Remembering our own Derby winner – the story of Shahrastani – Turf Talk: 5 December 2016

THIRTY years ago, SHAHRASTANI (NijinskyShademah by Thatch) won the Epsom Derby beating one of the great racehorses DANCING BRAVE. Soon afterwards SHAHRASTANI went to The Curragh and won the Irish Derby by 8 lengths. A picture of both wins in a single frame hangs on the wall behind me as I type.

HH The Aga Khan was his breeder and owner in the glory days. Then, in the way of things in the 1980s he was whisked off to stud at Three Chimneys in Kentucky at 3, syndicated for US$30 million. A hundred and something million today.

But later, and for 15 years, he was ours. SHAHRASTANI was variously praised and smeared for his win over DANCING BRAVE. Greville Starkey was widely blamed for the latter’s defeat but perhaps the recognition these days is that he did what he was told.

There was no guarantee that Guineas Winner DANCING BRAVE would stay on Epsom’s mile and a half switchback so he was ridden accordingly. Walter Swinburn knew what would happen and timed his run for home perfectly.

The Irish Derby was a romp. Then the most telling assessment was that SHAHRASTANI lined up as favourite for the King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. DAN

Shahrastani, at 20, enjoying the local village.

Shahrastani, at 20, enjoying the local village.

CING BRAVE was in that field. Not favourite. SHAHRASTANI’s blood was wrong – he probably would not have run today – and DANCING BRAVE won famously.

Then, after recovery and with no prep race, SHAHRASTANI took part in the best horse race I have ever seen. The 1986 Arc. Mike Heslop’s painting of the finish looks down on our dining table.

Six other Group 1 winners were defeated by DANCING BRAVE’s spectacular swoop down the middle of the track. French Derby winner BERING – grandson of the incomparable Sea-Bird – finished 2 nd .

SHAHRASTANI was just touched off for 3rd by the fabulous racemare TRIPTYCH, a 9 times Group 1 winner by Riverman. TRIPTYCH died tragically soon after retiring to stud in Kentucky. In foal to Mr Prospector, she ran into a farm vehicle in the dark. Somebody’s head rolled.

Shahrastani (Walter Swinburn) beats Dancing Brave in the 1986 Epsom Derby

Shahrastani (Walter Swinburn) beats Dancing Brave in
the 1986 Epsom Derby

Top Ville sired the 5th home at Longchamp: SHARDARI a 4 year old Newmarket stablemate and in the same ownership as SHAHRASTANI, giving the younger ones weight as he had done so valiantly in that year’s “King George” where he fought into DANCING BRAVE’s winning margin whilst conceding 13 lbs.

ACATENANGO , multiple Gr1 winner and German Horse of the Year who, the following year, finished 3 rd to TRIPTYCH in the Coronation Cup at Epsom ran a good race. And while SAINT ESTEPHE may mean delicious Bordeaux to most readers, this Coronation Cup winner picked up an injury in the ’86 Arc and retired to stud.

Kentucky was not the right place for Sharastani.

The biggest money was there then. Transatlantic traffic in mares to be covered was busy. But SHAHRASTANI serviced far too many unsuitable American “speed” mares.

After a spell back in Ireland with the Aga, he was sold to Japan in the days when he would have been a “Trophy Horse” for someone who had a lot of money.

In the later 90s, we attended the inaugural JBBA Foal Sale in Hokkaido not far from Sapporo. I shall never forget the sight of a very long line of mares  with foals at foot, turning left simultaneously on a whistle to make their perfectly handled foals-at-foot available for inspection for prospective purchase.

Bought foals were then kept free of charge until after weaning with a comprehensive bilingual contract covering the arrangements.

The ground underfoot was quite wet. Other overseas visitors of whom there were few were astonished when hundreds of pairs of plastic overshoes were given out to protect the guests’ footwear. “This is Japan”.

On that trip, we went hunting. We found our quarry. SHAHRASTANI was at a private stud not doing very much. He was owned by good people who had him looking magnificent.

A key to business in Japan – perhaps anywhere – is to make sure the other side does not lose face. If possible make “it” their idea. Nobody is fooling anyone, but in this way goals can be achieved that would otherwise be blocked by discomfort with too direct an approach.

SHAHRASTANI became ours in a lovely little give and take arrangement reliant on mutual trust. Much like DAYLAMI “came home” from SA to be a dual purpose sire, so did SHAHRASTANI stand with our friends in County Limerick, covering over 200 mares in his three seasons there at a small fee. Later we transferred him to Leicestershire in an area where UK jumping mares abound. His jack donkey came with him.

Mike Heslop’s painting showing Dancing Brave (pink cap), winning the 1986 Arc. Shahrastani (white face, green silks, finished fourth)

Mike Heslop’s painting showing Dancing Brave (pink cap), winning the 1986 Arc.
Shahrastani (white face, green silks, finished fourth)

“Sean”, being a jack, was actually another stallion. Sean would stare down the hyperactive thoroughbred in his box and when being turned out. Otherwise SHAHRASTANI would run himself ragged.

In his later years, SHAHRASTANI was never happier than when racked up in his box with a hay net and a good view of all the comings and goings in the picturesque yard. People would come from far and wide simply “to see Shahrastani”. Our pride in ownership was deeply felt.

Into his late 20s and long since retired from covering but cherished at the Leicestershire farm, he enjoyed his hand-walked excursions past residential houses from which people would wave to him and he would skip and frisk. But at the age of 28, the time had come.

He has a small legacy in South Africa. We sent to this son of Nijinsky an elderly daughter of Habitat who had nearly a dozen international Gr1 performers on her page. Having those two greats up so close gave goose bumps.

We brought the result, a filly named Sunnydale, to South Africa where with Vaughan Marshall she won three times and was an injured 4th in her black type race. Her first two foals are winners, one with us having a cracking Captain Of All colt and being in foal to Elusive Fort. –tt