Joyful start for Thunder Snow’s dam Eastern Joy

Thunder Snow: son of Helmet is his sire's first Group 1 winner

PICTURE: Joyful start for Thunder Snow's dam Eastern Joy
By Nancy Sexton 3:12PM 3 NOV 2016

IN AN industry rife with chat, it's doubtful any stallion garnered as much discussion during the early weeks of this season than Helmet. At that point, plenty of eyes – rightly or wrongly – are watching the first results of freshman sires come in, and while it's usually too early to judge the merits of a stallion, a good initial showing often results in an upsurge of nomination sales for the season.

At this year's Craven meeting at Newmarket in April, usually a melting pot of opinions, Darley's Helmet was a particularly popular topic. In what turned out to be a brilliant bit of advertising, Mark Johnston had sent out two well-connected fillies by the sire, Boater and Chupalla, to score impressively against over-matched rivals during the same afternoon at Kempton in late March, before the turf season had even begun. Then, during Craven week, that good start was consolidated when Orewa won on his debut at Beverley.

As it turns out, Helmet will not end the year as Britain and Ireland's leading first-crop sire by winners; that accolade will most likely fall to Sir Prancealot, whose haul of 30 winners in Europe marks him down as another credit to Tally-Ho Stud.

But Helmet is giving Sir Prancealot a run for his money at the head of the European sire list in terms of prize-money thanks to the earners of £587,073 up to Wednesday. Sir Prancealot leads the way narrowly on £590,902 and the pair are well clear of Frankel, who sits on approximately £480,000.

Both Sir Prancealot and Helmet have been aided by the presence of first-crop sales race winners. Sir Prancealot's daughter Stormy Clouds landed the Goffs Premier Yearling Stakes, worth £147,540 to the winner, at York in August, while Orewa progressed from that early Beverley win to take the Tattersalls Ireland Super Auction Sale Stakes, worth £108,823 to the winner, at the Curragh in September.
Helmet now has a Group 1 winner on his resume in Thunder Snow, the impressive winner of Sunday's Criterium International at Saint-Cloud.

Thunder Snow has kept good company for Saeed Bin Suroor since becoming one of Helmet's first winners at Leicester in May. Sixth next time out in the Coventry Stakes, he went on to run second in the Vintage and Champagne Stakes before filling fourth behind Churchill in the Dewhurst Stakes. Sunday's victory therefore capped a productive campaign, one in which he showed an admirably consistent level of form.

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It also ensured Helmet heads into 2017 as the only European-based stallion to sire a Group 1 winner out of his first crop. Such an achievement sits some away ahead of the record of his first Australian crop, which contained just two juvenile winners. However, the duo did include Archives, a recent Group 3 winner.

A son of the popular shuttler Exceed And Excel, Helmet was himself a tough two-year-old who struck in the Group 1 Sires' Produce and Champagne Stakes and trained on to take the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas at three. Several of his other European runners, such as Kreb's Cycle, Orewa and Bongrace, are also multiple winners, suggesting durability may become a hallmark of some of his progeny.

More should also be heard of Eqtiraan, who followed up his defeat of Rivet in an Ascot maiden by running third in the Solario Stakes, and Mur Hiba, who ran second in the Curragh Stakes.

However, too much focus can often be placed on a stallion's influence and, in the instance of Thunder Snow, it would be wrong to underestimate the role of his dam Eastern Joy.

Breeders use Darley stallions in the knowledge they will be supported by the operation's colossal broodmare band and, in Eastern Joy, they sent Helmet an almost bombproof mare.

Not that it was known at the time. During a brief career for Henri-Alex Pantall, Eastern Joy won first time out over a mile at Vichy before filling the frame in her following three starts, notably when fourth to subsequent Group 3 winner Shemiyla at Longchamp.

Her family is one that has served Sheikh Mohammed well over the years. Out of his Sun Chariot Stakes winner Red Slippers, Eastern Joy is a half-sister to Darley homebred West Wind, who became Pantall's first Group 1 winner in the 2007 Prix de Diane. In turn, Red Slippers was a half-sister to Oaks heroine Balanchine, one of the last Classic winners bred by Robert Sangster who played such a vital role in putting a fledgling Godolphin operation on the map.

Eastern Joy had three foals on the ground when sent to Helmet in 2013. The first, the Shamardal filly Ihtimal, developed into an excellent two-year-old for Godolphin, winning the May Hill and Sweet Solera Stakes. After a productive winter in Dubai, where she won the UAE 1,000 Guineas and Oaks, she returned to Britain to run a close third to Miss France in the 1,000 Guineas. Sadly, she died in the January of her four-year-old year.

Waiting in the wings was her year-younger half-sister Always Smile, by Cape Cross. She has been a work in progress for Bin Suroor and hit her stride this season when second in the Sun Chariot Stakes and third in the Falmouth Stakes.

Always Smile was followed by a Teofilo filly, First Victory, who won last year's Oh So Sharp Stakes, and Thunder Snow is her fourth foal.

Thus, Eastern Joy is responsible for four stakes winners from as many foals, a record that puts her on the road to blue hen status.
She also places further emphasis on Dubai Destination's burgeoning record as a broodmare sire, which has reached heady heights in recent years through the exploits of Golden Horn and Postponed among others.

Hopes will obviously be high for Eastern Joy's fifth foal, a Shamardal yearling sister to Ihtimal. She was barren to Shamardal in 2015 and was part of Dubawi's stellar book this year.

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