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High Five for High Cee

Whangarei doctor John Sprague has made few sweeter broodmare investments than the $10,000 he spent on a Dahar mare in the mid-1990s.
Sprague and his wife Karen have had their share of success over their times as owners and breeders but none has served them better than Sweet Vienna.
Her value to Sprague was highlighted again on Saturday when High Cee took out the Ajax Stakes (Gr II – 1500m) at Rosehill in Sydney, racing into Doncaster Handicap contention while doing so.
High Cee had a lot of expectation when he made it to the racecourse. He was the third of Sweet Vienna's foals to live to racing age, but her first two had already been black type performers in Asia.
Her first foal, Magic Hands, won five in a row in Hong Kong and was later placed in the Queen Mother's Cup (HKII). The second, Bocelli, became champion galloper in Singapore.
Sprague remembers buying the unraced Sweet Vienna at a Karaka broodmare sale in the 1990s on the strength of her pedigree.
"I liked Dahar, because he was a top racehorse out of one of the best racemares and broodmares ever in the northern hemisphere (the champion Dahlia)," Sprague said.
"Dahar maybe didn't get all the breaks because he arrived around the time of the industry downturn after the share market crash, but I think Stony Bay was racing around the time I saw this mare.
"She also had a stakeswinning dam, granddam and great-granddam, and I told Wayne Larsen (now of Te Runga Stud) that I liked her.
"We found out she had been a bit naughty in the barriers when she was in training and so she was unraced when she was put up for sale and I bought her for $10,000."
Sprague also benefited from Sweet Vienna's progeny on the racetrack as he was one of the owners of Bocelli. He won eight races straight at one point in Singapore for former New Zealand trainer Paddy Busuttin, his wins including the Singapore Derby and Derby Trial. He also placed fourth in a listed race in Newbury, England.
Bocelli is now back on the Sprague farm in Northland – succeeding in a new career as a showjumper. "My daughter rides him. Every week he goes out and does something great."
The Spragues had limited success with Sweet Vienna for the next four years after breeding Bocelli. Two foals didn't make it to racing age – a 1997 Nicolotte foal died and a 1999 Straight Strike colt died before reaching the age of two – and she also missed when put to Classic Fame and Anziyan.
However, in 2001 she successfully produced a colt to Marju, the son of Last Tycoon who spent one season in New Zealand.
He was an outstanding individual, so much that Australian training legend Bart Cummings went to $400,000 to buy him for Saintly's owner Dato Tan Chin Nam, saying he was the ``nicest walking horse in the sale''.
The colt was to become High Cee, and he would eventually prove Cummings' judgment right.
"I think the feeling was that he might have a strong enough pedigree to make a stallion if he won a guineas or derby at three,'' Sprague said.
"As it turned out he was I think fourth in a guineas and fifth in a derby and soon afterwards he was gelded."
High Cee blossomed at four, winning three in a row including a dead-heat in the 2005 Newcastle Cup (Gr III – 2300m). He was being set for the Metropolitan and the Caulfield Cup, but soon afterwards he injured a tendon and was forced away from the track for a year.
Stem cell technology was used to help him recover, but he needed a layoff of more than a year from the racetrack. Saturday's race was his fourth start since then, and his first win.
The win saw him rocket up the betting for the Doncaster Handicap and he is now a $13 chance, though Sprague is unsure the 1600m contest will suit him.
"He looks like a stayer more than anything. But the Doncaster is often run at a fast pace and he will be a real chance if it is."
The Spragues have about 15 mares on their farm, and also have shares in Strategic Image and Castledale, both of which stand at Larsen's Te Runga Stud.
Unfortunately Sprague no longer has Sweet Vienna, who died while foaling a Zabeel colt in 2002. "He was a massive colt and she ruptured her uterus when foaling him," Sprague said.
"What's tougher still is that we didn't get any fillies out of her to breed on with. One day I hope I can buy back into the family."

- Alastair Bull


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