‘We were on top of the world on Saturday’: Martin thrilled with Espiona and Chrysaor

Written by
Keely McKitterick – The Thoroughbred Report AusNZ 31/10/2023

The Thoroughbred Report caught up with Denise Martin of Star Thoroughbreds, who celebrated a super Saturday, with Martin’s star mare Espiona (Extreme Choice) claiming the $2 million The Invitation. At the same time, the up-and-coming Chrysaor (Better Than Ready) took out the G2 Callander-Presnell.

Few colours are more recognisable on Australian racetracks than those of Denise Martin’s Star Thoroughbreds. Since 1993, the purple and white stars have been carried to major success by such gallopers as the late Sebring, Foxplay (Foxwedge) and Theseo (Danewin).

On Saturday at Randwick, those silks were again to the fore. It was a marvellous day for Martin and those associated with Star Thoroughbreds, ending the day with an additional $1,581,000 in the bank.

It began in Race 8 with the Chris Waller-trained Espiona, the brilliant daughter of Extreme Choice, who backed up her gallant performance in The Everest with another gutsy display to add the third edition of the $2 million The Invitation to her impressive CV.

Less than an hour later, it was Chrysaor (Better Than Ready) who stunned onlookers with a strong display in the G2 Callander-Presnell over his stablemate Snowman (Snitzel).

Valuable mare

Espiona is a prime example of what can happen when you take a chance on a first-season sire.

Espiona was bred by Torryburn Stud and Frank Cook and carried an attractive pedigree. The filly was from the first crop of Newgate Farm’s Extreme Choice, a dual Group 1 winner of the Blue Diamond S. and the Moir S.

Her dam, the O’Reilly (NZ) mare Dahooil (NZ), was a winner over 1400 metres and from a prominent black-type family. She is a full sister to Bonny O’Reilly (NZ) and a half-sister to Pretty To Sea (NZ) (Ocean Park {NZ}), both of whom are Listed winners.

A little further down Espiona’s page are gallopers the calibre of multiple Group 1 winners Vision And Power (NZ) (Carnegie {Ire}) and Glamour Puss (NZ) (Tale Of The Cat {USA}) and the G1 Coolmore Classic victress Steps In Time (Danehill Dancer {Ire}).

In a piece of astute buying, Martin, working alongside Brett Horward’s Randwick Bloodstock Agency (FBAA), claimed Espiona for $190,000 from Torryburn Stud’s draft at the 2020 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

Arguably, Extreme Choice wasn’t then on the lips of nearly every breeder, but it wouldn’t take long for his stocks to rise. That first crop of 48 live foals saw the G1 Golden Slipper hero Stay Inside, the Group 2 winner Tiger Of Malay and the Group 3 victor Extreme Warrior, amongst others, to emerge.

Martin shared with The Thoroughbred Report her initial thoughts on Espiona, “She wasn’t exceptionally big, but neither was Extreme Choice. She had a great attitude and a great walk, and overall, she was a lovely quality filly.

“In addition, Espiona had a very nice pedigree to back her up. I’ve been a fan of Extreme Choice since he won the Blue Diamond,” Martin explained.

“We’re always keen to look at the new sires and their first yearlings. So, Espiona was our standout Extreme Choice of that year, and fortunately, that decision has been proven to be very successful for us, thankfully.”

Martin added about her buying strategy, “We are in the syndication industry, and certainly with my business, you have to have a price ceiling, and sometimes if you can find a particularly nice filly, as I said, in the first crop of a successful performer on the track, it’s worth taking a chance.

“And we were very happy to do that with Espiona.”

Plenty to come

The Invitation served as the seventh victory for Espiona and brought her earnings to well over $2 million.

Espiona has been in stellar form this year; she won her maiden Group 1 victory in the autumn with the Coolmore Classic. Returning in the spring, she was an impressive victress of the G2 Golden Pendant second-up before

“She has been wonderful. Espiona was terrific in the Golden Pendant, and Hugh Bowman rode her in The Everest and thought she was really untested in the straight, and so to only be beaten under 3l without having all the luck in the world was very credible,” Martin told TTR AusNZ.

“She was extremely well placed in The Invitation, and I spoke to Chris (Waller) this morning (Monday), and he informed me she was excellent.

“She’s an outstanding mare; she’s won seven races now and just under $3 million. So, hopefully, Espiona has got some more racing still to come.

“I always leave the programming to Chris and his team. When we spoke about Espiona this morning, Chris said he would formalise what he thinks would be best for her in the next three or four days.

“There are a couple more options coming up, or Espiona could go for a spell. Neither of those are out of contention at the moment. So, Chris will probably decide by Wednesday.”

Striking colt

The handsome Chrysaor reminded everybody of his talent with a thrilling victory in the G2 Callander-Presnell.

A striking son of Better Than Ready, Chrysaor was bred by Yarramalong and purchased by Star Thoroughbreds and Randwick Bloodstock (FBAA) for $115,000 when offered by Bell River Thoroughbreds at the 2022 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

Chrysaor is a son of the Choisir mare New Wings, a full sister to Religify, a gelding Martin knew well, having signed over $135,000 for him at the 2012 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

Religify won 13 races from 1000 to 1600 metres, including three Listed victories and being placed in the G2 Crystal mile and the G3 BTC Sprint H.

“When we bought Chrysaor at the Magic Millions, we just thought he was one of the most handsome colts we’d seen for quite some time,” Martin gushed.

