A Consistent and Proven Sire of Stakes Winners


Bay 2003 by Mark of Esteem – Percy's Lass by Blakeney

A tribute to Sir Percy – WHO retires from covering duties

By Emma Berry

Cast your mind back to the spring and summer of 2006. In many ways not much was different then to now. Aidan O’Brien had won the 2,000 Guineas with George Washington (Ire) (Danehill) and the Oaks with Alexandrova (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells).

It was the year in which Galileo (Ire) first came to prominence as a sire when his first-crop daughter Nightime (Ire) won the Irish 1,000 Guineas and his sons, led by Sixties Icon (GB), filled the first three places in the St Leger, though remarkably none of this quartet was trained at Ballydoyle.

But it was also a season in which some notable blows were landed for the smaller operators: Pam Sly and Micky Fenton won the 1,000 Guineas with Speciosa (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}), a breakthrough Classic success not just for trainer and jockey, but also for the breeze-up sector, with the filly having been purchased by Sly for £30,000.

Even more remarkably, the Derby was won by a colt picked up by his trainer Marcus Tregoning as a yearling for just 16,000gns, making him one of only 13 winners of the Derby in the last 50 years to have been sold at public auction, and certainly the least expensive.
Sir Percy’s blue riband may have been claimed by just a short-head, with another head and short-head splitting the first four home, but it was no fluke. The best of his generation in Britain as a two-year-old, when he sailed unbeaten through four races, including the G2 Vintage and G1 Dewhurst S., he had found only George Washington too good for him when second in the 2,000 Guineas. If not life-changing as such, Sir Percy’s accomplishments certainly altered the path which his owners Anthony and Victoria Pakenham would steer in the years to follow.

Now 20, Sir Percy has been officially retired from stud duties after serving 16 seasons at Lanwades, not far from where he was born. His life was touched by tragedy early on, when he was orphaned as a three-week-old foal at Old Suffolk Stud just outside Newmarket. His breeder, Harry Ormesher, had bought his dam Percy’s Lass (GB) (Blakeney {GB}) from Sheikh Mohammed, who had acquired her among a bulk purchase of the stock of the late Eric Moller. Though not having produced much during her time at Darley, she was from a family that had been active within the Moller brothers’ White Lodge Stud through four generations back to their influential foundation mare Horama (GB). Her own pedigree offered plenty of hints of Epsom: Percy’s Lass’s dam Laughing Girl (GB) (Sassafras {Fr}) had been fourth in the Oaks and was a half-sister to the Oaks runner-up Furioso (GB), while her sire Blakeney had of course won the Derby (with this achievement being emulated four years later by his half-brother Morston).

Ormesher was unbending in his belief that Darley’s 2,000 Guineas winner Mark Of Esteem (Ire), a son of Darshaan (GB), was the correct mating for Percy’s Lass. She was carrying to him when she was bought for 28,000gns in 1998, a mating that produced the treble winner and 97-rated Love Token (GB). She returned to Mark Of Esteem every year for the rest of her life, those four coverings producing two more foals, including the winner and black-type producer Lady Karr (GB). When Percy’s Lass died of colic in the spring of 2003, her parting gift to Ormesher for his unerring faith was her young foal who would become the winner of the greatest race of them all.

The colourful Ormesher, an award-winning photographer and former publicity agent for Red Rum, died in 2015 at the age of 81. This correspondent was dispatched to interview him in 2006 ahead of Sir Percy’s Classic triumph, when he said, “Someone recently said it ’s a fluke for a small stud having Sir Percy but I disagree. I sent Percy ’s Lass to Mark Of Esteem repeatedly for two reasons. One is that I just love that Moller pedigree: Violetta, Favoletta, Furioso, Laughing Girl and so on. If you watch, it ’s always throwing something up. I knew it would suit Darshaan. Also, I went to the sales after I bought Percy ’s Lass and looked at her offspring and they had terrible front legs but Love Token ’s legs were great. That ’s why I kept going back.”

Ormesher had sold Sir Percy as a foal, and with a nice nod to family history, the buyers had been Will Edmeades, who had signed for Percy’s Lass on Ormesher’s behalf, and Chris Budgett, whose father Arthur had bred, owned and trained Sir Percy’s damsire Blakeney. As a pinhooking venture it was not successful, their original outlay of 20,000gns failing to be met when the colt returned to the ring as a yearling. Those two good horsemen can bask now in reflected glory, but any frustration they may have felt at the time was shared by Victoria Pakenham, who twice tried and failed to buy Sir Percy in the ring.

