Boom youngster Escape Artist traces to pint-sized mare

By Peter Wharton

Rangiora breeder and NZ Standardbred Breeders Association executive member Rob Courtney admits that he had some misgivings when he bought the In The Pocket mare Scherger Petite sight unseen off Frank Cooney 25 years ago.

“In The Pocket was all the rage at the time, but had I seen her physically I probably wouldn’t have bought her. She was the smallest, most insignificant weanling you’ve ever seen,” Rob said.

American Tart with her 2024 NZB Standardbred Sales bound Tall Dark Stranger colt

“There were a few good horses in the family including Perfect Seelster who wasn’t too big either but turned out to be alright.”

Scherger Petite now ranks as the great grand-dam of none other than the brilliant Art Major colt Escape Artist, one of New Zealand’s top two-year-olds of the current season.

Sold for $60,000 to clients of the Barry Purdon and Scott Phelan’s stable at the NZB National Yearling Sale at Christchurch in 2022, Escape Artist has won twice at Alexandra Park and finished a neck second to his star stablemate Cold Chisel in the Group 2 $58,590 Breckon Farms Young Guns from only seven attempts.

“Scott told me he thinks there’s not much between them. We’re hoping he’ll be racing in all the nice three-year-old races next season,” Rob said.

Back to Scherger Petite. Unraced, she was put to the stud as a four-year-old, producing the 1:59.3 Kurow winner Scherger Talk (by Beach Towel) as her first foal.

Her third foal, Redwheadedwildflower (by Falcon Seelster), was a winner and she really established the family for Courtney to some purpose.

“I raced Redheadedwildflower with a couple of keen racing fellas, Pete and John McAllister. Pete and I were teachers together at Kaiapoi High School in north Canterbury, between Rangiora and Christchurch,” Rob said.

The first foal of Redheadedwildflower was the bonny American Ideal mare American Tart.

“American Tart won nine races and almost $100,000 and but for her injuries I’m sure she would have won a Group 1. She was placed at Group 2 level,” Rob stated.

“She won her first three starts and then we turned down a large six figure sum for her. She went 2:39 for 2200 metres at Invercargill at her second start. She won on NZ Cup Day, she won on Auckland Cup night and she raced against the best mares in the country.”

Escape Artist is the first live foal out of American Tart.

“She had a foal by Art Major. He came out alright physically but he couldn’t stand up and was put down within a couple of days after being born,” Courtney said.

“Escape Artist is the free return.”

Courtney and the McAllister brothers have nominated American Tart’s latest issue, Olympian, a colt by the 2020 US Horse of the Year Tall Dark Stranger, for the Christchurch sale on February 24.

“He’s one of only three Tall Dark Stranger’s in the sale. He’s a good looking horse,” Rob said.

American Tart is carrying a positive test to Downbytheseaside.

“American Tart is the best horse I’ve ever had, so she’s clearly probably the best broodmare I’ve got as well,” he said.

“We loaned Redheadedwildflower a couple of seasons ago to Nevele R and they’ve got an Always B Miki colt. She’s getting on in years and I don’t normally go back to the well, but we’ve gone back to American Ideal, so the resultant foal will be either a full sister or full brother to American Tart.”

Courtney is also breeding from a granddaughter of the Dominion Handicap and Rowe Cup winner Landora’s Pride called Secretary Of State (by The Pres), who is in foal to Habibi Inta, and the well bred, young Shadow Play mare Beyond A Shadow, who he is breeding from in association with Aylesbury horseman Gavin Burgess. She’s been served by Pebble Beach.

HOOFNOTE: Rob Courtney bred the recent 1:57 Globe Derby Park winner Matador (by Raging Bull), who has won two out of three in South Australia