Fantastic Light Now a Pensioner

By Michele MacDonald

     If there was a Horse of the World title, Fantastic Light would have earned it twice.

     Few racehorses over the span of history have come close to accomplishing what he did during the five years of his racing career. He competed in seven countries and won group/grade I races in five, he set an all-time earnings record for European-based runners of $8,486,957, and he ruled as both European Horse of the Year and America’s turf champion in 2001.

Fantastic Light at Darley Japan.
Photo by Michele MacDonald
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     Thus, it seems somewhat ironic that, while many bemoan the lack of durability and consistent performance by Thoroughbreds today, Fantastic Light will no longer be passing his genes along to the next generation.

     Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley decided at the end of last year to quietly retire the now 16-year-old who scored his biggest wins under the royal blue banner of Godolphin. In early December, he was sent from Darley’s farm in Japan, where he had been assigned to duty in 2007, back to Dalham Hall in England, where he had begun his stud career in 2002 but where he now is a pensioner.

      While breeders can no longer access this versatile star—who won from seven furlongs to 1 ½ miles and set a Belmont Park course record for the latter distance while winning his final start, the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. I), in 2:24.36—Fantastic Light is not lacking for anything (other than mares).

      He is stabled in the tranquil yard of Dalham Hall outside Newmarket, where trees line the farm walkways and a sense of the region’s rich centuries of breeding and racing is omnipresent.

       “He lives within the stallion complex at Dalham Hall stud and is turned out daily. He is a gentleman to deal with,” said Oliver Tait, Darley chief operating officer. “He is in very good health, but there are no plans for him to cover any mares.”

Dalham Hall stallion yard.
Photo by Michele MacDonald
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      His neighbours have included not only such sire stars as Dubawi and European freshman sensation New Approach, but also a pair of other early retirees—undefeated Epsom Derby (Eng-gr. I) and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-gr. I) winner Lammtarra, who like Fantastic Light was bred by the late Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Gainsborough Farm in Kentucky, and Sheikh Mohammed’s homebred Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-gr. I) winner Mark of Esteem. Their stud careers also ended while they were in their mid-teens.

Lammtarra at Dalham Hall.
Photo by Michele MacDonald
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      Sheikh Mohammed repurchased and returned Lammtarra from Japan, where he had languished as a sire, and pensioned the then 14-year-old son of Nijinsky II. Mark of Esteem was retired from breeding at age 14 after fertility became a problem following a colic surgery and loss of a testicle.

       “Like Fantastic Light, they were outstanding performers for Godolphin,” Tait said, “and it is lovely that they are resident on the stud.”

       From his earliest days romping in the fields of Gainsborough with Sheikh Maktoum’s other young horses, Fantastic Light displayed a spirited nature that set him apart.

Fantastic Light coming out of the stallion barn at Darley Japan in 2009.
Photo by Michele MacDonald
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        “He was always tough,” Allen Kershaw, former Gainsborough general manager, told The Blood-Horse at the height of Fantastic Light’s racing success. “When they were running, he always had to be in front. When he reared up, he was the one that nobody wanted to mess with.”

        He won his first two starts as a juvenile in a career that would conclude with 12 wins, five seconds and three thirds in 25 starts. He was ridden by nine jockeys over that time, including a trio of American Hall of Famers—Gary Stevens, who steered him to victory over Bienamado in the 1999 Great Voltigeur Stakes (Eng-gr. II) at York; Chris McCarron, who was edged on the champion by Daliapour in the 2000 Coronation Cup (Eng-gr. I) at Epsom, and Jerry Bailey, who rode to a come-from-behind victory in the 2000 Man o’ War Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont.

        Frankie Dettori piloted Fantastic Light in his final ten races, a remarkable span that would be difficult to envision another horse duplicating just a dozen years later. From the United States, Fantastic Light traveled to Japan, where he finished a valiant third, just a neck behind winner T.M.Opera O while rallying in the 1 ½-mile Japan Cup (gr. I). About three weeks later, he won the about 1 ¼-mile Hong Kong Cup (HK-gr. I) as he pleased at Sha Tin.

      From there, Fantastic Light journeyed to Dubai, where he was nosed out at the wire of then group II Dubai Sheema Classic by Japan’s Stay Gold in March 2001; Fantastic Light had won the Sheema Classic the previous season.

      Back in Europe, he won the 2001 Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-gr. I) at the Curragh and the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-gr. I) during Royal Ascot before engaging Coolmore’s Galileo in an epic battle over two races.

       Fantastic Light could not catch Galileo in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes (Eng-gr. I). But he and Dettori surged to the lead at Sheikh Mohammed’s orders in the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-gr. I) and refused to yield, prevailing by a determined head over Galileo in an unforgettable duel over about 1 ¼ miles.

       After his Breeders’ Cup victory, Fantastic Light embarked on a stud career that took him to England, Australia and Japan. From eight crops of racing age, he has sired 29 blacktype winners, including 13 group or graded winners, and another 26 runners who have placed in blacktype events, according to statistics from The Jockey Club.

Fantastic Light winning the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Photo by Skip Dickstein
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      His offspring have made their marks around the world, including 2007 Gran Criterium (Ity-gr. I) winner Scintillo; multiple Japanese stakes winner Jalisco Light, an earner of $861,316 bred by Kentucky’s Runnymede Farm; Australian group II winner Brilliant Light; German group II winner Flamingo Fantasy, New Zealand group II winner Captain Fantastic, and multiple American graded stakes winner Roshani.

      Altogether, his progeny have earned $34,007,501 through August 12.

      While Japanese stud records do not yet have information on Fantastic Light’s last crop of foals that would have been born this year, they do show he has 74 registered two-year-olds and 43 yearlings of 2012. The yearlings include a colt out of Sheikh Mohammed’s stakes-placed mare Ashraaf, a daughter of Deputy Minister from Alydar’s family who was a $2.3 million Keeneland yearling in 2001, and a filly out of Sheikh Mohammed’s Broad Choice, a mare by A.P. Indy out of Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) winner Unbridled Elaine.

     Thus, even though he may no longer be covering mares, Fantastic Light’s story as a sire has not yet reached its end, and his feats as a runner will long be remembered.

      “He was a truly great racehorse,” Tait said. “He is a striking horse, very athletic and very intelligent, and is loved and admire by all of our team.”

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