By Tony Stafford
The name Sangster has been synonymous with racehorse ownership for half a century. At his prime, the late Robert Sangster shared with the also late and always great Vincent O’Brien as an innovator, bringing the best US-bred yearlings to Ireland to win Classic races.
Robert, from the wealth created by his father Vernon, founder of the Vernons football pools company, branched into racing, enjoying multiple triumphs at the highest level with Epsom Derbys and Oaks, Arc de Triomphes and King George and Queen Elizabeths all falling under his spell.
Robert, Vincent and the trainer’s son-in-law John Magnier forged the partnership that evolved into Coolmore stud, linked with Vincent’s Ballydoyle stables in Co Tipperary. There another O’Brien, son David trained briefly, also winning the Derby with Secreto before going on to a more sedate lifestyle as a wine producer in France.
The vacancy when Vincent retired was filled by another, but unrelated O’Brien in Aidan, and the Sangster wealth has been replaced by the even more formidable funding of two Englishmen, Michael Tabor and more recently Derrick Smith. The Coolmore team continues to bestride racing in the model set up by the original triumvirate.
What of the Sangsters now? Well the males of the second generation, arrived at in two tranches via Robert’s first and third marriages, are all involved in the business, largely through Robert’s legacy as owner and developer of the Manton estate.
Ben and Guy Sangster have a major input in owning and running the estate for the family, with their in-house trainer Brian Meehan maintaining the pressure over his so-far six-year tenure with regular Group and grade 1 successes in Europe and elsewhere. Now a second trainer, George Baker, has rented a hitherto under-used, self-contained yard in a corner of the 2,000-acre Wiltshire estate.
The third of the older brothers, Adam, now is in sole charge of Swettenham stud, Australia, Ben and Guy having divested of the family holdings in that region. Adam’s enduring claim to fame as he builds up a smart team of stallions, is that his stud first presented Black Caviar to the world when preparing her for auction as a young filly.
Ben Sangster is no stranger to top-class production either. He bred both Roderick O’Connor and the 2011 Epsom Oaks heroine Dancing Rain and at Newbury on Saturday pointed out before the Scottish Grand National that he had also bred Big Occasion, David Pipe’s big hope for the race.
A six-year-old, Big Occasion is by the prepotent Coolmore stallion, the now-deceased Sadler’s Wells, best son of the iconic Northern Dancer, and the sire that linked the earlier and middle phase of the Coolmore story. Big Occasion, one of the last of the Sadler’s Wells, finished runner-up on Saturday and earned £38,000 for his efforts for the Betfairians, minutes after Ben opined: “When I did the mating we were hardly looking to produce a four-mile chaser!”.
Nobody, not even the present Coolmore partners ever expected Sadler’s Wells to be eclipsed, but that is precisely what has happened through the efforts of the progeny of his best son Galileo, a brilliant dual Derby winner who from the day his first crop became three year olds, has never looked back.
I had the effrontery one day at Royal Ascot to knock on the door of the Coolmore box and suggesting that maybe even John Magnier might have under-estimated the potential of his new protégé, who that day had no fewer than eight runners on a single Royal Ascot card. When three of them finished one-two-three in the St Leger and Red Rocks won at the Breeders’ Cup, his progress to greatness became inevitable and his own best son Frankel has cemented his fame for all time.
Ben Sangster sold a Galileo yearling filly last year for just short of 1m guineas and his two young brothers Sam and Max from Robert’s last marriage are also making waves in their early/mid 20’s. Sam runs Sirecam, a film business that helps present the raw material of sales-produced yearlings and breeze-up two-year-olds in picture form to the market. At the same time he is following his father and brothers into ownership, individually and with partners, but increasingly through the vehicle of Decadent Racing, a social club with high-grade horse action, and already the winners have been flying in all over the place.
Max Sangster, the youngest of the first generation, has joined forces with Ned, eldest son of Guy and therefore his nephew, to set up Invictus. A couple of early forays brought the Beverley two-year-old maiden winner Nelson’s Bay (in partnership with his breeder Raymond Tooth) and that provided the impetus (if not the funding) to do the deal which has made Invictus’ name.
Through the recruitment and marketing skills of their relative Jane Chapple-Hyam, step daughter to Robert as a result of his second marriage to the Australian Susan (wife two), they bought the Richard Fahey-trained five-year-old Mull of Killough late in his five-year-old season.
At that stage he had won three of his 14 races for Fahey, but looked an expensive purchase when he raced for the first time for the new partners in a Wolverhampton handicap. That proved to be his last run for Fahey. He finished fifth off his mark of 94, and there were a few who thought the young Sangsters might have bitten off more than they could chew. (Hands up, I was the most vociferous!).
Then, transferred to Jane, the by –now six-year-old won nicely at Lingfield, collecting more than £10,000, beginning a sequence of ten races, in six of which he has earned at least £18,000. He was runner-up in last year’s Lincoln, missed out twice before winning a Newmarket handicap on the July course, before embarking on an equine love affair on the other track. His earnings for Invictus’s lucky and grateful partners stand at £163,000!
Since last autumn, Mull of Killough has raced four consecutive times up the Rowley Mile. First he finished runner-up in the Cambridgeshire off his tough 100 mark, before going back to win the Group 3 Darley Stakes and the Listed James Seymour to end his exertions for the year.
Last week, on his comeback, he stylishly collected a second Group 3 when an emphatic winner of the Earl of Sefton Stakes, among his victims being the now gelded Bonfire. Ned told me before the race that the team were hoping for an invitation to Singapore. He’s (not the horse, not Ned) just the type to pick up many thousands on the lucrative Far East circuit. Wish them luck that the news from Singapore on Monday morning will be positive. They and Jane deserve it. What’s great for me is that the most famous name in English racehorse ownership will be in safe hands long after I’ve lost my tenuous hold on the periphery of this wonderful game’s stage.