“He came from a family that has produced a very talented gelding I bought some years ago called Religify, and he was from the family of Silent Witness, the great Hong Kong sprinter.

“So, Chrysaor comes from a very good family, and when we saw him at Magic Millions, we felt it might be different buying a colt with QTIS potential, and we felt he would be affordable.

“Chris has a stable on the Gold Coast, and very early in Chrysaor’s career, he won a nice city-class race on the Sunshine Coast as a pre-Christmas 2-year-old.”

The victory prompted connections to dream of the R. Listed Magic Millions 2YO Classic. Although that didn’t work out for the son of Better Than Ready, many a good judge assured Martin and co he could gallop.

“We knew that he could certainly gallop. Jimmy Orman, Queensland’s premier jockey, rode him several times in trials and said, ‘This is not only a very nice horse, but I think he’s a real talent.’ So, he went to the Magic Millions and drew poorly.

“He spelled and came to Sydney, and earlier of this year, he raced at Gosford in a Saturday race where Sam Clipperton rode him and repeated the sentiments that he was a very nice horse.

“And interestingly, before that, Jay Ford had ridden Chrysaor in the barrier trial and Warwick Farm, and he reported in a post-trial video to the owners that he felt like a Group horse,” Martin said.

“I spoke to Jay that same day, after the barrier trials, and I said, ‘At what?’ he said certainly Group 3, quite likely Group 2, and he might get to Group 1 level.

“Chrysaor went to Queensland and ran third in the G2 Sires’ Produce and impressed Nash Rawiller, who said he’s a really lovely horse in the making, but he’s not developed yet.

“He went to the G1 JJ Atkins, and things went quite awry. He didn’t get any clear running, and by the time he gained an open passage, the bird had flown. So, we spelled Chrysaor in Queensland and then returned to Sydney, where we ran in the G2 Run to the Rose, and although he didn’t figure, he ran a really decent race.

“We then went to the Tap Craig, and he wore the blinkers, which I think was a little bit too much for him. He over-raced, didn’t settle at all in the run.”

Small change equals big result

As a testament to Waller’s training genius and ability to make those small one-percent changes, which are often the difference between winning and losing, Waller removed the blinkers and changed the colt’s bit.

“Chrysaor barrier trialled last week (October 20) without the blinkers and in a different bit. Jason Collett rode him in that trial and informed us the colt is back to how he was in the Run to the Rose.

“He settled well, found the line well, and was great. That’s why I said I’m sure that people who were shocked and wondered why he was 25-to-one on Saturday maybe hadn’t seen the barrier trial from a couple of weeks ago.

“Tyler Schiller reported that he was strong and settled in the run, and when he peered to start to improve on the corner, the first opening closed, but he found another spot and just made sure the horse found the line strongly and got there right on the line.

“When you have a horse that at some stage has show ability, filly and colt, and they’re not producing on the track, is it a matter of they’ve become a bit wayward and don’t want to do it, or there’s something that’s stopping them, and in this case, Chrysaor was just becoming too aggressive with the blinkers as he’s a powerful colt.

“And changing the bit gave his riders more control and just made it easier for them. He looked very good in the run, and when he found clear running at the 150/200-metre mark, I thought, ‘You’re likely to figure in this’, and when we got to the 50-metre mark I said, ‘My goodness, you’re a real challenger, and got there right on the line’.”

That’s racing!

Martin, however, is accustomed to the ups and downs of racing. Although overjoyed from Saturday’s result, she was keen to say, “You know, some days it happens, some days it doesn’t. I was talking to one of the owners of Chrysaor and Epsiona, and he had a very good filly with us some years ago called Fiesta.

“And I said, on the day when we looked like winning the Epsom with D’Argento, we got caught right on the line by Hartnell. And just before that, we had Fiesta in the Flight Stakes, where Hugh Bowman rode her, and she maybe didn’t get a genuine 1600 metres, but Bowman nursed her so well that she looked like she was going to get there and I could see a horse coming right down the outside in yellow colours, and I said to the people with me, ‘Who is that horse on the outside?’, and they said ‘Oohood!,’ and well right got Fiesta right on the line.

“So, within 40 minutes, we missed out on two Group 1s by the shortest of margins, whilst on Saturday they went our way. That’s what racing is about, though. You’ve got to be resilient and keep going.

“We were on top of the world on Saturday.”

Group 1 glory in the future for Chrysaor?

Looking ahead, a decision on Chrysaor will come soon.

“Winning a Group 2 as a colt is fantastic. Chris will assess things and determine what we should do. In the autumn, there’s the Australian Guineas, and he could easily be a Guineas horse at Flemington. He reminded us again at Randwick he can run a strong 1600 metres.”

Martin had been busy earlier in the yearlings buying 20 yearlings. Now 2-year-olds, one has filly has already trialled.

A filly named Canara, by I Am Invincible and from the Nadeem mare Karavali (NZ). Canara’s dam won five races, including the G3 Aspiration H., and was fourth in the G1 Manawatu Sires’ Produce S.

Canara was a $410,000 purchase by Star Thoroughbreds and Randwick Bloodstock Agency (FBAA) at the 2023 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale.

“I usually buy between 20 and 25 yearlings a year. I bought 20 this year, 11 from the Magic Millions, a couple from New Zealand, a few from Classic, Premier and Easter.”

“Only the one filly named Canara has trialled so far, which was last Friday. Kerrin McEvoy rode her and just said he felt she’s a really lovely filly for the future.”