Montjeu sprinter. Probably best at 1400 metres, and on good footing, he was a very good sprinter, too.

Bred by Lady Tavistock's Bloomsbury Stud and raced by a syndicate headed by Wellingtonian Tommy Heptinstall, the handsome dark bay colt entered the stable of Andrew Campbell and raced 15 times for five wins and five placings.

His connections were optimistic enough about him to take him to Melbourne as a spring three-year-old. He ran second at Caulfield in the Listed Vain Stakes on his Australian debut, and won a three-year-old 1400 metres at Flemington before being unplaced in his main mission, the Caulfield Guineas.

The following season Tavistock's first target was the Hawke's Bay spring carnival. He won the Mudgway Partsworld Stakes on the opening day, beating champion sprinter Mufhasa carrying just half a kilogram less, and didn't have much luck in the two longer Group Ones at the carnival.

In mid-summer he ran second to Wall Street in the Gr. 1 Thorndon Mile at Trentham and saved his best performance for his last start, winning the Gr. 1 Waikato Draught Sprint (1400m) from Wealth Princess and Mufhasa.

Given the turn of foot he himself possessed, it is less surprising that the son of Montjeu should be coming up with two-year-old winners. From 11 first-crop starters so far, Tavistock has had three individual winners.

Longchamp got him on the board when winning at Otaki on debut back in November. Trained like his sire by Andrew Campbell, Longchamp was subsequently fifth in the Karaka Million. Amber Rayne was Tavistock's next two-year-old winner, twice placed in an earlier preparation and then winning at Te Aroha last time out, on March 14.

Whatever his progeny achieve as two-year-olds, Tavistock's pedigree and physical type suggest they will better at three years and older. Former racing and breeding broadcaster Adrian Clark, who manages the large and boisterous Challenge Racehorse Syndication which owns Avisto, was quick to point this out rather jubilantly after the Great Northern Foal Stakes.

It was appropriate that the Ellerslie juvenile feature was sponsored by Graeme Thomson Jewellers. Principal Graeme Thomson is a long-time friend of Henrietta, Lady Tavistock, now the Dowager Duchess of Bedford, who bred Tavistock and was on course to see the horse named after her family name triumph with his stakes quinella as a sire.

Thomson and the Duchess race a half-sister to Tavistock named Steal The Show in partnership. A three-year-old filly by High Chaparral, she won her second of only two outings in Victoria and is now back in work with, her owners hope, the aim of further embellishing her illustrious family's fine record.