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From ugly duckling to Oaks Goddess

Queensland Oaks winner Gypsy Goddess is set to have just one run in the spring, according to her breeder and managing owner, Dr Chris Lawler, who recounted to Bren O’Brien the filly’s journey from ugly duckling to Group One star.

When it comes to Queensland Oaks heroine Gypsy Goddess, Doc Lawler is not one to sugar coat the truth, nor is he going to claim credit for something he didn’t do.

He doesn’t resile from the fact that there were several good reasons Gypsy Goddess didn’t sell as a yearling, and none of them have to do with his better judgement    

“One of the three great lies that you hear in racing is ‘I was always happy to race this one’. when they don’t sell them,” Lawler said. “Like hell they were!”

“We were painted into a corner with her, but I was happy to back her in on the basis of the strength of her pedigree and the way she was put together.”

With a modest reserve of NZ$20,000, the Tarzino filly went through the 2020 New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sale as the third last lot on the final day and mustered no interest from the sparse crowd remaining at Karaka.

Not that Lawler, a renowned veterinarian who has built his reputation not only on his shrewd eye, but his straight talking, could blame them. He knew the Tarzino filly with the parrot mouth was no oil painting.  

“If she was a young lass, she’d probably have a lonely Saturday night sitting at home, because I don’t think the telephone would ring too many times. She’s not the prettiest horse,” he said.

If she was a young lass, she’d probably have a lonely Saturday night sitting at home, because I don’t think the telephone would ring too many times.

“Fortunately all the things that count are there for her. She has got a great girth to her, she’s got very good bone and good conformation in her limbs. She has got that great Sir Tristram hock width behind her and is strong through her hocks, much like her father,” he said.

“She’s just got a very, very good attitude.”

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Gypsy Goddess as a yearling. (Photo by New Zealand Bloodstock)

Lawler, together with Rick Connolly, had purchased her sire Tarzino for NZ$45,000 at the same Karaka sale six years prior, and as part owner, enjoyed a terrific ride as the son of Tavistock won both the Victoria Derby and Rosehill Guineas under the guidance of trainer Mick Price.

He retained a share when Tarzino retired to duties at Westbury Stud and among the mares he sourced to support him was Invisible Coin, an unraced sister to Flight Stakes winner Cheeky Choice.

While the resultant filly didn’t capture the imagination of the yearling market, Lawler took the opportunity to get a bunch of life-long friends involved with her. He also sent her to be trained by someone who he had known for 35 years and whose patient approach would be perfect for Gypsy Goddess, David Vandyke.

“We just formed a little syndicate and didn’t expect a great deal and now those guys are having the time of their lives,” he said.

“You can’t clap with one hand. I’ve got lots of mates who own horses one out and they go and win a good race and get excited and there is no-one there to celebrate with them. It’s much better to race with friends where you can really savour the moment.”

You can’t clap with one hand…..it’s much better to race with friends where you can really savour the moment

It’s a journey set to continue for some time, but Lawler said thoughts of Gypsy Goddess tackling the major spring Cups have been deferred until 2023.       

“She is a genuine stayer and she would run whatever you want. But she won’t do it this spring. She’s had a good campaign and will have a good spell and a light spring,” Lawler said.

At this stage, Vandyke and Lawler are planning just the one run. The rich Golden Eagle at Rosehill is at the top of her agenda.  

“It’s a $7.5 million race run at a hectic speed over 1500 metres. She’s undefeated first-up, she will be coming off a very hard speed and she’s a genuine Group 1 horse,” he said.

“There is another school of thought of maybe taking her down for the Myer (Empire Rose Stakes), the Group One mile race at Flemington, but if David is not pleased with her at any stage, she won’t run at all. She’ll just come in, do a bit of work and head back out.

“We’d like to give her an opportunity in some of those major races. We have a circle around the Melbourne Cup of 2023.“

The other upside of Gypsy Goddess’ victory for Lawler is that it confirms Tarzino as one of the hottest emerging staying stallions in Australasia. Gypsy Goddess’ win on Saturday comes after his first-crop son, Jungle Magnate, recently won the South Australian Derby.    

“There are very few horses who have two Group One winners in their first crop, particularly in these serious races, like Derbies and Oaks,” he said.

Such success, relatively early in the journey, is also a huge fillip for New Zealand’s Westbury Stud, which stands Tarzino, and Australia’s Rosemont Stud, which is the other major shareholder.  

“These staying stallions, you have to be patient. There has been five years gone through to get him where he is at this point. It’s great to see him rewarding us so quickly,” Westbury Stud’s General Manager, Russell Warwick, said.  

“Jungle Magnate’s win saw the interest really grow and then to back this up yesterday, the phone hasn’t really stopped. By the end of next week, we will be full for next season. It’s a nice position to be in.”

Tarzino’s emergence also continues the remarkable run of success from the combination of Tavistock and Zabeel bloodlines. Like Tarzino, last week’s Queensland Derby winner, Pinarello, is by Tavistock out of a Zabeel mare.

“The link between Tavistock and Zabeel has been such a well-documented and very successful cross. Physically, Tarzino is the spitting image of Zabeel and he carried those very good bloodlines of Tavistock as well. He does have an enormous chance to become a very successful stallion,” Warwick said.

The strong resemblance between Tarzino and his champion broodmare sire Zabeel was noted very early on by Lawler and Connolly and affirmed by none other than the man who stood Zabeel at Cambridge Stud, Sir Patrick Hogan.

“When Sir Patrick Hogan saw him when he arrived with us, he said he’s the spitting image of Zabeel. ‘You will wait until he lets down in two years’ time, people are going to think Zabeel never died, that he has been re-incarnated’,” Warwick said.

When Sir Patrick Hogan saw him when he arrived with us, he said he’s the spitting image of Zabeel

Like Tavistock, Tarzino will likely get the chance to make an impression beyond Australia and New Zealand. Jungle Magnate was recently sold via Hong Kong agent George Moore, with a view to next year’s Hong Kong Derby.

“We saw Tavistock, with his second crop, get three individual Derby winners across Australasia and then Werther, who had won a Group Two in Queensland, went up to Hong Kong and won a Hong Kong Derby as a four-year-old,” Warwick said.

“Obviously that cleared a pathway for Tavistock to be recognised as a stallion of interest in the Asian market. Tarzino’s prominence in those classic races in this part of the world adds another string to his bow.”

Tarzino now has two Group One winners from his first crop (Photo by Westbury Stud)

The broader international significance on Gypsy Goddess’ Queensland Oaks win could also be in the future of the filly herself.

Lawler indicated that she would be offered for sale when her racing career is over and there is a chance she could end up overseas.

The winners of the 2019 and 2018 Queensland Oaks, Winning Ways and Youngstar, are continuing their breeding careers in Europe and Japan respectively, while Vandyke’s multiple Group 1 winner Yankee Rose is another star Australian staying filly to be purchased by Japanese interests.  

“These fillies have been keenly sought after by all the major powerhouses in breeding and I imagine she will end up somewhere similar,” Lawler said. “But there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge first.”

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