Woodlands Stud’s breakthrough NZ Cup success

16th November 2021

By Brad Reid

In the breeding shed, they say it takes two to tango when producing a racehorse, with both sire and dam bringing exactly fifty per cent of the genetic make-up to the pedigree of a foal.

That is evident when looking at the pedigree of last week’s cup winner, Copy That who was rollicking out in front when winning our greatest race of all.

And while the Ray Green trained entire may have been rollicking, it was the frolicking of his parents that provided the match made in heaven with the enigmatic son of American Ideal leading the Cup field a merry dance.

In doing so, Copy That continued the rich maternal history of his dam Lively Nights (Live Or Die x White Nights) and provided her first breeding consort, American Ideal and breeder Woodlands Stud with a defining moment in their illustrious contributions to our studbook.

For the Clevedon based breeding giant, who are the country’s leading breeder in both volume of foals and race wins per season, about the only accolade missing from the CV was a credit as the breeder of the New Zealand Cup winner.

The sheer volume of numbers and their commitment to excellence has seen them in the last five years breeding group winners such as Speeding Spur, Need You Now, Henry Hubert, Another Masterpiece, She’s No Lady, Jesse Duke, Partyon and Spanish Armada to name but a few.

But you could tell when talking to Woodlands Stud co-owner Andrew Grierson, the Cup win of Copy That was extra special given the sire in which he has stood for 15 seasons and the dam of whom he has now proven were both somewhat overlooked.

“That’s what we are in the breeding game for isn’t it?” quipped Grierson.

“There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having stood the stallion and giving the dam an opportunity to prove herself. But having foaled Copy That down on-farm and handling him ourselves, educating him for a weanling sale and on selling him to wonderful clients who have then gone on and proved the horse is what we are in business for.

“We are also thrilled for Ray and Debbie (Green) obviously who have been massive supporters of the stock of American Ideal,” said Grierson.

American Ideal will go down in history as a Cup-winning sire where many other champion stallions of our studbook have failed to etch their names.

His career has been a polarising one in New Zealand.

“The stats speak for themselves, he’s done a better job down under in Australia than he has in New Zealand.

“I remember a few years ago he had the best two-year-old in NSW, the second-best two-year-old in Victoria, the best horse in WA and was the second leading sire of two-year-olds in Australia, and yet he had only one two-year-old winner in New Zealand.

“When you look at him in America he is never out of the top eight every year of each age group and all age on earnings and winners and he is already beginning to make his mark as an influential dam sire thanks to his incredibly strong maternal line. Sires with strong maternal lines invariably fail to disappoint on that side of the coin and he will make an incredible dam sire going forward,” said Grierson.

Despite siring sensational race fillies such as The Orange Agent, Democrat Party, Luisanabelle Midfrew and Ideal Belle, it was a lack of good colts from his early crops that had seen American Ideal fall out of favour here in New Zealand.

That assessment may be harsh given the son of Western Ideal has never consistently served the number of mares sires like Bettor’s Delight and Art Major have been afforded.

Even so, he still produced the likes of Ideal Scott and Besotted from his first crop and millionaire (My) Hard Copy from his second.

Perception can sometimes cast shade over reality, and in this case despite having a proven track record of throwing superb racehorses in both hemispheres, American Ideal served a paltry 42 mares in the 2018 season. This saw him resume down under stud duties from his new home at Northern Rivers Equine in Victoria in 2019.

“It was a no brainer on our part to send him where he was getting the support,” said Grierson.

“He will serve his 150 mares in Australia this season and has practically had full books his entire career over there. The irony is that basically as soon as we decided to stand him in Victoria the likes of Copy That, American Dealer and Christianshavtime began to emerge in New Zealand,” he said.

The last 18 months have signalled a renaissance period down under for American Ideal, with NZ bred Group One winners like Copy That, American Dealer and Enjoy Me the headline acts with Open Class pacers such as Christianshavtime, Triple Eight, Kango & Taipo playing an extremely talented supporting cast.

All the aforementioned have typified the mix of speed and stamina American Ideal passes on to his stock.

