If the Greek myth is to be believed, Ulysses, King of Ithaca certainly ‘got the trip’.
Verse after verse of Homer’s Odyssey details how before returning home after the Trojan War, Ulysses –the Roman version of the Greek Odysseus –was obliged to overcome an epic array of stamina-sapping obstructions during ten years stranded at sea.
In a story with more twists and turns than a British Horse racing Authority disciplinary appeal, our hero finally sat back on his throne after seeing off cannibals, monsters, temptresses and more –plus the growing number of admirers who had swarmed around his wife.
In contrast, under the astute guidance of first Sir Michael Stoute and now the renowned Cheveley Park Stud breeding operation, the equine Ulysses has found navigating a passage through life somewhat less of an odyssey.
Success in five of his thirteen races, including a famous, mile-and-a-quarter Group One double in 2017 in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown and in York’s Juddmonte International Stakes saw the product of a mating between Epsom Classic winnersGalileo and Light Shift–the filly bred and raced by the Niarchos family through the Flaxman Holdings operation –make a considerable impression.
Now it is hoped that mark will be stamped on Ulysses’ much-anticipated progeny when they see the racecourse for the first time in 2021.
“Maria [Niarchos-Gouaze] and [niece] Electra had reserved the name for a while,” said their racing manager Alan Cooper, “because they appreciated that it was strong, and they’re Greek so it worked well.
“And along came a lovely, well-bred colt, by a Derby winner out of an Oaks winner, with a lovely attitude, great character and athleticism –he fitted the bill pretty much from the word go.”
The striking-looking chestnut turned out to be a ‘Sir Michael special’, a slow-burner which benefited from the famously unhurried approach of British flat racing’s ten-time champion trainer.
“It took time for the penny to drop,” said Cooper, “but he was in the hands of a master. Both trainer and owners were patient, and it was rewarded.”
After his maiden-race success, there were, as Stoute put it, occasional “blips” like a down-the-field finish in Harzand’s Derby, but mainly positives, as in the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood and a creditable fourth-place in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita behind star-names Highland Reel, Flintshire and Found, no less.
However, it was as four-year-old when the patience really paid off: Ulysses was a major player in five Group One races, and as well as the Sandown/York double –which Ghaiyyath is now attempting to emulate –he finished in the frame three times, twice against an Enable in her invincible pomp in Ascot’s King George, when runner-up, and in the Arc at Chantilly when third. He was Cartier’s Champion Older Horse.
Those results made Ulysses an outstanding stallion prospect at just the time that David and Patricia Thompson’s Cheveley Park Stud was looking to the future.
With stud stalwarts Pivotal and Dutch Art inside the final furlong of their careers, the Thompsons were looking for a big, new, and maybe different, name.
“Ulysses was a bit of a departure for us,” said Chris Richardson, Cheveley Park MD and one-time Niarchos stud manager, “in that we’ve always been associated with speed.
“After the Juddmonte we took a view in a conscious effort to diversify –he has the pedigree, obviously, with Galileo, but he had also shown such a huge turn of foot.
“When the Thompsons have a feeling, they have a knack of seeing it through, and made it their mission to secure him.”
There is a palpable sense of excitement about the sales and racing seasons ahead on the near 1,000 acres of Cheveley Park close to Newmarket where Ulysses stands alongside former top sprinters Twilight Son and Mayson for a highly commercial fee of £15,000.
So far, he has covered 350 mares, many Grade One winners or closely related to top-level performers, and the foals have been well received.
Cheveley Park, which has 120 broodmares, is, of course, supporting its new recruit, as is the Niarchos operation, and he has fourteen representatives in the hallowed pages of Tattersalls’ Book 1 Yearling Sale in October.
Their pedigrees are brimming with quality, and particularly high hopes surround a half-brother to Cheveley Park’s Group One-winning mare Integral and a colt whose mother is a half-sister to Royal Ascot Group One hero Golden Horde.
Several favourable mentions also went to a well-connected filly out of the mare Furbelow, currently unnamed, which will race for the stud.
Meanwhile, as super stallion Galileo heads towards his 23rd birthday, the search for the ‘next Galileo’ continues; at the moment, it is proving something of an odyssey with not even Frankel a cast-iron successor.
Dare officials at Cheveley Park Stud dream that they have the horse to be king on that particular throne?