The Winning Spirit

The Winning Spirit

1st May 2015

Jamie Lynch profiles a super-sire of the modern era, one who’s well represented this Guineas weekend…

Privilege is a buzzword in the 2015 General Election. Miliband promises to attack it, Cameron has pledged to spread it, the skin of Clegg’s teeth is clinging onto it, Sturgeon is scheming to Scotify it, and Farage wants to drink it using the Australian pints system. But one suspects that, deep down, each of the power-hungry politicians thinks that privilege is greatness and greatness is privilege.

Privilege is indeed like greatness in the sense that some are born to it, some achieve it, and others have it thrust upon them. They’re not mutually exclusive, however, at least not for the special ones whose life’s work subsumes all three strands. Such forces of nature always have a story behind it, and often a legacy at the end of it, never truer than with Invincible Spirit, the horse of one lifetime and numerous lifelines, the genetic gift that keeps on giving.

Invincible Spirit was born privileged, but achieved privilege the hard way on the track, earnt harder still at stud, and now has privilege thrust upon him by virtue of the armed forces of charmed horses that he gave rise to. Paternal power is itself a privilege, a hereditary head-start. In other words, as could be the title of the Invincible Spirit biography, success breeds success.

As a concept and a phrase it now has prejudicial connotations, but privilege isn’t entitlement, and the Invincible Spirit legend is founded more on the proverb that nothing worth having comes easy. It was a troublesome trek to the top, from day one.

Jack Berry trained the favourite, carbon dating the beginning of Invincible Spirit’s story, more so than the jockey who rode him – Gary Stevens no less – in that Haydock maiden in July 1999, in which he blew the start and was carried the whole way across the track.

Two quick wins, in time and on time, saw him sent off at 2/1 for the Middle Park, only to prove too headstrong, finishing last, but that was nothing compared to his next setback, breaking a pelvis the following spring.

It was a long road back, but a case of destiny delayed rather than downsized, as in his five-year-old season he delivered in full, speeding his way to the Duke of York Stakes and, moreover, the Sprint Cup at Haydock, the only Group 1 he won, though the same was true of Danehill.

Like Danehill, he’s from the Danzig line, and like Danehill, Invincible Spirit has become a stallion of epic and seismic proportions, reverberating around the racing world. And the name and fame from changing the game is all his own work, achieved without privilege.

The other European super-sires of today, the likes of Galileo and Dubawi, were privileged from the start by their owners’ deluxe broodmare band, in the same way that Frankel has less chance to fail as a stallion because his prowess means he has his pick.

Invincible Spirit didn’t have that luxury, and his initial fee, standing at the Irish National Stud, who’ve managed his meteoric rise, was just €10,000. But, as explained by John Osborne, Chief Executive of the Irish National Stud, it was soon clear that they had something special on their hands.

‘The appearance of his first yearlings, which drew plenty of attention, was followed by a world-record breaking first crop of two-year-olds in 2006, and that crop included a classic winner when Lawman went on to win the French Derby. From the very beginning he has excelled, and his stallion career profile has stepped up year on year. With that comes better mares, more mares, better sales prices, and his progeny going into the best training yards, so he gets onto a really rapid upward trajectory.’

That flight path soared into unchartered heir-space in 2014 when two of his sons won a remarkable seven European Group 1 mile events between them; Charm Spirit and Timeform’s highest-rated horse in the world last year, Kingman.

‘He doesn’t have many runners over 1½m+, which some might see as a little bit of a limit on his achievements,’ said Osborne, ‘but what he’s got is exactly where the action is: owners and breeders want the speed horses, they want a Kingman with his huge acceleration, and that’s the reason why people have gone really strong in favour of Invincible Spirits.

‘He’s also an extremely good-looking horse and, unlike some stallions, he’s very strong at transmitting that type to the next generation, that classic make and shape and size, so when you’ve seen one Invincible Spirit you’ve seen many of them.’

He’s a transcontinental transmitter, too, as his son I Am Invincible was champion first-season sire in the 2013/14 season. ‘The most remarkable thing about the Southern Hemisphere impact is that he was down there for three years and covered about 180 mares all told in three seasons.

‘It was in Victoria which, no disrespect, wasn’t the Hunter Valley, and was only emerging at the time, so he didn’t get the kind of calibre of mares and support that we would have hoped for, and yet he came up with a colt (I Am Invincible), who was only a Group 3 winner but such a stonking good-looking horse that he was given a chance at stud, and lo and behold he’s a Group 1 sire and the hottest ticket in the Southern Hemisphere.’

The Invincible Spirit bloodline is in demand, to the extent that the breeding powerhouses are now firmly involved: ‘Every farm is lucky to have one,’ said Osborne. ‘It’s interesting that Darley have bought into a son of I Am Invincible (Brazen Beau), so it’s even going to the next generation. And Coolmore, as well, through Most Improved, who’s a son of Lawman at stud.’

South Africa is also getting in on the act, a group of investors (Mayfair Speculators) having outbid Qatar Racing – breaking the €1m barrier in the process – at the 2014 Arqana August Sale to secure a yearling colt by Invincible Spirit for their expanding operation, ‘as we might need a stallion later on.’

In Britain, too, he was the proud father of last year’s first-season sire, Zebedee, but, in the bloodstock game, keeping it in the family can be a curse as well as a blessing, according to Osborne: ‘Ironically, he’s already competing with his sons. It’s a tribute to him but it’s also actually a competitive pressure that he’s now under, because Kingman, no doubt, has taken some mares from him, but in another way that’s great and it’s passing on the baton.

‘It’s creating a dynasty, and that doesn’t happen to many sires. We’re lucky that we still have him – he’s 18 and in good shape, but we’re more conscious than anyone that nothing lasts forever.’

Nothing lasts forever, but racing, with its ancestry in bloodstock and long-running characters amongst trainers and jockeys, has a habit of coming full circle over the years. The dam of Invincible Spirit, Rafha, won the 1990 French Oaks on her final racecourse appearance, beating into second (subsequently demoted) Colour Chart, who was one of the best mares to represent Andre Fabre and Sheikh Mohammed during their halcyon days together.

There’s a certain irony that the two are teaming up again, this time in the Godolphin blue, a quarter of a century on, in the 2000 Guineas this weekend with Rafha’s grandson through Invincible Spirit,Territories.

It looks a good year to be supplementing into the Guineas, the way Territories is, on the high approval of Fabre, because Gleneagles is a little way short on form as well as potential to warrant his odds, while the British trials collectively raised more questions than answers.

Territories, on the other hand, was silky smooth in his prep run at Longchamp last month, when there was more than a flash of that hereditary turn of foot, and spirit, that made Moonlight Cloud and Kingman invincible milers on their day. And Territories is coming in hot, unlike Gleneagles, with whom he was right in the mix in the messy Jean-Luc Lagardere in October.

Invincible Spirit also has a big runner in the now not-so-juicy – though it is freshly diluted – 1000 Guineas with Jellicle Ball, whose sectional times on both starts identify her as very much her father’s daughter.

As both Guineas highlight, if Group 1’s gave blood, the technicians wouldn’t have to stare too hard down the microscope to find the bright traces of Invincible Spirit. It happens rarely, but every now and then an extraordinary horse emerges with the power to make and break endemic trends, to spawn a racing Renaissance, to influence the very zeitgeist, the spirit of the age; the Invincible Spirit of the age.

By Jamie Lynch — published 1st May 2015 in

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