“We were the underbidders when he went through as a foal,” she recalls. “And I asked someone to bid for him at the yearling sales. Then I was suddenly asked, at very short notice, to fly to Hong Kong for a business meeting, and it was the day he was going through the ring, and so I wasn't able to remind them to do their bit. I got to the hotel in Hong Kong and found that someone else, Marcus, had bought Sir Percy, and was furious with my myself for failing to remind the person I’d asked.”

The trail had not gone completely cold, however.  Victoria’s mother was a cousin of Sheila Hern, whose husband Dick was Tregoning’s old boss. An introduction was made and Pakenham duly enquired about buying a share in Sir Percy.

“Marcus had bought him with someone else in mind who had been a bit slow to make up their mind, and he said, ‘I'll give them a fortnight, and if they don't confirm, then you can come and see him’,” she says.

“So we went to see him in December and thought he was lovely. We said to Marcus we'd take half, thinking that if Marcus wanted to keep a half it meant he liked him. So Marcus said, ‘No, no, no. You have the whole.’ So we did. And then we started to get little reports from him saying, ‘I feel guilty charging training fees because he's so straightforward’.”

She adds, “And then we got another report from Marcus saying, ‘It's amazing, he's so tough, he doesn't mind it going up the all-weather.’ And someone said, ‘Oh, he's just preparing you for the fact that he's going to be an all-weather horse.’ And then of course the miracle happened.”

That miracle, a small one when set against what would happen later in his career, was Sir Percy’s comfortable debut success in a six-furlong Goodwood maiden on May 28, 2005, making him the stable’s first juvenile winner of the season.

“We had an offer after that win straightaway, which we turned down,” Victoria says. “We were going to Salisbury for his second race, and Anthony and I don't back our own horses, and I remember Anthony saying, ‘We say we never bet, but this is the biggest bet we've ever had’. Because we turned down a lot of money for him.

“And of course then he won at Salisbury. And that was when Marcus made that amazing prediction, ‘He'll win the Champagne and then he'll win the Dewhurst’. My brother in America rang us just after Marcus had given interviews and said, ‘Have you heard what your trainer just said?’”

Horses can so often make fools of those spouting bold predictions, but in this regard Sir Percy didn’t let down either his trainer or owners. A month after Salisbury he was back at Goodwood to claim his first stakes success before biding his time to close out the season in style at Newmarket in October.

While his juvenile season had gone without a hitch, the winter that followed was anything but smooth, as Tregoning battled to ready Sir Percy for his Classic campaign.

“He had this ghastly accident when he pulled a shoe and about a third of the foot came with it,” Pakenham recalls. “So it was touch and go to get him ready for the Guineas and it was one of the reasons he didn't have a prep race beforehand. He had a racecourse gallop, but Marcus had to put special shoes on. And actually, what they think happened, because they didn't have the same grip, when he came out of the stalls in the Guineas, he slipped. But George Washington was a superstar, no question.”

With Sir Percy suffering muscle soreness in his back after the Guineas, it was again a race against time to have him ready for the Derby. A chiropractor drove over weekly from France to treat him and the plucky colt was able to take his place in the 18-runner line-up.
Snatching for his head in the early stages under his regular rider Martin Dwyer, Sir Percy raced in the second half of the field around Tattenham Corner before he was able to find space to launch his challenge. It is a race worth watching again and again, and each time it is scarcely believable that he was able to make up the ground that he did, switched first wide, then back to the rail, ultimately to snatch glory through the narrowest of gaps and by the narrowest of margins. A brave run indeed.

But Epsom had taken its toll and, despite four subsequent starts, including two the following season in Dubai and at Royal Ascot, Sir Percy was never seen at his best again.

“Basically he never came back from it,” Pakenham admits. For her husband Anthony, in whose name Sir Percy ran, its was a first foray on the Flat, and only his second horse after owning the consistent jumper The Dark Lord (Ire).

“I never owned any horses before I met Victoria,” he says. “She bought me The Dark Lord and he won 10 races for us, which was incredibly exciting. And then this horse came along and he was going to be the last. In fact at one stage he was going to be called A Final Fling, because Victoria had had a couple of horses that had never shown anything at all.”

