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By John Berry

No figure in Australasian racing history is more synonymous with the promotion of high-class stamina than the late, great J. B. ‘Bart’ Cummings, who passed away in August 2015 at the age of 87. Included among the winners of his 12 Melbourne Cups were some horses who will forever occupy a place in the highest pantheon of the sport. The last great stayer whom he trained, though, didn’t win a Melbourne Cup, and ultimately brought the great trainer perhaps as much frustration as joy. However, the burgeoning stud career of the magnificent So You Think (NZ) (High Chaparral {Ire}) will surely now have the great man looking down with pride. The magnificent near-black stallion is showing all the signs of being able to breath fresh life into the local middle-distance and staying scene at a time when the imports (those banes of Bart’s life) are threatening to overwhelm the home-grown stock.

The foundations of Bart Cummings’s Melbourne Cup challenges were generally laid on his trips to New Zealand to buy the yearlings whom he would mould into champions. The template was simple: buy imposing yearlings whose pedigrees entitled them to be high-class gallopers at 2000m or farther. Ideally the animal would be handsome, but that is not to say that the great man was not prepared to overlook deficiencies of conformation. In his memoirs ‘Bart, My life’, Bart recalled an exchange at the Trentham Yearling Sale in 1964 when he had just paid 3,500 guineas for a colt by the imported stallion Alcimedes (GB) (Alycidon {GB}) out of Galston (NZ) (Balloch {GB}) who was a half-sister to the 1963 Caulfield Cup winner Sometime (NZ) (Summertime {GB}). Bart had inspected the colt before the sale at Trelawney Stud and he had been more impressed by colt’s athleticism and pedigree than concerned by how badly his front legs turned in. Even so, as the hammer came down, T. J. Smith’s chortle rang in his ears, “It’s a cripple! You bought a cripple!” Bart, of course, had the last laugh when the horse, gelded shortly after the sale and given the name Galilee (NZ), became the first horse in history to win the Caulfield, Melbourne and Sydney Cups in the same season.

Bart later observed that the fact that Galilee was so pigeon-toed “didn’t discourage me, because it didn’t contradict any of the principles of spotting yearlings that my father had taught me. First among those principles was to look at the dam’s side, and see what proportion of winners she has produced. A good mare will usually produce a useful horse no matter what the sire. When a good mare goes to a champion sire, the chances are increased that she will produce top-line offspring… There was nothing in dad’s principles about a yearling needing to have a perfect conformation. The perfect horse hasn’t yet been bred…If you’re waiting for the perfect horse, you’ll be waiting forever.”

As it happened Bart didn’t have to wait forever. Many would argue that he found the perfect horse in the 1990s, and the fact that the chapter in his book on Saintly (Aus) is titled ‘My horse from Heaven’ suggests that Bart would not disagree. However, Bart arguably saved the most perfect to last. So You Think was yet to come.

So You Think was unearthed in New Zealand by Bart Cummings and Duncan Ramage (racing and breeding manager for Bart’s long-time friend and patron Dato Tan Chin Nam) and bought at the 2008 New Zealand Bloodstock Premier Yearling Sale at Karaka for NZ$110,000, consigned in the Windsor Park Stud draft. His pedigree conformed closely to the Cummings blue-print. His first three dams had all been stakes-performed multiple winners and boasted solid breeding records. His dam Triassic (NZ), a daughter of the imported Nijinsky stallion Tights, had scored twice in stakes company. By the time the young So You Think headed to Karaka, she had already bred winners by Tale Of The Cat, Last Tycoon (Ire), Carnegie (Ire) and Galileo (Ire).

In retrospect and even without considering his subsequent achievements, NZ$110,000 seems remarkably inexpensive for a well-bred yearling of So You Think’s quality. While the Cummings blue-print allows a fair bit of leeway as regards conformational faults, with So You Think it didn’t need to. A truly beautiful and extraordinary well-balanced horse, he would score highly in any show-ring; but, then again, by the time he went through the sale ring, even New Zealand had succumbed to the modern fashion of putting a premium on seemingly precocious sprinter/milers. So You Think was never going to be a Golden Slipper contender. Even so, though, he was still forward enough to make a winning debut as a 2-year-old, scoring over 1400m at Rosehill late in the autumn of 2009. The beautiful seed was clearly starting to germinate. The following spring it burst into flower, and then continued to bloom for three glorious years.

The story of So You Think’s racing career can be summed up in four short words: he was a champion. On only his fifth start he defeated the best older horses in Australasia at weight-for-age, taking the G1 Cox Plate over 2040m at Moonee Valley. He probably would then have beaten a field of top-class older milers under handicap conditions two weeks later had he been ridden with more restraint; as it was, he set a strong pace in the G1 Emirates S. at Flemington before weakening in the closing stages and finishing second to All American (Aus) (Red Ransom).

