'He was just a good, straightforward horse': Imperialist latest success from Curraghmore

8 min read
Smart colt Imperialist (NZ) (Churchill {Ire}) became the latest success story from Gordon Cunningham's outstanding nursery, Curraghmore, when he stormed to the line to claim the Listed The Phoenix. The Thoroughbred Report caught up with Cunningham to learn more about the colt he co-bred.

Cover image courtesy of Grant Peters

On Saturday, the Chris Waller-trained Imperialist (NZ) (Churchill {Ire}) burst onto the scene with a strong performance in the Listed The Phoenix over 1500 metres at Eagle Farm.

The effort gave Waller plenty to ponder about whether to push on towards next Saturday’s G1 JJ Atkins, a race in which he has celebrated much success, or to put his promising colt on ice.

Gordon Cunningham of Curraghmore, who bred Imperialist in conjunction with Demi O'Byrne's Arkle Bloodstock, is more than happy to savour Saturday's achievement and is certain that whatever call Waller makes with Imperialist will be an astute one.

The Thoroughbred Report chatted with Cunningham after the colt’s victory to learn more about the latest success story added to Curraghmore's vast honour roll. Cunningham also touched on his upcoming draft at the New Zealand Bloodstock National Weanling Sale.

Gordon Cunningham | Image courtesy of Trish Dunell

Champion Sire and a beautiful family

Imperialist is the first foal to race from Dancing Hare, a daughter of the outstanding broodmare sire Fastnet Rock. The well-related mare was a $400,000 purchase by Lee Freedman and Jon Kelly (USA) at the 2015 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale. Her trainers thought highly enough of her to set her on a G1 Australian Oaks path, contesting the G3 Adrian Knox S. However, the wet conditions in Sydney that year worked against Dancing Hare, and she was unable to replicate her best.

Dancing Hare was offered at the 2017 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale, where James Bester Bloodstock signed for her at over $90,000. The daughter of Fastnet Rock raced on for a little while after, eventually retiring with three victories and four placings from 19 starts.

Although Dancing Hare retired with a rather modest race record, her pedigree suggested she could be a successful broodmare. Her dam, the unraced Global Dance (Ire), a daughter of the Champion Sire Sadler’s Wells (USA), is a half-sister to the G1 Prix Saint-Alary S. victress Cerulean Sky (Ire) (Darshaan {GB}), who then produced Honolulu (Ire), the Champion 3-Year-Old Stayer in Ireland.

Dancing Hare was purchased from the 2017 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale for $90,000 | Image courtesy of Magic Millions

Dancing Hare’s pedigree also includes the G1 Irish Oaks winner Moonstone (GB) (Dalakhani {Ire}) and the G1 The Derby-placed U S Army Ranger (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}).

Describing Dancing Hare, Cunningham told TTR AusNZ, “She was a beautifully bred Fastnet Rock, ultimately, she had shown ability on the track, and she’d been brought down to Sydney by the Freedmans to run in potentially the Australian Oaks, but it was the autumn, and the racing was pretty much washed out.

“So, basically her ownership elected to sell her, they were selling all of their horses. She appealed to us physically, but she’s got a beautiful pedigree and a beautiful family.”

The Churchill factor

Dancing Hare visited Coolmore’s multiple Group 1-winning son of Scat Daddy (USA), Caravaggio (USA), in her first season. The resultant foal, a colt, is unnamed.

The daughter of Fastnet Rock returned to Coolmore but this time was served by Churchill (Ire), an outstanding son of the late Galileo (Ire). Churchill was a superb 2-year-old and a Classic-winning 3-year-old. He won the G1 Dewhurst S. and the G1 National S. as a juvenile, and then claimed the Guineas double: the G1 2000 Guineas and the G1 Irish 2000 Guineas.

The son of Galileo has shown the ability to produce top-class horses. Churchill is the sire of 25 stakes winners worldwide and 49 stakes performers.

Churchill (Ire) | Standing at Coolmore

He has sired the likes of the outstanding filly Blue Rose Cen (Ire), the G1 Prix du Jockey Club and G1 Eclipse S. victor Vadeni (Fr), and the Australian Group 1 winner Attrition.

Sending Dancing Hare to Churchill replicates the hugely successful Galileo/Fastnet Rock cross, which produces a 27 per cent stakes winner to runners ratio.

Although the cross played a part in Cunningham’s decision, he’s also a fan of Churchill. “The success of the nick played a part in sending Dancing Hare to Churchill.

“However, Churchill himself was a horse of the highest class. He’s the type of horse you’d long to breed a mare to anyway, on his class. Certainly, the bloodlines looked compatible and supported the decision,” Cunningham said.

