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Champagne day for the little filly sold over lunch

Memorial Life’s second foal Champagne Color elevated her status to Group 1 producer at the weekend and gave a nod to the Chasemore Farm nursery that produced her, and to the Japanese approach that has uplifted her.

G1 NHK Mile Cup winner Champagne Color is the second foal of a hitherto 'unremarkable' mare. (Photo by Shuhei Okada)

David Morgan

Chief Journalist

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Champagne Color’s longshot win in the G1 NHK Mile Cup at Tokyo on Sunday was a big score for the underdogs as trainer Tsuyoshi Tanaka and jockey Hiroyuki Uchida stepped off the big-race cold list. But if we are talking underdogs rising, that was nothing compared to the colt’s unheralded dam Memorial Life, produced from the only crop of a stallion since gelded, and sold to Japan by a man whose day job is working for Britain’s NHS (National Health Service).

Memorial Life was the product of a mating devised by Andrew Black’s (Betfair co-founder) and Jane Black’s Chasemore Farm, from their black type producer Baldovina and Darley’s Kildangan Stud’s bright new stallion prospect of the time Reckless Abandon, a brilliant champion two-year-old for trainer Clive Cox. 

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Reckless Abandon wins the 2012 Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

However, Baldovina, a former hurdler for the Blacks, was one of only a few mares that the son of Exchange Rate managed to get in foal: midway through that 2014 breeding season Reckless Abandon was retired, sub-fertile, and put back into training; a year later he had been gelded and was, by accounts, retrained as a polo pony. 

Meanwhile, Baldovina foaled a filly at Chasemore Farm, which is located within the leafy, upmarket Surrey commuter belt, a hop across the M25 motorway from the Chelsea FC training ground. But the half-sister to the farm’s G2 Queen Mary Stakes winner Ceiling Kitty was particularly small.

“She was a very good-looking filly but had a problem which meant it was likely she would never run,” Andrew Black told Asian Racing Report via email, adding that he was “delighted” to see her success as a broodmare.

Given her ‘problem’ and her size, plus Reckless Abandon’s failure, her commercial value was negligible. 

That did not put off Peter Hickey. In fact, it was right up his street. Hickey is, in his own words, “Probably just an obsessive who has managed to get some very nice networks,” but those networks include trusted connections in Asia, notably Japan, developed over the last 15 years. 

A decade or so ago, he was involved in sourcing for David Boehm a colt named Dunboyne Express. Gelded, renamed Dan Excel and moved to John Moore’s stable in Hong Kong, the horse won three Group 1 races.

Dan Excel defeats Helene Spirit in the 2013 G1 Champions Mile. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)

But the part-time hobby trader – “This isn’t my business, I work for the NHS, but I have a bit of talent for spotting bloodlines and I try to make it work,” he said – is most interested in the Japanese industry.  

“I became obsessed by Japanese breeding because they were buying so many mares abroad and I was quite fascinated by how they were taking these bloodlines and reinvigorating them,” Hickey told Asian Racing Report. “These families had gone quiet for a couple of generations and then all of a sudden they’d have Group 1 winners over there, so I’d been spending a few years buying and selling a few little bits out of Japan.”

There was an eye-catching and timely Japanese connection to Chasemore’s little filly: Baldovina’s dam, Baldwina, had won the G3 Prix Penelope in 2001 for owner Gary Tanaka and by 2006 she was among the Shadai broodmare band, foaling the triple Group 3 winner One Carat; she produced further winners, the G3-placed Sunshine, Beatritz and Top Art; then in the spring of 2016 her daughter by Victoire Pisa, Jeweler, won the G1 Oka Sho, the Japanese 1,000 Guineas.

Jeweler wins the G1 Oka Sho for Mirco Demuro. (Photo by JRA)

Hickey said that the farm’s manager at the time knew he had an interest in anything with a Japanese connection and called him to tell him about the Reckless Abandon filly, by this time a yearling niece to a Classic winner.

