Timing has not been the greatest friend to Oratorio, for whom both external and internal factors have obstructed what might otherwise have been a memorable stallion career.
Boasting the sort of profile that should have served him well, being a son of Danehill who had won the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere as a juvenile in 2004 and landed the Coral-Eclipse and Irish Champion Stakes at three, he headed off to Coolmore Stud and made the brightest of starts with his first crop as Beethoven and Fencing Master finished onetwo in the Dewhurst. Much as was the case for that pair, the result was as good as it got. It emerged that his peer group contained Shamardal and Dubawi, his conquerors in the Dewhurst and Irish Guineas respectively who were to become illustrious sires.
Three years later, in 2012, it was announced that Oratorio had been sold to Avontuur Stud in South Africa. The likes of Hong Kong champion Military Attack and Australian Group 1 winner Mourinho would emerge to bolster his worldwide profile, only for disaster to nearly strike. “If you look at his life, he has been quite a good stallion,” Avontuur general manager Pippa Mickleburgh says. “He started off with a bang here but in 2017 he got laminitis. He’d covered only about 15 mares and then he had to stop.
“It was quite serious. I don’t want to blow my own trumpet but I noticed it as he was working, actually; I thought he was sore on dismount. The vets couldn’t find anything wrong. I think I was the one putting them under pressure to keep looking. “It’s like if you take a vehicle to the garage it doesn’t break down, the mechanic turns around and the damn thing won’t start. I was persistent and eventually they noticed it on some x-rays.”
Mickleburgh had met David and Diane Nagle, whose Barronstown Stud was Oratorio’s joint-breeders, and they relayed much of trainer Aidan O’Brien’s praise about his fortitude. So often under pressure from some way out in his races, which included 14 consecutive starts in Group company during two seasons, often with little break, this tenacity was to stand him in good stead during his most challenging hours and days.
“They’d said he was an amazing horse, anybody could ride him, anybody could feed him, he’d get off any plane and never missed a beat,” Mickleburgh says. “He’s exactly like that here. I’ve never met a stallion like him. “We were very lucky, we got him stabilised very quickly and he’s the most amazing tempered horse. He was so obliging; he had to go on a strict diet, not eat when he loves to eat; he had to be locked up. “Other stallions would have lost their marbles but he was the most amazing patient. The insurance company was sweating it out, I think, but we got him right.”
Now 20, Oratorio was retired without fanfare after covering a few mares last breeding season when the Avontuur team realised he had become sub-fertile. Ironically, this has coincided with the arrival of a very promising filly in Canadian Summer, who became her father’s ninth Group or Grade 1 winner with a dogged performance in the Thekwini Stakes at Greyville on July 30.
It has understandably made Mickleburgh reflect a little ruefully about the nine years Oratorio has spent on the farm near Cape Town she overseas for the Taberer family. “We had to try to save his life, which we did, but he’s never really recovered from that in the numbers game,” she says. “He had only those few foals, then he was out of fashion, he had no runners and everyone has forgotten why he had no runners. “With hindsight – which is a wonderful sight – maybe I should have retired him then because he was never able to get back in vogue; he disappeared a little off the radar in the sale ring and the breeding barn. “It was quite a sad ending. He wasn’t expensive when we bought him and he’s done really well for this farm and the industry in general. But the stallion industry here is not unlike elsewhere, you’re either in fashion or out of fashion and a bad season from a health reason is often the kiss of death for a stallion.”
There was also frustration because Oratorio, who had produced some sharp European talents such as Group winners Viztoria and King Torus, had salvaged some of that more precocious vigour in the southern hemisphere. Mickleburgh continues: “I think it confused us a bit because when he arrived from Australia he had a reputation that his offspring weren’t quick enough or early enough, they matured at four, five, six, which didn’t suit Australia, but he came here and was practically champion two-year old sire; his stablemate Var beat him. “It flummoxed us, then it made him even more exciting, he got huge books – now we’ve got the recipe. He wasn’t ever a great sales sire, I must say, sometimes he’d throw a round, Danehill type that’s not really a sales horse but it doesn’t mean they can’t run.”
There will be one final full crop of Oratorio’s yearlings to go through the South African sales next year and, happily, that will not be the end of Mickleburgh’s involvement with the handsome bay. “He’ll live for another ten years I’m sure,” she says. “He’s happy, grazing the pasture and looks a million bucks. Retired in the winelands of South Africa . . . what more could you ask for?
NEW NAME IN TOWN
There has been an entire changing of the guard at Avontuur as it lost its stallion luminary Var at the start of the year. The Prix de l’Abbaye winner, whose final yearlings will also be offered in 2023, was responsible for the likes of South African champion Variety Club but had to be put down after a brief spell in retirement.
Mickleburgh is quietly on the lookout for a second recruit but has filled one of the designated boxes with Var’s son Talk Of The Town, who was moved by his ownership syndicate after two seasons at nearby Winterbach Stud. “He had the pedigree and the physical but unfortunately he did a tendon as a late three-and-a-half-year-old and never got back to top fitness,” she says. “We know how good he was as we owned him when he ran but instead of retiring with a Group win under his belt, he hasn’t, so we’re going to be battling. However, there’s no other stallion son of Var and we need the speed in this country.
“He’s 16.2 hands. I think there are ten sires in his first two dams and he’s from one of the most brilliant mare lines in the world, which includes Redoute’s Choice. “We’ve done well with stallions on the farm so far and I believe in him.”
Original article by Racing Post