Fort Wood’s Profound Oaks Impact

SA Oaks 2024 looks wide open

The announcement that unbeaten Gimme A Nother will be absent from next month’s Gr2 Wilgerbosdrift Bridget Oppenheimer SA Oaks has thrown the 2450m classic wide open, with likely contenders sure to take advantage of her absence.

One notable is last weekend’s Ormond Ferraris Listed Oaks Trial winner Frances Ethel.

Wilgerbosdrift – place of champions (Pic – Romi Bettison)

Brett Crawford’s charge was scoring her third win on the bounce and hasn’t missed a beat since breaking her maiden less than two months ago in late January.

She joins Ipso Facto as the second successive Oaks Trial winner sired by the Gr1 winning sprinter Rafeef, who incidentally, also counts Gr1 SA Derby hero Aragosta amongst his offspring. Such are the mysteries of genetics.

Incidentally, all three are products of the Wilgerbosdrift and Mauritzfontein breeding operation, whose link to the SA Oaks is a tangible one.

Wilgerbosdrift has sponsored the classic since 2005, with owner Mary Slack having had the privilege of leading in two of her homebreds, Ilha Bela in 2012 and None Other as recently as two years ago.

Frances Ethel – Oaks next? (Pic – Jc Photos)

Remarkably, both descend from her champion racemare Ilha Da Vittoria; Ilha Bela being a daughter and None Other a grandaughter. Furthermore, Ilha Bela’s Fort Wood half-sister Ilha Grande also won the Oaks Trial and placed third in the Oaks proper.

Mauritzfontein Stud boasts an even more distinguished record in this time-honoured classic.

The Kimberley farm has over a period of more than sixty years been the birthplace of an astounding 15 Oaks winners, the most recent of which 2020 victress Summer Pudding, who of course went on to Horse of the Year honours.

Frances Ethel likewise is a product of the Mauritzfontein paddocks.

Significantly, the filly is out of a daughter of the farm’s late champion Fort Wood, as is Summer Pudding’s close relative Cherry On The Top, who annexed the Triple Tiara with her victory in the 2013 Oaks, and whose daughter Blossom was runner-up six years later.

Arguably the ultimate breed-shaping stallion of the modern era, Fort Wood’s impact on the SA Oaks has been profound, for not only did he sire the Oaks winners Monyela, Bedloe’s Island and Ilha Bela, he also features as the grandsire of 2018 winner Secret Potion, sired by his classic winning son Elusive Fort.

Taking it one generation further, his grandson Act Of War sired champion War Of Athena, who claimed the 2021 renewal.

The iconic Fort Wood (Pic – Supplied)

Fort Wood’s daughter Daphne Garland, who is now based  in KZN at Peter and Jenny Blyth’s Clifton Stud,  produced Frances Ethel as her fifth foal.

She never raced, but is out of the stakes winning sprinter Daphne Donnelly, who joined the Mauritzfontein paddocks as a winner of the Listed George Azzie Memorial.

Whilst classic horses were the meat and drink of the farm, she was a sprinter pure and simple and clearly took after her sire, that marvellous sprint stallion Golden Thatch, as did her full sister, the Gr2 Sceptre Stakes winner Lady Broadhurst.

Sadly, Daphne Donnelly was not the most prolific of broodmares and produced just five foals, all by Fort Wood.

Thankfully, four of those were fillies and all have become black type producers. Her sole colt Draw Bridge, finished third in the Derby Trial.

On the track, the most successful of her progeny was undoubtedly Queen’s Bay, who was her dam’s second foal and was born after five frustrating and empty years. Trained by Mike Azzie, she first made waves when she scorched to a sixteen-length victory on debut and went on to add another seven victories to her tally, including the Gr3 Jacaranda Handicap and two renewals of the Gr3 Yellowwood Handicap.

She is already dam of two stakes performers; the Ideal World filly Royal Utopia, who finished third in the 2016 Oaks, and the Gr3-placed Silvano gelding Castletown.

Daphne Donnelly’s first foal Bay Tree won twice and when mated to Mauritzfontein stallion Strike Smartly, produced the Gr1 SA Derby hero Bouquet-Garni, as well as the filly Bay Leaf, who became the dam of Derby Trial third London Roads, sired by Elusive Fort, thus inbred 2 x 3 to Fort Wood.

Laurel Tree, the only non-winning daughter of Daphne Donnelly, made good as a broodmare when she produced Derby Trial runner-up Tabebuia.

But back to Frances Ethel. Given that she is by the sprinter Rafeef and has Golden Thatch in the mix as well, her immediate pedigree definitely does not scream Oaks winner.

However, Fort Wood’s presence has surely enabled her to overcome those speed elements, and should she go on to Oaks success, it will further underline his impact on this revered classic.

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