Connections of MUKHADRAM filly always thought she was a bit special
Posted on: 11th Feb 2019
Published in the Racing Post on Sunday, February 10
She boasts the sort of moniker usually reserved for offspring of Galileo and Group 1-winning mares, yet she was once sold for just 15,000gns in one of the quieter sessions of the Tattersalls December Foal Sale and hails from the first crop of Mukhadram, a stallion advertised at a fee of just £6,000 this year.
A Bit Special must surely have shown her owners Linda Shanahan, Emily Magnier and JP Magnier some pretty spectacular promise to make them tempt fate with that nomenclature.
But the three-year-old filly has lived up to her name based in the US with Patrick Biancone. She has now won four of her five starts, all at Gulfstream Park – flying home to take a maiden special weight on debut in August, scoring impressively in the Our Dear Peggy Stakes a month later, notching the Wait A While Stakes in December and then landing her first Grade 3 event, the Sweetest Chant Stakes, by two and a half lengths last Sunday.
The only defeat came on her second start when she challenged wide and then hung a little, but still displayed her thrilling turn of foot, to finish a neck second to the winner.
It turns out that, despite her relatively humble beginnings, early connections in Britain and Ireland also had a strong inkling that the filly was, indeed, a bit special.
She was bred by a partnership of Peter Botham, formerly of Langham Hall Stud, with Bumble Mitchell and her neighbour Sally Nicholls, and was born at Mitchell's stud in Scamblesby, Lincolnshire.
A Bit Special's dam Euro Empire was, surprisingly perhaps, considering the sums involved with her star daughter, a top-notcher on the track. She put her little-known California-based sire Bartok, a Leopardstown Listed winner for Con Collins by Fairy King, on the map when she won multiple stakes races and finished placed in two Grade 1s – the Del Mar Debutante and Oak Leaf Stakes – at two.
She was one of several high-class American mares bred from by Newsells Park Stud in the early years after its purchase by the late Klaus Jacobs, and had produced a fair few winners but little of note when she was resold for just 8,000gns at the Tattersalls July Sale in 2012.
In fact, Euro Empire's second foal Moving Diamonds beat her mother to the punch by producing a black-type winner – 2010 Listed National Stakes scorer Dinkum Diamond – a full seven years before she herself managed the feat, when Iskra took Listed honours in Turkey.
Mitchell takes up the story: “The partners wanted to sell out of A Bit Special as a foal; I'm not just saying this with the benefit of hindsight, but I didn't want to at the time. I told them she would make someone a lot of money, as she was just the most beautiful foal – absolutely lovely.
“But, anyway, we went to the sales. Gerry Burke came along to the block where we had our boxes and looked at the foal next door, so I asked him did he have this one on his list. He said no, but if you say she's nice, Bumble, I'll look at it.
“Actually, before I'd even arrived at the sale I'd thought Gerry was the sort of person who should buy her. She was just the type he goes for. She went through the sale late in the evening and he bought her for 15 grand.
“I can say hand on heart that I did like her, and after we watched her win her Grade 3 on TV I turned to Sally and said, 'see, I told you she was a good one!'”
The partnership that bred A Bit Special was dissolved after her sale, and Euro Empire is now owned outright by Mitchell. The mare has a Fast Company two-year-old filly named Warne's Army sold for £38,000 at the Goffs UK Premier Yearling Sale.
“Sadly, Euro Empire went and slipped her foal after being covered by Helmet last year, which is just typical,” says Mitchell. “She is getting on at 21 now but she's incredibly fit and still beating the three-year-olds out in the field – she's so fast.
“She's a mare you have to really pamper. She'd been based in California in her racing career and got used to the weather. She has to be kept warm all the time and is rugged up from September onwards, she just can't cope with the cold in Britain at all. You can tell she thinks this is a ridiculous country.”
Euro Empire returns to Nunnery Stud for another date with Mukhadram this year. “We'll hope it works again and keep our fingers crossed we get a filly,” Mitchell says.
Explaining why the Eclipse-winning son of Shamardal was chosen for the mare in the first place, she adds: “There was no great genius, we just loved him when we saw him at stud; he's a beautiful horse. I'm not going to pretend it was anything more than that!”
Mitchell's recommendation and Burke's judgement were justified when his Glidawn Stud resold A Bit Special to Wavertree Stables for €80,000 at the Goffs Orby Yearling Sale of 2017.
She becomes the latest in a lengthy list of classy fillies pinhooked by the County Waterford-based Glidawn, headed by Irish 1,000 Guineas heroine Hula Angel and useful names such as Aqlaam Vision, Jargelle and George Washington's only foal, Date With Destiny.
A modest Burke is keen to deflect any praise for sourcing A Bit Special.
“Bumble recommended the filly to me. She just looked as though she could be very good – a lovely scopey foal with a great walk,” he says. “She was always a classy lady and I'm grateful to the buyers and hope she can become a Grade 1 filly for them.
“In actual fact, I was so encouraged by A Bit Special that at the following foal sales I bought four colts by Mukhadram and each of them left a bit of profit when they were resold as yearlings last autumn.”
The fact that Burke's four pinhooks together advanced their vendors' outlay by around £25,000 is typical of the somewhat stealthy progress that Mukhadram has made in his early years at stud.
For Richard Lancaster, who has overseen Mukhadram's career at Nunnery Stud as director of Shadwell, there is satisfaction that A Bit Special is putting the stallion's name up in lights. But there is frustration too, that there has been little increased business for him because he is deemed to be uncommercial even in spite of his ability to throw good-looking stock and talented runners.
“These sorts of horses are finding it bloody difficult,” he states baldly. “For a horse who excelled over ten furlongs, Mukhadram has already shown he has the potential to be a very good stallion. He got 13 two-year-old winners including two stakes performers.
“He's fulfilled everything one could have expected and all the indications are now, with A Bit Special and Jahbath [a three-time winner with William Haggas] going from strength to strength, that his runners are going to improve. There will be plenty of good horses who haven't even run yet, as well.
“There have also been some early clues that he may be upgrading some of the mares he covered at an advertised fee of just £7,000 in his first season, and of course he's from the reliable and tough Giant's Causeway-Shamardal sire-line.
“But where we are at the moment is that people aren't breeding to produce racehorses. Many are taking decisions on how much the foal or yearling might make in the sale ring and it's not healthy for the future of racing. There's a real risk that the quality of our middle-distance and staying races will slip.
“You can see it in Australia now – they just breed for the Golden Slipper and it's been at the expense of their cup races. I worry we're rapidly going down the same path.”
Lancaster finds another of his stallions, Prince of Wales's Stakes and King George winner Poet's Word, in a similar position. A full nine pounds better than fellow Nunnery Stud newcomer Tasleet and indeed rated the seventh best horse anywhere in the world in 2018 in the recently published Longines World's Best Racehorse Rankings, the uptake for him has not been nearly as strong as that for his more precocious, sprinting colleague.
“It didn't help that he sustained a small injury before the December sales and was unable to be shown at Beech House Stud, so people didn't see him,” Lancaster says. “It's a shame as those who have seen him have been very impressed, and I'd encourage people to come to Nunnery and view him.”
A Bit Special has illustrated that a stallion like Mukhadram or Poet's Word cannot be discarded purely on their optimum trip or date of racecourse debut.
With that salutary lesson on the nonsensical nature of market prejudices, along with the new chapters in the success stories of her popular breeder and yearling vendor, the filly lives up to her name not just because of her present exploits but due to her rags to riches origin story too.
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