When the committee of handicappers met to compile the International Classifications for 1994, they came to the decision that the best three-year-old colt in Europe wasn’t the Derby winner Erhaab, the Arc-winning Carnegie, the King George hero King’s Theatre or even the Turf Classic and Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Tikkanen. The honour went instead to Distant View, a Mr Prospector colt who had established himself as the best of the three-year-old milers. In rating him 128, they also considered him superior to such good older milers as Barathea (Breeders’ Cup Mile) and Bigstone (Prix d'Ispahan and Prix de la Foret).
The first indication of how good Distant View would become came when the Juddmonte homebred finished fifth of 23 behind Mister Baileys in the 2,000 Guineas just 16 days after making his racecourse debut. After successfully gaining more experience in winning a mile maiden race by 6 lengths, Distant View stepped back into Group 1 company in the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot, where the opposition featured Grand Lodge (a short-head second in the 2,000 Guineas), Green Tune (French 2,000 Guineas), Turtle Island (Irish 2,000 Guineas) and Royal Abjar (German 2,000 Guineas). Distant View again put up a tremendous effort for a colt of limited experience, taking the lead inside the final furlong only to be caught near the line by Grand Lodge.
Distant View again crossed swords with Grand Lodge and Mister Baileys when he challenged for the Sussex Stakes Gr.1, a championship event which also attracted the top older milers Barathea, Bigstone and Sayyedati. Although Distant View looked to have little hope of success when he was boxed in on the rails, he quickened magnificently as soon as he saw daylight, catching Barathea close home to break Goodwood’s mile record.
Although Distant View began his stud career in Kentucky in 1996 at the comparatively modest fee of $10,000, he excelled himself by producing a first crop which included not only Observatory but also Distant Music (four Group victories, including the Dewhurst Stakes Gr.1), Decarchy (a Grade 2 and Grade 3 winner on turf who earned over $700,000), Explicit (a very smart American sprinter who took his earnings to over $600,000 when he won the True North Handicap Gr.2), Fateful Dream (Inglewood Handicap Gr.3). These five Group or Graded winners came from a total of only 57 named foals.
Distant View’s subsequent crops also threw up some notable performers. Dr Brendler, a good winner in Ireland from Distant View’s second crop, did even better when he was transferred to the USA, where he won the Citgo Dixie Stakes Gr.2 on turf. But it was Distant View’s third crop which again demonstrated the heights of excellence of which he was capable. The star of the crop was Sightseek, a magnificent filly who earned nearly $2,500,000 in the process of winning ten graded stakes, including seven Grade 1 contests. Another major earner from this crop was Keeneland Swan, a high-class Japanese sprinter. Later crops produced Distant Way, twice a winner of the Premio Presidente della Repubblica Gr.1, and the smart American turf performers J’Ray and Sailor’s Cap.
With two-year-old ability so important in today's industry, especially to commercial breeders, it should be a considerable advantage that Observatory comes from a family which has always shown plenty of precocity and tremendous versatility.
His second dam, the two-year-old winner Victoria Star, was a close relative of Storm Bird, the outstanding juvenile of 1980 who sired Storm Cat, many-times champion sire of juveniles in North America. Not only were Victoria Star and Storm Bird both by Northern Dancer but Victoria Star’s dam, the Canadian Oaks winner Solometeor, was by a son of Chop Chop out of Solar Display, whereas Storm Bird's second dam Shining Sun was by Chop Chop out of Solar Display.
Solometeor had daughters by Nearctic’s sons Briartic and Northern Dancer which both did very well as broodmares. Solartic, her daughter by Briartic, was one of the best Canadian fillies of her generation, both at two and three. Solartic had the speed to win a stakes races at around 5 furlongs at two, when she was beaten only once in four starts, and she later stayed well enough to finish second in the Canadian Oaks over 9 furlongs. Mated to the versatile Roberto, himself a Group winner from 6 furlongs to 1½ miles, Solartic produced the admirably versatile Polemic. Fast enough to finish fourth of 12 in the Prix Morny Gr.1 at two, Polemic trained on into a very smart middle-distance filly, good enough to take second place in the Prix Saint-Alary Gr.1 over 1¼ miles. Another of Solartic's visits to Roberto resulted in Tralos, an unbeaten two-year-old who later became a Group 3 winner over 1½ miles.
Solometeor's Northern Dancer filly, Victoria Star, also visited Roberto, to produce Observatory's dam, Stellaria, who shares seven of her eight great-grandparents with Polemic and Tralos.
Bought by George Blackwell for $400,000 as a yearling in 1987, Stellaria quickly proved her worth. Jeremy Tree had her ready to run by early June, when she made most of the running to win a 5-furlong maiden race at Newbury by 4 lengths, and she returned to the Berkshire track the following month to lead throughout in the Manton Rose Bowl Stakes, a Listed race over 6 furlongs. Transferred to the States, Stellaria added another victory, this time over 8½ furlongs.
