Most owners can only ever dream of winning a single Group race in their lifetime. Last month prominent Victorian-based owner-breeder Bob Scarborough enjoyed Group race triumphs on both sides of the equator ... on the same weekend! NATHAN EXELBY reports on a man whose success at Group 1 level as an owner-breeder now stretches close to 20 years.
Bob Scarborough has tasted Group 1 success in races like the Victoria Derby, Blue Diamond, Salinger Stakes and now the Australian Guineas.
He has also been the co-breeder of a Group 1 winner in the Northern Hemisphere and yearlings from his Wood Nook farm operation in Victoria continued to be much admired at major sales across the nation.
But there is still more to achieve.
As the current Chairman of the Moonee Valley Racing Club, he makes no qualms about the race he would most like to win.
The Cox Plate sits above all other races for the Victorian based owner-breeder and in the shape of the outstanding Danehill Dancer gelding Light Fantastic, he may well have just the horse to make that dream come true.
Scarborough experienced a day like no other on March 8, when home-bred Light Fantastic fought on doggedly to land the Australian Guineas at just his fourth race day start – the mark of an absolutely outstanding young horse.
Then later in the day, the Scarborough owned Mauralakana landed a Group 3 event in the United States.
Scarborough had paid $US900,000, through Grant Pritchard-Gordon's Badger's Bloodstock, for the daughter of Muhtathir at the 2007 Keeneland November Breeding Stock Sale.
She will be transported to Australia later in the year to join Wood Nook's elite broodmare band and in winning the Grade 3 event, has already justified her hefty price tag.
“It was an extremely exciting weekend,” Scarborough said.
“I had tried to ring (Mauralakana's trainer) Christophe Clement but couldn't get through,” Scarborough said.
“I was hoping to have a phone hook up so I could listen to the race, then I tried the internet, but got nowhere there either, so I had basically given up.
“Then all of a sudden I received a call of congratulations from Christophe.
“At first I thought perhaps he was congratulating me on Light Fantastic's win!”
But it was news of Mauralakana's Grade 3 success at Gulfstream Park, capping a memorable 24 hours for the prominent owner-breeder.
“It was an unexpected win in so far as she hadn't been in work all that long. It wasn't unexpected that she would be up to a race like that because she had already been Group 1 placed in Europe, as well as being a Group 3 winner in both France and the United States,” Scarborough said.
“I bought her at the November Breeding Stock Sale and it was too late to breed her to Southern Hemisphere time, so I thought why not race her and see what we get?
“We already knew by her performance that she was a high quality race filly – so it wasn't a shock she won a Group 3 race, but to do it first up was a nice surprise.
“She had only been in work for about 10 weeks, so it was a good effort to win first up at nine furlongs.”
Scarborough will bring Mauralakana to Australia later in the year, but is still in two minds as to whether she should go in foal before leaving America.
“I'm thinking about sending her to Mr Greeley, but then I struggle with the fact that I can't recall a single example of when that (breeding a horse in the north to southern time) has been successful,” he muses.
“It does present a great opportunity and we can access these outstanding stallions at good value when you breed to southern time.
“We are so dominated by Danehill blood in Australia and I think it's important for our industry to look at other avenues.
“I just need more time to think it over, but either way, she will be back in Australia by the end of the year.”
Mauralakana's win is not the first time Scarborough has struck success shopping in the northern hemisphere.
In the latter part of the 1990's he purchased three mares in partnership with John Magnier, one of which was Race The Wild Wind.
“She was in foal to Nureyev at the time and the resultant foal was (G1 winner) King Charlemagne,” Scarborough says.
He also owns Gaudeamous, a Distorted Humor mare who was a Group 2 and Listed winner in Europe.
“She is in foal to Pivotal and coming to Australia. She will no doubt be highly commercial. I just hope she's also highly successful!”
Scarborough will get to sample the marketplace's desire for his northern hemisphere acquisitions when Lot 267 walks into the Newmarket sales complex during the William Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale this month.
The filly is by Redoute's Choice from the Unbridled mare Nevermore and is one of five Scarborough yearlings in the classy Amarina Farm draft at Easter.
