Three-time Group One winner Sunlight, trained by Tony McEvoy was taken by the slot owned by a syndicate headed by Max Whitby and Neil Werrett for October’s $14 million The Everest.
Sunlight has not left the Widden fold completely as the horse is owned by co-owner & trainer Tony McEvoy’s syndicate which includes Antony’s wife, Katie Thompson.
Q: What is the story behind the breeding of Sunlight? How did it come about? When was the decision made?
AT: Sunlight was bred by three partners; Widden Stud, Sheikh Fahad’s Qatar Bloodstock and Dan & Rae Fletcher of Telemon Stud. Together we purchased Sunlight’s dam SOLAR CHARGED at the 2014 Magic Millions Broodmare Sale. Widden & Qatar Bloodstock had recently purchased a major interest in Northern Meteor’s dual Group One-winning colt ZOUSTAR and we're committed to secure some high-class mares for his first season at stud. Solar Charged was a brilliant 2yo who won the Kindergarten Stakes as a 2yo by 5 lengths and was a leading chance in the Golden Slipper. We identified her as an ideal mare for Zoustar on all our key requirements; type, pedigree & race performance.
It was all very straightforward from there. She conceived on the first cover and her resultant foal, born & raised at Widden would turn out to be none other than Sunlight. It’s very satisfying when you envisage a certain horse that you are trying to breed come to fruition in the way it did with Sunlight.
Q: Could you please tell us a bit more about what attracted you to Solar Charged’s pedigree for Zoustar?
AT: Solar Charged’s pedigree really appealed to us. She had influences of Red Ransom, Danehill & Bletchingly that we felt was going to really compliment Zoustar. When you look at what has worked with the Encosta de Lagosireline – the branches in her pedigree just matched up perfectly.
From a race performance viewpoint, Zoustar was a Group winning 2YO towards the back end of his juvenile season so we felt Solar Charged, given she was so precocious herself would be able to influence this into the foal. It’s amazing how it’s worked out. When Sunlight won the Magic Millions 2YO Classic we would perhaps have to credit the early maturity of her mother however when she won the Coolmore Stud Stakes as a 3YO she reminded us very much of Zoustar who of course won the same race in brilliant fashion.
Q: What impresses you about Sunlight the most?
AT: She was a filly we rated highly right from the moment she was born. She has clearly defined characteristics of both her sire & dam which I feel is important. As she progressed through to her yearling preparation it was evident there was a real willingness & determination within her and it’s been a pleasure to see this on display when she racing. Notwithstanding her brilliance, I love the way she pins her ears back and fights when challenged in a race – like the Silver Slipper Stakes as a 2YO or her Group One wins in the Coolmore Stud Stakes &Newmarket Handicap.
Q: What was the reaction of the buyers to her in the auction ring? Did you know the owners before the purchase? Did you expect them to purchase Sunlight?
AT: She was sold at the 2017 Magic Millions Yearling Sale on the Gold Coast and was of course from the first crop of Zoustar. The Zoustar’s had been received exceptionally well and this filly was no different. Tony McEvoy in particular just kept coming back to look at her and subsequently purchased her forA$300,000 in conjunction with Julian Blaxland representing Aquis Farm. In the days after following her purchase, Tony syndicated her amongst stable clients. The syndicate consisted of a group of woman that included my wife Katie Thompson and Dan Fletcher’s wife, Rae. Twelve months later this lucky group were fortunate enough to win the Magic Millions 2YO Classic and also win the rich A$500,000 ‘Racing Women’s bonus, a wonderful initiative by Magic Millions to introduce more women into racehorse ownership. What a ride since it has been for everyone involved.
Q: Zoustar has become one of Southern Hemisphere’s greatest stallions. Tell us about his rise?
AT: Zoustar is a phenomenon really. He has quickly filled the void left by the early passing of his Champion young sire Northern Meteor and, having been crowned Champion Australian First Season Sire for 2017/18, has established an unassailable lead as this season’s Champion Australian 3yo sire with earnings over A$7m (over A$1m more than Snitzel who is 2nd on the list).
Few stallions sire a 1-2-3 in any race, however, Zoustar achieved the feat (with his first crop) in a Group One, the Coolmore Stud Stakes when Sunlight held off the outstanding colts Zousain and Lean Mean Machine down the Flemington straight 1200m.
In the sales ring, Zoustar has enjoyed incredible results. This year his yearlings have made up to A$1.05m, A$1m, A$900k, A$750k, A$700k, A$650k, A$625k etc.
He is again in hot demand for the upcoming season with a full of a book of mares awaiting him after his return from shuttling duties in the Northern Hemisphere at David Redvers’ Tweenhills Stud.
Q: His progeny have done really well on the track. Which of his progeny would you say are the flag bearers of for his fame?
AT: Interestingly, I recently read that Zoustar sits just below Galileo in the Apex Ratings (A; ‘elite’ Runners) for Australia. That’s a great indication of the level of high-class performers Zoustar is producing and a very exciting statistic given it’s formed off just one crop to assess. SUNLIGHT is, of course, a multiple Group One winner, TOP KNIGHT won the Singapore Triple Crown culminating in the Gr.1 Singapore Guineas, ZOUSAIN & LEAN MEAN MACHINE a Group winning 2yo’s who have been placed on multiple occasions at Group One level. His 2nd crop includes the Group winning colt SUN CITY and Group performers BARCALI, SHIH TZOU & SISSTAR.
Q: Can you tell us about how the season is going for him, did you get (or are awaiting) any particularly exciting mares?
AT: The stallion breeding season commences in Australia on the 1st of September every year. It’s a particularly exciting year and the book of mares awaiting Zoustar is unbelievable featuring any number of Group One or Group winning mares and/or mares that have produced Group One or Group winners. Without going through it in too finer detail the likes of recently retired Group One winners SHEIDEL, COMMANDING JEWEL, SOPRESSA & SPRIGHT will be visiting this season as will the dams of MERCHANT NAVY, STARSPANGLEDBANNER, CRITERION, SHAMEXPRESS & EXTREME CHOICE.
Q: Could you please tell us more about yourself and Widden Stud?
AT: WIDDEN STUD IS AN ICON in the Australian thoroughbred industry. It is the world’s longest-standing continuously family-owned thoroughbred stud. The Thompson family, who established Widden in 1867, have been breeding thoroughbreds in the Hunter Valley for over 150 years and, along with the auctioneers William Inglis& Son, celebrated a historic 150-year milestone in 2017. Widden and the Thompson family were inaugural inductees into the Australian Racing Hall of Fame. Widden Stud is over 8,000 acres of spectacular horse county, situated in the southwestern corner of the Hunter Valley and bordered by the renowned Wollemi World Heritage National Park.