The Queen in blue: Essaouira and her progeny

9 min read
TDN AusNZ sat down with Jason Walsh from Darley to discuss the produce record of prized broodmare Essaouira. Already the dam of G1-winning sprinter Astern, her dual Group 1-winning daughter Alizee and Golden Slipper favourite son Tassort both line up this weekend.

It takes a rare broodmare gem to produce an Australian Group 1 winner, with only 73 achieving this honour at the highest level each year. Yet, above all others, there are the occasional diamonds that shine brighter than the rest, producing quality racehorse after quality racehorse.

In recent years, Champion Australian Broodmare awards have gone to Listen Here (Elusive Quality {USA}), dam of full brothers by Northern Meteor in G1-winner Shooting to Win and G2-winner Deep Field, Helsinge (Desert Sun {GB}), dam of superstar Black Caviar (Bel Esprit) and G1-winner All Too Hard (Casino Prince), and in the last two years, Vegas Showgirl (NZ) (Al Akbar), dam of the incomparable Winx (Street Cry {USA}) and stakeswinner El Divino (Snitzel).

However, Godolphin's prized mare Essaouira (Exceed and Excel), with three black-type horses and another star on the horizon, could soon set a new standard.

Essaouira's progeny include a Group 1 winning son already at stud (Astern), a dual-Group 1 winning daughter who is lining up on Saturday for her third win at the top level (Alizee), a stakes placed gelding (Mogador), and a 2-year-old who currently holds favouritism for the Golden Slipper (Tassort).

Essaouira is a daughter of Champion Darley stallion Exceed and Excel (Danehill {USA}) and talented juvenile Alizes (NZ) (Rory's Jester), who was a winner of her first three starts at two, including the G2 Magic Night S. when ridden by Darren Beadman. Alizes' third dam is Champion 2-year-old and 3-year-old filly Triscay (NZ), winner of five Group 1 races including the G1 Australian Guineas against the boys.

Essaouira was Alizes' first foal, of nine to date.

Held in high regard

Godolphin's Jason Walsh, as Racing and Bloodstock Manager, has kept a watchful eye on Essaouira and her progeny since she showed an abundance of talent as a filly in training with Lee and Anthony Freedman.

"I first saw Essaouira when she was still racing. She was a medium-sized, plain enough filly. Not perfect in front but very strong and fast," Walsh described. "The Freedmans held her in high regard."

Essaouira

Essaouira was dominant on debut when winning by six lengths over 1000m at Moonee Valley as a February 2-year-old. She then had a gear malfunction in her second start, the Listed Chairman's S. at Caulfield (won by Headway), and put on a bucking display before finishing sixth.

"She only had two starts, but the team thought she had genuine ability." - Darley Bloodstock Manager, Jason Walsh

"After the incident at her second start Essaouira battled with a hamstring strain, then had an infection in her throat, so was retired. She only had two starts, but the team thought she had genuine Stakes ability," said Walsh.

Back to Woodlands

Essaouira headed back to Godolphin to be mated to Champion sire Lonhro. The resultant filly was described by Walsh as "very similar to mum, a strong, neat little filly".

Named Marrakesh, the filly entered training with Lee and Anthony Freedman, winning three races and collecting around $80,000 in prizemoney across 19 starts. Marrakesh retired in 2016 and has since produced a yearling filly by Medaglia d'Oro, who is a three-parts brother to Astern, and is currently in foal to I Am Invincible.

Essaouira's second foal, a colt named Mogador also by Lonhro, was a different type to her first.

"He was typical of Lonhro's good stock: strong, mid-sized and with a particularly good attitude," Walsh said.

Mogador

Trained by John O'Shea at Crown Lodge, Mogador showed early ability. He ran second to Exosphere (Lonhro) in a strong Kembla Grange 2-year-old maiden in mid-February, with Takedown (Stratum) rounding out the placings. His next start was 4th in the G2 Skyline S., won by Exosphere.

Returning at three Mogador lined up in the G1 Coolmore Stud S. finishing a commendable 5th in the race won by Japonisme. He finished his career without another win, but had shown enough talent to collect almost $300,000 in prizemoney and gained valuable black-type for his dam's pedigree page.

Astern is born

The third foal produced by Essaouira was a Medaglia d'Oro colt born in late September. He was described by Walsh as a "special individual".

"While Astern was fairly typical of the 'good Medaglia d'Oro's' as a type, Essaouira imparted her power into the mating. He was a quality medium-sized individual with plenty of scope and real presence. Not as big as the sire can sometimes throw," Walsh said. "He walked with a swagger when introduced to saddle that made him stand out."

"He walked with a swagger when introduced to saddle that made him stand out." - Jason Walsh

Trained by John O'Shea, Astern's abundant ability was clear early to the Godolphin team, dominating his first trial and delivering the same dose in his first start at Randwick as a November 2-year-old.

