Hong Kong’s latest sprint sensation Aethero was perhaps destined to be a giant - in every sense - of the racetrack even before his race debut at Sha Tin in April this year.
Giant he will be, in performance level as well as physique, if he becomes the first three-year-old to win the G1 LONGINES Hong Kong Sprint on Sunday, 8 December.
The signs, near and far, were there to suggest that Aethero - described as a foal as having more natural muscle tone than normal by his breeder - might be something special.
That he’s confirmed, winning the Jockey Club Sprint in 1m 07.58s, just eight hundredths of a second outside Sacred Kingdom’s mark set on the same day 12 years earlier, one race on from bettering Sacred Kingdom’s 1000m track record with a 54.69s sizzle down the straight course.
After all, a day before his stunning debut win on 14 April, his half-brother Classique Legend won the Group 2 Arrowfield Sprint at Randwick to maintain a then unbeaten record on better than heavy ground.
And 12 months earlier, almost to the day, the then unnamed Sebring colt from the Encosta De Lago mare with the surprisingly masculine name Pinocchio, would be the subject of spirited bidding at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sales before being secured by George Moore Bloodstock for AU$ 575,000.
However, it goes back even further than that according to his breeder Linda Monds who, in 2014 with husband Laurence, purchased the acclaimed Tyreel Stud which had been previously owned and run by the Fleming family.
Patriarch Jim Fleming bred, among multiple major race winners, the Hong Kong champion of the mid-1990’s Mr Vitality, while his son Dean bred Singapore sprint champion Rocket Man who was denied by just a short-head in the 2010 Hong Kong Sprint. Another son Lee played a part in the breeding of the unbeaten Black Caviar.
The current Tyreel Stud story, and Aethero’s, begins with the Monds’ purchase of his dam Pinocchio, a winning sister to five time Group 1 winner Racing To Win, for AU$320,000 at the 2014 Magic Millions National Broodmare Sale - the same year they acquired Tyreel. She was in foal to Foxwedge.
“Every mare that I buy feels extremely significant to me but the first year was particularly crucial,” Linda Monds said, “and she was one of our first eight broodmares purchased that year. It was such a ‘life changing year’ time, taking over Tyreel Stud and starting a new business with no bloodstock. We had to be aggressive in the broodmare market and purchase mares that we believed would produce on track performers, but first and foremost we also had to purchase mares that we believed would give us outstanding foals physically.”
Fortunately, Pinocchio lived up to her end of the bargain by producing outstanding foals, not that the market instantly responded to the first by Foxwedge, who would be named Puppet Master and win four minor races but offer no clue - to the rest of the world - as to what would come from her matings, in the next two years, to Not A Single Doubt (Classique Legend) and Sebring (Aethero).
“Puppet Master was a great physical specimen. We presented him at the Magic Millions in 2016 but had low offers and took him home. I felt he deserved more. He was such a good, strong sort and I had a lot of faith in him. Cash flow was an issue at the time, being a relatively new business, otherwise I would have kept him to race myself. We then re-presented him at Inglis Scone sales where he just made our bottom line, AU$82,000. He was brought as a ‘Ready to Runner’ and sold at the 2016 Inglis Ready to Run sale for AU$100,000 to Darby Racing. On the track he had good speed but it wasn’t sustainable across distance,” she said.
The market certainly responded more positively when Classique Legend and then Aethero were presented.
Classique Legend topped the 2017 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale when he made AU$400,000 to the bid of Carmel Size on behalf of Hong Kong based owner Boniface Ho. Thus, the then unnamed Aethero, was catalogued in the more elite “select” Easter Sales and at AU$575,000 made considerably more than the average price of AU$346,728.
Classique Legend did not race or trial as a two-year-old and therefore had not been seen in public at the time of Aethero’s sale but the drums beat louder in racing than anywhere else and George Moore may have had some inside running.
“I didn't know too much about Classique Legend,” John Moore said, “but when I arrived down there George pulled out all the short-listed horses and he paraded in front of me. I was just taken by the horse - the size of him, how he went about his business, how he walked, his temperament in the box. I said to George ‘this is Able Friend’ because there were a lot of similarities.
“He wasn’t as muscular as Able Friend but he just stood out. He was never going to be small but if he was gelded early, I couldn't see that he was ever going to be too gross. He was light through the barrel and I didn't think that would change. He was actually only a moderate pass when we looked at his X-rays but I told George we’d take the chance - I had to have him. He’s got all the attributes of a horse that, in my opinion, will be the real deal. He had height but he had athleticism - he ticked all the boxes for me.”
