FROM JOHN BERRY - THOROUGHBREDINTERNET.COM
July started with a bang for the Australasian breeding industries. North of the equator the NZ-bred champion So You Think beat the Derby and Arc winner Workforce in the Eclipse Stakes in England; while in the southern hemisphere one of South Africa’s biggest racedays was dominated by Aus-breds. Admittedly, some of the Aus-breds in question have a very European feel to them. For instance, Durban July Handicap winner Igugu is by the Irish-bred 2001 Derby winner Galileo from the Irish-bred mare Zarinia, who is a descendant of the late Prince Aly Khan’s charismatic dual Coronation Cup winner Petite Etoile and is thus from the same family as the Irish-bred 2008 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Zarkava. Even so, that does not alter the fact that Australian studs can take the credit for the winners of three of the four Grade One winners on Greyville’s biggest raceday. All was not lost, though, for the South African bloodstock community, because the other Grade One was won by a South African-bred daughter of one of the finest South African-breds in history: the sadly deceased Victory Moon, writes John Berry.
By winning the Golden Slipper (a race which, unlike its more famous Australian namesake, is restricted to fillies) on Greyville’s July Handicap card, the Victory Moon filly Princess Victoria has proved herself to be one of the best of her generation in South Africa. Whether her future lies in her homeland or overseas, it is fair to assume that she will measure up to the best in subsequent seasons, which means that she should be able to be a galloping memorial to her distinguished father Victory Moon.
Bred in South Africa by Litchfield Stud Close Corporation, Victory Moon was one of the pioneers of the modern era which has seen South African-breds regularly starring in top-class races around the world. Formerly, quarantine procedures made it very rare for South African horses to leave the continent. Some did, including the distinguished SA-bred stallion Hawaii, whose stud career in America saw him sire a Derby winner (Henbit), a Derby second (Hawaiian Sound) and a Derby third (Hunza Dancer). It has only been in the past decade, though, that South African-breds have headed north with any sort of regularity. One of the first South African stars to head to Europe was London News, winner of the J&B Met as a four-year-old in 1997 four months before finishing third to Bosra Sham and Alhaarth in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes at Royal Ascot. Since the turn of the century, though, the burgeoning international carnival in Dubai has acted as a regular magnet for many of South Africa’s most talented gallopers, and one of the first stars to be tempted to Europe via the UAE was Victory News.
Many of the South African stars who have arrived on the international stage via Dubai have done so as top-level winners in South Africa, with last year’s Australian-bred Golden Slipper winner Mahbooba, who won this year’s UAE 1,000 Guineas, being a classic example. Victory Moon, though, had only won a 1200m two-year-old maiden race at Scottsville in June 2002 (on his only South African start) when Mike De Kock dispatched him to Dubai later that year. Once there, De Kock worked his charge up through his classes. The colt won a minor 1200m race at Jebel Ali early in December before contesting a better race at Nad Al Sheba on Boxing Day, in which his 9-length triumph showed that he was rapidly improving. Once the international carnival was under way in the opening weeks of 2003, Victory Moon contested the UAE Triple Crown – and he nearly made a clean sweep of it, his victories in the UAE 2,000 Guineas over 1600m and the UAE Derby over 2000m (in which he beat Songlark, who had been an impressive Group Three winner as a two-year-old in France the previous year) coming either side of a defeat by Inamorato in the Al Bastikiya over 1800m.
At the end of the Carnival, Songlark naturally returned to Europe, where his next run saw him finish in the ruck behind Refuse To Bend in the 2,000 Guineas. Victory Moon too made a north-bound journey, Mike De Kock and the colt’s principal owner Dean Maroun having taken the bold decision to campaign him in the highest company rather than keep him fresh for the less competitive but more valuable races which would clearly present relatively easy pickings for him at the following year’s Dubai Carnival. Sadly, Victory Moon’s summer in Europe was not a productive one. Of the three Group One races which he contested, he was well beaten in two of them (the Queen Anne Stakes over a mile at Royal Ascot, in which he finished seventh to Dubai Destination, and the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes over 12 furlongs at Ascot six weeks later, in which he finished 10th to Alamshar). However, he ran very well in a vintage Eclipse Stakes over 10 furlongs at Sandown in between these two races (finishing an excellent fifth of 15 behind Falbrav and Nayef, beaten less than three lengths). It should, incidentally, be remembered that he was weighted in these races as if he were a four-year-old, when in fact he was still only aged three by southern hemisphere reckoning. The overall conclusion of this British campaign was that he was genuinely a top-class horse, but that English race-goers mostly did not see the best of him, which seems to have been the case with many of the horses which Mike De Kock, whose record in South Africa and the UAE is excellent but whose record in Britain is poor, has campaigned in Europe over the years.