Astern

"He has been a magnificent specimen the whole way along and we just hoped that he would run as well as he looks," O'Shea said at the time, adding that Astern had been identified as their best juvenile.

Returning in autumn with a win in the G2 Silver Slipper S., Astern finished 11th in the G1 Golden Slipper won by Capitalist (Written Tycoon). He more than made amends at the top level, however, when taking out the G1 Golden Rose S. impressively as a spring 3-year-old.

"One of the greatest traits of Astern was his robust character." - Jason Walsh

After placings in the G2 Roman Consul S. and G1 Coolmore Stud S., Astern failed to deliver when return-ing as an autumn 3-year-old so was retired to a full book of mares on the Darley stallion roster. His oldest progeny are currently foals.

"One of the greatest traits of Astern was his robust character," said Walsh. "He could have a hard, tough run but the next day would have his head out over the box with his ears pricked waiting for the next challenge."

Powerful Alizee well managed

The fourth foal produced by Essaouira was a big filly by Sepoy.

Walsh describes: "Alizee is physically built in the mould of her grandmother Alizes. She is a big, plain mare with a huge amount of depth and power. You would never say she is an oil painting, but she has a motor like few others."

"You would never say she is an oil painting, but she has a motor like few others." - Jason Walsh

Alizee's path to racetrack glory wasn't a smooth one, with careful management required by the Godolphin team at Woodlands to correct a challenging front near leg.

Alizee

"Thankfully it has not posed an issue in training," Walsh said. "But full credit must go to the Woodlands team who managed her beautifully. Alizee is a good example of how every person plays an important role in the success of the Godolphin stable."

Walsh also believes the sympathetic way horses are treated at Crown Lodge helped Alizee develop into the mare she is today. "John O'Shea held her in very high regard from the outset and knew she had Stakes ability. She just missed qualifying for the Slipper and was thus set for the Percy Sykes. Now, as a 4-year-old mare, we are really seeing the benefits of that approach with her full potential exposed."

Alizee is regarded one of the most valuable mares currently in training. After placing in the G3 Magic Night S. at two, she won the G2 Tea Rose S. and G1 Flight S. as a spring 3-year-old. In autumn she won the G2 ATC Light Fingers S. on the way to beating older females in the G1 Queen of the Turf S. during The Championships.

Alizee lines up this Saturday in the G1 Futurity Stakes. Autumn plans are likely to include a start in the inaugural All Star Mile at Flemington.

The young ones

Essaouira's next foal is a 3-year-old filly by Animal Kingdom (USA) (Leroidesanimaux {BRZ}) called Leopard.

"Leopard is as big as Alizee but with more quality. She remains in the racing program currently spelling in the Hunter Valley," Walsh said.

Her current 2-year-old son, however, needs no introduction.

A striking, dark bay son of Brazen Beau, Tassort burst on the scene with a 5.5 length trial win at Rosehill last November. He repeated that margin when winning on debut in November, assuming Golden Slipper favouritism after defeating a small but classy field, in a speedy 1:03.88. He lines up this Saturday in the Group 2 Silver Slipper S.

"Bold," was the single word used by Walsh to describe Tassort as a foal. "He was given one the highest grades of the foaling season and is probably the best looking foal out of Essaouira. He has presence, attitude and substance."

"He has the attitude of a proper colt - that's an attribute held by all the best horses to have come through Godolphin." - Jason Walsh

"Early on he showed the team his professionalism by taking each step of the racing preparation in his stride. He has the attitude of a proper colt - that's an attribute held by all the best horses to have come through Godolphin."

A consistent breeder

Another tick on Essaouira's report card is her uninterrupted breeding record.

Her current yearling is a Medaglia d'Oro filly named Tangier. Walsh describes the sister to Astern as 'different again.'

"Essaouira's stock could never be described as consistent, as she tends to take different traits from each stallion," Walsh said. "The yearling filly has good scope typical of the Medaglia stock, but is more light and refined at this stage than Astern. She has been broken-in at Kelvinside and is currently completing her first week at Crown Lodge in Sydney."

"Her current colt foal is another full to Astern, and probably the most like him of all her progeny. He has plenty of substance and looks a strong, sharp type."

Essaouira with her current foal by Medaglia d'Oro, a full-brother to Astern

Essaouira is currently in foal to Sepoy on a mid-November last service date, to produce a full relation to Alizee.

"The success of Essaouira and her progeny typifies what His Highness Sheikh Mohammed and the Godolphin team strive for."

Walsh concluded when asked what a mare like this means,

"A homebred mare with progeny by Darley stallions born, raised, broken-in and trained within the team, then retired back to the stallion barn and broodmare paddock is a very special achievement for our team."

"Essaouira and her progeny continue to touch all Godolphin sites and the whole team is heavily invested in achieving her success for Sheikh Mohammed."