“She was Group 1 placed and was purchased by Vin Cox on my behalf two years ago,” Scarborough said.
The Nevermore filly joins a Redoute's Choice-Good News half-brother to Scarborough's Victoria Derby winner Hit The Roof, an Elusive Quality-Mariah (an unraced Danzig half-sister to King Charlemagne) filly and colts by Encosta De Lago from the mares Triattica and Ylang Ylang.
There is not much that escapes Scarborough in the thoroughbred world and he is constantly on high alert to make sure an opportunity is not missed to upgrade his own broodmare band.
“I go through every catalogue and every pedigree of every Group winner in the world,” he reveals.
“I spend an awful lot of time researching, but it is something I really enjoy doing.
“For me to be interested they have to have racetrack performance – I'm no longer interested in the 'full relation' or 'half-sister 'to this or that – it's all about racetrack performance and I think there's a fairly close link between that and success at stud.”
Wood Nook, located at Nagambie, runs about 30 mares and aims to sell around two thirds of the foals produced each year.
“I am spending around $2.5million each year in service fees and when you add in the day-to-day costs of running the farm, I need to get back north of $3million each year so I can keep re-investing in these international class mares,” Scarborough says.
Scarborough made a rare appearance as a buyer in the yearling market two years ago when securing the Danehill Dancer-Procrastinate filly for $1.6million.
Named Patasi, the filly remains one of Australia's best maidens, but is already dual stakes placed, ensuring her value as a broodmare in the future.
“She's the only yearling I've bought in years but it was a family I had admired and wanted to buy into,” he says of the half-sister to South African champion Laisserfaire and stakes winners Foreplay and Personify.
“It's been slightly disappointing so far, as she should have won two Listed races, but I bought her to breed from and I'm very comfortable with that because I know she has the ability of a very good racehorse.
The likelihood is that Patasi will be retired to stud this year, but the door remains open.
Scarborough has always been “a bit of a fan” of Danehill Dancer and had no hesitation in spending huge dollars on a yearling filly by the Coolmore stallion.
“When I bought Patasi, Private Steer had just finished racing and Choisir had a huge amount of hype on him as a first season sire, having covered a tremendous first book.
“I had also been a regular visitor to Coolmore in Ireland and had always admired the stallion and he was having an enormous amount of success in Europe at that time.”
Light Fantastic was also a yearling at that time, but the decision to accrue more Danehill Dancer blood had nothing to do with him.
Put simply, the grey was a problem child and Group 1 races seemed a lifetime away in the beginning.
“He was constantly lame – chronically lame,” Scarborough says.
“He had an abscess problem and then x-rays revealed he had a cyst in his pedal bone which was inoperable.”
This went on for a long time, with Mick Price turning him out on a number of occasions.
“We sent him back (again) with no confidence and he started work around early September, but this time he held up.
“We was ready to race around Christmas time and by then we knew he was good.
“But then he had a high white cell count and Mick decided to give him three weeks in a paddock.
“He was still reasonably fit when he came back in and he was galloping again in late January.
“So you can see he spent a long, long time in work – apart from those couple of weeks – and it is really incredible that he could have those four runs and still be firing at the end of it all.
“I knew there would be no problems going from Kyneton (where he easily won his maiden) to Moonee Valley (Listed 1200m win), but then he had to back up in seven days going to Caulfield (1400m G2).
“I was just waiting for him to fall apart and Mick had that juggling act of getting him through that fortnight leading up to the Guineas (G1).
“So both the horse and Mick Price did an amazing job to hold it all together through until March.
“It was a pretty brave effort to get down that straight and defy all those challengers that came at him.”
Of course, Light Fantastic is a gelding, meaning there will be no rushing off to stud to cash in on his early success.
“During all of the feet problems, he was getting too big and gross as a colt ... there goes my superannuation fund!”
The Cadbury Guineas win rates very highly on Scarborough's list of achievements, which now includes racing and/or breeding eight individual Group 1 winners.
“Final Card was my first Group 1 winner and that was an amazing and thrilling experience.
