A Classic love affair

9 min read
Four years after winning the G1 Coolmore Classic with Plucky Belle, the Esplin family are back at Rosehill on Saturday with another Mossman mare trying to win their favourite race.

Tartan Fields' Hamish Esplin makes no secret of his love of the G1 Coolmore Classic and this year the Esplins will be looking to win the race he calls the 'Doncaster for mares' for the second time in four years with front-running grey mare White Moss (Mossman).

For a broodmare farm who likes to take their time with their racing stock, the importance of Group 1 mares races, of which there are only five in Australia, is pretty obvious.

The value of a Group 1 win on a pedigree page is significant, but it is the competitive nature of the Coolmore, which is the only top-flight mares race run under handicap conditions, which appeals most to Esplin.

"That race is one of the races of the carnival." - Hamish Esplin

"That race is one of the races of the carnival. We are a bit biased because we love mares, but they have 20 runners and four emergencies and as the market stands, there are only two horses under $10," he told TDN AusNZ.

"It's a Doncaster for mares, it’s such a great part of the program."

"It will just be a great race, it will be an absolute ripper. If I wasn't in it, I’d still say it was the race of the program. It's what the sport is about."

Four years ago, another Mossman mare, Plucky Belle, delivered a terrific result in the Tartan Fields colours in this race. Trained by Peter Moody, she was the first Group 1 winner for jockey Linda Meech.

The comparisons between the two horses are easy to make. Like Plucky Belle, who won the race at six, White Moss has been given plenty of time to develop by trainer Jason Coyle, with just 15 starts as a late 5-year-old.

Hamish Esplin (left) with jockey Linda Meech and the Esplin family celebrating the win of Plucky Belle

"We intentionally set out that we never pushed her too early, Jason is a very patient trainer," Esplin said. "That family tends to bloom a little later."

"That's what happens with mares if you look after them, they pay you back." - Hamish Esplin

"She had a few issues last year and went out of form, but she has got over those. We spelled her and she has got over it and appears to have come back better. That's what happens with mares if you look after them, they pay you back."

White Moss comes off an upset win last start in the G2 Millie Fox S., the race which Plucky Belle ran second in before her Coolmore success in 2015.

That was White Moss's sixth win, her second at stakes level and she is building a page that will make her a valuable breeding proposition when she retires back to Tartan Fields as a broodmare.

Finding an outcross

The Esplins consider themselves 'classical pedigree purist people' and it was in the search for an outcross mare that delivered White Moss's dam, the stakes-winning Pay My Bail (NZ) (Justice Prevails) to Tartan Fields via the 2007 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale for $240,000.

"Paul Makin had quite a few mares in New Zealand and was trying to launch the stallion career of Starcraft. He had a few of his mares in foal to Starcraft and sold them. We bought Pay My Bail in foal to Starcraft at the Magic Millions Sale," he said.

"If you go back and look at Bint Marscay (Marscay) winning the 1993 Slipper and she won quite easily but the horse who flew home, Justice Prevails (Proud Knight), it was one of the most extraordinary seconds you'll see in a Golden Slipper," he said.

"He was a juvenile sprinting son from the Vain line, very rare blood. Not a successful stallion, but often they are the ones who turn out to be good broodmare sires."

"As pedigree purists we love that complete outcross blood." - Hamish Esplin

"That's what attracted us, that blood. As pedigree purists we love that complete outcross blood. A mare like Pay My Bail who was a leading sprinter in New Zealand, those pedigrees are hard to come by. If you had a similar outcross filly with her record these days, they would be worth a fortune, you could never buy them."

Pay My Bail at the 2007 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale

"My father bought her and that's where the family started."

The Starcraft filly, Runway Runaway, was sold as a yearling to John O'Shea, winning two of her 11 starts before becoming a broodmare, where she has left the stakes-winner Fox Swift (Foxwedge).

The White move

The Esplins have retained and raced several fillies from the family, including the two stakes-winners she has produced, White Moss and her older half-sister White Sage (Reset), who won five of her seven races before injury ended her career.