Stellaria was one of four black-type performers produced by Victoria Star. Cogency (by Buckpasser) was third in the Norfolk Stakes Gr.1 as a two-year-old; Potentiate (by Foolish Pleasure) was runner-up in the Dwyer Stakes Gr.1; and Bucksplasher (by Buckpasser) was third in the Gotham Stakes Gr.3. Bucksplasher was a tough performer, an earner of more than $125,000 and a winner five times at up to 9 furlongs. Retired to stud in Florida, largely on the strength of his bloodlines, Bucksplasher exceeded expectations by siring nearly 30 stakes winners, headed by eight Graded Stakes winners. Among them were Buck's Boy, whose victories in the Pan American Handicap, Turf Classic and Breeders' Cup Turf wrapped up the title of champion turf horse in 1998.
Stellaria proved every bit as effective a broodmare as her dam. Her first eight foals of racing age all won, with four of them proving well above average. In addition to Observatory, she is the dam of High Praise (by Quest For Fame), who won Group races over a mile at two and 1½ miles at three; Ninette (by Alleged), who earned a Timeform rating of 101, and Terrestrial (by Theatrical), who won two of his first three starts to establish himself as a leading contender for the 2001 Prix du Jockey-Club. Unfortunately Terrestrial fractured a cannon-bone shortly before the French Classic.
Another of Stellaria's daughters, En Garde, is the dam of Rebel Soldier, the Danehill Dancer colt who won the Gordon Stakes Gr.3 in 2010.
As a juvenile, Observatory showed the precocity we have come to expect from his family. Ready to race by the end of June, he ran out a very easy winner of a 6-furlong maiden race at Yarmouth on his debut. The Racing Post commented: “Observatory was always on the bridle and literally won hard held, being value for two to three times the winning distance.”
Unfortunately a throat infection meant that Observatory had to miss the races planned for him in the summer and he ran too freely, after a 12-week absence, when fourth in the Mill Reef Stakes Gr.2. He quickly showed that this wasn’t a true reflection of his ability when he returned to Yarmouth for a 6-furlong conditions stakes, winning in fine style. Raceform reported that he “bounced back to form with a very smoothly-gained success here. He looks a very exciting prospect for next season.”
Raceform’s prediction proved extremely accurate. After a promising second to Shibboleth, another of Juddmonte’s best prospects, in the King Charles II Stakes, Observatory graduated to Group-race company and took the transition in his stride. One of 19 runners in the Jersey Stakes Gr.3 at Royal Ascot, he ran on strongly to defeat Umistim.
His next chosen objective was another Group 3 contest over 7 furlongs, the Theo Fennell Lennox Stakes at Goodwood. This time Observatory was set to concede 4 lb to Three Points, a colt who was to win the Prix de Meautry Gr.3 on his next appearance, and he received only 2 lb from the year-older Swallow Flight, who, two outings earlier, had finished a very close third behind Kalanisi and Dansili in the Queen Anne Stakes Gr.2. Observatory showed how much progress he had made, drawing away in the final furlong to score by 1½ lengths from Three Points, with Swallow Flight beaten a total of 5 lengths into third.
“A strong finish has characterised both wins,” the Racing Post reported, “and John Gosden is now looking forward to stepping him up in distance for the Group 2 Celebration Mile, in which he looks sure to be a leading contender.”
That prediction proved close to the mark, with Observatory finishing an unlucky second after being crossed by the winner, Medicean. Kevin Darley lodged an objection against the winner for “taking my ground at the furlong marker,” but visibility was very poor and the result was allowed to stand.
The validity of Darley’s claim was made crystal clear when Observatory and Medicean met for a second time in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes Gr.1. This time their opposition included the phenomenal Giant’s Causeway, bidding for his sixth consecutive Group 1 success, plus horses of the calibre of Indian Lodge, Diktat, Best Of The Bests and Crimplene.
Although Medicean could finish only fourth, Observatory kept on so strongly that he headed Giant’s Causeway coming to the final 100 yards and powered his way to a half-length victory over the so-called Iron Horse, the pair finishing more than 3 lengths clear.
Inevitably, many commentators concentrated more on Giant’s Causeway’s defeat, rather than Observatory’s victory, suggesting that Observatory won partly because Giant’s Causeway didn’t see him in time to stage his customary late rally. Timeform dismissed such suggestions. “A cracking finish and a worthy winner, despite all the silly remarks in the media afterwards,” was their succinct summary.
And, as Kevin Darley was quick to point out, Giant’s Causeway wasn’t the only lazy, laid-back colt involved in the QE II finish. Observatory “only does what he has to,” he revealed and who’s to say that the winner would not also have found more, had the situation demanded it?
The compilers of the International Classifications agreed that Observatory’s win at Ascot was the finest display by any horse, of any age, anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, over the distance of a mile in the year 2000. With a figure of 126, he was rated superior to such as King’s Best (2,000 Guineas) and War Chant (Breeders’ Cup Mile). Timeform rated him 131, adding that “as well as having the form of a top horse, Observatory looks the part, since he is a strong, well-made, attractive colt.”