Aethero and Karis Teetan, picture Hong Kong Jockey Club
Monds had an inkling that Aethero might well be very good even if his size was off-putting to some. He was a big boy from the time he was born and still is, of course. He weighed in at 1246 pounds for his championship preliminary bout on 17 November and was heavier than all but one of his elder rivals.
“He was born at 62.5kg with good bone and a very strong physigue and always had a great, relaxed walk. He grew very well and just kept growing all the while staying balanced. He physically possessed natural muscle tone, more than normal. Possibly the thing that stood out the most to everyone here on the farm was his attitude. He was always very relaxed and nothing ever ruffled him at all,” Monds said.
Breeding the perfect racehorse is an unending and perhaps unattainable quest but every tweak may take you a step closer and that was the reasoning behind sending Pinocchio to Sebring.
“Classique Legend has grown into a lovely horse with good size. During his early days he was so physically strong and had plenty of bone but we were concerned that possibly he may not get the length of leg that would be expected; in this we were wrong but we only have a short time with our foals to critique them before we are deciding on covering our mares again.
“Puppet Master was short-coupled, Classique Legend was a bit bigger and had a bit more length, so our decision to go to Sebring was to get the extra size and produce a horse with more leg and length again and this we achieved,” she said.
The moment of truth came when the son of Sebring was presented at the Sales and Monds concedes there was a high level of interest in the horse but some “doubting Thomases” simply because he was big.
“We had a lot of interest in him at the sales but given his sheer size he was critiqued quite harshly by some judges believing he needed a lot of time. There were a number of people, however, who were impressed with him physically; his balance and his walk. Full credit goes to George Moore for seeing the athletic potential in him and backing his judgement, as we did.
“I know George was ecstatic when he secured him. He visited Tyreel in March this year to inspect our Inglis Easter Yearling Sale draft for 2019 and mentioned that they had an extremely high opinion of him and even at that time he was comparing him to Able Friend,” she said.
The Monds are unable to attend the LONGINES Hong Kong International Races meeting but stud manager Rob Sims will represent the Tyreel team. “We follow every horse that we have sold with pride but unfortunately, as much we’d love to be there, Laurence and I are unable to go in December for personal reasons.
“We have had reassurance that the unrest in Hong Kong will not create any issues for travelling and I believe Rob will benefit enormously from the experience of representing our brand and farm in Hong Kong. We will be watching the race with great anticipation. We are so excited for the Moore stable and everyone that has been involved with Aethero, but most of all we are extremely proud of our product and the plans that we had put in place for Pinocchio and we have such a high respect for Aethero and the horse that he has made of himself,” Monds said.
Pinocchio has a So You Think yearling who will be presented at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale 2020. “He has the same quality physical attributes and demeanour as his brothers,” Monds said. Pinocchio is currently in foal to I Am Invincible.
Monds and her husband are very much hands-on at Tyreel. “It’s seven days a week during the breeding season. Laurence does all the walk-ins and I do the foalings and I also run the office, which is a full time job in itself,” she said.
The Monds embarked on the Tyreel project after working in various other industries but Linda says it was in her blood. “My parents had a cattle breeding property at Bylong. Dad had a few broodmares and so I was around horses from a very young age and have early memories of going to the sales. The lovely process of watching foals develop into yearlings made quite an impression on me as a teenager and has a lot to do with where I am now,” she said.
HOOFNOTE: Only two southern hemisphere bred three-year-olds have contested Hong Kong’s sprint grand final and both competed before the race was switched to 1200 metres in 2006.
The first was King Of Danes, trained by Tony Cruz, who finished three quarters of a length third behind Falvelon in 2000 when the race was a Group 3 at 1000m. He was having his eighth start after beating Fairy King Prawn in the equivalent to the Jockey Club Sprint (then also 1000m) at his Hong Kong debut after having won three from six in Australia and finishing eighth in Belle Du Jour’s G1 Golden Slipper.
The second was Anabatik, trained by Moore, who finished three and three-quarter lengths seventh behind the David Hayes-trained All Thrills Too in the 2002 version which had been elevated to G1 status but was still run at 1000m. Anabatik had recorded five wins and three placings from his first eight starts in Hong Kong and also contested the Jockey Club Sprint equivalent, finishing third behind All Thrills Too.
Aethero has a weight concession given his age and origin and will carry 117lb in the Hong Kong Sprint but will be disadvantaged at the relative weights against many of those who ran in the Jockey Club Sprint.