Victory Moon, a very large horse who measured 17 hands in maturity, had come a long way in a short time in his first year of racing, contesting a Group One weight-for-age race at Royal Ascot as supposedly a four-year-old on his seventh start only 50 weeks after making his debut in a two-year-old maiden race at Scottsville. Understandably, he benefitted from a spell in the second half of 2003, during which his massive frame was able to make further development in peace. Consequently, he showed himself to be rejuvenated by this spell, showing top-class form when resuming in Dubai in the early weeks of 2004. Having been beaten by State Shintoover a mile first up, he proceeded to win a Grade Three race over 1800m (beating his Al Bastikiya conqueror Inamorato, whom he had also beaten in the UAE Derby) and a Grade Two race over 2000m (beating the high-class Turkish horse Dinyeper). He then topped these efforts off with an excellent third place in the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup, in which he finished third behind the top-class American pairPleasantly Perfect and Medaglia D'oro. At the end of that campaign, the Dubai Racing Club honoured him as Dubai’s Horse of the Year for 2004. Sadly, plans to race Victory Moon in Europe again during the 2004 Flat season came to nought: he flew to England where he spent the summer again at Andrew Balding’s Kingsclere stable in Berkshire, but training setbacks prevented him from racing that summer, at the end of which it was announced that he would head home to begin life as a stallion the following year.
At the end of Victory Moon’s racing career, it would probably have been possible to find a home at a good stud anywhere in the world for the horse. However, his connections elected to bring him back to South Africa, where he was bought by Maine Chance Farm for a reported five million rand. He was naturally given a great reception by South African breeders when kicking off his stud career in September 2005. Not only was he an internationally recognized South African champion, but he bore a pedigree which boasted many of the best elements of South African breeding in the modern era. His sire Al Mufti, who had been a good racehorse in Europe prior to becoming a very good one in South Africa where he finished second in the Durban July Handicap, ranks as one of the greats of South African bloodstock history. South Africa’s champion sire in 1999/2000, Al Mufti was a son of Roberto and the Buckpasser mare Lassie Dear, and thus came from an internationally reknowned stallions’ family: he was one of five good stallions bred by his dam, while his immediate family has also thrown up the likes of Raja Baba, Gay Mecene, Lemon Drop Kid, Summer Squall and A P Indy and the as-yet-unproven Coolmore sireDuke Of Marmalade.
Victory Moon’s dam Dancing Flower was, like her best son, also sired by a well-connected US-bred stallion: Dancing Champ, a US Grade Two-winning son of Nijinsky and the Tom Fool mare Mrs Peterkin, was a half-brother to the 1977 Kentucky Oaks winner Sweet Alliance, who in turn bred Shareef Dancer, a record-priced yearling in 1981 who went on to win the Irish Derby in 1983. Another of Dancing Champ’s half-sisters was Kinema, the dam of the US Grade One winnerMizzen Mast, while a more recent celebrity from this family is the champion American racemare Zenyatta, a great-granddaughter of Dancing Champ’s half-sisterIn The Offing. Dancing Champ, like Al Mufti, ranks as one of South Africa’s great sires, as does the sire of Victory Moon’s second dam Wild Hyacinth: the Relko stallion Royal Prerogative, a good racehorse in England of the early ‘70s, became a leading sire in South Africa in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. All told, Victory Moon’s dam Dancing Flower bred three stakes winners, including the Grade One-winning stayerKelly. His second dam Wild Hyacinth bred eight winners including the Listed winnerWild Cocktail, while one of Wild Hyacinth’s unraced daughters, Wild Cocktail’s full-sister Garden Verse, bred the Grade Two winners Spring Garland and Imbongi. Wild Hyacinth herself is a full-sister to the Grade One-placed winner Regal Blue, dam of the 1998 J&B Met winner Imperious Sue, who now ranks as the dam ofImperious Star, a Grade One winner at Greyville last winter.
All in all, then, Victory Moon has to be regarded as a perfect example of a top-class South African thoroughbred, both in lineage and in performance. Sadly, he only survived four seasons at stud before dying because of a broken leg in July 2009, just a few days short of his tenth birthday. It is too early to make a proper review of his brief stud career because his fourth and final crop are still only yearlings, but we can say that he has left a good legacy in his homeland. His first-crop son Nocturnal Affair was a Group winner at both two and three, while the same crop also included the Group Two-winning sprinter Polar Moon. From his third crop, Princess Victoria is now clearly his star: her Golden Slipper victory was the second Group One victory during her current two-year-old campaign, following her success in May in the Allan Robertson Fillies Championship at Scottsville. The same crop also includes the Grade Two-winning two-year-old filly Hidden Beauty, bred like Princess Victoria at Victory Moon’s former home at Maine Chance Farm. (Hidden Beauty, incidentally, is the result of a very interesting piece of inbreeding: her dam Hidcote Blue and Victory Moon's dam Dancing Flower are daughters of the aforementioned full-sisters Regal Blue and Wild Hyacinth respectively). Doubtless there will be more stars still to come, all of whom will further emphasise the sad loss which South African breeding suffered when Victory Moon died so young.