Xcellent’s motor delights breeder

"He's not a big horse, average-sized, not ugly, but he doesn't stand out physically. However, he's obviously got a very good motor."

That's how breeder Graeme Gimblett described Xcellent (Pentire-Excelo by Centro) after his brilliant defeat of Miss Potential and Shinzig in last Saturday's HBRI Mudgway Fair Tax Stakes 1400m G1. Graeme was at Hastings to see the horse for the first time since selling him on behalf of the G.F. Gimblett Family Trust for $45,000 to Paul Moroney at the 2002 New Zealand Premier Yearling Sale.

A quietly spoken dairy farmer, Graeme has a long and successful association with harness racing, but has been involved with thoroughbreds only since 1995, when he paid $50,000 for Excelo as a yearling at Karaka. She won three races and was stakes-placed at Riccarton Park but her principal appeal lay in her high-class staying pedigree. Excelo is from the family of Group One winners Sovereign Red (Victoria Derby), Gurner's Lane (Melbourne Cup) and Trichelle (Marlboro Cup), all by Sir Tristram from two-time New Zealand Broodmare of the Year Taiona. Graeme says "She's never had a lame day in her life and is a kind sort, very easy to handle and an old pet around the place."

Xcellent is his dam's second foal after Vinopolis (by Deputy Governor), who made $95,000 as a yearling and has won three races. Excelo's third foal, a colt by Pins, made $115,000 at the 2005 New Zealand Premier Sale – so she has done a fine job in the sale-ring too. Graeme says he's a breeder rather than an owner, so has decided to sell colts and retain fillies, but Excelo has not yet produced a filly. She's due to foal to Pentire in mid-November and Graeme is hoping she leaves a full-sister to Xcellent. If not, she will visit the son of Be My Guest again this season.

Graeme is happy to work with just one mare in the meantime. "We'll just see how things unfold. We may buy another mare but it's a big commitment to race and breed horses. I'm very cautious – I've already been through it with harness horses."

Xcellent's victory maintained his unbeaten record in New Zealand and was his third Group One win after last season's New Zealand Derby and Second Century Stakes. It also franked his Horse of the Year title, and highlighted Miss Potential's inexplicable exclusion from last season's Mercedes category award winners.

Racing Victoria's new chief handicapper, Greg Carpenter, was obviously impressed by Xcellent's season debut. He has given him 54 kg for the Melbourne Cup, the same weight as last year's Victoria Derby winner Plastered, and 3 kg below weight-for-age. Four-year-old geldings have carried bigger weights to victory in the Melbourne Cup. Might And Power carried 56 kg in 1997; Saintly had 55.5 kg in 1996; Subzero carried 54.5 kg in 1992; and Gurner's Lane won with 56 kg in 1982.

The Mudgway result was another boost for Pentire who has shuttled to Rich Hill Stud, Matamata since 1997. His first five New Zealand-conceived crops have produced nine stakeswinners from 209 foals, including all four of his Group One winners. That gives him a healthy 4.3% SW/foals from his southern hemisphere progeny.

Pentire appears to have a distinct affinity for mares by Australian-bred stallions. Centro is damsire of Xcellent; Pantani is from a Marscay mare; Penny Gem is out of a mare by Maizcay; Zanna and Mustaagel are both from mares by Truly Vain.

Rich Hill studmaster John Thompson believes the best is yet to come for Pentire. "His three biggest crops are current two-year-olds, yearlings and in utero. His 2004 book of more than 90 mares was the best quality he'd served since his first season."

Pentire hasn't always been this popular: he served only 20 mares in 2001. John says the stud stuck with him because stable feedback about his progeny was so good and trainers kept returning to buy his yearlings.

John adds that Pentire's southern hemisphere SW/foals figure is better than that of Encosta de Lago, who also went to stud in 1997, has also left four Group One winners and now stands at a fee of $A120,000. Pentire stands this season at a fee of $20,000.

- Susan Archer


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