Looks like I’ve been proved right yet again!
Refer back to the first email of the new year in which I highlighted five potential big breeding stories in the next 12 months, scroll past the bits about Laurens’ first foal doing John Dance proud, the last few Galileo yearlings setting the sales-ring alight and it looking like an even freshman race in which many of the numerically best represented sires would surely do well, and you’ll find that I tipped Night Of Thunder to shine brightly with his two-year-olds, but perhaps a little later in the season than before.
Admittedly, it didn’t take Nostradamus to work out that the Kildangan Stud-based son of Dubawi would deliver plenty of smart juveniles this year, as they were bred in the glow of his outstanding first season with runners, when he supplied 28 individual winners from 48 runners at a really exceptional strike-rate of 58 per cent and matched Fasliyev’s long-held record of seven two-year-old stakes scorers in a debut crop.
He covered 213 mares, including 92 black-type performers, at an increased fee of €25,000 in 2020, which gave him a crop of 164 foals born in 2021. The ones that went to market as yearlings sold for an average of just under 200,000gns, nearly double the figure in the preceding year, and a median of 160,000gns, up from 75,000gns.
I dare say I wasn’t the only one who had worked out that a crop of foals that was the result of matings with more classically bred mares would arrive later on the scene than his earlier more commercially bred generations, either.
But, as most of my predictions for 2023 go to show, I don’t get to say ‘I told you so’ very often, so allow me the indulgence of pointing out that the Night Of Thunder juveniles have performed exactly as expected.
A few were out of the blocks early, notably Marble Hill Stakes second Noche Magica, and several more thrived over the summer, not least Debutante Stakes winner Vespertilio and Prix du Calvados runner-up Ornellaia, who finished second and third in the Moyglare Stud Stakes, but the cohort has really come into its own in October.
I make it nine new two-year-old winners for the sire this month, and we’re only two-thirds of the way through it. They aren’t any old winners, either, as quite a few possess considerable promise.
Where to start? Apiarist, a half-brother to Fred Darling Stakes winner Dabyah trained by Kevin Ryan, scooped a big pot when breaking his maiden in the British EBF £100,000 Final at York last Friday.
“He's a big, raw horse and he's going to be a lovely three-year-old,” said Ryan, reading the script about the sire’s youngsters having later maturing profiles. “He could be a very progressive horse.”
Ralph Beckett must be a member of the Night Of Thunder fan club after sending out two of the sire's juveniles to score impressively on debut in the past week. Glimpsed, a half-sister to Prix Royal-Oak winner Scope (what was I saying about them being more doughtily bred?) owned by Julian Richmond-Watson, won a decent heat at Newmarket by clear water last Friday, and Valvano, out of Oaks third Volume’s half-sister Vuela, bolted up by six lengths at Nottingham on Wednesday.
Beckett also trains Whiskey Pete, whose first victory came in a valuable nursery at York on Saturday. The half-brother to Royal Ascot winners Atty Persse and Candleford could turn out to be better than a handicapper, as he carried joint top weight and won decisively.
Valvano wasn’t the only wide-margin two-year-old winner by the sire on Wednesday, as the more speedily bred Heavenly Being, a half-sister to Matron Stakes heroine No Speak Alexander out of five-furlong Listed scorer Rapacity Alexander, coasted home by nearly five lengths over the minimum trip at Navan on her fourth start.
There was high praise again from assistant trainer Kate Harrington, and a little clue that the filly might not be far off Classic quality or distance.
“Heavenly Being is a nice individual that we thought a lot of,” she reported. “This trip is a minimum for her and she will step up next season. There could be a lot to come from her.”
Heavenly Being – bred, like Noche Magica, by Mountarmstrong Stud, which always has a keen eye for a sire on the up – was the second impressive Night Of Thunder juvenile winner in Ireland in quick succession, with Chicago Critic slamming Ballydoyle hotpot Gallantly by three and a quarter lengths over a mile at Naas on Saturday.
Trained by Johnny Murtagh for Sam Mencoff and Tony Smurfit, he is a half-brother to Listed-winning stayer Magical Touch out of the Grade 2-winning Machiavellian mare Criticism.
“Very professional, very genuine and should get a mile and a quarter next year,” was jockey Ben Coen’s appraisal of Chicago Critic, contributing more evidence to the case for his sire taking another big step forward in 2024.
Also this month Shakeela, out of Australian Group 2 winner Shumookh and in the care of Roger Varian, beat Completed, from the family of Carlton House and saddled by Karl Burke, to give Night Of Thunder a one-two in a fillies’ maiden at Southwell, and Telemark, a colt descended from triple Oaks heroine Diminuendo trained by Simon and Ed Crisford, struck by two and a half lengths in a Yarmouth novice stakes.
Night Of Thunder’s Irish-conceived two-year-olds are also breaking new ground on the international scene. Sonshi, a Shadwell-bred half-brother to sprint winners Alafdhal and Tawalla, was sold as a short yearling to Abbeylands Farm for €125,000 at the Goffs February Sale and resold by Eddie Woods to Mitsu Nakauchida for $300,000 at Ocala in April, and won a seven-furlong newcomers race at Tokyo by a length on Saturday.
Weatherbys credits the sire with 29 juvenile winners in total from 65 runners (a highly creditable 45 per cent) and 133 named foals (which suggests there are even more late bloomers to come).
I suppose a harsh critic might say that he ought to have mustered more than two black type-winning two-year-olds in Vespertilio and Ascendant Stakes scorer Al Musmak by now, considering the quantity and quality in the crop, but the recent flurry of winners suggests they are on their way. A little patience may be required.
Similarly, Night Of Thunder still has only two Group 1 winners in Europe to his name – the wonderful Highfield Princess and Thundering Nights – despite having had runners since 2019 and standing at punchy fees of €75,000 or €100,000 in the past three seasons.
But I’m prepared to believe, for now, that the low tally is an anomaly and doesn't give a fair account of a sire who gets progeny with class and courage and consistently produces good stats, and that it will change in time.
Perhaps one or two top-flight winners for Night Of Thunder will feature among my prognostications for 2024. I can already see another son of Dubawi who also has a significantly better bred two-year-old crop next year appearing in my crystal ball...