As Toronado racks-up victory after victory at an almost ridiculous rate, the breeding industry are waiting for him to produce a Group winner to confirm his emerging reputation as a great stallion.
Already with a stakes winner – Still A Star, who has won four listed races in Tasmania this year – it seems only a matter of time before the Swettenham Stud shuttle stallion produces that Group winner.
And the horse that looms as the first to achieve that success for Toronado (IRE) is Masked Crusader which was bred by Rick Jamieson, of Gilgai Farm from Listed winner, She’s Got Gears (Invincible Spirit).
Affair To Remember had the chance earlier this month in the Group 1 Australasian Oaks when she finished third, beaten a length at Morphettville.
Team Hawkes were quick to tell Swettenham Stud principal Adam Sangster that Masked Crusader was the real deal even before the gelding won his first race.
The three year-old has won three races from four starts, including those past three victories in succession.
Masked Crusader was beaten on debut when he ran fifth at Wyong last November. He was sent to the Hawkes’ Flemington stable where he broke his maiden status at Caulfield over 1200m and then after an 18-week spell won first-up over 1000m at Bendigo.
His effortless three length win at Randwick last Saturday over 1200m proved why he was the odds-on favourite with Tommy Berry on board.
Team Hawkes’ Michael Hawkes says they are still assessing how good Masked Crusader is and while there are plenty of options, the Inglis Scone Guineas (1400m) at Rosehill on Saturday looms his next assignment if they decide to back him up.
“He’s a lovely horse. Tommy (Berry) probably doesn’t know how good he is,” Hawkes said on Saturday after Masked Crusader’s victory.
“I don’t know where the top or the bottom is with this bloke yet and I think Tommy is probably going to have the same opinion.
Masked Crusader’s high profile managing owner Rupert Legh said they all hoped the gelding would give Toronado the recognition he deserves.
“From what he has shown you would have to say he is untapped,” Legh said.
“He hasn’t been pushed in any race and he is one of the horses that you probably won’t see the best of him until this time next year.”
Legh predicts that Masked Crusader could become one of Australia’s top line sprinters.
He said he expected to pay more for Masked Crusader whose owners include Jamieson, Peter Orton and Neil Werrett.
While Sangster is hoping that Masked Crusader will provide the son of High Chaparral with that Group winner, he can’t hide his praise of the stallion’s achievements since standing his first season at Swettenham in 2015 when he covered 175 mares.
Sangster admits that the stallion does need that big black type winner as his popularity continues to soar.
“He has already 100 mares booked to him for this season,” Sangster said.
“He will probably cover 150, but he just needs that next big stakes winner.
“Masked Crusader at $340,000 is Toronado’s highest priced yearling and he was a magnificent looking foal and a real standout yearling. The Hawkes’ weren’t leaving the sale without him.
“When the hammer came down, they said they thought they were going to have to pay a lot more than that – and they knew from the start what they were getting as they are very good judges.”
Sangster has already announced that Toronado’s service fee will remain at $25,000 (plus GST), although an increase was probably warranted but the stud wanted breeders to continue to enjoy the returns they’ve been reaping.
“His yearlings averaged nine times his service fee at the Melbourne Premier session in March and I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t average or surpass that moving forward,” Sangster said.
“He is a great looking horse and he just stamps his progeny so well. He can get a result in the ring and on the track and there is a big appetite for him in Hong Kong.
“Toronado has got 11 colts or geldings that have gone to Hong Kong so far. There was a Hong Kong agent who called during the week who said he is the hottest stallion in Hong Kong and he hasn’t had a runner there yet.
“To have a horse that is one of the hottest stallions in Hong Kong and he hasn’t had a runner yet is amazing.”
Sangster said Toronado, which was exported back to France last December, will land in Australia in July and be at the farm in August.
He said after serving 197 mares last year, his book would be reduced to around 150 which was the right number for everyone to support him and to give the stallion an opportunity as well.
Toronado’s numbers dropped back to his smallest book of 97 in that notorious third season, but those breeders who supported him benefited the most with the best returns on their investment.
“The third season is always a punt with any horse,” Sangster said.
“It is going to be a bit like Highland Reel who is returning for his third season with us. I’m sure people who support him this season will be rewarded like they were with Toronado.
“If you have got some sort of belief and feeling in such a good racehorse the third season is a good one for taking that punt. And those who supported Toronado in his fourth season will probably get an even better return.”
Sangster said Toronado was a world champion miler and his progeny have shown their versatility which is a key aspect to the stallion.
On average, Toronado is currently producing a winner every day and a half.
‘’His oldest are three year-olds and in that age category he has had more winners than some stallions that are demanding $100,000-plus service fees,” Sangster said.
“His runners to winners are exceptional for what he has got. Compared to individual number of winners to other horses that have got four and five year-olds, he is demolishing a lot of the top class stallions in that way. And he can throw a two-year-old.”
Sangster said that being a son of High Chaparral, Toronado’s three and four-years will really perform when they get out to the right trip.
“The best is yet to come,” he said.