Copy That’s win on Tuesday ended the seven-year dominance of the race held by Bettor’s Delight with Falcon Seelster having made a cameo in 2019 with Cruz Bromac.

It is remarkable to think that commercial sires such as Art Major and Mach Three have not sired a Cup winner given their success down under, however, Grierson is not surprised American Ideal has managed to add his name to the pantheon of cup winning Sires.

“His stock are probably not as precocious as some of the other top stallions, but he is a good looking horse and an athletic, thoroughbred type with a fantastic nature. He’s a gentleman.

The most fantastic sire to look after and he just wants to please you. He’s happy to see you and throws that in his offspring as well,” said Grierson.

Ray Green and Lincoln Farms have perennially been the biggest supporter of the stallion every year at the national yearling and weanling sales, with Green picking up numerous sons and daughters of American Ideal for a bargain in the process.

Copy That was a $7000 purchase after catching the eye of Greens wife Debbie, taken by the athletic walk he possessed. Grierson remembers Copy That being prepared for the All Age Sale at Karaka in 2017.

“He wasn’t a big horse, just a nice horse, not big, not small.

“We sold him as a weanling and it was Ray Green’s wife who bought him. She had brought Hard Copy as well and was never happy when Ray sold him, but probably wasn’t unhappy with the price,” laughed Grierson.

“She’s obviously got a good eye because he showed something right from the start and (My) Hard Copy won $1.1 million also.

“The only reason we sent Copy That to the weanling sale was that even though his dam had won seven races, she was by Live Or Die and his pedigree had a lot of old blood in it and would have been classified as an old breed at the yearling sales.

“We got his dam Lively Nights from Charles Blackwell, a former owner of John Dickie who trained her throughout her career. She was a reasonable race mare having won seven, and as they were looking to cut back on their stock we jumped at the opportunity to breed from her.

“We have also leased another mare of his called Voluntad who is a half-sister by Real Desire. She was a better race mare than Lively Nights being a bigger stronger mare and had a slightly better mile rate to her name having gone 56 and winning eight, but even so, there wasn’t a lot of current success outside of the pair,” he said.

It’s always interesting to look back at a mare’s pedigree and find what you might call a fork in the road, where for whatever reason a certain branch just doesn’t kick on as you might expect.

Sometimes you can find a logical reason upon which you can make an assumption, but it’s never quite that simple. Because the one thing you often find with an older breed that strikes troubled waters is that the good blood will eventually come through if persevered with. A concept that is becoming less prevalent today with commercial realities a bigger factor in whether a mare is tried.

Thankfully this breed was persevered with and bounced back in the biggest possible way! A New Zealand Cup winner has stemmed from a line laying like a dormant volcano just biding its time, bubbling under the surface and thankfully never going extinct.

After all, it was only thirty years ago that this breed was the hottest ticket in town having produced two closely related cup winners in the space of four years.

Lively Nights is out of the unraced Road Machine mare White Nights who in turn was out of a lightly raced Butler BG mare B G Star.

Her dam was the speedy six-win Mercedes mare Proud Star who traces to Miranda Star (1969 Gentry – Miranda Bay), a half-sister to Miranda Belle, another Mercedes mare and dam of the 1988 New Zealand Cup winning millionaire, Luxury Liner.

Miranda Star was the producer of 15 foals for eight winners and like a lot of this breed at the time had the good fortune of the great Roy and Barry Purdon training most of her progeny through their halcyon days in the ’80s & 90s.

At least five of her progeny were Group performed with the best of them being Country Star (1977 Country Road), the winner of the 1980 G2 Balance Stakes and 1982 G3 Manakau Summer Cup. He was the winner of 10 races and had 12 placings all told.

Probably the most brilliant of them was Top Vance (1984 Vance Hanover) who won eight and while never won at Group level was good enough to run second behind Dillon Dean in the 1987 Sires Stakes Final and took a mark of 1.55 in America.

Miranda Star’s fourth foal would easily turn out to be the most fruitful from the mare with the daughter of Berry Hanover showing far more in the breeding barn than she did on the track.

