Racing a horse called Bless Me Pat with the local priest in central New South Wales and planning Blue Diamond and Golden Slipper campaigns might seem worlds apart, but actually, they're the same story, linked by Mark Sowerby.
In partnership with Ron Hamer, Mark races last Saturday's debut Randwick winner Aegean Sea and Maribyrnong Plate G3 winner Prompt Return. Both 2YOs are by Australia's leading first season sire Beneteau and both wear the same Blue Sky logo silks that Beneteau carried in his brilliant Sydney debut victory almost five years ago.
Prompt Return, trained by Danny O'Brien, won his first start at Bendigo in October, and stepped up to a fine Group 3 victory at Flemington on 8 November. The colt ended his first campaign with a good second to Carriages in Saturday's Magic Millions Clockwise Classic at Ballarat where he was unsuited by the tight track.
Mark says of Prompt Return, "He's done very well, he's been in work since the end of July and is now having a nice break at Barwon Heads. All going well, he'll head to the Blue Diamond and possibly the Golden Slipper, with the Coolmore Stud Stakes a likely target next season, given how well he handled the Flemington straight."
The Clarry Conners-trained Aegean Sea will probably be seen out again before Christmas. "We'd like her to have another run, it will season her for her second prep and take the pressure off having to qualify for the Slipper in the New Year. "
Mark also explains the subtle thinking behind the filly's name. Her dam Tyche (by Woodman's son Saltgrass) is named for the Greek goddess of good luck and fortune, and Beneteau is the famous French firm of luxury yacht designers and builders. The Aegean Sea, between Greece and Turkey, is where the two might naturally meet.
Mark's interest in horse-racing began 33 years ago with his family's first racehorse Bless Me Pat in Warren, Australia's "Cotton & Wool Capital", on the banks of the Macquarie River, more than 500 km north-west of Sydney.
These days he's based in Brisbane as the Managing Director of the Blue Sky Group, a private equity house Mark founded in 2006 to invest expansion capital into Australian small and medium-sized businesses.
It was Julian Blaxland's independent company Blue Sky Bloodstock which purchased the Arrowfield-bred colt Beneteau and gave its Stallion Fund concept a notable early success when the charismatic Redoute's Choice colt became one of the country's best juveniles in 2009/10.
Trained by Paul Messara, Beneteau brilliantly won his first start at Randwick in January 2010, and progressed immediately to victory in the MRC Blue Diamond Prelude G3. He started favourite in the Blue Diamond S. G1 and finished a close-up third to Star Witness and Shaaheq after a rough passage during the race.
Bad luck dogged Beneteau's final three starts at two and a spelling paddock injury prevented his return at three, so he joined the Arrowfield roster in 2011 at a fee of $11,000 inc. GST. Beneteau died in January 2013 after serving two books of mares that have produced a total of 135 live foals, five of which are owned by Ron and Mark.
Mark bred Aegean Sea while Ron bred Prompt Return (ex Prompt by Exceed and Excel), with each taking an ownership share of the other's foal at yearling stage.
Mark has a yearling full brother to Aegean Sea; Ron, also a part-owner of recently retired colt Dissident and promising Manhattan Rain filly Boundary, owns a yearling sister to Prompt Return; and together they own the 2YO Beneteau-Rocketing colt, who returned to work this week with trainer Mick Price.
Mark explains, "Ron was one of the first guys to back our Blue Sky investment business, he was a shareholder in Beneteau, and now he's either my good luck charm or I'm his!
"We never had any doubts about Beneteau as a sire, especially when we saw that his progeny look so much like him. They're very sound, with brilliant temperaments and scope for development at three."
Beneteau's too-early death inevitably shadows the performances of his sons and daughters. However, with first-crop contenders for two races that eluded him, the Blue Diamond and the Golden Slipper, Mark Sowerby and Ron Hamer have their sights fixed on a fairytale finish to the story of a very special colt.
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