Farewell Flying Spur, and thank you for everything

Arrowfield’s beloved Champion sire and Golden Slipper winner Flying Spur died peacefully early on Wednesday morning at the Stud which had been his home for most of his 25-year lifespan.

Arrowfield Chairman John Messara said, “I have memories of many special moments with Spur, both as a  racehorse and a stallion. He was a great contributor to Arrowfield in the early years and his wonderful influence will continue to be felt, especially through his daughters.”

Arrowfield’s broodmare band includes 13 Flying Spur mares and six of his best sons and daughters appear on the Stud’s list of Group 1 graduates: Alverta, Forensics, Inspiration, Juanmo, Mentality & San Luis.  

A second-crop son of Danehill, from the royally-bred mare Rolls (a Mr. Prospector grand-daughter of the influential matron Fanfreluche), Flying Spur was bred and born at Arrowfield on 4 November 1992. 

He was sent to the 1994 Inglis Easter Yearling Sale where he was bought for $160,000 by trainer Lee Freedman for a group of owners headed by Arrowfield, whose Black & Yellow Diamonds silks he carried during his 20-start racing career.

Always an imposing, quality colt, Flying Spur won on debut in November 1994, and at his third start in February 1995 he became Danehill’s 9th Australian stakeswinner in the Blue Diamond Prelude G3.

An exuberant Glen Boss drives Flying Spur to victory in the 1995 Golden Slipper at Rosehill. (PHOTO: Sportpix)

A month later he scored a dramatic victory in the Golden Slipper G1, defeating Octagonal and Millrich (later the dam of current sprinting star Redzel). 

Watch Flying Spur’s 1995 Golden Slipper G1 victory.

His Slipper jockey Glen Boss, called up as a late replacement for Jim Cassidy, said, “Flying Spur was the horse that really put me on the map. I owe a lot in my career to him and it is sad to hear of his passing.”

The colt returned the following season to win the Peter Pan S. G2, the Australian Guineas G1 and, at his final start, the All Aged S. G1. In all, he won six times, won or placed in all seven of the Group 1 races he contested and retired to stud in 1996 with prizemoney of just over $2 million. 

Flying Spur’s first crop of 99 foals produced four 2YO stakeswinners, beginning with Ponton Flyer, successful in the Blue Diamond Preview G3 on 5 February 2000. French Braids, Blab and She’s Purring soon followed, helping their sire to claim the 1999/2000 title of Champion First Season Sire.

Eight months later, he notched up his first Group 1 winner, All Time High in the Thousand Guineas G1, while in New Zealand Flying Babe compiled a series of stakes wins that earned her Champion 2YO honours. 

Flying Spur’s first six stakeswinners were all fillies, but second-crop colt San Luis opened the boys’ account with wins across the Tasman, including the Manawatu Sires’ Produce S. G1. Flying Spur’s final tally of stakeswinners is almost evenly split between the sexes, 50 fillies and 49 colts & geldings. 

It was during this early period of his stud career that Flying Spur stood the 1997, 1998 and 1999 seasons at the Irish National Stud where he sired 72 winners, among them the Group winners Steenberg, Osterhase, Mister Links & Volata  (also a Group 1-placed stakeswinner in Hong Kong, where he raced as Firebolt).

Back in Australia, he made an early impact on the General Sires’ Premiership, finishing 7th in 2000/01 with only two crops racing and $3.4 million in progeny earnings. Only one other second season sire has achieved a higher top 10 position since 2000 and that was Flying Spur’s barnmate Redoute’s Choice (3rd in 2004/05). 

Flying Spur returned to the top 10 in 2003/04 and remained there for the next four years, including his spectacular Championship season of 2006/07 when he was represented by 17 winners of 24 stakes races and $10.4 million. A highlight of that year was a majestic sequence of Group 1 winners in the Autumn: Sleek Chassis (Blue Diamond), Mentality (Randwick Guineas), Magnus (The Galaxy) and Champion 2YO Forensics (Golden Slipper).

Forensics emulates her sire with victory in the 2007 Golden Slipper G1, beating Zizou & Maurice. (PHOTO: Sportpix)

He continued as a top 20 sire for a further four seasons with the last three of his 13 Group 1 winners spread out over seven years: Alverta (2010 Coolmore Classic and subsequently a brilliant 3rd in the Newmarket July Cup G1), Champion NZ Sprinter Sacred Star (2015 Telegraph Handicap & Waikato Sprint) and finally, last October’s upset Caulfield Cup winner Boom Time.  

