Sign up to the TDN daily edition

Enter your details below to subscribe to the TDN Australia & NZ daily edition.

Passing of a superstar

6 min read
Many of the great stallions of history have reached their eminence after starting out as popular sires from the very beginning. Encosta De Lago (Fairy King {USA}), who passed away on Friday at Coolmore (NSW) at the age of 25, ranks as one of the minority who began at a relatively modest fee, which redoubles the respect accorded to a horse who ranks as one of the best sires of the modern era.

Even though Encosta De Lago was not one of the most vaunted new recruits to the Australasian sires’ ranks in 1997, he had plenty to recommend him even at the outset. He had been an excellent racehorse, albeit in a relatively light career.

One of the best early-season juveniles in Melbourne in the 1995/’96 season, he was placed in the two principal juvenile races of the spring, the Debutant S. at Caulfield and the G2 Maribyrnong Plate at Flemington.

Unfortunately, a setback kept him off the track for the remainder of the campaign, but he made up for lost time the following spring. Wins against his contemporaries in the G2 Ascot Vale S. over 1200m at Flemington and the G2 Bill Stutt S. over 1600m at Moonee Valley, and against older rivals in the G1 Vic Health Cup (now Sir Rupert Clarke S.) over 1400m at Caulfield, showed him to be among the very best of his generation.

Encosta de Lago

A blueblood pedigree

Encosta De Lago’s pedigree matched his high-class form. His granddam Rolls (USA) (Mr Prospector {USA}) had been an exciting import to the antipodes. She hailed from one of the strongest families of racehorses and stallions in the world, being a grand-daughter of Fanfreluche (Can) (Northern Dancer {Can}) and a great-granddaughter of the similarly distinguished Ciboulette (Can) (Chop Chop {Can}).

In addition to breeding Encosta De Lago’s city-winning dam Shoal Creek (NZ) (Star Way {GB}), Rolls had also produced the 1995 G1 Golden Slipper S. winner Flying Spur (Danehill {USA}). In 1997, though, shuttle-sires were the flavour of the month and Danehill-mania was setting in, so Encosta De Lago, a locally-bred son of Sadler’s Wells’ unplaced full-brother Fairy King (USA) (Northern Dancer {Can}), didn’t seem to fire the imagination of many breeders.

"Once Encosta De Lago began having runners in the 2000/’01 season, any doubting Thomases were soon having to adjust their attitudes." - John Berry

Consequently, he started out at Blue Gum Farm in Victoria at the very affordable fee of $8,800.

Once Encosta De Lago began having runners in the 2000/’01 season, any doubting Thomases were soon having to adjust their attitudes. It soon became clear that many Victorian small breeders who had patronised him in his early seasons had had access to a much, much better sire than an $8,800 fee would normally secure.

Hit the Victorian ground running

His first crop of three-year-olds included the likes of G2 Wakeful S. heroine Gold Lottey and G3 Rory’s Jester S. winner Chong Tong, whose achievements in the 2001/’02 season also included an excellent third place at weight-for-age behind champion racemare Spinning Hill in the G1 Lightning S. at Flemington. The following season Encosta De Lago’s fee was up to $22,000, and it continued to rise thereafter, particularly once Coolmore had recruited him in advance of the 2004 breeding season and relocated him to the Hunter Valley.

Arguably the best horse sired by Encosta De Lago in Victoria was the outstanding sprinter/miler Alinghi (trained, as her father had been, by Lee Freedman). Victoria’s best two-year-old of the 2003/’04 season when she won the G1 Blue Diamond S., she was even better at three when she landed the G1 Thousand Guineas, G1 Robert Sangster S. and G1 Newmarket H. (in which she defeated her arch-rival Fastnet Rock). She was subsequently transferred to the USA where she took G3 Ballston Spa H. at Saratoga as a four-year-old.

"Arguably the best horse sired by Encosta De Lago in Victoria was the outstanding sprinter/miler Alinghi." - John Berry

Champion filly Alinghi

Alinghi's rivals for the title of Encosta De Lago’s brightest Vic-bred star included the outstanding HK-based sprinter Sacred Kingdom, the NZ-trained multiple Group One winners Princess Coup and Lashed, the Group One-winning three-year-olds Mnemosyne and Delago Brom, the weight-for-age stalwarts Racing To Win and Our Smoking Joe, and the admirable sprinter Titanic Jack.

Even if Encosta De Lago’s stud career had been restricted to the years he spent in Victoria, he would still rank as one of the greats. However, he continued to go from strength to strength after his move north.

At the end of the 2007/’08 season he succeeded his close relative Flying Spur as Australia’s champion sire. In 2007 he had stood at a fee of $220,000; as the reigning champion sire he commanded a fee of $305,000 inc. GST.

"Even if Encosta De Lago’s stud career had been restricted to the years he spent in Victoria, he would still rank as one of the greats. However, he continued to go from strength to strength after his move north." - John Berry

Encosta de Lago at the Coolmore Stallion Parade in August 2018

The record continued to build

And good horses just kept coming.

Northern Meteor was an outstanding sprinting three-year-old in the spring of 2008, justifying odds-on favouritism in the G1 Coolmore Stud S. at Flemington before making an outstanding start to his stud career. (Sadly, Northern Meteor died aged only seven, but not before he had sired the brilliant sprinter and now hugely promising young sire Zoustar).

Von Costa De Hero was beaten a lip in the G1 Golden Slipper S. in 2009. Manhattan Rain was placed in the Slipper the following season before taking the G1 AJC Sires Produce S. two weeks later and then chasing home So You Think in the G1 W. S. Cox Plate in the spring. English finished second in the Slipper in 2015 before compiling a superb record of high-class performances, including Group One wins at weight-for-age at both three and five.

"Zoustar looks certain to ensure that Encosta De Lago’s sireline makes a long-term impact, while Encosta De Lago mares keep churning out good horses." - John Berry

Zoustar looks certain to ensure that Encosta De Lago’s sireline makes a long-term impact, while Encosta De Lago mares keep churning out good horses. So far there have been 12 individual Group One winners produced by the great stallion’s daughters, headed by the redoubtable Happy Clapper (Teofilo {Ire}), G1 Caulfield Guineas winners Divine Prophet (Choisir) and Mighty Boss (Not A Single Doubt), and G1 AJC Australian Oaks heroine Sofia Rose (NZ) (Makfi {GB}).

Chautauqua

Encosta De Lago’s tally of individual Group One winners currently stands at 26, but none has been more popular than the recently-retired grey gelding Chautauqua, winner of 12 Group races between 2014 and ’17 including six Group Ones. His speed, toughness and durability typify many of the attributes which Encosta De Lago (who was pensioned in 2015) so regularly instilled into his offspring.

However, Encosta De Lago will primarily be remembered as an influence for class in general. He could sire top two-year-olds and hardy veterans, outstanding sprinters and top-class 2400m performers. Season after season, a host of strong, tough, genuine high-class racehorses represented Encosta De Lago with great distinction, ensuring that their father will be forever remembered as one of the greatest stallions in the rich history of the Australian turf.