Spectrum’s Six-Time Gr 1 Winning Granddaughter Retired

Spectrum’s Six-Time Gr 1 Winning Granddaughter Retired

Spectrum at Yellow Star Stud. Image: Candiese Marnewick

In December 2001 at the Tattersalls sale in Newmarket, England, the American breeder and owner George Strawbridge paid nearly $750,000 for Ventura (by Spectrum standing at Yellow Star Stud), a stakes-placed filly who had been bred and campaigned by the legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien. She came from one of the best families in the international stud book, so expectations for her broodmare years were high.

Her first foal for Strawbridge was a stakes winner in the United States, but her next three could only muster one victory among them in Europe. Strawbridge was disappointed. So eight years after he had bought her, he sold Ventura, in foal, for approximately $100,000 at Tattersalls. The last of her offspring for Strawbridge, by the successful sprinter Invincible Spirit, was a yearling at the time. Her name was Moonlight Cloud.

Moonlight Cloud was small and average looking, and, given Ventura’s track record, Strawbridge did not expect wonders. He sent her to the trainer Freddie Head in France, who also had in his barn Goldikova, a horse well into an astonishing career in which she won 11 Group 1 races in France and England and the Breeders’ Cup Mile three years in a row.

“Nobody would’ve bought her as a yearling,” Strawbridge said of Moonlight Cloud. “She didn’t tick off any of those mystical boxes I always hear bloodstock agents talk about.”

Her first race came on Aug. 15, 2010, at Deauville, on the Normandy coast. She was overlooked at odds of 12 to 1 but won comfortably. “I got the picture from Freddie and I said, ‘Oh my god, she’s small!”’ Strawbridge recalled. “I thought, ‘How could she handle a European campaign?”’

He paused before adding, “Boy, that was a dumb doubt.”

Moonlight Cloud is now 5 years old and about to make the 20th and final start of her career, on Saturday in the Hong Kong Mile at Sha Tin, one of the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s flagship international races. The diminutive mare with a truckload of courage has won 12 races — six of the Group 1 variety — and the hearts of European racing fans. She recently earned Cartier top older-horse honors for an undefeated season in which she beat males on four occasions and also set two course records. She has beaten all comers at seven furlongs and a mile.

“She has become a legend,” Strawbridge said proudly.

If that was not already a given, Moonlight Cloud erased any doubt in the Prix de la Forêt at Longchamp on Oct. 6, an hour and a half after the Prix l’Arc de Triomphe. The ground was soft — not her choice going — and for much of the race, her jockey, Thierry Jarnet, restrained her to the outside and rear of the pack.

“At the 300-meter mark she still had eight lengths to make up,” Strawbridge said. “I was convinced that it wasn’t her day.”

But Moonlight Cloud flew past the field as if they were mired in a bog. She won by three lengths, and it could have been more.

“It was the most exhilarating thing I’ve ever witnessed,” Strawbridge said.

Moonlight Cloud almost brought the curtain down on Black Caviar's unblemished record. Image: Google Images

Jarnet knew that Moonlight Cloud’s push-button acceleration was primed and there for the asking. In the winner’s circle, the French jockey teased Head. “You know what?” he joked. “I still moved too soon.”

The Hong Kong Mile will be Moonlight Cloud’s second commitment outside Europe. The first — in the Breeders’ Cup Mile last year — did not end well. She was nearly flattened early on and never recovered. But the Hong Kong Mile is a one-turn, right-handed race, which mimics her races in France.

Moonlight Cloud will face individual and historical obstacles in Hong Kong. Her best performances have come in the summer and early fall; locally trained horses have won this race seven successive years; and it has been 14 years since a European-trained horse has won. But Strawbridge believes that, unlike her last two seasons, Moonlight Cloud can maintain her form into the late fall.

“When she turned 5 — I saw her in the spring — she had grown over an inch,” Strawbridge said, which reminded him of the late American trainer Charlie Whittingham’s opinion that horses do not fully mature until that age. “She had filled out. She didn’t look like the same horse.”

Moonlight Cloud never had a shortage of speed, but at 3 and 4 years old — even as she won races at the highest level — she was still small and spindly. This year, her speed was lifted by a newfound strength.

She set a course record in the Prix Maurice de Gheest at Deauville in August, winning that race for a third consecutive year. A week later, she defeated five other Group 1 winners from England, France and Ireland in the Prix Jacques le Marois, which was billed as the race of the year in Europe. She squeezed between horses to get to the front and then held on by a short head, again in course-record time.

“She is a very loving horse, and before a race she’s just so calm,” Strawbridge said. “But then she gets on the track and becomes this very determined, very competitive speedball.”

Strawbridge, who has campaigned several champions in the United States and won Group 1 races in Europe going back three decades, does not hesitate to call Moonlight Cloud the best to race in his white-and-green silks. But he regrets selling Ventura. She went through the sales ring twice more, once for $425,716 to Sheikh Fahad al Thani of Qatar and then for almost $1.5 million to M.V. Magnier on behalf of Coolmore Stud.

Moonlight Cloud, on the other hand, will stay with Strawbridge.

“Everybody wants me to keep her in training next year,” he said wistfully. “But she’s had such a year. I’d like to breed her. Which we will.”


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