“She was tiny, she was weak, there was no real substance to her at all and Reckless Abandon at that stage was a dud, so commercially she was valueless to them in the European market, but she was worth something to Japan,” Hickey recalled, with the well-timed emphasis of a good raconteur.

He said he bought her on the spot, along with a foal half-brother by Iffraaj, for a fee that represented good value. But he did not have a buyer. He reached out to a contact and in a short time he was in touch with Jeweler’s trainer Kenichi Fujioka, who to date has trained at least five of Baldwina’s offspring.

They say that ‘fortune favours the bold’ and the fates smiled on Hickey. Fujioka and none other than Jeweler’s owner Yoichi Aoyama were about to embark on a buying trip to Ireland via London. They agreed to meet him and see the young filly and colt.

“They bought the two horses over lunch,” said Hickey. “We got the horses vetted for them, shipped them out to Japan, and I never really thought anything more of it until Champagne Color won a race and I started to follow what he was doing. He was placed in a Group 3 but I never thought for a minute he would win a Group 1.”

Meanwhile, the Iffraaj foal, subsequently named World Watch, went into training and won a newcomer race at Kyoto before failing in three further starts. Aoyama sent Memorial Life unraced to Victoire Pisa for her first covering, attempting to replicate the success he had with Jeweler. The resultant colt, Three Excellent, has a minor win and six placings from 15 starts.

Aoyama was not messing about when it came to the second mating: in 2019 he sent her to one of the hottest young stallion prospects in Japan, Duramente, whose first crop, at that time only yearlings, would feature the Classic winner Titleholder. Since the stallion’s death at age nine in August 2021, five of his offspring have won at least one Group 1, and Champagne Color is the latest.

Duramente has proven a significant loss to the Japanese breeding industry. (Photo by Getty Images)

Memorial Life has an unnamed Kizuna two-year-old, a yearling by Isla Bonita and a Real Steel foal. Hickey believes the sale to Japan was the making of the mare.

While the likes of the Yoshida family will buy big-name, highly-performed marquee mares at sales around the world, to promote their top stallions, they will also, as will the smaller breeders, seek lower profile mares that have not necessarily performed on the track, but that have quality in their bloodlines and are a value option.  

“In Europe we will quite often discard mares who haven’t produced it, we won’t cover them with the best,” Hickey observed. “But in my experience the Japanese breeders will look at bloodlines: they will look at the bloodlines that have worked in Japan, they will look at the bloodlines that have produced black type producers and performers, and they will take a chance. That’s what sets them apart from the rest at the moment.

“Japanese breeders are able to turn these pages around and get them to produce again. In Europe you’ll see a family abandoned and not given the sort of quality covering that they get in Japan.”

“They’re not obsessed by size either. I’ve heard people say Japanese breeders don’t buy small mares but that’s not true, they’re focused on success in the family, even if the success is a couple of generations back, they like those big families where there’s a lot happening further back.”

Chasemore Farm sold Champagne Color’s second dam Baldovina at the 2017 Goffs London Sale where King Power bought her for £300,000. She has since produced the three-race maiden, Love You Grandpa, by Frankel. The Blacks lost Baldovina’s talented daughter Ceiling Kitty when she died foaling the Chesham Stakes winner Arthur Kitt in 2016, but the familial connection to Japanese cousins continues at Chasemore through her daughters, Eartha Kitt – the dam of Godolphin’s G2 Gimcrack Stakes winner Noble Style – and Formidable Kitt.

Ceiling Kitty wins the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

“Both (mares) have been producing good stock,” Black said. “We also have a daughter of Eartha Kitt that is in foal to Kingman, called Madame Zaroni, who was unraced due to injury, so let’s hope she’s the next unraced filly from the family to produce a Group 1 winner.”

That is ever the hope and Chasemore Farm is doing its bit to maintain the female line. So far, though, it is in Japan that the family has gone to greater heights and Champagne Color’s Group 1 win, following on from Jeweler, emphasises the success of the Japanese approach to buying less-fashionable but historically proven black type bloodlines at good value. 

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