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Victory Dance's triumph of performance over fashion

Victory Dance's four winners at Te Rapa on Saturday have reminded us yet again what a valuable and versatile sire he is.

Victor Argosy and Real Tonic took out the Listed Waikato Hurdles/Steeplechase double, while Kensington Flyer and Mohini Surprise won over 1200m and 1600m respectively. Their efforts have pushed their sire into second place behind Volksraad on the 2001-02 New Zealand Sires list with 22 winners of 33 races from 49 runners and $676,045 in progeny earnings.

Victory Dance (Sadler's Wells-Tree Of Knowledge by Sassafras) began his stud career in the same season as champion sire Zabeel, 1991, yet their stud histories could hardly be more different, although both stallions have had to overcome the modern prejudice against later-maturing horses.

Launched by Cambridge Stud and a syndicate of major breeders at a fee of $10,000, Zabeel was given every possible chance to succeed at stud. In his first five seasons, he sired 394 live foals from 537 mares. Those mares included a good number of Group winners and producers, most notably champion broodmare Eight Carat who visited him five times in all, leaving Australian Horse of the Year Octagonal and the brilliant Mouawad to him. At this year's New Zealand Premier Yearling Sale Zabeel averaged more than $220,000 for 42 lots sold.

By contrast, Victory Dance was launched in the Central Districts at a fee of $3,000 by trainer-cum-studmaster Craig Ivil and only served his first Group-winning mare in 2001. He's had a number of management changes, has stood under four stud names since 1991, and is about to make another move, this time "on loan" to Rich Hill Stud, Matamata where he will stand this season at $5,500. Rich Hill studmaster John Thompson says "Every time you pick up the paper he's got a winner. He's been a real upgrading influence for mares and people are swinging back to proven sires. I felt that at a competitive fee he'd appeal to a lot of Waikato breeders. And so far it looks like I'm right."

Victory Dance served 323 mares for 201 live foals in his first five seasons, his service fee has been as low as $1,725 and he had only three yearlings catalogued in this year's New Zealand sales series, none of them in the Premier Sale. Yet throughout his struggle for success, he has always found people who believed in him. Now owned by Steven Goh, Roger Sugrue and Jack Scott of Ohau Stud, Levin, he served his biggest ever book, 92 mares, last season. Roger says "Every time there was a down Victory Dance would keep putting in. He's given me and many, many people in the Central Districts a lot of pleasure and satisfaction. He's a horse that can fulfil people's dreams; he's a serious, real stallion, not a pretender."

Bred in Ireland in 1986 by Bertram and Mrs Firestone, Victory Dance was the third highest-priced yearling at the 1987 Cartier Million Yearling Sale, selling for 560,000 Irish guineas to Vincent O'Brien's public racing company Classic Thoroughbreds. (As it happens, one of his stablemates was Newbury Park's Classic Fame, sire of recent G1 winner Armstrong.)

Victory Dance won a maiden race over a mile at The Curragh as a three-year-old but was considered to need more time to mature. He was sent to the United States to be set for stakes and Graded races in California, but a minor injury and the collapse of Classic Thoroughbreds forced his sale.

Meanwhile, at Heatherlea Park near Levin, trainer Craig Ivil was telling Peter Jenkins, who managed several syndicated horses in his stable, that he wanted to buy a stallion.
Peter recalls "I told him he was nuts, that he was better to stick to training but he persisted and Heatherlea Park was a nice property with lots of boxes and good acreage." Peter helped Craig to sort out two stallions from several he was offered: Victory Dance and Mi Preferido (who eventually went to Wedgewood Stud).

Peter says "I preferred Victory Dance because if your budget is limited you're better to go for pedigree rather than performance. New Zealand has such a good record of success with well-bred but humbly-performed stallions like Battle-Waggon, Mellay, Noble Bijou and Sir Tristram."

"I really, really liked Sadler's Wells, had studied him a lot and thought he'd make it at stud. Craig inspected Mi Preferido and Victory Dance in California and liked Victory Dance better on type. We loved him as soon as we saw him, he's a classy animal with size and strength which probably comes from his damsire Sassafras who was always under-rated as a racehorse and as a stallion."
A few weeks after Craig Ivil purchased Victory Dance, his half-brother champion US turf horse Theatrical came up with the first of his fifty-plus stakeswinners.

Peter then set about trying to find suitable mares for the horse. A dedicated student of pedigrees and early member of the Levin Breeders Forum, he was especially keen on mares with deep lines of the Bend Or/Macaroni cross. Victory Dance's first book of 74 mares produced Australian Group 3 winner Mr Victory, Group One-placed Anemos and stakes-placed Vanity Flight.
Peter comments "It has surprised me that he gets 1200-metre horses but Theatrical was similar: a middle-distance performer who could get sprinters."

After two seasons at Heatherlea Park, Victory Dance was transferred to the Holmes family's Grande Vue Lodge, Matamata where he stood from 1993 to 1997 at a fee of $3,000. Allan Holmes says "We worked hard to get mares for him and he got reasonable patronage. He was a lovely horse to work with, we never had a problem with him and he left us lovely, correct horses with size and style that just needed a bit of time to mature."
"We have several nice fillies by him for our broodmare band and we're proud to have them. He leaves the type of horse New Zealand can be proud of and we wish Rich Hill all the best with him this year."

In 1998 Victory Dance returned to the Central Districts, standing two seasons at Sovereign Lodge for Mike Ford and Roger Sugrue. Mike's untimely death in May 1999 left Roger to manage him for the following stud season. Andrew and Melanie Davies took over for the 2000 season before Victory Dance's current ownership was finalised.

With eight crops of racing age and eight stakeswinners, including recently retired dual Group One winner Cinder Bella, among his 94 winners from 164 starters, he is finally receiving recognition for his hard-earned success. As Peter Jenkins says, "You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone with a bad word to say about Victory Dance."
- Susan Archer