Widden Stud stallion National Defense’s already impressive credentials received another massive boost with the victory of Twilight Gleaming (IRE) in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Del Mar.
The two-year daughter of Group 1 winner National Defense (Invincible Spirit x Angel Falls) became the first filly to win the Group 2 Sprint and led all the way to give American trainer Wesley Ward his third win in the 1000m race.
On Saturday, it was also another big day for Widden Stud when Nature Strip demolished his rivals in the Group 1 Darley Classic (1200m).
Nature Strip’s sire, Nicconi, has transferred to Widden in Victoria at the start of this season.
As well as the joy of seeing Nature Strip notch another Group 1 victory, Widden Stud’s Adam Henry said it was a massive result for National Defense to get a winner with Twilight Gleaming at such a prestigious meeting as the Breeders’ Cup.
“She just showed sensational speed to lead from the barrier to the wire,” he said.
“It’s not easy to do, and they came at her, and she fought really hard. She is a quality filly and was the red hot favourite at Royal Ascot and ran second after just getting run down late.
“She hasn’t been out of the top two in all of her five starts in good company and is a top-flight filly.”
Luck hasn’t always been on National Defense’s side when it comes to serving mares.
The stallion copped an errant kick from a mare in his first season in Ireland, which restricted him to a small book, and his stud duties in Australia – he is now in his third season – suffered a setback at the start of this breeding season when he was again kicked.
Henry said National Defense (GB) produced 29 live foals from his first season in the northern hemisphere, and so far, 15 of that crop had raced for five individual winners, including Twilight Gleaming. Another of his progeny has finished fourth in a Group 2 race, and another was fourth in a listed race.
“To have three black-type performers from a small crop is a pretty fair effort,” Henry said.
National Defense shuttles from to Widden from the Irish National Stud and his oldest northern hemisphere progeny are two-year-olds.
He stood his first season in Victoria in 2019 when he covered 159 mares and served 88 the following season.
National Defense’s first Australian yearlings will be offered for sale next year.
“He missed that first season coming out here after copping that kick in Ireland,” Henry said.
“He is a year behind from where he usually would be, so his oldest here are yearlings, and he has got 81 to represent him, which is nearly three times the opportunity he has had in the northern hemisphere.”
Standing at $9900, Henry said it would be difficult to find a stallion like National Defense, a winner of the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere, for under $10,000.
“He’s a good looking horse with an excellent pedigree page and he has been really well received by breeders, that’s for sure,” Henry said.
Henry said Widden would consign National Defense yearlings next year on behalf of Sun Bloodstock.
“Off the back of the brilliant results in the northern hemisphere, we are really excited about the first crop of southern hemisphere yearlings being sold next year,” Henry said.
“Inglis and Magic Millions have both been really positive about his stock during inspections as they are attractive, forward-looking types.”
Henry said Widden would offer a number of National Defense yearlings via both sale companies, including a pair of colts headed for Melbourne Premier that he believes will be highly sought after.
They are out of Group 1 New Zealand Oaks winner Miss Mossman and Group 2 placed Gris Dame, herself a half-sister to dual Group 1 Maco’Reilly. “Both will be a must for inspection cards,” Henry said.
“National Defense has shown up north that he can produce a quick, early running juvenile, and that will really resonate with the Australian buying bench. His two-year-old filly Twilight Gleaming is lightning on four legs.”
After suffering the setback in September, Henry said National Defense was out of action for a considerable time but had resumed his duties.
“He’s back covering now,” he said.
“He had over 90 mares booked to him, but we couldn’t get them covered due to the incident in the covering shed.
“It’s a bit of a setback as he’s been a popular stallion with breeders. His sire line is well sought after with all the success it has had in Australia and National Defense’s dam side is very strong as well.”
Henry said National Defense’s yearlings would do the talking for the stallion at next year’s sales.
“Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone to plan in the breeding shed this season, but he’s over that now and back covering, he said.
“He couldn’t have done too much more factoring in the number of live foals and runners, winners and then black-type performers. It’s pretty impressive reading.”
Henry said Twilight Gleaming was obviously a class filly that had won a serious race worth $1 million and was targeted by trainers from all around the world.
Twilight Gleaming’s dam, the unraced Dansili mare Thames Pageant, has produced three to race and two are winners.
Thames Pageant is a full sister to the gelding Mainstream, which raced in Australia as Invictus Prince.
The now nine-year-old started his career in England with trainer Sir Michael Stoute and was then transferred to Australia, where he raced for Matthew Smith. The gelding’s best effort was running two lengths second to champion mare Winx in the 2018 Group 1 Winx Stakes (1400m).
Twilight Gleaming finished second in the Group 2 Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot and made amends when she won the Listed Prix de la Vallee dÁuge by a neck at Deauville in France.
The filly has now had three wins and two seconds from five starts.
Bred by Pier House Stud, Twilight Gleaming was purchased for 75 thousand pounds at the 2020 Goffs’ Orby Sale on behalf of Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables.
Banke is a racing identity in America and this year was named chair of the Breeders’ Cup board of directors and became the first woman elected.