He continues, “You don't really believe it's possible. I always remember the first time he ran in a Group 1, and I was just thinking to myself, ‘Please don't be last’.

The whole thing was just a pipe dream, and it happened so quickly in my racing ownership career.”

After Royal Ascot, Sir Percy retired to take up stud duties for the 2008 season at Lanwades, where he was looked after initially by Eoin O'Mahony first and later by Peter Manuel. For the Pakenhams, ownership turned to breeding. Broodmares were secured to back up some smart matrons owned by Kirsten Rausing, who had been unable to ignore the career of Sir Percy, especially when he collared her Lanwades graduate Dragon Dancer (GB) (Sadler’s Wells) on the line in the Derby.

“He was already attractive as a great two-year-old and a Derby winner, but what made him particularly attractive as far as I was concerned was the fact that he would suit a whole lot of Northern Dancer-line mares,” Rausing notes.

“We needed an outcross. I had Selkirk at the time, and also Hernando, who was rather a long way from Northern Dancer, and of course Sir Percy had Ajdal [in his pedigree] but a long way back, so he fulfilled many of the criteria, and then there was the fact that he was such a bonny horse himself.”

She adds, “Of all the stallion deals that I’ve done, which are many, this was the least complex one, and Victoria, Anthony and I have been friends ever since.”

Both Lanwades and the Pakenhams have been responsible for a number of his better horses, with Rausing having bred the G2 Park Hill S. winner Alyssa (GB) and G3 Kilternan S. winner Alla Speranza (GB), as well as Listed winner Kawida (GB). The Pakenhams meanwhile bred the G2 Lancashire Oaks victrix Lady Tiana (GB) and Listed winner Blakeney Point (GB).

Sir Percy is also the sire of G1 Metropolitan winner Sir John Hawkwood (Ire) in Australia, while in America he had the GI Man o’ War S. winner Wake Forest (Ger). From four seasons shuttling to Rich Hill Stud in New Zealand, he left the Group 2 winner Sir Andrew (NZ) among a number of stakes performers, and his influence has also spread to the National Hunt division, where his sons Presenting Percy (GB) and Knight Salute (GB) in particular have represented him at the highest level at Cheltenham and Aintree.

Rausing adds, “He started with a bang and had a good number of two-year-old winners in his first crop. I think he surprised quite a few people, and we were inundated with people wanting to send mares after his first two-year-old runners.

“We already know that he’s a good broodmare sire, and the fact that he was easy to breed mares to also holds true for his daughters, who are quite easy to mate. Alla Speranza has already bred a group winner, Shine So Bright, who is now at stud in India. Alyssa has bred two winners from two runners, so it’s so far so good.

“All in all, he’s been a success story, if not with great fireworks. But he has been a steady success and always very popular with trainers and popular at the sales.”

From a first crop of 50, Sir Percy’s two largest crops came in 2012 and 2013, when he had 85 and 98 foals on the ground. A decent number, but still modest compared to the vast books of some of the more commercially sought-after stallions. His current crop of three-year-olds numbers 39, and he has 12 two-year-olds. This autumn will provide one of the last opportunities to buy a Sir Percy yearling as members of his penultimate crop come under the hammer.

For the Pakenhams, Sir Percy remains “a member of the family; he’s very, very special”.

Victoria adds, “Watching his runners has become an absolute obsession, and it takes up a lot of time, but we follow them all and we get just as much pleasure from looking to see how they run, whether we bred them or not.

“He’s been looked after so beautifully at Lanwades. Well, he's such a lovely person, he doesn't have a bad bone in his body.”
On this, Rausing concurs. “He has always been so easy to deal with and he will remain here in retirement,” she says. “His fertility has waned but in himself he is in great heart and looks as good as ever.”

We will leave the last word to the late Harry Ormesher, who said that watching Sir Percy win the Derby  was, “the best day of my life, without doubt”.

The culmination of a life’s dream for his breeder, an unending delight for his owners, and a friend to many other breeders besides, Sir Percy is fully deserving of a peaceful retirement, and with the offspring of his final crops still to come, we may not have heard the last of him yet.


This text was originally published in the Thoroughbred Daily News.