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Derby winner Sisfahan – another In Swoop or another flop?

Andrasch Starke, winning his 8. German Derby on Sisfahan. www.galoppfoto.de


David Conolly-Smith


Ausgabe 676 vom Freitag, 09.07.2021

The Hamburg Derby meeting has been and gone, but many questions remain. The Derby itself was an exciting race, and despite some scrimmaging on the bends (almost inevitable with a field of 20), it was basically a fair race with few hard luck stories and in Sisfahan (Isfahan) a worthy winner, who was clearly the best horse on the day the way the race was run, and we hope that he can go on to confirm the form in the manner of In Swoop (Adlerflug) last year, who later finished runner-up in the Grand Prix de Paris and Prix de l´Arc de Triomphe. The Schlenderhan homebred has continued in good form this year, winning group races at Longchamp and Chantilly, but was slightly disappointing when only fourth, though not beaten far, in last Sunday's Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud.

However a look at the list of past winners of the German Derby show that quite a few of them never won again, and in some cases never even ran again. Obviously we hope that the most recent winner of the race continues to thrive and improve. Sisfahan has been given an official rating of German GAG 96 ½ (=international 113), which is towards the bottom of the scale for a Derby winner, but in fact is the same rating as In Swoop last year, and that one´s rating went up to 122 in October.

Sisfahan certainly has the potential to improve significantly. He is very lightly raced and the Derby was only his fourth career start. He was a dark horse in the Derby field, but was obviously fancied as he started as fourth favourite at 23-2. He had run twice at two in the French provinces, winning his second start quite comfortably over 2000 metres on heavy ground in November, so that it was clear the stamina was there. On his only earlier start in 2021 he had been runner-up in the listed Düsseldorf Derby Trial, nor normally one of the strongest classic trials; the winner then Aff un Zo (Kallisto) finished a respectable fifth last Sunday, so it is clear that Sisfahan has already made huge improvement this season; his rating coming into the Derby was GAG 89, so he is officially improved  by 7½ kilos.

The Derby race itself was fairly straightforward. Sky Out (Adlerflug), in the In Swoop colours and with last year´s jockey in the saddle, made the running with the favourite Alter Adler (Adlerflug) always close up. Sisfahan was towards the rear of the closely-bunched field, and was fourth last into the straight. Jockey Andrasch Starke could be seen angling him towards the outside and, once in the straight, immediately brought Sisfahan over to the stands rail. Alter Adler had by now taken the lead and briefly looked certain to win. However Sisfahan could be seen charging down the wide outside, and although the two were wide apart, it was clear that Sisfahan was in front at the furlong pole and he went on to score comfortably enough by 1¼ lengths, with Imi (Tertullian) finishing well, also on the stands rail, to go third 1 1/2 lengths behind Alter Adler. The rest were all still fairly close, with only a dozen lengths separating the winner from the 19th horse home.

The time of 2 minutes 34.56 seconds was average, about nine seconds slower than the race record but still faster than all other 2400 metres races run at the meeting. The ground was drying out after heavy midweek rain, but was still probably on the slow side of good. We have seen before that the going on the stands side rail is often faster under these circumstances than it is on the inside, and Starke´s move to the outside undoubtedly played an important role in the result. It is impossible to day what would have happened if Alter Adler had gone with him, but a poll of racegoers later showed that a majority of them believe that Alter Adler would otherwise have won. In any case, Starke received all the plaudits for a canny ride; the 47-year-old jockey was born near Hamburg and is regarded as a local boy. This was his eighth Derby winner, and he thus equaled the historical record of Gerhard Streit, who rode 8 German Derby winners between 1938and 1961. For trainer Henk Grewe it was a first Derby success and ”a great weight off my mind.” Grewe, 38, has been training since 2014 and has had a meteoric rise to the top rank of German trainers. He was champion trainer in both 2019 and 2020 by the number of races won, and it is quite likely that he will this year be champion in terms of prize-money as well.

Sisfahan, a handsome chestnut, and very reminiscent of his sire Isfahan (Lord of England), the 2016 German Derby winner, was certainly one of the best-looking horses in the large field. He was bred in France by Guy Pariente and sent to the 2019 Arqana Autumn Mixed Sale, where he was bought privately for 16,000 euros by Holger Faust´s HFTB Racing Agency. Faust was acting for Christoph Holschbach, the leading owner in Grewe´s Cologne yard, and he ran last year in the joint ownership of Holschbach and Guy Pariente Holding. Faust is also racing manager for Darius Racing (Dr. Stefan Oschmann and his wife Shahpar) and he knew that they were looking for a potential German Derby starter, and so Sisfahan was acquired privately for a sum rumoured to be in the region of 150,000 euros. This was shortly before the Düsseldorf race, and Sisfahan was already well regarded in the Grewe stable. It has since been revealed that Michael Motschmann also has a 50% share. Oschmann and Motschmann are old Munich friends and also in the same line of business:  the former was for many years CEO and Chairman of the Board of pharmaceutical giant Merck, while Motschmann, who been an owner for 35 years, is a board member and leading shareholder of vaccine specialist BioNTech.

Sisfahan´s victory was of course also a feather in the cap of his own sire Isfahan, also owned by Darius Racing; a Derby winner in his first crop is quite an achievement. Isfahan was bred by trainer Andreas Wöhler and his wife Susi and was trained by Andreas himself. He won the Preis des Winterfavoriten at two and the Bavarian Classic at three, but never ran again after his Derby victory. He now stands at Gestüt Ohlerweiherhof and his fee this year was 4,500 euros. He has had some winners in France and Italy,  but this victory in Hamburg was his only success so far this year in Germany; however the Deutsches Derby is so much more valuable than any other German race that this one win is enough to put him on top of the German sires´ list at present. On his dam´s side Sisfahan is from a very stout French family, notable especially for top class N.H. performers.

Only later events will make clear how strong – or weak- the 2021 German Derby form is. Going into the race it looked a weak edition; many of the leading contenders missed the race for one reason or other, and only one of the 20 runners had won a Group race beforehand. We hope the form works out and certainly expect Sisfahan and Alter Adler to prove themselves to be genuine Group One performers. They are both entered in the same races and the Grosser Preis von Baden looks an obvious target for them both. That race could also see Torquator Tasso (Adlerflug) in the line-up. The day before the Derby he had won the Group Two Grosser Hansa-Preis, the second most important race of the meeting, in convincing style. He was runner-up to In Swoop in the 2020 German Derby and with this latest victory confirmed his status as Germany´s top older horse over the Derby distance. He is officially rated GAG 99 (118) so in theory should defeat the 3yo´s if, and when, they meet. However he is now at his peak and unlikely to improve much beyond his current rating (although he will have to if he is to win the Arc, now said to be his main target) while the younger horses definitely have improvement to come. The Grosser Preis von Baden could well turn out to be the key race of the season.

David Conolly-Smith

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