The following was printed in Friday’s edition of the Herald Sun and written by Michael Manley.
Amid all the hoopla surrounding champion sprinter Black Caviar is another rousing success story: her sire Bel Esprit.
It is not just Black Caviar flying the Bel Esprit banner, because tomorrow at Caulfield his son Bel Sprinter, who has won five of his six starts, is second favourite for the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate.
Bel Esprit sits third on the Australian sires’ premiership behind two NSW Hunter Valley stallions: Fastnet Rock and Redoute’s Choice.
But Bel Esprit is the poor cousin on service fee. He stood at $27,500 last season compared with Redoute’s Choice at $137,500 and Fastnet Rock at $132,000.
Bel Esprit has been Victorian champion stallion four times and a fifth title is already secured.
Only legendary stallions Better Boy and Helios, with nine titles, have won more Victorian premierships.
Bel Esprit, who won the 2002 Blue Diamond Stakes, has defied the trend of promising Victorian stallions such as Testa Rossa and Encosta De Lago being whisked off the Hunter Valley.
The irony of all this is not lost on Bel Esprit’s part-owner, Greater Western Sydney coach Kevin Sheedy (pictured below with Bel Esprit).
While he is happy to take young Victorian footballers to Blacktown, he is more than content to keep Bel Esprit in Victoria.
Sheedy realises Bel Esprit’s service fee would be much bigger if he was in the Hunter Valley under the Coolmore or Arrowfield banner.
Sheedy said fellow part-owner Michael Duffy, Racing Victoria chairman and the man who selected Bel Esprit as a yearling, had insisted the stallion stay at Eliza Park Stud in Kerrie, near Romsey.
For his part, Duffy said a lot of the credit for Bel Esprit staying in Victoria had to go to the stud because it had bought his standing rights.
“There’s no question about it, Bel Esprit has been a huge boost for Eliza Park and Victoria,” Duffy said.
“But even more than that, he’s a banner horse for the Australian breeding industry as a whole with Black Caviar being crowned world champion and now responsible for taking racing from the sports pages to the front page.
“And yes, we’re certainly not denying she’s pushed Bel Esprit into the top bracket of sires.
“But it’s also important to note that she’s just one of 13 stakes winners by a relatively young sire.”
This season promises to be Bel Esprit’s best on the track because in the equine influenza year of 2007 he served an Australian record 266 mares and had 198 live foals, with that crop now three-year-olds.
Bel Esprit is well represented in the Melbourne Premier Yearling Sale, which starts on Monday, with 36 lots.
As for this year’s service fee, Eliza Park operations manager David Somers said it would be determined about mid-April.
The best is yet to come in terms of quality from Bel Esprit.
Last year he covered 125 mares, including Black Caviar’s dam Helsinge and the dam of Hay List, Sing Hallelujah.
One of the stallion’s biggest supporters is Mick Price, who has trained the most winners by Bel Esprit.
“He’s still under-rated,” Price said.
“There was a myth he couldn’t get colts but that’s all it is. They’ve got good temperaments. I’ve found no soundness issues.”