“Then we had Gold Ace and he was just a very, very special horse, winning three Group 1 races.
“I've always rated him the best, but I think this guy (Light Fantastic) might be the best of them all.”
Of course, Light Fantastic's dam Leica Or Not has also entered rarified territory, having previously provided Scarborough with the G1 New Zealand Derby winner Leica Guv.
“She's definitely the best mare we've got, having given us Light Fantastic, Leica Guv and also Lectrice (Encosta De Lago), who I'm looking forward to retiring and sending to stud this year.”
Scarborough secured Leica Or Not as a yearling at the Sale of the Sanctuary in the same year that the first crop of Danehill yearlings were sold (1993).
“She was by Kendor, who I think only had one or two crops down here before eventually proving a successful sire in France,” Scarborough said.
“I think I paid just over $100,000 for her – which was quite a lot of money at the time.
“Lee Freedman trained her and she won only the one race – at Tatura (by 4.5 lengths) and was retired after only five starts.”
Leica Or Not has since produced an Elvstroem yearling filly, who will be retained.
“As far as fillies go, I only have Lectrice from her,” Scarborough explains.
“Her other fillies were Dream Leica, which we sold, and Just Leica, who I sold to my son Nick for a very attractive price ... so I'm happy to keep the Elvstroem filly.
“She also has a Redoute's Choice weanling colt who is a really nice sort and I haven't made up my mind whether to sell him or not. I will decide later in the year, but he's probably too valuable to keep.”
Naturally enough, Leica Or Not will be headed Danehill Dancer's way should he return to Coolmore Australia in 2008.
Another Wood Nook Farm favourite is Joolzy, still going strong as a rising 21-year-old.
The daughter of Noble Bijou failed to win on the track, but gained notoriety as the dam of Group 1 winner and one-time Melbourne Cup favourite Marble Halls.
More recently Joolzy was back in the frame as the grand dam of last year's Blue Diamond winner Sleek Chassis.
“The dear old girl is looking quite special at the moment,” Scarborough says.
Her two-year-old Encosta De Lago filly Jujube is in training with Peter Moody (but will need a bit of time according to Scarborough) and she also has a yearling Redoute's Choice filly, who is said to be more precocious than Jujube and may well race at two.
Joolzy also has an Encosta De Lago weanling, which Scarborough has no hesitation in labelling a “cracker” and a “little bit like Marble Halls”, being a “nice stately sort of colt.”
Joolzy is now in foal to Elvstroem.
“We try and look after her and the last two foals have gone to foster mothers,” Scarborough said.
“She broke down very badly after only a few starts, but she did run a cracker of a race on debut at Randwick.
“She had a great pedigree and has given me a lot of pleasure, through Marble Halls and then Tigereye (dam of Sleek Chassis), who was a real favourite of ours.”
Sleek Chassis will go to stud this year, but finding a stallion for her is going to be easier said than done.
“She's by Flying Spur, so all the Danehills are out and Encosta De Lago as well, and probably Hussonet too because of the Mr Prospector,” Scarborough explains.
“So she is a tough one to work out, but hopefully something will present itself in the next few months.”
The owner is keen to campaign Light Fantastic on the international stage, but putting his Moonee Valley Chairman's hat on, there really is one race that stands above all others.
“I'd like to campaign him overseas and I think a race like the Dubai Duty Free is a great race for Australian horses to target.
“It becomes a little harder in the middle of the year though.
“But even allowing for any of that, the Cox Plate would be just about everything for me.
“Even prior to my close involvement with Moonee Valley, I regarded it as the greatest race in Australia.
“I would love to win a Golden Slipper and a Melbourne Cup and the Doncaster and AJC Derby are great races as well, but I really think the Cox Plate is it.”
After proving an excitement machine in his debut campaign, Light Fantastic is now resting up for those greater challenges that lie ahead.
Scarborough has already tasted Group 1 success at the Valley thanks to the smart mare Stella Cadente, but be assured, a Cox Plate will most assuredly surpass any other feats of his cast of high class gallopers should Light Fantastic prove up to the task this October.