"We never offered White Sage for sale because she was about knee-high to a grasshopper as a yearling. She was unsellable really. She was top class in our view but unfortunately she broke down. We were never going to sell her and we raced her and we have still got her," he said.

"White Moss was in a similar vein. She wasn't particularly popular with the auction companies and she probably wasn't going to bring a huge amount of money at the sales."

"She wasn't particularly popular with the auction companies and she probably wasn't going to bring a huge amount of money at the sales." - Hamish Esplin on White Moss

"So we back ourselves in that she's a nice filly and the kind of filly we can breed from and continue with the family. You always hope the ones you do that with are the ones that are going to be fast."

White Moss winning the G2 Millie Fox S.

Esplin said his family have never subscribed to the rest of the industry's obsession with precocity. He is a big believer of giving a horse time to prove themselves and if they are not ready to show up at the yearling sales, then so be it.

"I can’t say hand on heart that when I see them as a weanling or a yearling or a 2-year old, I know they are going to be fast. You just like them and you make these decisions sometimes," he said.

"With her, I suppose, the decision was it would be nice to keep a filly from that family and race her. I can distinctly remember looking at her as a late weanling around selection time and she was never big, the family is not a big family. I never thought she was going to be commercially appealing, so we never entered into the sale."

Patience paying off

The judgement has proven a sound one as time has gone on. White Moss raced through her classes in her late 3-year-old and early 4-year-old seasons, winning five out of six starts, including the G3 Nivison in October 2017.

Having failed to win in four starts in her autumn campaign last year, she was given a good break and after finishing sixth in the G2 Breeders Classic last month, led all the way under Kathy O'Hara at odds of $51 in the Millie Fox S.

She is rated a $34 chance on Saturday in what is her first Group 1 race and another victory would be a triumph for the patience that the Esplins espouse.

"There is no rule which says they have to be mature at a certain point." - Hamish Esplin

"Why is it that horses are meant to peak at two, three or four? Look at Winx (Street Cry {Ire}) now, she is running faster times than she has the past three years in the same races," he said.

"We tend to make too many decisions on behalf of horses, without realising that like anyone else they are just athletes. There is no rule which says they have to be mature at a certain point."

Forward thinking

For vindication of the Esplins' outcross breeding theories as well as the value of patience, you need look no further than their stallion Charge Forward. Now standing at Tim and Celie Nolan's Murrulla Stud, he has experienced a remarkable resurgence off the back of his achievements as a broodmare sire.

He is the sire of the dams of the past two Golden Slipper S, winners, Estijaab (Snitzel) and She Will Reign (Manhattan Rain) as well as dual Group 1 winning sprinting filly Sunlight (Zoustar).

"He's just got wonderful blood, very rare blood," Esplin said, "His grandmother was a South African sprinting mare you just don’t see that kind of blood. That is not irrelevant. I think that is one of the reasons why a horse like that ends up being a great broodmare sire. They nick very well with the local stallion population."

"Look at the results of the broodmare sires from Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday and you will find just about every one of the broodmare sires is an outcross." - Hamish Esplin

"We’ve got a huge overrepresentation of Danehill-line stallions, and that is not a bad thing, but the reality is you need outcross blood to go with it."

"Look at the results of the broodmare sires from Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday and you will find just about every one of the broodmare sires is an outcross. That doesn't happen by chance, that happens because they have wonderful pedigrees."

Charge Forward

"Part of the reason we bought him back was that we always thought Charge Forward mares are going to be very valuable products."

Last year, Charge Forward served his highest amount of mares in the past five seasons.

"If I could guarantee all those are fillies, that'd be great!" Esplin said. "But his colts are still making money and his fertility is excellent. He's got a wonderful nature, and that's part of what makes him a good broodmare sire."

"Tim and Celie are doing a great job, and to have a stallion out there which you can go to cheaply ($8800) and you can send any mare to is great."