Starspangledbanner ready to write the next chapter of his remarkable story
Courtesy of Racing Post, 2nd Jan 2019
James Thomas charts the tale of the shuttle stallion sensation
Life at stud can be pretty unforgiving, with few second chances on offer. However, when Starspangledbanner returned to Coolmore in Ireland in 2016, that is precisely what he had earned.
Now, with the sons and daughters he sired from that book of mares close to hitting the track, he is poised to take advantage of an opportunity that not so long ago seemed most unlikely.
The tale of Starspangledbanner has, to put it mildly, been quite remarkable. The first significant chapter in the story of this Australian-bred son of Choisir, a A$120,000 Inglis yearling, came when he won the Caulfield Guineas, a race in which he saw off the likes of Manhattan Rain and So You Think.
Shortly after that breakthrough Group 1 victory in 2009, the Coolmore partners stepped in to purchase the horse, but walked away with just 95 per cent after owner Michelle Massey refused to sell her five per cent stake in the horse to the Irish powerhouse.
Nevertheless, the change in ownership saw the focus of Starspangledbanner's campaign shift from Classic miles to sprint trips, a move that resulted in the colt landing the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate over five and a half furlongs.
Next came a change of scenery, as Coolmore switched Starspangledbanner from the yard of Leon Corstens to Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle string, from where he was prepared for a tilt at the major European sprint races during the summer of 2010.
With his own sire Choisir having stormed to success in the King's Stand Stakes and the Golden Jubilee Stakes of 2003, and other southern hemisphere imports such as Miss Andretti, Scenic Blast and Takeover Target having plundered Royal Ascot races, Starspangledbanner carried a considerable weight of expectation with him to his new base.
Following a creditable reappearance when fifth in the Duke of York Stakes, Starspangledbanner lined up in the Golden Jubilee Stakes, and made just about all the running before storming a length and three-quarters clear of Society Rock and the likes of US raider Kinsale King and Fleeting Spirit.
He backed that effort up by winning the July Cup with a performance that was equal parts guts and class to deny Equiano by a neck.
Having been crowned champion European sprinter, time was called on Starspangledbanner's racing days, and it was then that Massey decided to cash in on her share of one of the world's fastest thoroughbreds.
But rather than sell the remaining five per cent to Coolmore, she took the scarcely believable decision to offer her stake on an Australian bloodstock trading website, a move that led to Anthony Mithen of Rosemont Stud acquiring the share for a reported A$1 million.
However, not long after Starspangledbanner had taken up stud duty at Coolmore in 2011, it became apparent that the horse was suffering some major fertility issues.
His first northern hemisphere-bred foals numbered just 33, while his initial Australian-bred crop yielded only 31 youngsters.
With news of the horse's problems widely known by the time the 2012 northern hemisphere breeding season came around, breeders were understandably wary, and that year Starspangledbanner received a mere 22 mares, resulting in a second crop of just 11 foals.
Although it was still early days, a productive career at stud was rapidly looking a lost cause and Starspangledbanner was returned to training.
He went on to run six times during his second stint at Ballydoyle, but when that did not produce the desired results - with his best form from six starts coming when runner-up to Maarek in the 2012 Renaissance Stakes - there was talk that the horse would be gelded in a bid to help him recapture his former brilliance.
Following what proved to be his racing swansong in the 2013 Al Quoz Sprint, Mithen stepped in with a proposal to stand the horse at Rosemont Stud in Australia, in the hope that a change of scenery could bring about an upturn in fertility. The horse once again shipped to Australia but could manage to supply only 23 mares in foal.
Then came the first major plot twist of Starspangledbanner's stud career, as his first Irish-bred crop packed a punch well beyond its lowly numbers.
Those 33 foals included two Royal Ascot winners in The Wow Signal - winner of the Coventry Stakes, and later the Prix Morny - and Anthem Alexander, who claimed the Queen Mary Stakes before being narrowly denied by Tiggy Wiggy in the Cheveley Park Stakes.
There were other noteworthy talents too, such as Sirenia Stakes third Home Of The Brave and the Listed-placed Moonraker.
In the fullness of time, those debut northern hemisphere-bred crops have yielded ten stakes performers, including the aforementioned The Wow Signal and Anthem Alexander; the hardy Home Of The Brave - who produced a joint career-best effort aged six to win a Rosehill Group 2; Sceptre Stakes scorer Spangled; and Great Wide Open - who finished runner-up in the Shadwell Turf Mile last year.
Understandably given the immense promise of those debut juveniles, Coolmore were keen to have Starspangledbanner back in Ireland for 2015, and their hopes were lifted further when his fertility began to improve, as he left 42 southern hemisphere mares pregnant in 2014.
But then the horse was struck by a bout of colic that kept him grounded in Australia for another year.
STARSPANGLEDBANNER - THE FACTS AND FIGURES
Pedigree 12yo chestnut Choisir - Gold Anthem (Made Of Gold)
Stands Coolmore, Ireland
2019 fee €17,500
Lifetime Flat runners 36*
Lifetime Flat winners 27* (75%)
2018 yearling average £79,375
*Northern hemisphere results only
After such an unlikely series of events, Starspangledbanner eventually returned to Fethard in 2016, and, with his fertility markedly improved, covered the book responsible for this year's two-year-olds.
People could have been forgiven for treading carefully with a horse whose fertility made him a potentially risky proposition, but breeders are nothing if not an optimistic bunch, and with the exploits of his debut juveniles not easily forgotten, Starspangledbanner duly covered a book of 120 mares.
As ever, the devil is in the detail, and it is not just the fact that Starspangledbanner has more soldiers - 69 to be precise - to go to war with that makes him a likely candidate for a big 2019.
Among his book were 20 stakes-performing mares, while the resulting foals include half-sisters to Jersey Stakes winner Ishvana; Phoenix Sprint Stakes scorer Scream Blue Murder, Listed scorers Salateen and Gamgoom; and May Hill Stakes runner-up Grecian Light.
Meanwhile his colts include siblings to Group 2 Herbert Power Stakes winner Adjusted and Aidan O'Brien's promising Old Glory, Group 3 scorer Tinnitus and the Listed-winning pair Melbourne Memoriesand Arya Tara.
It may have been a while since buyers caught sight of yearlings by Starspangledbanner at the sales in Europe, but there was little hesitation when the chance came to throw in a bid.
None proved in higher demand than the filly out of A Huge Dream, with Stroud Coleman Bloodstock signing on behalf of Godolphin at 750,000gns during Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale.
The half-sister to dual Listed winner Mrs Gallagher is registered as being under the care of Charlie Appleby.
Other notable sales include the €300,000 colt out of Welcome Spring who went the way of Ric Wylie; the €180,000 colt out of Star Now signed for by Form Bloodstock; and the pair of £140,000 colts bought by Armando Duarte and Cormac McCormack at the Goffs UK Premier Sale.
Those results contributed to a European yearling average of £79,375 and a median of £47,250 for yearlings bred at a fee of just €15,000.
Moreover, 2019 could just be the start of big things for Starspangledbanner. His 2017 book produced 72 foals, with youngsters bred by the likes of the Aga Khan, Juddmonte and Cheveley Park Stud, while in 2018 he covered his biggest, and arguably best, book to date.
Starspangledbanner has already been on quite the journey, but with a greater potency giving him more firepower to call upon, there's a chance he might only just be getting started.