'We are seriously considering the Breeders' Cup for Deny Knowledge’: Sweet taste of success for Honeycomb Stud

10 min read
Honeycomb Stud's Director Adrian Whittingham caught up with The Thoroughbred Report to talk about the astute purchase of Saturday's G2 Matriarch S. victress Deny Knowledge and the Breeders' Cup dream for the tough daughter of Pride Of Dubai.

Cover image courtesy of Racing Photos

Saturday provided the ever consistent Deny Knowledge (Ire) (Pride of Dubai) with her biggest win to date in the G2 Matriarch S.

Having her sixth start in a campaign spanning back to August, the mare had an abundance of race fitness on her side, and was able to tough out a thrilling finish on the final day of the Flemington Carnival.

Brimming with excitement over the performance, Honeycomb Stud Director Adrian Whittingham spoke to The Thoroughbred Report about his boutique operation.

The horse that would not be denied

From the start, Whittingham was eager to heap adoration on to the performances of his star mare. “She is one of the first fillies we bought overseas as a yearling, we try and buy one or two a year, she only cost us €26,000 (AU$43,700). We race them over there for a season or two, and then bring them over. To see her now as a multiple Group winner, it’s just fantastic.”

Purchased at the Goffs Ireland Yearling Sale for €26,000 (AU$43,700) in 2019 from Kilcarn Park, she broke her maiden over 1400 metres in a 3-year-old novice race in April 2021, winning once more before transferring to Australia at the start of 2022. She progressed through the grades, winning a fillies and mares BM78 at Caulfield in May 2022, before a maiden stakes success in the G3 Belle of the Turf S. at Gosford in December.

Connections of Deny Knowledge (Ire) after winning the G2 Matriarch S. at Flemington | Image courtesy of Racing Photos

After placing in the G2 Sunline S. in March this year, she turned plenty of heads with a powerful display in the $150,000 Country Oaks at Geelong, going to the front and never looking back in a 10l display.

With big spring goals ahead, she put her best hoof forward when resuming in August, winning at BM100 level at Moonee Valley, before contesting the G2 Feehan S., G2 Stocks S. and G1 Might And Power S. within five weeks.

It was the middle of those runs that Whittingham had the most admiration for, both for his horse and those around her; “The data around her, it’s Group 1 data. She ran time with Amelia’s Jewel, that turned out to be the race of the carnival. Pride Of Jenni came out of that race, she beat Atishu who won on Saturday as well. The data (around Deny Knowledge) proved correct. The form is massively underrated.”

“The data around her (Deny Knowledge), it’s Group 1 data. She ran time with Amelia’s Jewel, that turned out to be the race of the carnival.” - Adrian Whittingham

Breeders' Cup tilt?

Both Pride Of Jenni (Pride Of Dubai) and Atishu (NZ) (Savabeel) finished ahead of Deny Knowledge on the opening day of the carnival in the G1 Empire Rose S., the former with a daring front-running ride and the latter with a barnstorming run from a very difficult position. Narrowly getting into third was Life Lessons (NZ) (Tavistock {NZ}), who had given Amelia’s Jewel (Siyouni {Fr}) something to catch in the G2 Let’s Elope S. at the start of spring.

With unwavering confidence in his mare off the strength of the performances around her, Whittingham entered his mare to compete in the G2 Matriarch S. seven days later, saying “nomming (nominating) is something we do frequently. We’re always looking for the right race.”

It turned out to be worthwhile, with Jamie Kah riding a perfect race from the front, narrowly denying Osmose (Fr) (Zoffany {Ire}) in a duel down the expansive Flemington straight. It was vindication for both owners and rider, with Whittingham explaining: “Jamie (Kah) got off after the Empire Rose and said, ‘Can I please ride her in the Matriarch?’ There was no way we were going to take her off. She has great hands, we thought she’d be perfect for her (Deny Knowledge).”

Adrian Whittingham | Image courtesy of Honeycomb Stud

When asked about the number of jockeys who have been legged aboard this spring (Wimeru Pinn, Ethan Brown and Jamie Kah have all had rides in her six-start campaign), Whittingham described his star mare as “quirky” and said, “Nikki Burke rides her in trackwork and she just goes, you can’t hold her.”

With a Group 2 victory under her belt, the next logical progression would be to aim for a Group 1. Connections are certainly doing that, but in a more unconventional manner than we are used to in Australian racing.

“We’re going to take a different path, we’re going to skip the autumn. We are seriously considering the Breeders’ Cup, both the dirt race and turf race. We think she’d be a perfect dirt horse, she would be very well suited to that front-running, on-speed style, she has lots of stamina.

“We are seriously considering the Breeders’ Cup (with Deny Knowledge), both the dirt race and turf race. We think she’d be a perfect dirt horse...” - Adrian Whittingham

The Distaff next November seems perfect. It may be a pie in the sky, but it’s a possibility. We have a horse to dream with, so who knows. It’s at Del Mar (San Diego) next year, which makes travel a lot easier.”

Rare Air

While not unprecedented, a foray to North America for the Breeders’ Cup Carnival would certainly be a rarity for Australian-owned horses.

