Decleration of War in the walking ring before the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes. Photo courtesy of Heather Seiden
Bunny Hinzman catches up with owner-breeder Joe Allen. His past successes are headlined by the great mare Just a Game and one of North America’s hottest sires War Front. His top colts, co-owned by the Coolmore Stud partnership of Susan Magnier, Michael Tabor, and Derrick Smith, lead a battalion of War Front performers. Here, Allen shares his thoughts on his current star Declaration of War and the colt’s Breeders’ Cup possibilities.
“When you get a young horse that was as attractive as he was, you are very hopeful. … He was very special from the beginning and he has proven himself over time,” said Allen.
Declaration of War is a striking design of strength and power – a true product of his pedigree. Sired by War Front, he runs as a living, breathing testament of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector. Legendary broodmare sires such as Princequillo, Blushing Groom, and Northern Dancer’s son Nijinsky II all stake a claim to Declaration of War’s heritage. As if an accompaniment of fine wine with Chateaubriand, his dam, Tempo West, is a half-sister to the Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags.
Northern Dancer resonates through generations of Declaration of War, arming him for battle against the fiercest competitors. War Front has the great patriarch on both top and bottom of his pedigree – he is by Danzig and out of Starry Dreamer, a mare by Rubiano (a son of Fappiano out of a Nijinsky II mare). Declaration of War’s dam, Tempo West, has an equally significant amount of this blood. Her second dam was by Nijinsky II. Her sire, Rahy, is out of a mare by Halo (a son of Cosmah, a top-notch producer and daughter of Almahmoud, who is Northern Dancer’s second dam).
In North America, War Front is arguably the strongest representative of Northern Dancer standing at stud today. He stands at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky. with the potential to develop into a great sire of sires, already passing his likeness on to his offspring. Bred by Allen, War Front’s colts have dominated 2013 on the world-class level. Lines of Battle kicked off the year by winning the United Arab Emirates Derby. Declaration of War’s Group 1 win in the Queen Anne Stakes was followed up by War Command’s Coventry Stakes victory in the Group 2 Coventry Stakes on the same card. War Command confirmed himself as one of the world’s top juveniles with a win in the Group 1 Dewhurst Stakes on soft turf that was not to his liking.
“War Front seems to stamp most of his progeny. They’re bay and they are big, strong horses.” Allen said. “Declaration of War is particularly similar on his conformation and temperament. He has very good legs like his sire and he has a wonderful temperament, just like War Front. And they both could run which also helps!”
Despite suffering a setback early in his 2-year-old year, Declaration of War rebounded. He went unbeaten in his two starts as a juvenile for French trainer Jean-Claude Rouget. In fact, he mowed down his opponents in both races by a combined margin of 11 lengths.
In early 2012, Coolmore Stud acquired interest in Declaration of War and was consequently transferred to Ballydoyle. Battling an additional setback during that time, trainer Aidan O’Brien worked diligently to get the colt back to the races before the end of the racing season.
The goal of his 3-year-old campaign: to build experience before his 4-year-old season when he would be challenged by top older horses. In September, he made his 3-year-old debut at the Curragh for the Solonaway Stakes. Joseph O’Brien got the leg up on Declaration of War for the first time in that Group 3 race. In the one-mile contest, the colt experienced his first career defeat, finishing fourth.
Following the 4-length loss, Declaration of War returned to the same venue for his next outing. Declaration of War would have to journey into uncharted territory when he had to compete at the 1¼-mile distance and the course came up as heavy. In a show of stamina and versatility, he finished the event convincingly, winning with a notable 3 ½-length advantage over his nearest rival.
Declaration of War’s connections tested his abilities further when they opted to run the colt back off a short rest. He had just a 5-day break before his next race – the Group 3 Diamond Stakes. Contested on Dundalk’s all-weather surface, he won the about 1 5/16-mile race by a half-length. In doing so, he made his record a perfect 3-for-3 on synthetic footing.
Declaration of War retreated to his Ballydoyle camp until the following year.
Allen said: “Aidan got him ready at the very end of his 3-year-old season and, of course, he then gave him the winter off and prepared him for his 4-year-old campaign, which was very difficult. Aidan said, ‘We’ve always thought he was a very good horse and we’ve thrown him into the fire as a 4-year-old.’ ”
Allen had confidence in his auspicious colt as well as O’Brien’s ability to bring him to the track in prime condition.
“What we’ve had to do is play catch-up for the 4-year-old campaign. He never really had a good 2- or 3-year-old campaign. …The real issue with him was getting him fit, getting him to run with the top competition without having the experience of his opponents. That really was the concern and I think Aidan O’Brien is a great trainer. We’ve really thrown him into the fire and he’s responded. ”
In 2013, Declaration of War made his 4-year-old debut in Leopardstown’s Heritage Stakes. However, his return to the track was drenched with rain and the turf course came up soft. Nonetheless, it did not hamper his return to the races. The substantial colt won the one-mile race by 2 ½ lengths.
DECLARATION OF WAR WINS 2013 LEOPARDSTOWN'S HERITAGE STAKES
Declaration of War with Joseph O’Brien up wins the Heritage Stakes. Photo courtesy of Jason Doyle
Next time out, though, he would finish a distant fifth-best to Farhh in the 12-horse Lockinge Stakes.
“I think his most disappointing performance was when he ran at Newbury in the Lockinge,” Allen said. “We thought he would run much better than he did. Aidan took the blame for it, saying he didn’t have him fit enough, and he trained him a lot harder after that race.”
Declaration of War traveled to Ascot Racecourse’s pristine green for his most important event thus far - perhaps the most storied contest of Royal Ascot’s meet – the Queen Anne Stakes. The race, named for the woman who established the course, kicks off the boutique meet and attracts the world’s best milers. In this year’s renewal, the footing came up as good for the impressive 13-horse lineup.