Flying Spur recorded his 99th stakeswinner, Traveston Girl, in November 2015, three years after his retirement from stud duties. With only 38 Australian runners this season it seems that his tally of black type winners will conclude like Bradman’s batting average, just short of a century. In all, he sired 1023 winners of 3590 races in 22 countries, and his progeny earnings exceeded $135 million – almost $90,000 per runner. 

Around 1000 yearlings were sold from Flying Spur’s 17 Australian crops, among them just one $1 million yearling, although three-time Group 1 winner Forensics came close, when Ingham Bloodstock bought her for $900,000 from Arrowfield at the 2006 Inglis Easter Sale.

Flying Spur turned heads at every stage of his career, including at his final public parade, in 2012. (PHOTO: Bronwen Healy)

Flying Spur’s remarkable effectiveness as a broodmare sire is evident in 76 stakeswinners to date, featuring Group 1 winners Preferment, Delago Deluxe, Sebring, Speak Fondly, Headway, Grand Journey and Shillelagh. He has been a top 10 fixture on the Australian Broodmare Sires’ Premiership for the past nine seasons and is currently fourth, with $104 million and 10 stakeswinners headed by Pierata.

Flying Spur’s best sire sons Magnus and Casino Prince have each left 15 stakeswinners and his grandson, four-time Group 1 winner All Too Hard is second on the current Second Season Sires’ table.

Flying Spur, whose DNA is entwined with the history of the Stud he did so much to build, will be buried at Arrowfield.

Royal Descent on Caulfield Cup quest

After Royal Descent’s heroic second in last Sunday’s VRC Turnbull Stakes 2000m G1, owner-breeder Gerry Harvey and his Racing Manager Claire Bird had a robust discussion about the next major target for the daughter of Redoute’s Choice.

Watch Royal Descent’s run for 2nd in the Turnbull S. G1.

Claire’s preference was for the VRC Myer Classic G1, run over the metric mile at which Royal Descent has compiled six of her eight Group 1 placings, all at Randwick: three seconds in the George Main Stakes, a second & a third in the Doncaster and a second, by a nose, to He’s Your Man in the 2014 Epsom Handicap.

However, Gerry has been thinking for some time about giving Royal Descent a second crack at the Caulfield Cup, two years after she ran fifth in the race, only 1.9 lengths from Fawkner, and three years after her spectacular 10-length victory in the ATC Australian Oaks G1. These have been her only two starts at 2400 metres.

Gerry, who enjoys working with people able to argue with him, says, “I know I’m pushing the odds, but we still don’t really know what her best distance is, and she deserves another chance at 2400 metres. It’s possible she may be much better at that distance than the mile.”

Gerry maintains he doesn’t win many arguments with his team, but this time “they let me have a win.” Royal Descent was paid up for the Caulfield Cup on Tuesday with 53.5 kg. Gerry then called Hall of Fame jockey Glen Boss who rode the mare for only the second time on Sunday.

“I told Glen not to take the ride if he had a better option, but he said he’s very keen to ride her, has learned a lot about her and wants to ride her a bit differently next time.”

While Royal Descent’s preferred distance remains unsettled, there is no doubt about her class or her competitive will. The evidence is in her record: five wins, 15 placings and $2.7 million from 29 starts (16 at Group 1 level) with only three finishes outside the first five.

On the one hand, her Group 1 runner-up record is heart-breaking: she has been denied six Group 1 victories and an additional $2.1 million prizemoney by a total of around 2.5 lengths.

On the other hand, there is so much to celebrate about a mare that has competed with undaunted resolve in the best company over four seasons and has beaten outstanding horses like Adelaide, Criterion, Dear Demi, Dissident, Fawkner, Hallowed Crown, Happy Trails, Hawkspur, Lucia Valentina, Rising Romance, Sacred Falls, Shooting To Win and Silent Achiever.

Gerry sums up Royal Descent’s best quality as “consistency at the top level – there aren’t many horses as consistent as she is. It’s much harder to run second in six Group Ones than to win one Group 1, a Group 3 and four Listed Races.”

Royal Descent is the seventh foal of Group 2 winner Mulan Princess (by Kaapstad), a three-quarter sister to dual Group 1 winner Golden Sword. She visits Snitzel this Spring, and has six daughters in the Baramul & Westbury Stud broodmare bands, including two city-winning full sisters of Royal Descent, The Warrior Woman & Chateau Lafaite.

Gerry has supported Redoute’s Choice every season since the start of his stud career, and has bred 10 stakeswinners by the champion sire, among them another wonderful Group 1-winning mare Lotteria. Gerry continues to breed from her, as well as a third Redoute’s Choice Group 1 winner he raced, Fashions Afield, and retains all their daughters.

The broodmare paddocks at Baramul will soon be home for Royal Descent too. But not just yet.