Deserved breakthrough for Widden gem

5 min read
Widden Stud's quiet achiever Nicconi is now a Group 1 winning stallion thanks to his super-fast son, Nature Strip.

Ten years after Nicconi secured his first Group 1 win in the 2009 Galaxy, his son Nature Strip gave him his first Group 1 success as a stallion when holding on for a thrilling win in the same race at Rosehill on Saturday.

With a sense of timing, Nature Strip, who bears his sire's hallmark speed, delivered on the elite stage, giving the Widden stallion much-deserved status as a Group 1 winning sire and racehorse.

Ever since his first progeny hit the track in 2013-14, Nicconi has been a remarkably consistent producer. He produced eight winners in that first-season, behind only I Am Invincible in his class. The next season, he had his first three stakes winners. He followed that up with four in 2015-16, seven in 2016-17, five last season and has five already this season.

"His stakes races to runner ratio has been terrific. He's a horse who can get a good 2-year-old and they train on at 3 and 4," Widden's Marketing and Stallions Nominations Manager Ryan McEvoy told TDN AusNZ.

"He gets his fair share of 2-year old stakes horses, but also a larger amount of stakes-winners at 3 and 4 years old."

"His stakes races to runner ratio has been terrific." - Widden Marketing and Nominations Manager, Ryan McEvoy

Nature Strip certainly fits into that category. He debuted as a spring 3-year-old, winning five of his first eight starts before claiming his first Listed race in July last year.

By that time he was onto his fourth trainer, and when he thrashed Sunlight (Zoustar) by six lengths in the SAJC Listed Lightning S. at his next start, the boom on him as potentially Australia's fastest horse could not be contained.

But a failure in the G1 Moir S. last September, which resulted in a shot at The Everest being aborted, then his last-start defeat when a short-priced favourite in the G1 Oakleigh Plate, had many doubting whether he was up to the top level.

Nature Strip proving he was up to the top level when winning the G1 Galaxy

Chris Waller, who recently became the gelding's fifth trainer in 14 starts, had other ideas, and thanks to a well-timed front running ride from James McDonald at Rosehill on Saturday, Nature Strip secured a tenth win in 15 starts and a first at the elite level.

"To win the Galaxy, which was the first Group 1 that Nicconi won, there's some symmetry there." - Ryan McEvoy

"Nature Strip has been a horse that has been a bit polarising out there. But to see him win a deserved Group 1 and get that next to his name is fantastic," McEvoy said. "To win the Galaxy, which was the first Group 1 that Nicconi won, there's some symmetry there. It was unbelievable effort."

Growing in popularity

Nicconi, who was trained by David Hayes, would go on to win a second Group 1, the 2010 Lightning S. before heading to Widden to stand later that year. In an incredibly competitive marketplace for speed stallions, he has held his own and has grown significantly in popularity over the past three seasons,

"He's been one of the more popular stallions in Australia in the last three or four years and you only have to look at the numbers he's covering to understand that," McEvoy said. "Breeders who are not only looking for good value for money, but proven horses. He's certainly one of those, a proven stallion at an affordable price."

Watch: Nicconi's best wins

The comparison that McEvoy draws is with Woodside's Written Tycoon, who went to stud three years before Nicconi. After a gradual build-up from an introductory fee of $8800, he has exploded in popularity in recent years to now stand for $110,000.

"He's not dissimilar to a horse like Written Tycoon, who was a slow burn and really started getting going once he had a few crops on the ground. I'd like to think this horse has a similar type of profile," he said.

Like Written Tycoon, Nicconi, who stood for $24,750 last season, had his first Group 1 winner eight years into his breeding career.

"He's certainly one of those, a proven stallion at an affordable price." - Ryan McEvoy

McEvoy sees significant upside for him in the coming years.

"Nicconi never really got the real top-end mares. He's a stallion when people are doing their matings, they know he's a great type and he gets a great type, but they are not having sleepless nights worrying about the service fee," McEvoy said.

"What we’ve started to see in the past 12 months is that he is now starting to get a really top end sort of mare and his yearling sale results in the last 18 months are starting to reflect that."

"He's a terrific stallion, still relatively young and he has a bright future ahead of him."


Sunlight, Strip make G1 double

It was another big weekend for Widden, with Sunlight (Zoustar), bred, foaled and raised at the famous stud and part-owned by Antony Thompson's wife Katie, claiming her third Group 1 in Friday night's William Reid S. at Moonee Valley.

"It’s another feather in the cap for Zoustar, what an amazing start to his stud career." - Ryan McEvoy

"To see both Nature Strip and Sunlight sport the JT2 brand on the shoulder, that's incredibly satisfying," McEvoy said.

"The CV Sunlight has built already, winning the Magic Millions, placing in a Golden Slipper, winning a Coolmore and then the Newmarket and William Reid against the older horses, it’s remarkable."

"It’s another feather in the cap for Zoustar, what an amazing start to his stud career."

With both Nicconi and Zoustar's Group 1 winning flagbearers set to race on next season, it’s success that Widden can look forward to getting used to.