By Matthew Stewart. Reproduced from the 2018 Inside Breeding magazine

There is a touch of “unfinished business” about Blue Gum Farm’s quest to resurrect the stud career of Manhattan Rain, and everything is falling into place.

When Philip Campbell reflects on Blue Gum Farm’s greatest equine loss, and then leaps forward almost two decades and contemplates a star recruit, he chuckles that “it’s funny how things turn out”.

In 2003, Blue Gum lost its rising megastar sire Encosta De Lago because the great horse had, simply, become too big for Victoria.

“He’d have been here forever if only he hadn’t become Encosta De Lago,’’ the farm’s owner Campbell said, capturing the irony nicely.

So Encosta De Lago was trucked from the iconic Euroa farm to Coolmore Stud in the Hunter Valley where he would become arguably the greatest Australian-bred sire of all time. His progeny, with 114 Stakes winners, including Alinghi, Chautauqua, Racing To Win and Sacred Kingdom, would win almost $180 million around the world.

Fourteen years on, and in a case of spectacular timing—another month or two may have been too late—Encosta De Lago’s gifted and royally bred son Manhattan Rain was loaded on a truck at Arrowfield Stud, not far from Coolmore, and was on his way to Blue Gum.

Campbell can now laugh about his near miss; the inability to stump up the $1.5 million Coolmore had attached to Encosta De Lago at the end of his glittering racing career. “I wish to God we’d had the money, but we didn’t, but they (Coolmore, who owned 50 per cent) were keen to stand him here and we were glad to have him,’’ he said.

“It wasn’t long before he was worth $40 million. But that’s the way it goes.’’

There was an exciting symmetry between the legendary father and the promising son, Campbell said.

The extremely versatile Encosta De Lago—who retired from stud duty in 2015, aged 21—had the ability to sire a precocious 1200-metre Blue Diamond winner (Alinghi in 2004) and a 2800-metre VRC St Leger winner (Order Of The Sun in 2014) and Manhattan Rain is doing similar things,’’ Campbell said, referring to Manhattan Rain’s recent VRC St Leger winner Runaway and last year’s Golden Slipper (1200m) heroine, She Will Reign.

“We think he has a very bright future. To get a really good son of Encosta, it’s just so exciting.’’

Manhattan Rain’s first Blue Gum-era foals will drop this spring—off his career-biggest book of 112 mares at a fee of $19,500 (inc. GST)—20 years after the first progeny of Encosta De Lago did the same.

Encosta De Lago retired to Blue Gum a Group 1 winner of the Vic Health Cup (1400m, Caulfield) from only eight starts for Lee Freedman, and there was initially lukewarm expectation for the son of Fairy King (USA), which was reflected in his middle-of-the-road (for Victoria) first-season service fee of $8500 (inc. GST) in 1996-97.

Seven years later, around the time the truck pulled away from Blue Gum bound for the Hunter with its expensive cargo, Encosta De Lago’s fee had leapt to a then Victorian record $38,500 (inc. GST) and in future years would skyrocket to peak at $302,000 (inc. GST) in 2008.

Campbell remembers the call from Coolmore’s Michael Kirwan, who explained that Danehill’s death (in 2003 in Ireland) in a paddock accident had left Coolmore without a flagship—and just one possible successor.

“Oh, it’s all very vivid. I remember Michael informing me that (Coolmore principal) John Magnier would ring me personally. It was their call. They owned the controlling interest in the horse and he was on the verge of superstardom at the time, at about the same level as a horse like Pierro now,’’ he said.

“But we have great pride in what we achieved with him, as well as what he went on to do. His greatest number of Group 1 winners came when he was here, with a far less commercial band of mares. He was a remarkable ‘upgrader’ of mares.’’

As a high-class son of Encosta De Lago, Manhattan Rain had always been in Blue Gum’s sights and “we made a really strong pitch” after Manhattan Rain retired in 2010 as a Group 1 AJC Sires Produce Stakes (1400m, Randwick) winner and a Golden Slipper, Caulfield Guineas and Cox Plate placegetter (beating all but fellow three-year-old So You Think in 2009).

He was also a half-brother to Redoute’s Choice (by Danehill (USA) from Shantha’s Choice, by Canny Lad), the champion colt bred and raced by Sri Lankan businessman Muzaffar Ali Yaseen. A majority share in Redoute’s Choice was sold to Arrowfield where he became three-time Australian champion sire and breeding arch rival to Encosta De Lago for more than a decade.

“Mr Yaseen had a strong connection to Arrowfield via Redoute’s Choice and Manhattan Rain went there instead. We were disappointed but we got another shot,’’ Campbell said.

Early last year, Manhattan Rain was on the outer at Arrowfield. He’d had a nice string of Stakes winners, including Scarlet Rain, Wild Rain and Moonovermanhattan, and She Will Reign was winning her way towards the Golden Slipper.

But the Arrowfield bar had been set extremely high.

“Every year they’re getting these super sensational new candidates and it puts pressure on horses like Manhattan Rain (who had covered only 32 mares in 2016). They contacted us, we snapped him up in 24 hours,’’ Campbell said.

A few weeks later, She Will Reign won Australia’s greatest two-year-old race. “Ha, maybe we got lucky with the timing but I still think they were keen to find a Victorian home for him.”

Under Blue Gum’s banner, Manhattan Rain’s credits as a stallion have continued to rise: She Will Reign trained on to win the Group 1 Moir Stakes (1200m, Moonee Valley) last spring; the export Whisky Baron won a 2000-metre Group 1 in South Africa; and the stallion has found another promising local 2YO in Let Me Sleep On It (pictured left), who easily won the Listed Redoute’s Choice Stakes (1200m) at Caulfield in April, three days after Runaway won the St Leger at Flemington.

“He’s settled in beautifully,” Campbell said of Manhattan Rain. “He’s extremely fertile. He’s covered his biggest book ever. He’s a son of Encosta, a half to Redoute’s and his progeny are winning over any distance.

We’re happy.’’

So are Victorian breeders.

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