Monday, July 29, 2013

Villandry: Full of Potential

Photo by Terri Cage
Without a doubt, the most famous chestnut gelding in Charlie Lopresti’s barn is Wise Dan, reigning Horse of the Year and six-time grade one winner. But lurking in the shadows is another stunning chestnut – one that could easily pass as Wise Dan if one didn’t know better. His name is Villandry.

A homebred for Gainesway, Villandry debuted as a juvenile in September of 2011 at Saratoga, facing six rivals in a five and one-half-furlong maiden special weight over a sealed sloppy track. A slow break from the gate compromised his chances and although he pursued the leader, he floundered in the mud, finishing fourth. Encountering an off track yet again in his second start, this time at Belmont, Villandry was bumped at the start and never found his best stride, disappointing with a last-place finish.

Villandry did not race again for ten months, returning in a mile and one-sixteenth maiden special weight on the turf horses for three-year-olds and older horses. Despite his long layoff, he came back better than ever, displaying a remarkable turn of foot as he made a rally along the outside on the far turn. Closing from far off the pace, Villandry exhibited notable determination to prevail by a nose despite traveling widest of all.

A return to Saratoga resulted in yet another fourth-place finish. However, this time he was facing much tougher company in an allowance optional claiming event going a mile and three-sixteenths over the lawn. The winner of the race was Optimizer, whose next start would be a 4 ¼-length victory in the Kent Stakes (GIII). Villandry managed to finish just 4 lengths behind the multiple graded stakes winner and left behind him the likes of the group/graded stakes winners Animal Spirits and Noll Wallop, as well as the stakes-placed runners Devon Rock and Tiz Moe.

Since that respectable Saratoga effort, Villandry has seemed to mature, winning his two most recent starts. Nearly two months after running fourth to Optimizer, Villandry defeated six opponents in a nine-furlong allowance over Keeneland’s synthetic surface, closing from near the rear of the field yet again. Forced to be patient around the far turn when blocked by a wall of horses, Julien Leparoux found room along the inside for his mount, urging Villandry to charge through the opening. The chestnut gelding responded, accelerating effortlessly to draw away to a 2 ½-length triumph as Leparoux ceased any asking in the final yards, gearing down the son of Mr. Greeley.

Villandry working at Keeneland
Photo by Terri Cage
Returning to the turf in a nine-furlong allowance at Churchill Downs, Villandry raced mid-pack as two horses opened up an ample lead on the remainder of the field down the backstretch. Gaining ground around the second bend, Villandry posed as a major threat as the turn gave way to the homestretch. Racing wide, Villandry found his best stride at the top of the lane, seizing the lead outside the eighth pole as his powerful strides carried him away from his competitors. The gelding finished 3 lengths clear of the runner-up, Cyber Secret, who would soon win a pair of graded stakes. Also finishing behind Villandry was the stakes winner Unstoppable U. The final time was a noteworthy 1:47.55, with Villandry completing the final furlong in just under 12 seconds.

Villandry has not raced since his impressive win at Churchill Downs and has only had one work in the past sixty days, which took place at Keeneland on July 16. However, having been present for that work, as well as having been able to watch him gallop the two days after that breeze, it is safe to say that Villandry – who seemed to piece together the puzzle last fall – remains a grand-looking athlete.

While I was able to observe Villandry over a span of three mornings at Keeneland, it was clear that the gelding carries himself with class. It will be exciting to see how he returns to the races, where he will hopefully pick up where he left off.

Pedigree Musings

Villandry is a son of Mr. Greeley, who has also sired the likes of the grade/group one winners Aruna, El Corredor, Finsceal Beo, Nonsuch Bay, and Reel Buddy. A son of Gone West, Mr. Greeley shares his sire with several other successful stallions, including Came Home, Elusive Quality, Grand Slam, Johar, Proud Citizen, and Speightstown. This is the prolific Mr. Prospector sire line, which has produced an astounding number of champions, including six Horse of the Year honorees in the United States.

The bottom side of Villandry’s pedigree is abounding with international influences, primarily British and French Thoroughbreds. Although his dam, Al Beedaa was born in the United States, she is by the Irish-bred champion Swain and out of the French-bred mare Histoire. Al Beedaa is a half-sister to Erhaab, winner of the Epsom Derby (GI), as well as the Italian champion Oumaldaaya, the stakes-winning Hispanolia, and the graded stakes-placed Hittias. Though Al Beedaa has yet to produce a stakes horse, her half-sisters have found success in doing so, as they are the dams of the group stakes-winning Chaibia, the graded stakes-winning Haami, and the stakes-winning Wadi Rum. This makes Villandry a direct descendant of the female family of the Reine De Course mares Marchetta, Rose Red, and Rosetta.

Villandry’s maternal grandsire, Swain, is also the broodmare sire of the group stakes winner Akmal and the stakes-placed Rosen Opera. The Mr. Greeley/Blushing Groom sire line cross on which Villandry is bred is the same that produced the multiple stakes winner You Go West Girl and the graded stakes-placed Ketchikan, as well as the additional stakes-placed runners Manyatta, Miss Olivia Rae, and Whispering Hush. 

Villandry working at Keeneland
Photo by Terri Cage

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