Dancing Hare foaled a filly by Rich Hill Stud’s outstanding young sire Satono Aladdin (Jpn) and was then served by the G1 Cox Plate victor and Group 1-producing stallion Ocean Park (NZ).

Every opportunity

Reflecting on Imperialist as a young horse, Cunningham said, “He was just a good, straightforward horse from birth. He always had plenty of strength, good limbs, and a very good mind, really.”

Cunningham prepared the son of Churchill under his Curraghmore banner for the 2023 New Zealand Bloodstock National Yearling Sale. The colt was purchased for NZ$170,000 by champion trainer Chris Waller under his Chris Waller Racing banner and Mulcaster Bloodstock.

Imperialist is raced by his trainer along with Mr N Greenhalgh, Mrs M Greenhalgh, Mrs S Mann, Mrs A Galvin, Mr M Phillips, Mrs L Phillips, Mr K Gibbons, Mr L Caminiti, Mrs E Hunt, Mr K Drummond, Mr M Coli, Mr W Coli, Mr M Bates and Mr T Hunt.

Imperialist (NZ) as a yearling | Image courtesy of New Zealand Bloodstock

Waller had also signed for Curraghmore graduate Unforgotten (Fastnet Rock), whom he trained in Imperialist’s lime and dark green shamrock colours to success in the G1 Australian Oaks, the G2 Phar Lap S., and the G2 Chelmsford S.

Commenting on the price and the judges, Cunningham said, “I was thrilled with the price (NZ$170,000). It was a very good price for him, and we were delighted that he was secured by Guy (Mulcaster) and Chris (Waller) to join his stable. We knew he’d get every opportunity to fulfil his potential.”

“It was a very good price for him (Imperialist), and we were delighted that he was secured by Guy (Mulcaster) and Chris (Waller) to join his stable. We knew he’d get every opportunity to fulfil his potential.” - Gordon Cunningham

Imperialist debuted at Caulfield over 1100 metres, where he was unplaced, and followed that effort with a fourth-placed performance at Randwick-Kensington over 1400 metres, before Saturday’s success.

Asked if he was surprised to see Imperialist win a stakes race as a juvenile, Cunningham commented, “Those (stakes wins) always come as surprises anyway, don’t they? They’re always nice surprises. He’d been given two runs earlier than we might’ve thought. But he was obviously learning his ringcraft and he looked well. He was obviously well-placed on Saturday to run a good 1500 metres, which his pedigree suggests he would do well. So, they had him ready and he really found the line well on Saturday, which was very fun to see.”

On pushing on to next Saturday’s G1 JJ Atkins, Cunningham added, “To be honest, whatever call Chris would make you’d have confidence that it’s very objective.”

Well-rounded draft

Cunningham’s immediate focus turns to the New Zealand Bloodstock National Weanling Sale on Thursday, June 20, where he will consign 10 weanlings under his Curraghmore banner.

There is plenty of sire power on display, with lots by Proisir (Lot 36), Savabeel (Lot 56), Contributer (Ire) (Lot 73), and Waikato Stud’s young gun Super Seth (Lot 3).

They are joined by promising young stallions such as Sword Of State (Lots 18, 112, 134), Noverre (NZ) (Lot 125), Circus Maximus (Ire) (Lot 109), and St Mark’s Basilica (Fr) (Lot 139).

“I think across the board we’ve got a very good draft of horses. In its own right, it’s a draft we would present at the yearling sale next January. Without exception, each one of those horses could join any draft.

“I think across the board we’ve got a very good draft of horses. In its own right, it’s a draft we would present at the yearling sale next January. Without exception, each one of those horses could join any draft.” - Gordon Cunningham

“I’ve got great confidence that they’re genuine horses. We’ve got three colts there by Sword Of State, a stallion we’ve got a lot of time for. We’ve got a good colt by Noverre, another first-season sire, and a lovely colt by St Mark’s Basilica. There’s also a Savabeel and Proisir colt, but just right across the board, there’s a nice group of weanlings. They’re all very sound prospects. Many of our clients use the weanling sale as a means of keeping them in the business, their cash flow, and that applies to a number of horses in our draft this year, as it did last year.

Asked about his confidence in the market and participation at the sale, Cunningham is optimistic, “I think all the indications are positive. First and foremost, New Zealanders have participated big so far at the weanling sales in Australia. However, they know their best buying is usually at home where they can buy with the New Zealand dollar. On top of that, they don’t have to consider air freight or anything like that, and of course, the Karaka Weanling Sale has been a source for years of good success if you’re an owner or trainer or a pinhooker.

“I think it’s a neat catalogue, and a number of vendors over the years have really established the sale as being the source of some very good genuine horses going forward.”

Gordon Cunningham