U S Navy Flag remains a firm favourite at Valachi Downs despite the multiple Group One winner no longer featuring on the Matamata nursery’s stallion roster.
The high-class son of War Front stood his first two seasons at Kevin and Jo Hickman’s operation before a change of business model in 2021 saw him relocate to The Oaks Stud.
“If we had not changed our business direction there is absolutely no doubt that he would still be at Valachi,” General Manager Gareth Downey said.
“The relocation was nothing to do with the horse, we loved his credentials and we loved him as a stallion and love his progeny.
“We were delighted to continue supporting him at The Oaks, it was just our change away from being so public and basically a move toward being a more private breeding and racing operation.”
A former champion two and three-year-old, U S Navy Flag offers breeders a quality source of speed to compliment the country’s traditional staying-bred stallions.
“We felt it was very important for New Zealand for a stallion like him to stay here. When we first did the deal with Coolmore to get him we couldn’t go over there to see him,” Downey said.
“He had amazing credentials and when he walked off the truck we saw just what a gorgeous horse he is and gives us early maturity access. We do tend to be middle-distance orientated, which is great and our forte, but he could sharpen mares up a fair bit.
“One of the things we loved about him was the likely translation of a stallion from the Northern Hemisphere that raced 11 times as a two-year-old being able to work down here.
“A lot of people talk about the physical and mental pressure that horses get put under in the Australasian environment, relative to Europe in terms of training conditions etc, and for a horse like U S Navy Flag to be that physically and mentally sound we think is a real key highlight.”
U S Navy Flag features prominently in Valachi’s New Zealand Bloodstock Yearling Sale drafts next month with three representatives in Book 1 and a further five during Book 2.
Downey singled out his son, Lot 164, for particular praise and the colt is out of an unraced O’Reilly mare who is a half-sister to stakes winners Needle And Thread, and Savile Row, who stands at Valachi alongside Vespa and Zacinto.
“He is out of Charmeuse and the colt is a half-brother to Arrogant, who very nearly beat The Autumn Sun in the Rosehill Guineas (Gr.1, 2000m) and is from one of our favourite families,” he said.
The pedigree also features the multiple Group One winner and sire The Gurkha.
“Another U S Navy Flag colt (Lot 303) out of Honfleur is from the amazing Bohemian Blues family, dam of Shamrocker, Bohemian Lily, Vernanme and Rock Diva – he is an absolute ripper,” Downey said.
“We also have a very nice Savabeel colt out of an Invincible Spirit mare who should also be popular,” Downey said.
He is Lot 437 and is out of the unraced My Country, who is a half-sister to German Group Two winner Peace At Last and the family of Gr.1 Lockinge Stakes (1600m) winner Fly To The Stars and the Gr.1 Levin Classic (1600m) winner Age Of Fire.
In Book 2, Downey expected U S Navy Flag’s son, Lot 888, to attract widespread appeal.
“He is a quality horse and there is also a very nice colt by War Decree and we’ve had a few parades and he’s one that has received multiple comments, saying why is he not in Book 1,” Downey said. “They are two of the stand-outs, physically.”
The U S Navy Flag youngster is out of the Irish-bred Pour Moi mare Kerre from the family of the multiple Group One winner Authorized while the War Decree, Lot 1003, is a son of the winning Savabeel mare Princess Sapphire.
She is a half-sister to dual stakes winner Merion and also on the pedigree page is the four-time top-flight winner Alibhai.
Valachi Downs is also home to trainers Stephen Autridge and Kris Shailer, with the vast majority of the stable carrying the Hickman’s gold jacket and blue cap.
They include the Gr.1 Al Basti Equiworld New Zealand Oaks (2400m) candidate Glory Bound, who was a last-start second in the Gr.2 David & Karyn Ellis Fillies’ Classic (2000m) at Te Rapa where stablemate Val Di Zoldo was runner-up in the Gr.3 2YO Classic (1200m).
Capping off a successful meeting was Vernanme, co-bred by part-owned Kevin Hickman, who was second in the Gr.1 Herbie Dyke Stakes (2000m).
“It was a great day and you can’t help but think a win would have been nice, but they are going really well, particularly the upper end of the racing team,,” Downey said.
“We had a bit of a setback in the late spring with a virus going through the stable and they are now all back on track.
“If there was one race that Kevin would choose to win, that he hasn’t already, it would be the Oaks and Glory Bound looks to hopefully be a perfect candidate for it this year.”