There’s every chance that Hidden Cyclone and Champagne Fever
will take on the might of Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
The pair are currently the highest profile offspring of Whytemount Stud’s late and great stallion Stowaway. Godolphin’s high-class middle distance performer had a short yet successful career on the racecourse. The son of runaway Derby winner Slip Anchor; himself a talented and aggressive front runner; Stowaway won the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Goodwood as a three-year-old, before taking the Group 2 Great Voltigeur when defeating the Derby runner-up Silver Patriarch.
The St Leger at Doncaster is the traditional target for Voltigeur winners but he failed to make that intended target with the race going to Silver Patriarch. Stowaway instead ran in the Champion Stakes at Newmarket where he finished a creditable fourth to the mighty Pilsudski. After spending the winter in Dubai he returned to action winning the Sheema Classic, though that sadly proved to be his final racecourse appearance.
Almost three years later he was purchased by Ronnie O'Neill, owner of Whytemount Stud. After such a period out of the limelight his career at stud understandably started rather slowly. However the number of mares covered gradually increased and with it a superior quality of horse hit the racetrack. O’Neill spoke in 2011 of his successful stallion: “I bought Stowaway from Darley in 2001. I always liked his sire, Slip Anchor, and Stowaway was a very good racehorse. He's a fine big horse who gets good-looking, good-sized horses. A lot of them are future chasers but some have a bit of foot too."
Stowaway died earlier this month and O’Neill again spoke in glowing terms: “He was a fantastic stallion and had been having a good spell, with Hidden Cyclone and Outlander winning big races, he'll be missed on the farm as he was so good to us - a real once in a lifetime horse."
Hidden Cyclone and Champagne Fever were very much the horses that put the Sire on the map. The latter has won four Grade 1 events whilst the former won the Grade 2 Tied Cottage Chase at the weekend. Both have career earnings of just under £300,000 though Champagne Fever is two years the younger.
They have a very similar running style not unlike their Grand Sire Slip Anchor. They are keen to get on with things and are often ridden forcefully. Similarities continue, with both having been tried unsuccessfully over extended trips.
Willie Mullins’ chaser looked the only horse capable of putting it up to Silviniaco Conti in the King George over Christmas. But keen early on, his stamina ran out on the home straight prompting connections to reassess his end of season targets. His final fence fall when looking to be overhauled by Don Cossack in the Kinloch Brae Chase may well have booked his ticket to the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
Shark Hanlon finally seems to be getting the very best out of Hidden Cyclone as he realises his enormous potential. Always the apple of his trainer’s eye he looked set to win the Ryanair Chase last year when bursting clear turning for home. But he was caught up that infamous hill by Dynaste and it looks likely that he will drop back in trip this time round.
He too was tried over further during his career, but again a keenness to get on with things proved his downfall, and in the Lexus Chase of 2012 he faded badly late in the race having led two fences from home.
It would be some sight to watch the two Stowaway geldings slugging it out up front with Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets waiting in the wings. They could take some pegging back over the minimum trip.
The Festival may well showcase the talents of yet another Stowaway offspring. Already mentioned earlier in the piece, Outlander is the latest from the bloodline to show top-class potential. He was a stunning winner of a recent Grade 2 novice hurdle at Leopardstown, beating a strong field which included No More Heroes. Travelling like a dream, he kicked clear from the last to win by three lengths.
More stoutly bred out of a Supreme Leader mare, he still appeared unable to get home over three miles in his previous run when beaten by Martello Tower at Limerick. He comfortably reversed that form when stepped back in trip at Leopardstown and could well prove to be at his best over two and half miles.
It’s fascinating to see the traits of horses passed down through generations. Stowaway proved to be a terrific stallion and his progeny may well light up the Cheltenham Festival in March.