First Group winner for Grunt

This article originally appeared in ANZ Bloodstock, written by Trevor Marshallsea

When Yulong Stud was looking over names in trying to secure the first stallion to stand at their new farm four years ago, they hit on Grunt (O’Reilly).

It was a distinctive name – short and to the point, like his urgent racing style – but also not an especially “big” one in terms of the hottest prospects starting siring careers that year: like The Autumn Sun (Redoute’s Choice) (first season fee $77,000); Trapeze Artist (Authorized) ($88,000); and Justify (Scat Daddy) (fee on arrangement, moving to $66,000 the following year).

Rising five-year-old Grunt had won two Group 1s from only 12 starts, but – as a son of O’Reilly (Last Tycoon) – wasn’t from one of the ‘sexier’, Australian-style sirelines. Nor was he from the most coveted branch of Northern Dancer (Nearctic), his line coming through Last Tycoon (Try My Best). That at least brought outcross potential, but it was decided $13,750 (inc GST) was a fair place to start, which is where Grunt’s modest fee still sits now.

When Tony McEvoy was looking for a name for a colt from Grunt’s first crop some six months ago, a worthy one had become a priority.

“I rang the owners early on and said, ‘Make sure you give him a good name. He looks like a pretty good horse’,” McEvoy – who’s trained a few – told It’s In The Blood. “Thankfully they came up with a fabulous one.”

The name was Veight, as in a V8 engine, and on Saturday he provided his young sire with a first stakes winner, from just six runners, by taking the Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 2, 1400m) at Flemington.

It’s a ballistic beginning to a stud career, and though no one’s getting carried away, Yulong are understandably more than a little excited. Not a great deal had been expected of Grunt’s two-year-olds – he had just one late run in his first season himself – even if his six lots at last year’s Magic Millions Gold Coast sale averaged a solid $185,000, amid his total first–crop yearling average of $50,450. But now, with just half a dozen of his two-year-olds racing, there’s a feeling that service fee of his could be in for a bump this year.

“It’s a great start for him,” said Yulong CEO Sam Fairgray, adding that the racing and breeding operation were always very happy with their initial stallion; even though he’s lived in the shadow of Written Tycoon (Iglesia) since he joined the team in his champion sire year of 2021, at $165,000 (inc GST).

“We were thrilled when we got Grunt as our inaugural stallion. We’d built our facilities, then went looking for a stallion. He was obviously well-performed, but also being an outcross we thought he’d go well with a lot of Danehill line mares – the Not A Single Doubts, Fastnet Rocks, and Snitzels.

“Things started off well, when we got 170 mares to him in his first season, and then he was popular at the yearling sales with his first crop.

“Everyone expected them to be late two-year-olds or three-year-olds, because he was that sort of horse. So, it’s a great effort to get a horse who’s shown the precocity that Veight has done.”

McEvoy was thinking precisely along those lines when he saw the yearling Veight. He’d been put through the Gold Coast National Weanling sale in 2021 as Yulong pushed samples of his stock out to market. He was bought for $100,000 by Sledmere Stud, who flipped him to McEvoy at Inglis Classic for $220,000, whilst having seen enough to stay in the ownership.

“At the sales he just kept strolling out, and he was just a beautiful horse,” McEvoy says. “He had a great swagger to him, and depth. He wasn’t really that muscular, more angular and lengthy, and looked like he had lots to come.

“I hadn’t planned on spending that much for a Grunt. I thought we could get him for maybe $150,000 or $180,000, but I really wanted him.

“But for all that, when we were buying him, we didn’t think we were buying a two-year-old. We thought we’d be getting a three-year-old. That’s why we didn’t enter him in the Blue Diamond or the Golden Slipper. But he just kept coming on, and in the end, he’s taken us to the races, rather than us taking him.”

