On a 'mission' in the Hong Kong Derby

7 min read
Mission Tycoon has surprised many with his rise on the path to the Hong Kong Derby, perhaps Damien Gleeson - who raised the son of Written Tycoon at Phoenix Broodmare Farm - is most shocked of all.

The surprise package along the road to this year’s HK$18-million (A$3.19-million) BMW Hong Kong Derby (2000m) is undoubtedly Mission Tycoon (Written Tycoon).

A horse almost no one wanted as a yearling, the brown gelding has very much earned his way into the domestic centrepiece, finishing second to Furore (NZ) (Pierro) as a $205 roughie in the Hong Kong Classic Mile Jan. 27 before defying off odds of $92 to wire a good many of the Derby hopefuls, including G1 Queensland Derby hero and stable companion Dark Dream (All American) in the Hong Kong Classic Cup (1800m) Feb. 17.

You can quietly count Damian Gleeson among those most surprised by Mission Tycoon’s ascent.

Gleeson raised Mission Tycoon at his Phoenix Broodmare Farm, some 160km northeast of Melbourne and 10km outside of Euroa in close proximity to Darley, Swettenham Stud and Blue Gum Farm, to name a few.

Gleeson, who spent time in Newmarket, England, in the early 1980s at what was then Egerton and Lordship Studs, founded Phoenix about 20 years ago and boards anywhere from 35 mares in the off-season to 100 mares at the peak of breeding season.

Mission Tycoon was bred in Victoria by the Tobin family, dairy farmers near Albury, and long-time clients of Gleeson. The colt was produced by Lakemba Gold (Made of Gold {USA}), a mare who hardly made anyone famous over her 33-race career, but one who nonetheless had some appeal, according to Gleeson.

“Even though she didn’t achieve any black-type, she was a good and tough racemare–a really lovely sort of mare." - Damian Gleeson on Lakemba Gold

"She was a good type of mare,” he said. “Even though she didn’t achieve any black-type, she was a good and tough racemare–a really lovely sort of mare. She had a fair bit of length and a fair bit of scope about her.”

An eight-time winner, including a victory at Moonee Valley in 2006, with earnings just shy of $140,000, Lakemba Gold produced two minor winners from her first two to the races. But if Mission Tycoon was going to be something out of the ordinary, he certainly wasn’t showing it early days.

Damian Gleeson

Something Other Than A Quick Study

“It’s quite interesting and I don’t know quite how to put this, but we didn’t really have any opinion about him,” Gleeson said, before adding--with equal parts candour and humour: “He was a very, big, dumb, slow yearling. He showed absolutely nothing-he couldn’t beat me to the back of the pack.”

“He was a very, big, dumb, slow yearling. He showed absolutely nothing." - Damian Gleeson

It gets better.

Mission Tycoon had not yet outgrown his immaturity and pedestrian nature when it came time to go under the hammer at the 2016 Inglis Melbourne Premiere Yearling Sale. He was knocked down for only $50,000.

“He was just one of those big, dorky, gangly sort of horses,” Gleeson said. “When you look at his sales price, that’s why he made that sort of money. We were sort of happy to get any result with him, because everybody was derogatory towards him because he was such a big horse. He was every bit of 16.1h or 16.2h as a yearling. He was a big lump of a horse, a big heavy horse. But he wasn’t coarse-he was big and heavy, but he wasn’t a Clydesdale sort of horse. He did have some athleticism about him to look at him. He just never used it.”

Mission Tycoon as a yearling

Trial and Anything But Error

Given his physical stature and lack of seasoning, it was not the least bit surprising that Mission Tycoon did not make it to the races at two. He began to take things more seriously while under the care of Mark Newnham just after turning three.

“When Mark trialled him, he was surprised. He won a trial (over a synthetic track at Warwick Farm in August 2017) by five (and three-quarters lengths) and everyone was like, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’” Gleeson recollected.

“And then he won his first two starts, I remember I was on the farm and listened to his first win (by nearly two lengths as a $5 chance at Newcastle in August 2017, 12 days after his trial victory) and then he went to the city and won again (as the $3.20 favourite at Kembla Grange the following month). But you certainly wouldn’t expect him to see him winning good races in Hong Kong. But that’s horses, there are no rules, are there?”

Mission Tycoon was originally in the care of trainer Mark Newnham

Indeed, as the saying goes, good horses can come from anywhere, and Mission Tycoon made a solid first impression in Hong Kong. Under care of rising star conditioner Frankie Lor, a barn replete with top Derby prospects. He broke his duck at second asking in a 1200m Class 3 beneath Joao Moreira last April, but went winless in his next five, including a 10th-place effort to fellow Derby entrant Waikuku (Ire) (Harbour Watch {Ire}), trained by Lor’s old boss John Size--in a Class 2 over 1400m Jan. 20.

Sent off at cricket-score odds in the Classic Mile just seven days later, he parlayed an ideal trip into a runner-up effort before dictating from the front and lighting up the Sha Tin tote in the Classic Cup.

Derby Hopes Spring Eternal

Gleeson is very much enjoying the ride.

“It’s been tremendous to watch,” he said. “We’re only a small farm. We have a motto at the farm: ‘small farm, big results.’ For us, it’s been great. We only sell about 20 yearlings a year, but to have a horse like that come out of our draft, it’s really quite amazing. Every year we seem to have some good runners come out of our draft. It’s exciting to watch horses like that competing on a big stage. We’ve had some horses go over to Hong Kong and compete successfully, but nothing on that level.”

“We’re only a small farm. We have a motto at the farm: ‘small farm, big results.’" - Damian Gleeson

Gleeson looks forward to the Derby challenge and sees the glass very much as half-full.

“He’s beaten quite a lot of the horses that are going into the Derby and I think it speaks volumes that he beat Dark Dream, who’s proven to be a good, young staying horse,” he commented. “I think he should be more than competitive. We’re quite excited about it.”

Gleeson is also looking forward to presenting Phoenix’s draft at this Inglis Premier Yearling Sale, which opens at Oaklands in Melbourne on Sunday.

His Book 1 consignment a pair of colts by Hinchinbrook with the first through the ring, Lot 133 a half-brother to two winners and the family of the G1 Epsom Derby placegetter and sire Shearwalk (Ire) (Godswalk {USA}).

Lot 435 is a grandson of the Listed Breeders’ Classic winner Miss Helterskelter (Brocco {USA}), who produced the Listed Bagot H. winner Module (Reset).

The son of Dissident, Lot 500, is sure to be well-received as he’s out of the G2 Yallambee Classic winner Toast Of The Coast (Rory’s Jester) while a No Nay Never (USA) colt, Lot 461, features the multiple Group 1 winner River Rough (Brigand {USA}) on his pedigree page.

The draft is completed by a daughter of Magnus, Lot 195, from the Group performer Gail (Bianconi {USA}) and Lot 445, a So You Think (NZ) filly whose family includes the multiple Group 2 winner and Group 1 placegetter Grey Song (Unbridled’s Song {USA}.