One thing you can't deny Greig Muir, is his sense of humour. When Golden Sword's acquisition for our stallion barn was first announced, he was quick to quip "There hasn't been this much excitement about a sword since King Arthur wrenched one from a rock."
He wasn't far wrong, given the horse's antecedents and his racing record. It was Mike de Kock who coined the saying "in any other year, he would've been a Derby winner," which was not only an expression of sentiment; it was analytically accurate. As the most famous trainer in South African history, de Kock is a man of strong but measured views, and when he speaks, the world listens. In this case, he was talking about a horse who'd led the field a merry dance in England's most famous horse race well into the final furlong, etching his name into the history of the Investec Derby for running the world champion, Sea The Stars, to within a couple of lengths. We know too, that the Chester Vase ace next lined up for the Irish equivalent, and while that day he had to yield to the triple Group One hero, Fame And Glory, on pedigree, there was no doubting Golden Sword was the runaway winner.
Think about this: on his sire's side, his lineage represents three generations of unsurpassed excellence, Northern Dancer, Sadler's Wells and his own father High Chaparral. On the other side, the Classic winners Alexandrova (three Group Ones), the Irish Oaks victress, Chicquita and the smashing Group One victors Doyoun and Magical Romance, headline a family steeped in thoroughbred lore.
Enter Mike de Kock at this stage with Golden Sword in Dubai, and the horse tells him he is a genuine World Cup contender with the fastest 2000 metres in UAE history. On its own, you might well say there are many records to be broken all over the world, but when that record eclipses the times of 19 World Cup winners before him including the salutary likes of Cigar, Dubai Millennium and Street Cry, then you're talking.
Anywhere else, you might've expected it of a horse of these credentials that his first youngsters would be greeted with enthusiasm when they debuted at the sales, but knowing the South African market's hesitation when it comes to horses that excel at 2000 metres and beyond, the roll-call of those who put up their hands at the National Sale tells us there is more to this fellow than meets the eye. Besides de Kock, his admirers included the Magic Millions trio Barry Bowditch, Grant Burns and Chuck Norris, Charles Laird, Michael Azzie, Jehan Malherbe, Ronnie Napier, Jean Marc Ulcoq, Alick Costa, Justin Vermaak, Alesh Naidoo and Paul Lafferty. At stud he's drawn mares from Wilgerbosdrift, Drakenstein, Moutonshoek and Sheikh Mohammed among others; it's obvious it isn't only the stallion's performance credentials that's "glued them". Clearly, what his father, High Chaparral has done to mesmerize customers around the world with the appeal of his youngsters, has found resonance here in what they see in the Golden Swords. Like High Chaparral, Golden Sword gets an altogether more robust individual than he was at the same stage; like High Chaparral, they have the same fluid movement you find in the Sadler's Wells tribe at large, and as much as anything, they share the same racy appeal.
Knowing High Chaparral as a high quality, almost effeminate horse in the flesh, I once enquired of Demi O'Byrne over breakfast what it was that led to his selecting him as a yearling. We're speaking of course, of one of the world's great "pickers", whose verdict in this case was vindicated by six spectacular Group One victories, two of which came in the English and Irish Derbys and two in the Breeders' Cup Turf. It doesn't get much better than that. That said, as a stallion prospect, he lacked the masculinity most of us look for when we go out in search of that elusive beast with the capacity to change our lives; for O'Byrne it was a simple matter: he just happened to be one of the best "walkers" he'd laid his eyes on. Which still doesn't explain the fact that at stud, the same horse was "outbreeding" himself in the robust psychical specimens he was producing on the ground, and which is exactly what we're seeing in the Golden Swords.
While it's obviously still early days, besides his fans at the National Sales, his finest compliment came from the judges' panel and those who stayed behind at the gallops on Wednesday. No fewer than 11 votes were cast by the judges for the Golden Swords, and there were any number of accolades from the jury in the audience. It's now a matter of how many of them will match their predictions on Sunday week: Wall Street's graveyards are full of those who were right too late!
Golden Sword / Leigh Willson (p)