From Caracas to Wingham: Piacenza finally on her way

7 min read
Bloodstock agent Sheamus Mills has built a considerable part of his reputation from sourcing broodmares at this time of year, but few have taken the effort and stress as the process to secure Venezuelan-bred mare Piacenza (Ven) (League of Nations {USA}) on behalf of Edinburgh Park.

Edinburgh Park's Ian Smith has taken a particular shine to the progeny of Listed winning American mare Darling Alice (USA) (Northern Flagship {USA}), buying three of her mares, Nothin But A Dream {USA} (First Defence {USA}), Smokin' Alice {USA} (Smoke Glacken {USA}) and Alice's Smart {Smart Strike {USA}).

The family shares a connection to one of the more successful recent families in Australian racing, with Darling Alice a half-sister to Gainesville (Can) (Afleet {Can}), who is the dam of Mica's Pride (Bite the Bullet {USA}), who has produced four stakes winners including the Group 1 successful pair Criterion (Sebring) and Comin' Through (Fastnet Rock).

And the family have proved popular with Australian buyers, with two grandsons of Darling Alice selling for $680,000 and $650,000 respectively for Edinburgh Park January's Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale.

The family is connected to G1 winner Criterion

Hunting down other mares from the family led Smith and bloodstock agent Mills to Venezuela, where one of Darling Alice's other fillies, Quiet Alice (USA) (Quiet American {USA}) ended up.

After deciding to pass up the first filly offered to them from Quiet Alice, their focus switched to Piacenza, whose racing career had featured seven wins in nine races including the G3 Clasico Segula.

"We had our eye on one of the stakes winners and basically had the deal done but we just couldn’t buy her on type," Mills told TDN AusNZ.

"So we hunted the sister instead and found the sister and bought her. After we bought her, Venezuela sort of exploded."

"We had our eye on one of the stakes winners and basically had the deal done but we just couldn’t buy her on type." - Sheamus Mills

That 'explosion' was a crisis triggered by the disputed re-election of President Nicolas Maduro, which has extended for much of the past four months. Much of the country has been plagued by shortages of food, medicine and electricity in that time.

Trying to negotiate the purchase and transport of a broodmare under those circumstances has tested Mills to the limit.

"Firstly, we couldn’t get her vetted, because the country had no electricity for five days, so they couldn’t use the radiograph machine," he said.

Agent Sheamus Mills (left) with trainer Mick Price

"It's been a fun sort of experiment, time consuming and we wondered a couple of times if we had made a donation to the Venezuelan mafia, but it all turned out to be legitimate."

"After three or four times that the flights were cancelled because of some sort of diplomatic issue, thankfully the plane took off yesterday and she is safe and sound in Miami."

A friend of a friend

Mills has a contact within the South American nation to thank for getting Piacenza out in the midst of a diplomatic row with the United States which threatens the movement of all goods, let alone a horse, in and out of Venezuela.

"We wondered a couple of times if we had made a donation to the Venezuelan mafia, but it all turned out to be legitimate." - Sheamus Mills

"With the political situation between the United States and Venezuela, nothing was easy as far as the paper work and getting the stamp on the export documents," he said.

"I had a good mate of mine who bought Snapy Halo (Arg), a Southern Halo (USA) entire a few years ago out of Argentina. I had a man on the ground over there to get a little initial in. Then thankfully, he put me in touch with a Venezuelan agent."

"I had to hope that friends of friends was enough of a connection for everything to go well. Credit to him, he was brilliant to deal with and he gave me confidence that everything was ok."

"It was quite a while from the time that we bought her to the time we left the country and obviously we were concerned as to where she might be, who was looking after her, was she getting looked after. Full credit to him. The short answer is, I got lucky, because the mate of the mate was very diligent."

Quarantine restrictions mean Piacenza won't arrive at Edinburgh Park until later this year, with a six-month stay in the USA required before she is allowed to travel to Australia.

Edinburgh Park, where Piacenza will be arriving later this year

"When we started the deal, we had her in Australia in time for the breeding season but it has dragged on for that long, and given her six months' residency, the plans have changed," he said.

"It’s worked out well, because she can now go to Medaglia d'Oro (USA) southern hemisphere time. If she gets in foal in September, all being well, she will be on a November flight."

"She's been Venezuela to Miami and will now go Miami to Kentucky then when ready, Kentucky to Chicago, then Auckland and then Australia."

Aiming to be another success story

When she does arrive, Edinburgh Park will hope she can join the growing band of broodmares Mills has had success with in recent times.

"We've had a great run of success lately, particularly with mares we have sourced, mated and managed," he said.

We have had Our Crown Mistress (Star Witness), Contessa Vanessa (NZ) (Bullbars), Ready Set Sail (More Than Ready {USA}), Dubious (Not A Single Doubt), Steal My Kisses (I Am Invincible), Vow and Declare (Declaration of War {USA}), Lycurgus (Star Witness) and Military Zone (Epaulette) all win stakes races in the last 12 months from mares that we sourced and bred for clients."

"I'm pretty pleased with that."

Dubious is out of a mare Sheamus sourced from the Arqana Breeding Sale

The latest acquisition for Mills was Incensed (Strategic) at this week's Inglis Australian Broodmare and Weanling Sale in Sydney for $26,000. She is out of dual Group 1 winner Zacheline (NZ) (Zabeel {NZ}) and is in foal to Starspangledbanner.

Mills gave a big thumbs up to the new format of the breeding stock sale even though it was a tough market to get into as a buyer.

"I thought the sale was very good. The Chairman's Sale was excellent, the timing with the break between Easter and this sale was great, I thought with the weanlings up first, then the Chairman's into the general mares' sale worked really well," he said.

"The new format got a big tick of approval for me." - Sheamus Mills

"The new format got a big tick of approval for me."

"I went there with quite a few orders and didn't fill them. That was because of prices. I was underbidder on two at the Chairman's and underbidder on two or three at the main sale,"

"I thought it was testimony to the sale that I couldn’t fill my orders."

Mills purchased a mare in foal to Starspangledbanner at the Inglis Weanling and Broodmare Sale

In the Zone

Undeterred, he will head to the Magic Millions National Sale series later this month with plenty of confidence.

He has had particular success at the Race Fillies and Maiden Mares section of that sale, including sourcing Loading Zone (Street Sense {USA}), the dam of recent Hawkesbury Guineas winner Military Zone, for just $8000 on behalf of clients in 2013.

"I think there's always quite a few jewels in that first sale," he said.

Mills matched Loading Zone to then first-season sire Epaulette for her second foal and the resultant colt was sold as both a weanling and a yearling for $140,000.

Now trained by Peter and Paul Snowden on behalf of Triple Crown Syndications, Military Zone is one of the leading chances for Saturday's Inglis 3YO Guineas at Scone

"I would have said on form and looking at the noms, the Guineas on Saturday is at his mercy. It looks his to lose, I would be surprised if he hasn't won another stakes race by Saturday," Mills said.

Military Zone, one of the leading chances for Saturday's Inglis 3YO Guineas at Scone