The legacy of Sharpen Up

Filed on 19 Sep 2006 @ 10:33

The legacy of Sharpen Up

By Sue Cameron

It is a fact that, until comparatively recently, things have always changed very slowly in racing; sometimes what seem obviously sensible changes never happen at all.

In their essay on Sharpen Up’s two-year-old career in Racehorses of 1971, Timeform point out that the Free Handicap is no longer headed by sprint-bred youngsters who never raced beyond six furlongs, and that the race itself, over seven furlongs, is hardly geared to those who do appear in the top weights – the Dewhurst, Racing Post Trophy (as it now is), Royal Lodge and Champagne Stakes winners – with as many as 40% of the horses which receive an assessment in Timeform’s words having “little chance, let alone an average chance, of winning the race, almost regardless of the weight they are allotted? because of the distance, or lack of it, of the event.

Timeform further point out that the situation is bordering on the farcical, given that the point of a handicap is to equalize the chances of the participants. They suggested that the race should be extended to a mile or even nine furlongs to eliminate the bias in favour of speed horses, without giving the stayers an edge. Thirty five years later nothing has changed.

The essay was prompted by the fact that the unbeaten Sharpen Up ranked only sixth on the Free Handicap, despite the fact that his five victories included the Seaton Delaval and the Middle Park Stakes. His Timeform rating was 127.

Unbeaten at two

Bred and owned by Mimi van Cutsem, the colt was trained by her husband Bernard in Newmarket. He opened his account in a five furlong maiden plate at Leicester in June, beating his opponents by an easy four lengths. Doncaster’s Cantley Plate over a furlong further was the next engagement and he won by a length from Freeman, with eight others well behind.

Now it was time for a step up, and the Hyperion Stakes at Ascot, also over six furlongs. Royal Ascot winner Dawn Review was in the field, but Sharpen Up made all the running, quickening clear to win by three lengths, with considerably more in hand. The five furlong Seaton Delaval at Newcastle was next. This time the colt was settled in behind but cruised past the others two furlongs out to easily take the race from the useful Avon Valley, who was receiving 8lbs.

Sharpen Up’s run in the Middle Park, where he faltered at the line and only just held Philip of Spain, with Sun Prince, Smokey Haze and Great Uncle Porter behind, did not impress Timeform’s watchers unduly and they were of the opinion that six furlongs was his limit and he was unlikely to repeat his victory in the 2000 Guineas.

Timeform’s change of heart

Events the following year, however, changed their opinion and they finished by regretting that Sharpen Up was never tried over a mile as his style of racing had suggested that a longer trip would suit him admirably. Connections, however, seemed convinced that they had a pure sprinter on their hands, despite the considerable amount of stamina in his family.

Connections seemed convinced that they had a pure sprinter on their hands

His first outing at three was in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury in April, where he went down by three lengths to Martinmas, who was to prove a very smart miler. Sharpen Up was giving 5lbs to all but one of the field and he had Roy Bridge, Sun Prince and Redundant well over five lengths behind him, and he had run on well in the last furlong.

The form of the race was not far off his best but, after an absence of almost three months, the colt was brought back to sprinting. Although he sweated up badly in the paddock beforehand, Sharpen Up put up a tremendous display in the July Cup, running Parsimony to a neck. He was putting in all his best work at the end of the race, but his next and final outing was over a furlong shorter in the Nunthorpe Stakes at York, where he was run off his legs and finished last.

Retired to stud

In those happy days horses were syndicated for stud duty in, normally, 40 shares, with each shareholder having the right to send a mare each year or sell the nomination. The stud usually got two nominations and the suitability of visiting mares was strictly vetted by the syndicate managers. The whole system ensured that the supply of horses was rationed, that they were as well bred as possible and that the stallion, if at all competent, profited from high ratios of winners to runners.

Sharpen Up was syndicated for £3,750 per share, giving a valuation of £150,000, and retired to Side Hill Stud in Newmarket.

The Return of Mares for 1974 lists My Swallow with the then amazing figure of 70 mares as the busiest English based sire, and even in Ireland the two most active jumping sires, Prince Hansel (92) and Menelek (91), had not yet reached the century mark.

