INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS

Son of a gun on a Hell of a run

As Yarraman Park prepares to celebrate the long-awaited coronation of I Am Invincible as Australian Champion Stallion, his son and lower-profile barnmate Hellbent has been racking up winners at a record rate.

Less than a month out from his first crop turning three, Hellbent’s fortunes as a stallion have taken a steep rise in the depths of winter, with an extraordinary run of eight new winners in the past 14 days.

It’s hard to determine if a first-season sire has had a bigger purple patch but considering the most winners a freshman sire has had in a single season this century is 23 (Better Than Ready in 2018/19), it’s fair to say that few have run as hot as Hellbent is right now.  

As of July 6, the Yarraman Park resident had only made a peripheral mark on a first-season scene with four winners. A day later, Hell I Am won at Canterbury and Tattenham prevailed at Cranbourne, sparking a streak which has seen his progeny win eight of their past 13 combined starts.

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Tattenham bolts in at Cranbourne on July 7. (Photo by Ross Holburt/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

The latest success, the filly Tantrums, became his first international winner at Hastings in New Zealand on Thursday. On Saturday, he has a trio of runners looking to breakthrough for their first wins, with Hell’s Itch in action at Randwick, Kusu at Morphettville and Dirty Dancing at Doomben.

Those who recall Hellbent’s racing career would not be surprised that his progeny have bloomed mid-winter. Under his original trainer Kurt Goldman, Hellbent debuted at Canterbury on a heavy track in June 2015 and saluted. While I Am Invincible’s stock are not renowned for their aptitude on wet tracks – more on that later –  he relished the conditions.

One area he did follow in the steps of his illustrious sire was in his maturity profile. While obviously a fast and talented two and three year old, it wasn’t until he was four and five that he measured up to the top level, registering two Group One placings for Darren Weir before his perfect farewell from the racetrack when he won the 2018 William Reid Stakes.

Hellbent is just edged out by Silent Sedition in the 2017 William Reid Stakes. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

At that point I Am Invincible’s star was on its sharpest rise, his service fee jumping from $55,000 to $192,500 in the space of two years. Hellbent had just become his second Group One winning son – after Brazen Beau – and the Mitchell brothers at Yarraman Park, wisely seeking an heir, made a spot for him to join I Am Invincible on the Yarraman Stud roster.

On the eve of Hellbent’s first season at stud Yarraman Park lost its other rising star, Hinchinbrook, to an accident. While it was a heavy blow at the time, the circumstances opened more opportunities for Hellbent early in his journey at stud. He was firmly the understudy to his own sire.

Hellbent certainly inherited many of the physical characteristics that have made I Am Invincible such an extraordinary commercial success in Australia. He’s a darker bay but is very much in his image in every other way.

Australia's champion sire in waiting, I Am Invincible. (Photo by Yarraman Park)

Hellbent, the slightly darker image of his own sire. (Photo by Yarraman Park)

Hellbent’s first crop – conceived off a $27,500 service fee – proved popular at the yearling sales, particularly among trainers, with Dirty Dancing, who is down to debut for Gillian Heinrich on Saturday, fetching the top price of $500,000. 

Managed expertly by the Mitchells, Hellbent has been given every chance to follow I Am Invincible’s precipitous path to stardom.

As mentioned, the one area of difference between father and son does appear to be in Hellbent’s progeny’s capability on wet tracks.

I Am Invincible is on track to claim the Australian Sires Championship – an award based on prizemoney earned – almost in spite of the wettest autumn and winter in New South Wales and Queensland in recent memory.

The endless slog of wet tracks has certainly not been to the advantage of most of I Am Invincible’s progeny. This season alone, they have a 16 per cent success rate on good tracks, and just a 10 per cent winning percentage on heavy tracks. All six Group One wins by his progeny this season have occurred on Good surfaces.

Home Affairs, a son of I Am Invincible, obliterates his rivals in the Group One Coolmore Stud Stakes of 2021. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos via Getty Images)

In comparison, albeit with a much smaller sample, Hellbent’s progeny have a 24 per cent success rate on heavy tracks. Five of that run of eight winners in July have been on heavy surfaces, with the other three on soft tracks.

The ability to produce wet trackers is the only way you can mark Hellbent ahead of ‘Vinnie’ at the same stage of their careers, however. Back in 2013/14, I Am Invincible was Champion First Season Sire by both earnings and winners, with 15 individual winners, including three at stakes level.

It was a first major marker on the path to him being Australian Champion stallion, something he should finally achieve, bar a remarkable late run of results from So You Think, when the Australian season concludes on Sunday week. 

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