Most recently attempting the feat with an Australian connection was the classy mare Oleksandra (Animal Kingdom {USA}), who began life under the tutelage of Bjorn Baker in New South Wales.

Champion racehorse So You Think (NZ) attempted to claim the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in 2011, finishing sixth for Aidan O’Brien under his son (and now leading trainer in his own right) Joseph.

So You Think (NZ) ran sixth in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic | Standing at Coolmore

Another top modern-day stallion, Starspangledbanner, had travelled the year prior for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, finishing 10th.

One of the most prominent horses of the 1980s, the globetrotting Strawberry Road has stood as the closest a horse trained in Australia (at one point) has come to claiming Breeders’ glory. Having won the Cox Plate in 1983, he would commence a sweeping journey around the world, racing throughout Europe on his way to the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 1985. He found one better on the day, unable to get past Pebbles (GB) (Sharpen Up {GB}).

If Deny Knowledge does traverse the globe and face the starter, she would join an exclusive club of some of the best thoroughbreds to grace the Australian turf. She has already banked over $700,000 in prizemoney, and for a mare that cost less than $50,000, a win in a Breeders’ carnival race would be an incredible story.

Strawberry Road ran in the Breeders’ Cup Turf in 1985 | Image courtesy of Sportpix

A unique operation

Having formed in 2014, Honeycomb Stud is a relatively new player in the racing landscape, taking a unique lens to the sport. “We have a different approach, we’re data driven. We’re buying for residual value and racetrack performance,” Whittingham explained.

While Deny Knowledge is very much the flagbearer of the results that Honeycomb have achieved in their nine years of operation, she isn’t the only one kicking goals, with Kind Gesture (GB) (Decorated Knight {GB}) getting Saturday off to a strong start.

“Kind Gesture ran third in the first at Flemington, she ran third, it was a huge run. We’ll look to add to this going forward.”

“Kind Gesture ran third in the first at Flemington, she ran third, it was a huge run. We’ll look to add to this going forward.” - Adrian Whittingham

Having missed the start underneath Craig Williams, the 5-year-old mare was strong late in a race dominated but the two on speed. Both of her career victories came in June 2022 in the United Kingdom, including a dominant 10l display at Windsor when being sent around a $1.40 favourite.

There was a bit more on offer for connections on Saturday, with Whittingham chortling, “It was particularly good when they opened her (Deny Knowledge) at $51!

“We have two owners in both (Deny Knowledge and Kind Gesture) and it’s fantastic to share this with them.”

Michael Kent, trainer of both Deny Knowledge (Ire) and Kind Gesture (GB) | Image courtesy of Racing Photos

Veteran horseman Michael Kent trains both, and there was plenty of praise on offer for him. “Mick prepared them both, full credit to his team, they’ve done a fantastic job.”

Doing it by the numbers

In an era of artificial intelligence, instant global connectivity and algorithms, Whittingham has moved with the times, building himself a system that’s able to scour an eye-watering amount of prospects.

“We look at five to 10 thousand fillies a year. The pedigree side is one aspect but we try and find the right fillies with the right form and data profile.

“We’re running at 20 per cent stakes horses to runners every year. But as they say, you’re only as good as your last game.

“We’re running at 20 per cent stakes horses to runners every year. But as they say, you’re only as good as your last game.” - Adrian Whittingham

“It’s multi-faceted, it’s in the acquisition of our stock, and the programming of our races. It’s a hard enough game as it is, so any one percenter you can get, you take.

“There are plenty of good owners, trainers, jockeys out there. You need any advantage you can get.”

Talking about data circled us right back to Deny Knowledge, and her sire, Pride Of Dubai. “We like Pride Of Dubai. He gets tough horses out for good prices and gets results.”

Pride Of Dubai | Standing at Coolmore

Classy mares aplenty

Whittingham isn’t the only advocate for Pride Of Dubai, who has quickly established himself as a versatile stallion, who can consistently produce top fillies and mares.

His progeny have shown incredible diversity, from star sprinter Bella Nipotina to an Oaks winner in She’s Fit, there’s been success across a host of distances and track conditions.

While also siring one of the stars of the autumn, Dubai Honour (Ire), who conquered all for trainer William Haggas, it’s been with females he’s had the most on-track success.

Gallery: Some of Pride Of Dubai's Group 1 winners, images courtesy of The Image Is Everything

Alongside the aforementioned Bella Nipotina and She’s Fit (as well as Deny Knowledge), Pride Of Dubai has produced Group-winning mares Pride Of Jenni, Sirileo Miss and Splendiferous in Australia. His results extend into the Northern Hemisphere, where he has sired Telepathic Glances (Ire), Just Beautiful (GB) and Star Of Emaraaty (Ire).

Currently, he has produced 12 stakes-winning mares, compared to eight stakes-winning colts and geldings. The disparity widens with stakes wins, he has 27 stakes wins from mares, compared to 13 from colts and geldings.

Pride Of Dubai is a resident of Coolmore Australia, where he stands for a fee of $27,500 (inc GST).

Deny Knowledge
Pride Of Dubai
Coolmore Stud
Breeders' Cup
Honeycomb Stud