This past November marked 20 years since the Aga Khan’s Kalanisi conquered America with a memorable victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs. In the decades since that famous win which made news headlines around the world, he’s become a prolific sire of racehorses across the pond in the UK and Ireland.
Those equine athletes descended from Kalanisi haven’t just been making waves in Flat turf races either but over jumps. For evidence of that, see Champion Hurdle day at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival when he sired two winners at the premier British National Hunt meet of the year.
This highlights the lasting legacy that horses earning Breeders’ Cup World Championships victories can enjoy if all goes well with their careers at stud after life on the track ends. Don’t think for a minute that Kalanisi is done either, as his successful progeny over jumps will be heading back to Cheltenham in 2021 in search of more glory.
Of those sired by this great horse, The Conditional is probably the pluckiest underdog. An inmate in the humble stables of David Bridgwater, who would readily admit himself that he is not one of the big-name UK racehorse trainers, this horse has twice placed in the race best known as the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
At Cheltenham, meanwhile, The Conditional won the Ultima Handicap Chase in brave style in 2020. He also has a 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup entry off the back of that and other recent efforts.
While running in that might be a little ambitious, The Conditional may well try and win the same race again instead off 10lb higher in the handicap. Don’t be surprised if he goes down this route and features among tips and predictions of the Festival Handicap Steeple Chase, as three horses have made successful repeat bids before.
Another son of Kalinisi with a Cheltenham Gold Cup entry this year is Imperial Aura. He has made tons of progress for trainer Kim Bailey, who is based near the track.
Successful in a Listed novices’ handicap chase at the Festival in 2020, Imperial Aura has gone on to win an intermediate chase at Carlisle and the Grade 2 1965 Chase at Ascot. Despite a fall at Kempton in his Cheltenham prep run, any horse can be forgiven taking a tumble.
Imperial Aura looks more likely to stay in middle-distance steeplechases this season and run in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival than contest the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but plans can and do change. To go with these memorable Kalanisi winners at the meeting last year was Champion Hurdle third place runner Darver Star.
Trained in the Emerald Isle by Gavin Cromwell, he exploded onto the hurdles scene early in 2020 when making Honeysuckle pull out all the stops to win the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. Darver Star has since switched to steeplechases and had mixed results as a novice, so it will be interesting to see whether he keeps going over fences or reverts back to the smaller obstacles.