(1978) Disco Girl was the winner of one race and had a winning mile rate of 2.13.6 when she went to stud. While it may have taken her a while to get warm on race day, she caught fire immediately when mated with Vance Hanover in the spring of 1985 producing the 1991 New Zealand Cup Winner, Christopher Vance.

The six-time Group One winner featured an Auckland Cup, Miracle Mile, Messenger & Taylor Mile on his resume at a time when the Open Class ranks were deeper than the Indian Ocean. Retiring with 1.7 million in stake money in 1996 would equate to close to $3million when adjusted for inflation today!

He wasn’t the only top horse to stem from Disco Girl either. Her daughter Disco Lass (Soky’s Atom) was responsible for the tail lines of six-figure earners Better B Amazed (Bettor’s Delight), Mercurio (Christian Cullen) and Step Up (Art Major).

Another daughter in Missy Lou (Smooth Fella) produced the tail lines of six-figure earners such as Luckisaladytonight (Presidential Ball), Golden State (Big Jim), Maczaffair (Mach Three), Mikes Pal (Soky’s Atom) and Hasani (Christian Cullen).

Along with nine six-figure earners, Disco Girl has 15 direct descendants to have paced 1.55 or better.

With all this firepower emanating from Disco Girl, what kept the maternal family of Tuesday Cup Winner from exploding with champions of its own?

The most obvious conclusion one can draw upon lies in their genetic make-up.

Disco Girl was by Berry Hanover, a son of Tar Heel who as a sire left 168 NZ winners but no progeny to earn more than $80,000 in stakes.

Her half-sister and the great great grandam of Copy That was by Mercedes, a son of Meadow Skipper who while having less than half the winners of Berry Hanover produced the cup winner Luxury Liner, Rowe Cup winner Idle Scott and the open class star, Gaelic Skipper.

As broodmare sires, they were polar opposites which goes a long way to explaining the slow burn which lead to Lively Nights producing Copy That.

Berry Hanover was the damsire of 217 NZ bred winners including the likes of Elmer Gantry, Greg Brydon as well as Sharp and Telford and Christopher Vance alongside a string of several handy intermediate type pacers.

Mercedes on the other hand was the damsire of 89 NZ bred winners with only Marvin Royce and Casino Lord winning more than $50,000.

Genetic and pedigree expert Frank Marrion offered the following excerpt :

“Mercedes was a Meadow Skipper horse and came along at the right time. He clicked on occasions but on the whole, was a bloody disaster like most at the time. Berry Hanover was a son of Tar Heel and Tar Heel sons weren’t great at stud but generally, that was great broodmare blood for the Meadow Skipper line that was prevalent in our breed. Tar Heel came from an exceptional family which went back to Scotland etc.”

While there is no way of proving what reignited the flame for this family once laden with top liners, there is no shadow of a doubt that Lively Night’s dam White Nights has been able to throw a nice horse from limited opportunities.

You could also make an argument that the presence of Butler BG in her own dam B G Star has played a significant part in ironing out some of the kinks left by Mercedes in the pedigree.

“Both Lively Nights and her half-sister Voluntad are mares who are more than worthy of the yearling sales these days,” he joked.

“We gave Lively Nights an opportunity with Bettor’s Delight in 2017 and that produced Toni Street whom Jeremy Young purchased at the sales.

“Ray purchased the Highview Tommy half-brother called My Copy from us and qualified him as a two-year-old in June.

“We have a Downbytheseaside half-brother going to this year’s yearling sales and Lively Nights has an American Ideal colt at foot and she is back in foal to him again also with a positive October service,” said Grierson.

It would be remiss to fail to mention the dam sire success of Live Or Die and his contribution to the Cup-winning recipe.

The win was his fourth cup credit as damsire having previously been the other half of the genetic makeup in cups king Terror To Love’s pedigree. He was also the sire of dual NZ Cup winner Just An Excuse.

Interestingly the genetic cross between American Ideal and Live Or Die is statistically the best cross for American Ideal where more than 20 foals have been bred. From 28 live foals, he is a remarkable 60% foals to winners with the average earnings of the progeny sitting at a balmy $48,000.

That number will only have increased with the $330,000 race stake yet to be applied.