Though America’s hope, Animal Kingdom, garnered the spotlight before the race, O’Brien now had Declaration of War primed and prepared to realize the apex of his potential. Allen spoke about his horse’s chances. “I thought we had a good chance of winning the Queen Anne – I always thought we were going to win with him. He’s just one of those horses where he trains well and you think he’s going to perform well. The issue is if he’s truly ready for it, and he really wasn’t when he ran at Newbury. Aidan trained him quite hard before he ran in the Queen Anne and he ran a very good race.”
Though fractious at the break, Declaration of War did not expend much energy before settling comfortably into fifth on the far side, sharing that position with Animal Kingdom. As the tempo quickened, Joseph O’Brien allowed his mount to travel toward the outer rail in search of daylight. He found a small opening and boldly unleashed his charge’s commanding kick. The robust bay tackled the leaders and sallied to the lead in deep stretch. He passed the final post three-quarters of a length ahead of his nearest opponent.
Declaration of War’s Queen Anne win was the glorious payoff of patience and perseverance from his connections. Declaration of War might have been a surprise to some with his win in Royal Ascot’s storied, opening race. However, his promise and sound résumé gave him a convincing chance evident to Allen who anticipated his high level of performance.
In his next outing, Declaration of War offered a formidable runner-up effort to Al Kazeem in the Group 1 Eclipse Stakes. He was blessed when Sandown’s turf was rated as good to firm on the sunny afternoon. At the start of the about 1 ¼-mile race, the entire field broke alertly and Declaration of War was third-fastest from the starting gate. Joseph O’Brien promptly steadied his mount to near the back of the field. Though he restrained Declaration of War throughout the race, the colt settled comfortably in fourth.
Into the straight, Declaration of War traveled wide to make his bid for the lead. However, his stablemate Mars drifted to the outer rail and seemed to impede on his drive. When Declaration of War did get a clear shot for the lead, Joseph O’Brien seemed to have trouble igniting his finishing kick. Nonetheless, Declaration of War was able to quicken and cover enough ground to get the edge over Mukhadram for second.
The colt’s next race came in the form of the Group 1 Sussex Stakes in which he faced a challenging lineup that included the top 3-year-olds Dawn Approach and Toronado. Assigned to start from the third-farthest stall from the rail, Declaration of War had a somewhat awkward break. It did not prevent him from keeping up with his rivals; Declaration of War was brought back to fourth in the strung-out field. However, in these early portions of the race, he never seemed to cover the ground fluidly.
Into the stretch, Joseph O’Brien angled the 4-year-old to the outside. Declaration of War’s stride extended to quickly cover the ground that separated him from the charging chestnut Dawn Approach. He fought on willingly but couldn’t surpass the Two Thousand Guineas winner. Bidding for the 3-year-old division title, Toronado surged from out of the clouds and passed Declaration of War and runner-up Dawn Approach for the win. Defeated by a total of three lengths in the 1-mile race at Goodwood, he nonetheless offered a strong effort.
Declaration of War marched onto the Deauville turf for his next Group 1 attempt in the Prix Jacques Le Marois. There he faced some difficult adversaries. Aside from trying to turn the tables on Dawn Approach, he would have to overwhelm the magnificent French filly Moonlight Cloud in the 1-mile event. Ryan Moore had the call to navigate the Irish-based colt over the straight course.
In the Jacques Le Marois, Declaration of War broke second closest from the rail and was bumped at the start. The field spread out in a wall across the course and Declaration of War was held back behind them. He came under urging with less than three furlongs left but couldn’t find an opening to run through until late in the race. Once he got clear, he came forward with a blasting kick and rallied for fourth behind Moonlight Cloud, Olympic Glory, and Intello.
Though he was defeated by two lengths, Declaration of War could easily have been the best horse that day.
“I think one of his most impressive races was when he was fourth in France,” Allen said. “He checked three times in that race and managed to come up. That was probably one of the toughest races at a mile this year. The level of competition was really superior. We were very pleased with the way he ran, but that’s horseracing – sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”
Declaration of War added a win to his impressive record in his most recent outing, the Group 1 International Stakes on good to firm turf at York. Joseph O’Brien got back aboard the War Front colt for the about 1 5/16-mile race in which he faced Trading Leather, Al Kazeem, Toronado, and consistent performer Hillstar.
Declaration of War was actually slow from the gates but showed his usual eagerness upon getting into stride. He galloped into third behind the pacesetting Trading Leather and Al Kazeem. Declaration of War maintained his good stalking position on the rail throughout the early fractions of the race. At the top of the homestretch, he was brought out from the inside for a clear shot at the lead. He charged down the grass strip with flying strides and seemed the best horse in a three-way fight with the pacemaking duo. Al Kazeem and Trading Leather could not hold off the brawny bay’s relentless pursuit and eventually tired. Declaration of War powered ahead to win by 1 ¼ lengths.
Coming off his International Stakes victory, Declaration of War’s connections entertained the prospect of racing him on British Champions Day. However, the soft condition of Ascot’s turf tuned them away and they are running him straight into the Breeders’ Cup Classic off the International win.
Allen always preferred the Classic over other Breeders’ Cup events, such as the Mile or Turf. He explained that Declaration of War had already proven himself at a mile and he would not travel well on Santa Anita’s hard turf course.
“We thought he’d get a mile and a quarter,” Allen said. “He did very well in the Eclipse and he obviously ran extremely well at York [in the International Stakes]. The Classic is a new challenge. He’s never run on dirt, which makes it more difficult. If he runs in the money, that would be fabulous.”