Nigel McGrath had as much right to be in the foreground as he did in the background after the dashing win by Stunin Cullen in the $220,000 PGG Wrightson NZ Yearling Sales Series 2-year-old Open last week.
It was McGrath who bought the Christian Cullen colt for $56,000 as a yearling for his mother Annette and Ann Seaton, and it was McGrath who put the value on him when Terry McDonald and Eddie Griffin came calling with their cheque last month. It was good business all round, sellers early winners and buyers not much later for Stunin Cullen collected $117,000 for his win over Tintin In America and Highview Tommy. Stunin Cullen is now with Phil Anderson and Tim Butt; Butt saying while it needed courage to buy, it also needed courage to sell. "He came with a perfect attitude," he said. "Nigel had done him well."
While the other fancied horses drew poorly in the race, Stunin Cullen did not. He was out smartly from gate two, led strongly, and had plenty in reserve. Tintin In America made a forward run on the back of Highview Tommy a lap from home, was second at the 1000m, got cover, then closed the gap without making an issue of it. From behind Tintin In America, Highview Tommy did the same. He won by a length and a half, and the margins back to fourth were greater.
McDonald, whose brother Ken raced big winner Master Musician and is now supporting galloping trainers on the Gold Coast, has an impressive ownership portfolio that includes Charles Bronson and Comebackmach, along with more than 30 others aged three or younger. He was also a partner in the ill-fated Tuherbs, who won the Easter Cup and Welcome Stakes. "Before Tuherbs, he used to dabble in some cheaper ones. I talked him up for this one," said Butt.
An added bonus for McDonald was sharing the occasion with the company of his daughter, Janine, aged 45, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, but was out for the day from Burwood Hospital after treatment. McDonald made various tributes after the race, but this was the one that counted most.
Credit: Mike Grainger writing in HRWeekly14 May 08
Scrap metal dealer Terry McDonald once took a punt on Tuherbs, and he opened the wallet again earlier this year to buy Stunin Cullen. One of those horses won him nine races including an Easter Cup and over $200,000 before injury shortened his life; the other sailed right past that figure with a sensational victory in the NRM Sires' Stakes Final at Addington on Cup Day.
"I've bought a couple of good ones over the years - and a couple of bad ones," said a humble McDonald, who has never been afraid to take a chance on a horse with the right credentials. "We had to put Tuherbs down after he tore ligaments off a hock, and this horse was basically a replacement."
McDonald raced Tuherbs in partnership with his good friend Eddie Griffin, and it is the same story with Stunin Cullen too, although the latter wasn't able to be there on Tuesday to accept the trophy. "Eddie's got bad legs and can't travel much," McDonald revealed. "He is retired now, but he used to be a partner with me in business; we have probably raced horses together since the seventies."
Stunin Cullen is by Christian Cullen out of Vicario, a Soky's Atom half sister to duel NZ Cup winner Il Vicolo. Bred by Sandy and Jan Yarndley, the colt went through the ring at last year's Australasian Classic in Auckland where he was knocked down to Nigel McGrath for $65,000. He was unbeaten at the trials when he changed hands last April and joined the stable of Tim Butt and Phil Anderson, and now he has won five of his seven raceday appearances.
"We were actually at a Caduceus Club function when we first found out about him," Butt said. "So we rang Nige straight away. He had always liked the horse, it was just too early to tell how far he would go. We trialled him and bought him within a couple of days. And it was a big risk, but you have just got to go to work and away you go."
Stunin Cullen started his career with great gusto, winning a Sires' Stakes Heat on debut and making it two-for-two in the Yearling Sales Series 2YO Open, then inexperience shone through a week later in the Sires' Stakes Final. "He just bolted out of the gate that night, running his first half in something like fifty-five," Butt recalled. "He has always had that speed, and now he has moulded into a very nice horse. Sometimes when you work him at home, you wonder how any of the other 3-year-olds could be as good as him. We certainly haven't trained any youngsters of his calibre before." So he is really special? "I think so. Of course we are not talking anything like Auckland Reactor though. I mean, he went around and sat parked in this race last year and blew them away...today, our guy's had a cushy run and just won."
It was yet another clever big-race drive from Butt's brother Anthony, who must have been itching to use Stunin Cullen's ample gate speed but instead elected to mooch out and then managed to secure a cosy one-one spot. From there, with a record pace being set up front by Highview Tommy, Stunin Cullen was always going to have the last say. "This is one of the few times Ants and I have actually talked tactics before a race," Butt continued. "But he asked me what I thought, and I said it's a long season ahead."
This was reiterated by Anthony in his post-race interview, when he said that he "agonised all week" over what to do - knowing the colt had terrific gate speed, but not wanting to use him at both ends. In the end it could not have turned out better, and Stunin Cullen walked away with the NRM Sires' Stakes trophy and a national record next to his name.
His time of 2:18.3 for the 1950m mobile event is the fastest by any horse of any age, in this country's history. Wiping a full two seconds off Changeover's previous mark set in the same event two years ago, it was also nearly two seconds better than Awesome Armbro's all-age record over the distance. Plus it represented a staggering mile rate of 1:54.1, crediting sire Christian Cullen with his 20th sub-1:55 performer. "Phenomenal," said McDonald as the time was announced. "That'll be good for his stud career later on - if I'm still around to see it."
Credit: John Robinson writing in HRWeekly 13Nov08