That first raceday confirmed McEvoy’s suspicions, when Veight won his 1200-metre Pakenham maiden by six lengths. Kept on ice for six weeks while his contemporaries contested the Blue Diamond series and Slipper lead-ups, he then stepped up to 1400 metres last Saturday against 12 rivals. He charged out of the gates, showed the class and manners to be manoeuvred comfortably back to fifth, then gained clear running at the 250 metres to power to a two-length victory.

McEvoy confirmed Veight will likely strive to bring Grunt an early elite-level outing in the ATC Sires’ Produce Stakes (Gr 1, 1400m) on April 1. After that could come another top tier assignment in the Champagne Stakes, over the same 1600-metre journey as Grunt’s two Flemington Group 1 successes of 2018, the Australian Guineas (Gr 1, 1600m) and Makybe Diva Stakes (Gr 1, 1600m).

Though he was prepared as a yearling by Sledmere, Veight is a Yulong product through and through, with a shining diamond way back, but in clear view, in his pedigree.

Laying a foundation for his breeding band at the 2015 Inglis Australian Broodmare Sale, stud owner Zhang Yuesheng paid $500,000 for Veight’s dam, Neena Rock, who fits the Grunt outcross plan perfectly in being by one of Danehill’s (Danzig) finest, Fastnet Rock.

From a successful American family – dam Feminine Wiles (Miesque’s Son), imported in 2001, was an unraced half–sister to Quiet American (Fappiano), who won a mile-long Grade 1 at Aqueduct – Neena Rock was a quality performer.

Offered at the 2010 Inglis Premier sale, she was bought by New Zealand trainer Warren Bolton for $80,000, and crossed the Tasman to begin her racing in fine style. Her first 14 starts brought four wins and six seconds, highlighted by victory in Trentham’s Cuddle Stakes (Gr 3, 1600m) of 2014.

She was felt good enough to be sent back to Australia, where John Sargent trained her through six more starts, all at stakes level, capped by her success in Randwick’s Angst Stakes (Gr 3, 1600m), before Zhang swooped a year later.

“She was one of the first higher-priced mares Mr Zhang purchased,” Fairgray said. “She was well-performed, and a Danehill line mare.”

Neena Rock’s early breeding efforts weren’t spectacular. A first mating with Sepoy (Elusive Quality) produced Yulong Rockstar, who retired an 18-start maiden. A visit to Sebring (More Than Ready) yielded I Am Clever, who was passed in as a yearling for $180,000 and has now won thrice at Rockhampton, amid 23 starts.

Spirit Of Boom (Sequalo) brought a first filly in 2019 in Neena Warrior, a $50,000 yearling who’s yet to start. A few weeks after her birth, Yulong had their own stallion to try. Grunt matched up well physically, while the Last Tycoon blend was also attractive.

“She’s a neat mare, probably 15.3 hands, strong–bodied and compact. Physically, she suited Grunt very well,” Fairgray said of the 16.2 sire. “He throws a bit of leg into his progeny.

“It was a good match of bloodlines as a well. She’s a Danehill line mare, with Mr Prospector in her pedigree, who’s always worked well with Last Tycoon.”

Mr Prospector (Raise A Native) comes in at 4m, as the sire of Neena Rock’s damsire, Miesque’s Son.

But looking deeper reveals a bit of dynamite in Veight’s pedigree. The great British blue hen, Plucky Liege (Spearmint, 1912), makes four appearances in Neena Rock’s pedigree – including as a direct, unfettered ancestor along the female line, as Veight’s ninth dam. That’s as the mother of Marguerite De Valois (Teddy), a full sister to the influential stallion making the other three appearances nearby, Bull Dog.

Three generations later, Veight’s fifth dam is the outstanding American-bred Cequillo, by the influential British sire Princequillo (Princes Rose), who threw a stunning 20 foals, including four stakes winners and seven stakes producers.

Since leaving Veight, Neena Rock has thrown a filly by Grunt, who Yulong are keeping, and is now in-foal to his barnmate Tagaloa (Lord Kanaloa). It’s not surprising to hear Fairgray say she’ll be going back to Grunt this year.