Sharpen Up is listed as having covered only 34 mares in his initial season, resulting in 13 colts, 12 fillies and one foal abroad. Maybe breeders’ memories were as short then as they are now, or maybe the unfamiliarity of his sire and some of the contradictions of his pedigree versus his racecourse performances discouraged them.

The pedigree

His sire Atan ran only once, winning a five furlong event at Aqueduct by six lengths in a very fast time. An injury sustained during the race ended his career so it was impossible to know whether speed was his forte or whether he could have emulated his sire Native Dancer, who won 22 races including the Belmont and Preakness Stakes. Atan spent two seasons at stud in the States before being imported to Ireland to stand at the late Tim Rogers’ Grange William Stud in Co. Kildare. He stemmed from the great Aloe family, nurtured in the Royal Studs, of 1000 Guineas heroine Hypericum, leading sire Aureole, Doutelle, Above Suspicion and the great Round Table.

In only two seasons in Ireland, standing at 100 guineas, Atan also got another prolific juvenile winner in Sea Music and the sprint handicapper Capriole.

Sharpen Up’s female line is full of stamina. His dam Rocchetta showed fair form at two, but did not go on from that and appeared to need a distance of ground. Her first four foals all won, the other three being Monhegan (by Sea Hawk), a winner over 14 furlongs, Home Cooking, who stayed a mile and a quarter, and Black Melody, who won over an extended seven furlongs in France as a two-year-old. She subsequently produced the Warpath filly Jury’s Princess and Savant, by Supreme Sovereign, both winners over 12 furlongs.

Rocchetta herself was a sister to Riches, later dam of Lady Beaverbrook’s smart miler Richboy, and to Outcrop, winner of the Yorkshire Oaks and Park Hill Stakes and the leading staying filly of 1963, and at the same time three-parts sister to the very smart sprinter Shamrock Star and his brothers Alba Rock and Star Combine. The former won from five furlongs to a mile and the latter scored at five, six, eight and nine furlongs.

There is only one duplication in the first five generations of Sharpen Up’s pedigree. Hyperion is the grandsire of his dam and the great grandsire of his sire’s dam, although Hyperion’s half-brother Sickle appears in the fifth generation as Atan’s great, great, great grandsire. Nearco is notable by his absence, a feature which immediately makes Sharpen Up a great outcross for many of today’s pedigrees.

Polynesian, 1942
Native Dancer, 1950
Geisha, 1943
Atan, 1961
Tudor Minstrel, 1944
Mixed Marriage, 1952
Persian Maid, 1947
Hyperion, 1930
Rockefella, 1941
Rockfel, 1935
Rochetta, 1961
Majano, 1937
Chambiges, 1949
Chanterelle, 1940

Early success

Whatever the early doubts, Sharpen Up swiftly put paid to them. His first crop yielded 20 runners at two and no less than 10 of them, or 50%, won, including the very smart sprinter Dublin Taxi, who won in France and also the Listed Premio Virginio Curti in Italy. He went to collect 10 victories in all, including the Group 3 Premi Melton and Umbria over six furlongs in Italy before retiring to stud. He moved to Rathbarry Stud in Ireland in 1986 and proved a decent sire of juveniles.

Sharpen Up continued as he had begun, and throughout his career consistently delivered not only a high percentage of winners to runners, but also a high percentage of winners to foals, a very important factor for breeders although many seem to neglect it.

Despite this early success, however, it would have taken a brave man to predict just how much influence this outstanding sire would wield, both on his own account and through his sons and daughters.

He became Leading Sire of Two-Year-Olds in 1978, coinciding with the emergence of his great son Kris, and repeated the feat in 1982. He was also leading British-based sire in 1979.


But it was the racecourse feats of Kris which really established Sharpen Up as a sire of real note. Among his 14 successes from 16 starts the twice champion European miler won the Sussex, Queen Elizabeth II, St. James’s Palace, Lockinge, Greenham and Newmarket Challenge and the Waterford Crystal Mile, as well as the Horris Hill as a juvenile. On his other two starts he was second in the 2000 Guineas and in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Kris’s exploits at stud need little introduction; he has produced a constant stream of top class racehorses including the Classic winners Oh So Sharp (Fillies’ Triple Crown), Unite, Flash of Steel and Rafha, Common Grounds, a successful sire himself, Balisada, Single Empire, Riviera, Fitnah, Sudden Love, Shavian, Shamshir, Divine Danse, Sure Blade, Moon Cactus and Nawajiss. He has also become a leading broodmare sire, his daughters having delivered many outstanding horses,

Sharpen Up’s fourth crop contained Sharpo, an outstanding sprinter on straight courses. He won the July Cup, the Prix de l’Abbaye and the Sprint Championship at York three times among his seven victories, but at stud his record could only be described as reasonable. He does get a good percentage of winners to runners from his daughters however.