Observatory turned in another top-class display when he made his reappearance as a four-year-old in the Prix d’Ispahan Gr.1 over 9.2 furlongs. Showing the courage expected of him, Observatory held on to win from Hightori, who was thoroughly fit following his recent third in the Dubai World Cup.
Richard Hughes, riding the colt for the first time, was suitably impressed:
“Observatory is the new Iron Horse,” he suggested. “He’s very tough and refused to be beaten. He just wouldn’t let the runner-up get by.”
Observatory next finished a respectable fourth to Fantastic Light in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes. He wasn’t his normal self, though, sweating up and pulling hard, and he it was soon discovered that he was suffering from a pelvic injury, and his racing career was over. His final record stood at six wins, two seconds and two fourths from ten starts, his wins coming over every distance from six to nine furlongs.
“He’s a top-class colt with a most impressive record,” said his trainer John Gosden.
“He’d made a great start to this season when beating Hightori in the Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp, and he gave the impression in his work that he was as brilliant as ever.
“However, he was lame after Royal Ascot and x-rays revealed the hairline fracture. I suspect that he may have been feeling the injury at Ascot, though you cannot be certain of these things.”
Gosden added: “Observatory’s injury is not a major problem by any means, but we agreed it was unlikely that he’d be able to return to racing this season and it therefore seemed sensible to retire him.
“He’s a nicely balanced horse with a good action and he’s the type to do extremely well as a stallion.”
Observatory is only medium-sized and he has consistently shown his appreciation of sizeable mares, especially those with Nijinsky blood. Mated to New Orchid, a big mare who is inbred 4 x 2 to Nijinsky, he sired the very talented filly African Rose, who followed up her second in the Prix Maurice de Gheest Gr.1 with a victory over the males in the Ladbrokes Sprint Cup Gr.1. A second mating with New Orchid also worked very well, producing the very smart 2010 two-year-old Helleborine. Despite being a May 19th foal, Helleborine won her first three starts, beating the future Group winner Pontenuovo on her debut, then coming from last to first to take a Listed race before winning the Prix d'Aumale Gr.3. She confirmed her class when second in the Prix Marcel Boussac Gr.1.
A mating with Nijinsky’s grand-daughter Double Crossed also produced a top-class performer in Twice Over, who finally ended Prince Khalid’s long wait for a winner of the Juddmonte International by defeating Midday in 2011. This was a fourth Gr.1
success for Twice Over, winner previously of the Champion Stakes Gr.1
at four and five and of the Coral-Eclipse Gr.1
at five. Twice Over also defeated Raven’s Pass to take the Craven Stakes Gr.3
and demonstrated his versatility when third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic Gr.1
Observatory had got off to a fast start as a stallion in 2005, taking high rank among the leading first-crop sires. His 14 juvenile winners included two of Britain’s best two-year-old fillies. Violette – showing all the toughness we came to expect of Observatory – finished first or second in eight of her ten starts, notably winning the Firth of Clyde Stakes Gr.3 by 3 lengths and failing by only a neck to take the Rockfel Stakes Gr.2. Observatory’s other stakes winner, Nidhaal, was so impressive in winning the Dick Poole Fillies’ Stakes that she started second favourite for the Cheveley Park Stakes Gr.1. Star Cluster, another of Observatory’s first-crop daughters, showed great potential in winning an 18-runner maiden race at Newmarket on her debut and duly became her sire’s third stakes winner at three.
These good early results were reflected in the mares which visited Observatory in 2006 and these mares produced another good team of two-year-olds in 2009, including Sebastain Flyte, Nosedive, the very promising French filly Argumentative and Spying among his 15 winners. Sebastian Flyte failed by only a neck to land the Hollywood Derby Gr.1 after being transferred to the States.
Observatory has all the ingredients which go to make a stallion, notably outstanding ability, a great will to win and a tough constitution. Moreover, he comes from a female line which has already produced sires of major winners. Past clients of Banstead Manor will also appreciate that - like the stud’s previous Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner Warning - Observatory is out of a stakes-winning daughter of Roberto. Warning’s seven years at Banstead Manor yielded a remarkable total of 25 Group winners, including four at Group 1 level.
Perhaps Observatory was as good as he was because he is inbred to three stallions which were champions in their home country at two before taking Horse of the Year honours at three. He is inbred 5 x 3 to Northern Dancer, 4 x 4 to Nashua and 4 x 5 to Native Dancer, with none of this inbreeding being close enough to limit Observatory's options as a stallion. Indeed, with his third generation featuring Raise A Native, Irish River, Hail To Reason and Northern Dancer, he offers breeders ample scope for reinforcing the influence of four of the world’s most outstanding male lines. Indeed Nidhaal is inbred 3 x 4 to Mr Prospector, while Violette, Twice Over and African Rose are inbred 4 x 4 to Northern Dancer and Star Cluster and Sebastian Flyte are inbred 4 x 3. His Listed winner Chasing Stars is inbred 3 x 3 to Roberto and 4 x 3 to Northern Dancer.