When So You Think resumed as a spring 4-year-old, he was majestic. He landed a sparkling Group 1 four-timer in the Underwood S., the Yalumba Caulfield S, his second Cox Plate, and the Mackinnon S. In true Cummings style, So You Think backed up three days later in the Melbourne Cup. Punters kept the faith and sent So You Think off the 2-1 favourite, but reality kicked in as weight and distance made this a bridge too far. Even so, So You Think went down fighting, finishing an honourable third of the 23 runners behind the French visitor Americain (Dynaformer).

After Flemington, So You Think, his trainer and all Australian racing fans had history in their sights: a third Cox Plate in 11 months’ time. Only Kingston Town (Aus) (Bletchingly {Aus}), trained by Cummings’s former arch-rival Tommy Smith, had ever landed this mighty hat-trick. It seemed that all So You Think had to do was to stay sound for another 11 months.

It transpired, however, that there was another proviso: So You Think also had to stay in Australia for another 11 months.

Staying sound was the easy part; staying put was the problem. With Cummings laid up in hospital, a deal was done with Coolmore which saw So You Think heading to Ireland to join Aidan O’Brien’s team at Ballydoyle. Cummings was furious, not least because the deal had been done while he was indisposed, but his anger and sadness could not turn back the tide. One would like to hope that Cummings eventually took some consolation from the glory which his protege garnered in Europe, where he doubled his Group 1 tally. In 2011 (aged five by Northern Hemisphere reckoning) his wins included the G1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh, the G1 Eclipse S. at Sandown and the G1 Irish Champion S. at Leopardstown. It is fair to say that he would have won that third Cox Plate with his head in his chest. No doubt he would have won the great race for a fourth time in 2012 had his connections chosen. He was only given two starts in Europe that year, but he won them both: the G1 Tattersalls Gold Cup at The Curragh and the G1 Prince of Wales’s S. at Royal Ascot. After 23 starts and 14 wins (13 of them in group races, 10 in Group 1s) he was in the form of his life. However, there would be no repeats of his Eclipse or Irish Champion S. wins, no further challenge for the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (in which he had finished fourth the previous year). The breeding shed at Coolmore’s Australian division beckoned. We often hear the phrase that a horse ‘has nothing left to prove’ and we are generally being lied to; in the case of So You Think, however, such words would have been nothing but the truth.

The addition to the Australian stallion ranks of So You Think has proved to have been very timely. He began covering mares in the Hunter Valley in September 2012. Just over two years later, his sire High Chaparral died unexpectedly, aged just 15. His death left a big hole in the ranks of European Classic stallions, and an even bigger hole Down Under. It is worth remembering that, while High Chaparral (although extremely successful) was eclipsed in Europe by his paternal half-brother Galileo, it was the other way round in Australasia. When the two Derby winners began shuttling (Galileo to Coolmore in Australia, High Chaparral initially to Windsor Park Stud in New Zealand until his excellent results prompted Coolmore to bring his shuttling duties ‘in-house’) it was High Chaparral who achieved significantly the better results.

The results from So You Think’s four seasons at Coolmore in Ireland (2013 to ’16 inclusive, meaning that his eldest offspring have just turned four) have so far been relatively unspectacular, but Down Under he has excelled. He seems currently to be shaping up as Australasia’s most promising young source of high-class middle-distance gallopers. He seems to be his father’s heir. (It should be added that there are still some younger High Chaparral stallions as yet unproven, most obviously the Arrowfield-based Dundeel (NZ), himself a seven-time Group 1 winner).

From the outset, So You Think has been throwing a startlingly high proportion of good horses. The 114 members of his first Australian crop are still only 4-year-olds so we can expect their collective statistics to improve further, but already more than 10% of them are stakes performers. Of the 89 who have run, 58 (ie 65%) have won, accumulating a total of 110 victories. Of the 12 stakes performers in that crop, two were Group 1 Classic-winning 3-year-olds: G1 Randwick Guineas winner Inference (Aus) and G1 NZ 1,000 Guineas heroine La Diosa (NZ). The crop also included the top-class NZ-based Group 2-winning juvenile Gold Rush (NZ), emphasising the versatility of a stallion whose first crop has registered stakes victories at distances from 1200m to the 2500m at which Hobart Guineas and Tasmanian Derby winner Northwest Passage (Aus) won last season’s Night Cup at Moonee Valley.

Prior to taking last season’s Randwick Guineas, Inference had finished third in the spring in the G1 VRC Derby. Subsequently he finished second in the G1 Rosehill Guineas with another son of So You Think, So Si Bon (Aus), a short head away in third. This season So You Think’s second crop of 3-year-olds has thrown up his third Group 1 Classic winner: D’Argento (Aus), winner last Saturday of the G1 Rosehill Guineas in a manner which has seen him promoted to favouritism for the G1 Australian Derby at Randwick on Apr. 7. That Rosehill Guineas triumph made it a black-type double on Rosehill’s Golden Slipper card for So You Think following the win earlier in the afternoon of The Pinnacle (Aus) in the G3 Epona S. The previous day the So You Think 3-year-old Think Bleue (Aus) had taken the G3 Alexandra S. in Melbourne.

So You Think’s stud career is thriving. One can imagine that Bart Cummings is looking down and smiling.

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