INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS

A tale of two Vinnies

Coolmore’s Tom Magnier came home from the 2020 Inglis Easter Yearling Sale with two sons of I Am Invincible, hoping he had found a future stallion. One was Home Affairs. This is the story of the other one.

When COVID first seriously impacted the thoroughbred industry in 2020, the famous Inglis Easter Yearling Sale was among the early casualties and was confined to a ‘virtual’ format, because of lockdowns.

Arrowfield Stud had pulled its horses out of the Sale in the week prior, preferring to deal privately on its elite draft of yearlings, and there was a great sense of trepidation that the Easter harvest which the breeding industry relied so much upon, would be severely diminished.

The Sale was split into two, one round held on the traditional Easter dates in virtual format and the second held in the traditional format in July, when lockdowns were lifted. Round One was held via livestream, with phone and online bids powering a tentative market.

In a move which would earn him much credit among the industry, one of Australia’s leading buyers, Coolmore’s Tom Magnier, stood up in that virtual Sale to buy four of the top eight lots, spending over $5 million. It was widely seen across the industry as a sign of defiance to the uncertainty of the times, although Coolmore was also able to do some canny shopping.

Among Magnier’s five purchases that week were two sons of the country’s leading commercial sire I Am Invincible, a sire known by many as ‘Vinnie’. Early on the first day, Magnier paid $875,000 for a colt out of Flying Spur mare Miss Interiors. It would prove a key moment for Coolmore’s Australian stallion ranks as that colt would become the dual Group One-winning sprinter Home Affairs.

A winner of the Coolmore Stud Stakes and the Lightning Stakes, he will debut at Coolmore’s Jerrys Plains farm this year at a service fee of $110,000 (inc GST), a price unprecedented for an Australian first-season stallion.

The following day, Magnier returned to pay $1.4 million for an I Am Invincible colt from Kia Ora Stud out of the Group Two-winning mare Twilight Royale. That colt, now a three-year-old gelding named Montenegro, will be shooting for his fourth straight win this Saturday.

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Montenegro as a yearling. (Photo: Inglis).

Home Affairs as a yearling (Photo: Inglis)

But he won’t be in the famous navy colours of Coolmore or some variation thereof. Rather, he will be carrying the black, white and cerise of his new owners, Graeme and Lois Mohamed under the guidance of his new trainer, Gareth Andrews.

Andrews’ Pakenham stables haven’t seen too many million-dollar yearlings, but when Montenegro walked in a few months back, he fitted in with his new stablemates with ease.

“We just thought he was a lovely horse. Obviously he was a very expensive yearling and we didn’t have to pay that much for him. We bought him online and we gave him a few weeks in the paddock and brought him to the stables and he just slotted in like an old stager,” Andrews said.

“He’s very easy to work with. He was a ready-made racehorse when he arrived.”

Graeme and Lois were taken by his pedigree and thought for that sort of money, he was worth a try.

The Mohameds, Andrews’ major backers, went on what the trainer described as a ‘little spending spree’ at the Inglis Digital Sale in January, spending $75,000 on Montenegro and $85,000 on Dio, the full-brother to triple Group One-winning mare Sunlight, who fetched $1.1 million at that same 2020 Easter Yearling Sale.

Both had been in the Chris Waller stable, although Dio had also had several starts for Team Hawkes under his previous owners Orbis. Montenegro went to the race track three times for Waller before he was sent through the digital sales ring.

After finishing third and then fifth in his first two starts for Andrews over shorter distances, Montenegro relished the step to the 1600 metres, winning three straight races on the Pakenham synthetic.

“Graeme and Lois were taken by his pedigree and thought for that sort of money, he was worth a try. They are probably pretty pleased they did now,” Andrews said. “He’s still only three, he’s very sound and will race for a while yet. Hopefully, we can win a few more with him.”

Trainer Gareth Andrews has high hopes for Montenegro (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

Caulfield looms as his next task, with the jump to 2000 metres in a three-year-old handicap somewhat in defiance of his pedigree, being by I Am Invincible out of a Testa Rossa mare who won up to 1400 metres.

“I’ve spoken with a few people that are more familiar with I Am Invincibles than myself and the feedback I have got is that while on the surface, they aren’t bred to get 2000 metres, a lot of them don’t race long enough to get that chance,” he said.

Of the over 700 winners I Am Invincible has produced, just seven have won over 2000 metres or further, but Andrews is backing in what he has seen from Montenegro on the track.

“He’s always worked like he was going to get over some ground and I think three runs over the mile has him as fit as we can, to give him that opportunity,” he said.

He’s always worked like he was going to get over some ground and I think three runs over the mile has him as fit as we can, to give him that opportunity

“Johnny Massett rides all of his work, and he has been doing this a long time. He was apprenticed to George Hanlon and he knows a bit about stayers. He has always felt the horse was going to stick on.”

The gelding operation appears to be one of the keys to Montenegro’s burst of form and a similar approach is likely for the regally bred Dio, who remains a colt, for now, and runs at Cranbourne on Thursday.

“I keep changing his gear and I keep saying there is only one piece of gear that really needs to be changed. After today, we will probably be looking at that,” Andrews said.

“He’s a lovely colt and you wouldn’t know he was a colt apart from raceday, when he’s either off with the fairies or really full on. For a bit of consistency, we may need to geld him.”

The previous price tag of the pair means little to Andrews, who is just looking for horses who can be a flagbearer for his smaller stable.

“Graham and Lois were lucky enough a few years ago with a horse called Spirit Or Lager and you miss those old horses that can win you a few races,” he said. “Hopefully one of these guys can take his place and be a consistent horse over a couple of seasons.”

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