Perhaps it was veteran Corowa trainer Geoff Duryea’s natural instincts that told him to do what he’d never done before – breed from a mare he’d trained.
Duryea trained Stacey Lee (Bel Esprit/Curio Jade) to five wins from 20 starts, and the mare’s three minor placings including two thirds in Melbourne.
When the time came to retire Stacey Lee from the track, Duryea said the current owners weren’t interested in breeding from her so he suggested to his two sons, Paul and Marc and daughter, Beth, that they buy the mare with some of their friends to breed from.
Duryea said his family and friends didn’t pay “very much” for the mare but it’s been a wise investment that resulted in her second born, Front Page, generating big news last Saturday with a dazzling victory in the A.R Creswick Stakes (1200m) at Flemington.
The phone has been ringing at Duryea’s home with some fairly significant offers from Hong Kong where big dollars are easily handed over for a class horse.
Duryea, who says he is only the trainer and has no financial interest in the three year-old gelding, said a decision would be made on Tuesday whether an offer was accepted.
“I have told these people who have been ringing me that it will either be yeah or nay on Tuesday,” he said.
“I have put it out to the syndicate and I am just waiting for what the majority say and it’s up to them.”
But Duryea, who said all the 13 owners will have a vote, says the horse would then obviously need to pass a stringent veterinary examination if the offer was accepted.
Sun Stud, which stands Front Page’s sire – Magnus – is hoping the owners will reject any offer for the gelding which joins outstanding sprinters Nature Strip (2018) and Gytrash (2019) to win the Creswick Stakes and then go onto Group 1 glory.
Sun Stud’s Adam Henry said he was hoping the son of Magnus could emulate the Group 1 feats of Nature Strip and Gytrash in Australia which would give the sire more prominence in the local market.
“Front Page has now won four out of six and looks untapped and it’s exciting to have him coming through because you just don’t know what level he will get to,” Henry said.
“The Creswick is usually a good form race with Nature Strip and Gytrash being the last two winners and Front Page’s time was much quicker than those two.”
Henry said Magnus was having another fantastic year and was always in the top 20 active stallions and has produced Group 1 winners in four of the past five seasons.
“He is just tremendous value for what you are going to get,” Henry said.
“His winners to runners is 70 per cent and he can get you a top liner as well. He has had 10 stakes performers this season, including Group 1 winners Streets of Avalon, Group 2 winner Kemalpasa and Group 3 winner Halvorsen. It’s pretty impressive stuff.
“He gets winners every week and can get you a top liner as well.”
Henry said Magnus’ advertised service fee is $15,400 and with Written Tycoon’s departure, he is the best performed Victorian stallion on the table at the moment.
He said Magnus would again cover 100-plus mares in this season he concedes will be COVID affected but was the safest bet for people who like proven horses.
Henry expects there to be a fairly even spread of demand for Sun Stud’s stallions with National Defense, which served 159 mares last year, and again in strong demand in his second season. And he says Fiorente continues to get the job done and new boy on the block, Palentino, is again in demand with his yearlings selling so well and his first runners will hit the track later in the year.
Unfortunately, Front Page’s dam, Stacey Lee, won’t be returning to Magnus this year, but she could be heading back to him in 2021.
The Duryea’s sent Stacey Lee to Vancouver last season but when she failed to get into foal, she was served by Rubick, who she is now in foal to, on December 17 last year.
Duryea said she would obviously have a late foal so it was decided not to have her served this year.
Front Page’s older full sister, News Girl, is Group 3 placed and has won three races at Caulfield with her latest victory over 1100m in May.
The four year-old is also trained by Duryea and raced by his three children and a group of friends.
The family has also breed a filly – Page Three – out of Stacey Lee by Stryker – and has weanling filly out of the mare by Dundeel (NZ).
Duryea, a former jockey who rode Red Hope in the 1973 Melbourne Cup, said Magnus was obviously high on the list of stallions for Stacey Lee.
“I don’t know whether it’s good judgement or whatever, it’s a good cross of Vain in both pedigrees and would you believe but both News Girl and her brother Front Page are chestnuts,” he said.
“The Stryker is brown and the Dundeel is brown. It’s interesting.”
Duryea said he always believed that Bel Esprit, who also stands at Sun Stud, produces better females than males.
He said the owners who raced Stacey Lee told him didn’t want to breed from her, he advised his children and a few of their mates that he thought they were mad if they didn’t buy her.
“She hurt her knees when she was a young horse but she still had a good turn of foot,” Duryea said.
“So they thought what have they got to lose and the rest is history.”
Duryea said that while Stacey Lee was placed in town, she could almost break 10 seconds for a 200m sectional.
“Say from the 600m to 400m – that type of thing,” he said.
“That’s what I said to family and friends, it’s bloody hard to do. If you can get a horse to rattle that off, they can run and when she won the Queen of the South at the Wagga Cup Carnival, Willy Pearson rode her and I told him she would run him 10 seconds for 200m or maybe even break it.
“He was sitting in behind them and went whoosh and won by three lengths and he said, oh Geoff I only let her run ten and a half so I still had a bit up my sleeve. We just laughed.”
Duryea said he’d trained a lot of good mares but just had the inkling that Stacey Lee could be a special broodmare because of that quick sectional she could produce.
Amazingly Front Page could have been relegated to the classified section as he struggled to put it together during his early development, but Duryea always knew he could gallop.
“He just couldn’t get the penny to drop to know that when the stalls opened you are supposed to get out and get running,” Duryea laughed.
“The first time he trialled he got beaten 10 lengths and they told me I had to trial him again because he wasn’t competitive. It sounds stupid but I preserved and preserved with him and the penny dropped and he hasn’t looked back.”
Duryea said Front Page had now gone for a spell – and there are plenty of people hoping the horse that kicked off his career in Albury will remain in Australia and not bob up next at Sha Tin.
Hoofnote: At the time of writing this article, connections had not yet made a decision regarding the offer from Hong Kong. As of the morning of the 23rd of June 2020, connections have knocked back the offer from Hong Kong and Front Page will race on in Australia.