Niarchos family back in the limelight
Ulysses (white cap): is out of Epsom Oaks heroine Light ShiftPICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) Niarchos foundation family back in limelight
By Nancy Sexton 12:30PM 4 AUG 2016
STAVROS NIARCHOS'S forays to the Kentucky yearling sales during the late 1970s and early 1980s had the desired impact on his then burgeoning operation, providing the Greek shipping magnate with Nureyev, bought for a then stratospheric price of $1.3 million in 1978, alongside a number of well-connected fillies, several of whom laid the foundations for the thriving outfit that is Flaxman Holdings today.
For instance, last year's Grand Prix de Paris winner Erupt is a grandson of Salvora, a member of Spectacular Bid's first crop who was bought as a yearling at Keeneland for $725,000. Significantly less expensive was Pasadoble, a $45,000 Fasig-Tipton yearling who later found fame as the dam of Miesque and consequently today features in the background of Kingmambo and Karakontie, among others.
Northern Trick was among Niarchos's pricier acquisitions, commanding $530,000 through the BBA at the Keeneland July Sale in 1982. It was a hefty number indicative of the allure of American-bred yearlings to European buyers at that time, fuelled in particular by the demand for those by her sire Northern Dancer. Bred by Warner L Jones and Will Farish, she was also a half-sister to American Grade 1 winner On The Sly and from the immediate family of French champion two-year-old Filiberto, making her an appealing prospect to a wide range of buyers.
Even so, her price fell far behind the yearling average of $857,188 returned by Northern Dancer that year (as did eventual Derby winner Secreto, who was bought by Luigi Miglietti for a ‘bargain' $340,000), allowing for the notion that on paper at least, Niarchos and his team, which included Francois Boutin and Sir Philip Payne-Gallwey, had secured some kind of value.
It wasn't long until their judgement was proven right. Sent to Boutin, Northern Trick was Europe's champion three-year-old filly of 1984 by virtue of wins in the Prix de Diane and Prix Vermeille. Later on, she became the foundation of a legion of high-class Niarchos runners, among them champions Main Sequence and Shiva as well as the Epsom Oaks heroine Light Shift, whose son Ulysses confirmed he is on a firm upward trajectory at Goodwood last week when the smooth winner of the Gordon Stakes for Sir Michael Stoute.
As a good-looking colt by Galileo out of an Oaks heroine, hopes have obviously been high for Ulysses from the outset. However, making him all the more special for the Niarchos family is that he is the last foal out of Light Shift, who died in 2014. The daughter of Kingmambo left behind just three foals, one of whom, the unraced Oasis Dream filly Mosuo, is now a valuable member of the Niarchos broodmare band.
"Ulysses stood out from a young age as an athlete," says Alan Cooper, racing manager to the Niarchos family. "He was always a very good walker.
"What was so good about the Gordon Stakes was to see the way he came out of the Derby – he got a bad bump coming down the hill at Epsom which knocked him off stride. To see him come back from that and win at Goodwood the way he did was very reassuring. With a little bit of luck he's on his way up."
This is a family that has consistently operated at a high level.
Crucially, it is one that has also complemented stallions with whom the Niarchos family have had a close association, producing the best runners by Hector Protector (Shiva) and Aldebaran, for whom multiple Grade 1 winner and Derby runner-up Main Sequence was the highlight of a disappointing stint in Kentucky.
Northern Trick left behind seven winners for the Niarchos's led by Listed scorer Onda Nova – again, the best runner sired by their stallion Keos – but it is through non-winner Lingerie from whom much of the family's prominence stems.
The daughter of Shirley Heights was winless in 12 starts for Boutin but more than made up for it at stud as the dam of Group 1 winners Light Shift and Shiva, dual Group 2 winner Limnos, the Grade 1-placed Hyades and Listed winner Burning Sunset, herself dam of 2014 Prix d'Harcourt winner Smoking Sun and granddam of Main Sequence. Burning Sunset's own branch of the family received another boost on Saturday when the
Grade 3-placed Ray's The Bar, a grandson of the mare formerly trained by Michael Bell, won an allowance race at Saratoga.
In what has been a particularly good year for the family, Light Shift's sister Strawberry Fledge is also the dam of Prix Greffulhe winner Cloth Of Stars, who finished four places ahead of Ulysses when eighth in the Derby.
"Even though Lingerie didn't win, she showed ability," says Cooper of the filly who was placed at Longchamp and Chantilly. "Francois persevered with her because the ability was there, but for one reason or another she didn't pass the post in front."
Lingerie's stud career was truly international and started in Japan with two visits to Hector Protector, Stavros Niarchos's Poule d'Essai des Poulains winner, who was then serving at the Shadai Stallion Station.
"When it was decided that Hector Protector would stand in Japan the family wanted to support him as he was a very good racehorse," says Cooper. "Lingerie was sent to Japan with that objective."
Utilising Japanese-based stallions has continued to serve the operation well since then; Sunday Silence is the sire of Sun Is Up, dam of Karakontie, while Deep Impact provided the family with the highly tried Tale Of Life. Waiting in the wings is a yearling filly from the first crop of the brilliant Japanese sprinter Lord Kanaloa out of Taygete.
"Japanese stallions give us access to different bloodlines and the idea is if the fillies are good enough, they could enhance the broodmare band," says Cooper. "Sunday Silence, for instance, did well for us as the sire of Karakontie's dam Sun Is Up."
Lingerie subsequently spent several seasons in Europe before heading to Kentucky, where she foaled Light Shift.
Light Shift rose rapidly through the ranks for Cecil, progressing from a conditions race win to Oaks victory during the first half of her three-year-old season in 2007. She is, however, arguably remembered as more than an Oaks winner since she arrived during a tumultous period for her much-admired trainer and was an influential cog in his popular resurgence.
There is an obvious sadness in what might have been had Light Shift not died aged ten just a week after foaling a Frankel foal, which also died. However, the Niarchos's still own a number of the family, including Shiva, Burning Sunset and Main Sequence's dam Ikat.
Burning Sunset has a two-year-old colt by Galileo named Light Pillar and a filly foal by Maxios, while Ikat has a two-year-old colt by Dubawi named Meru, a colt foal by Dubawi and is in foal to Galileo.
Shiva, now 21 years old, has yet to hit the heights at stud with a record that reads four minor winners from ten foals. However, her three-year-old daughter, That Which Is Not, by Elusive Quality, landed a competitive conditions race at Deauville on Tuesday, her second win in three starts, and is held in high regard by Francis Henri-Graffard.
Shiva's daughters are also proving effective at stud, with the mare featuring as the granddam of 2015 Coventry Stakes third Eltezam and the Group 3-placed Radiantly in the past two seasons.
That Which Is Not's performance on Tuesday naturally provides plenty of hope for the future. For now, however, much of the focus deserves to be held by Ulysses. If he turns out to be the typical Stoute improver that many hope him to be, further success at the top level surely once again beckons for this thriving family.