There is quite an air of excitement and expectation surrounding the Invincible Spirit fever that has spread through the first-season sires’ roster in Australia for the 2017 breeding season, and Victorian studmaster Greg Willis is, most appropriately, right in the mix.
Willis eight days ago welcomed to his family-run Chatswood Stud, Seymour, the British-bred sprinter Ajaya who is shuttling by arrangement with the Rathbarry Stud in Ireland.
Ajaya has been assigned the same box in Chatswood Stud’s complex of six in the stallions’ complex as the one Invincible Spirit himself occupied for four consecutive seasons there from the 2003 spring.
“It is just a nostalgic thing but wouldn’t it be great if Ajaya follows suit … in fact, I couldn’t be more confident he will make it as a sire in Australia,” Willis said.
“He is the right type for this country because he loved fast tracks, he has Redoute’s Choice in his female family and he has served quality mares in the northern hemisphere where some astute breeders have noted his uncanny resemblance to his sire.”
Willis has cherished memories tied with ongoing nightmares of his first-hand experience with Invincible Spirit, who today enjoys a high reputation among all European stallions with his service fee at the Irish National Stud at €120,000 ($179,000) which makes him the third dearest stallion in the region behind the mighty Galileo (fee private but read €300,000-plus) and Dubawi at €250,000.
By the Danzig horse Green Desert from a French Oaks winning daughter of the crack miler Kris, Invincible Spirit entered the Irish National Stud in 2003 at a fee of €10,000 after a four-season career on the track which ended on a high note when he landed the 2002 Group I Haydock Sprint, a race his sire had won in 1986.
Invincible Spirit was just another shuttle stallion in the early 2000s, an attractive stallion with a fine pedigree and standing at a modest fee — $13,200 in his debut season of 2003, with a drop to $11,000 for the next three seasons to 2006 which covered the terms of his contract period to shuttle.
His status at Chatswood Stud was reflected by his average mare bookings, beginning with 48 covers in 2003, improving a little to 73 in 2004 and falling back to 63 in 2005.
But 2006 saw the first Irish-conceived Invincible Spirit offspring hit the tracks in Europe and they ran so well — eventually roping in first-season sire honours — that Chatswood was flooded with inquiries for the 2006 spring season here, with the result that he covered 153 mares.
The Irish National Stud realised at this time that Invincible Spirit was now too valuable to shuttle, so his contract with Chatswood Stud was not renewed — a situation Willis accepted in recognising the increased insurance financial burden now attached to the rising young stallion.
Willis realised a goldmine has slipped through his hands with Invincible Spirit’s northern hemisphere first-season title for 2006 and with that first foal crop including Lawman, who confirmed the arrival of a top-class stallion when he won the 2007 Group I Prix du Jockey Club, France’s most valuable race for three-year-olds.
And nightmares of that goldmine lost have recurred with Willis on a regular basis as Invincible Spirit continued to grow his European reputation with the likes of multiple Group I milers Kingman and Charm Spirit, the sprinters Fleeting Spirit, Signs of Blessing and Profitable and Group I juveniles National Defense and Vale of York. That’s not forgetting the excellent sprinter-miler Moonlight Cloud. This French-trained mare came the closest to bringing undone the unbeaten record in 25 starts by Black Caviar — with centimetres splitting the two at the end of the 2012 Group I Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot.
Moonlight Cloud is Invincible Spirit’s best female runner with six Group Is among 12 career wins — five recorded after her heart-stopper with Black Caviar.
The Invincible Spirit story at Chatswood can be told in two members from his first and last foal crop — I Am Invincible in the former and the triple Group I winning mare Yosei in the latter.
I Am Invincible, from the Canny Lad mare Cannarelle, is one of the hottest stallions in Australia today. Having covered for an $11,000 fee at the Yarraman Park for his first four seasons, he has arrived In the silk department of stallions with a fee hike to $110,000 for 2017.
The Redoute’s Choice horse Snitzel was an across-the-board champion sire for 2016-17 — but for one significant category: Snitzel’s 49.1 per cent winner-to-runner ratio looked rather limp against I Am Invincible’s awesome 64.4 per cent strike with 145 individual winners from 225 starters.
It has been on the back of Invincible Spirit’s ultra-consistent European record and of I Am Invincible’s powerful innings here as an upgrading source that four first-season European stakeswinning sons of the former are in the 2017 stallion shuttle squad.
French juvenile Group I winner Shalaa has joined Snitzel on the Arrowfield Stud roster, with his fee set at $33,000. Shalaa is an intensely-bred horse with Danehill’s sire Danzig featuring as his paternal and maternal grandsire and with the brothers Kris and Diesis — high class sons of Sharpen Up — also appearing in the third generation. There is a $19,800 fee attached to the services of Cable Bay who is another Victorian newcomer by Invincible Spirit from Rose de France whose parents Diktat and Cherokee Rose are with Invincible Spirit on the Haydock Sprint roll of honour.
Darley Stud has brought to its NSW Hunter Valley property the French Group I winner Territories, with his fee set at $22,000. Territories is by Invincible Spirit from Taranto, a mare by Street Cry’s sire Machiavellian and whose third dam is Street Cry’s mother Helen Street.
As a Group II Gimcrack Stakes winner, Chatswood Stud’s Ajaya forwards his claims as a quality sprinter and there is no hiding the value of his $13,200 fee. He won the Gimcrack beating Ribchester, subsequently a triple Group I miler who is currently fifth on the official world’s best racehorses ratings for 2017.
Ajaya’s mother Nessina, by the former shuttler Hennessy (by Storm Cat), did not race but her mother Didina, by Blushing Groom’s outstanding classic winning son Nahswan, left four stakeswinners, including the excellent miler Cityscape who has a runaway win in the Group I Dubai Duty Free on his splendid record.
Didina’s mother is Didicoy, a half-sister by Danzig to the brilliant 1997 French juvenile Xaar and whose grand-dam Best In Show is the fourth dam of Redoute’s Choice.