Kris’s little brother Diesis, foaled in 1980, was a brilliant two-year-old, winning both the Middle Park and the Dewhurst Stakes. Winter favourite for the 2000 Guineas, his preparation was already hindered by an abnormally wet spring, leading to the abandonment of many of the normal prep races, when he pulled up lame on the gallops in April and had a week off work. He was then injured again shortly before the race, so the fact that he ran at all was surprising. It was not surprising, though, that he finished in mid-field behind Lomond. One more outing saw him beaten into second in the Heron Stakes.

He was sold to the USA and retired to Mill Ridge Farm in Kentucky at a fee of US$35,000. The rest is history, as his influence, both as a sire and broodmare sire, has extended round the world. From his 20 crops came 77 stakes winners, including Halling, now a leading sire himself, Ramruma, Diminuendo, Love Divine, Elmaamul, Storm Trooper, Keen Hunter and many more.


There are a good number of other sons of Sharpen Up at stud, including Prix du Jockey Club winner Sanglamore, Prix Lupin victor Exactly Sharp, Sharp Victor and Arc winner Trempolino. Trempolino has compiled an enviable record as a sire and broodmare sire, with Group 1 winners Snow Polina, Juvenia, Valixir, Germany, Dernier Empereur, Zimbamia and Bike to his credit, as well as such as Blue Canari (Prix du Jockey Club), Chelsea Rose (Moyglare Stud Stakes), Breeders’ Cup Juvenile scorer Action This Day and Round Pond among the progeny of his daughters, and another who has an outstanding record is Selkirk.

Sharpen Up was a highly successful progenitor whose influence will be felt for many years to come

An excellent miler himself, winning the Queen Elizabeth II, Challenge and Lockinge Stakes and the Celebration Mile among his six victories, he has proved a major asset to British breeding from his base at Lanwades Stud. He consistently gets top class runners: Wince, Sulk, Field of Hope, Squeak, Leadership, Red Bloom, Altieri, Favourable Terms, Prince Kirk, Trans Island, Kirkwall and The Trader are just a few of them. He too is proving a useful broodmare sire.

No biography of Sharpen Up would be complete without mention of his brilliant daughter Pebbles. Foaled in 1981 and trained by Clive Brittain, the whippet like filly was the first British runner to win the Breeders’ Cup (Turf), and her other seven victories included the Guineas, the Champion Stakes, the Eclipse, the Nell Gwyn and the Trusthouse Forte Mile. Unfortunately, as a broodmare, she has proved rather less successful, although her grandchildren include one or two useful performers.

Sharpen Up to America

Sharpen Up’s domestic success led inevitably to his sale to the States, and he crossed the Atlantic to his new base at Gainesway Farm in Lexington, where he died in 1992, in 1980. The writer was lucky enough to see him there soon after his arrival, when he was described by the farm manager as “One of the best looking horses I have ever seen?.

His final career scores of 72 stakes winners (17.4%) and 69% winners to runners from the foal crops of 1974 to 1990 tells the story of a highly successful progenitor whose influence will be felt for many years to come. Thirty nine of his daughters have so far produced Group winners, 12 of them at the highest level. This dozen includes the leading sires Cadeaux Genereux, Danehill Dancer, Dashing Blade and 2000 Guineas winner Mister Baileys, while Dominion Royale, a useful sire in South Africa, was a Group 3 scorer. As a broodmare sire his scores so far are 65.3% winners to runners and 5.8% stakes winners to runners.

Much more could be written about Sharpen Up and his male and female descendants and their achievements, but the above should give a taste of just what he has accomplished and what a legacy he has left to us.

Filed on 19 Sep 2006 @ 10:33