It is uncommon for a horse to win the same stakes event two years in succession; rare for the feat to be accomplished three years running; and even more extraordinary for the hat trick to be turned in an international event in which top horses compete from around the globe. But John Yuen Se-kit’s Good Ba Ba is a pretty rare bird himself. Seven years old and still going strong, the gelding ran down favored Happy Zero (AUS) in the stretch December 13 to win his third consecutive Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Mile (HK-I). With that victory, he seems almost certain to earn a repeat title as Hong Kong’s champion miler, and he also moved into contention for Hong Kong’s Horse of the Year, a title he captured in 2008.
Besides his three-peat in the Hong Kong Mile, Good Ba Ba has also accounted for four Hong Kong group I events and a total of 10 stakes victories. His 2008 World Thoroughbred Rankings rating of 124 pounds not only put him atop the older turf miler category, but made him the highest-rated Hong-Kong-based runner of all time.
The gelding comes by his talent as a miler quite honestly. Bred in Kentucky by Haras Santa Maria de Araras S.A,, Good Ba Ba is a son of Lear Fan, whose victory in the 1984 Prix Jacques le Marois (Fr-I) over 1,600 meters at Deauville helped earn him a Timeform rating of 130 pounds. Out of Wac (by Lt. Stevens), whose full sister Bel Sheba produced 1988 Horse of the Year Alysheba (by Alydar), Lear Fan was sired by 1972 Epsom Derby winner Roberto, who himself had the foot to upset the brilliant Brigadier Gerard (GB) with a front-running victory in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup.
Like his sire, Lear Fan achieved marked success in Europe while standing in Kentucky, in his case at Gainesway Farm. Currently credited by The Jockey Club with 82 stakes winners (9.0%) from 914 foals of racing age, Lear Fan is the sire of European champions/highweights Ryafan, Sikeston, Loup Solitaire, Tiraaz, Verveine, Lear White, Melpomene, and Sharp Focus, as well as multiple Canadian champion Windsharp and Peruvian champion Guarique. Lear Fan also had the happy ability to sire top horses that stayed better than he himself did, as demonstrated by Windsharp’s victory over males in the 12-furlong San Luis Rey Stakes (gr. IT) of 1996 and by Tiraaz’ capture of the 1998 Prix Royal-Oak (Fr-I).
Good Ba Ba’s distaff heritage is equally distinguished, beginning with his fourth dam, Neriad. A daughter of the great broodmare sire Princequillo, Neriad was sent to Europe and there produced four stakes winners, headed by 1974 Prix Saint-Alary (FR-I) winner Comtesse de Loir. After running second in the 1975 Washington D.C. International and the Canadian International Championship (both gr. IT), the daughter of Val de Loir remained in North America to produce 1984 Long Island Handicap (gr. IIT) winner Heron Cove (by Bold Bidder).
Although unraced, Neriad’s 1970 daughter by Sanctus (FR), Santa Quilla (FR) proved an even better broodmare, throwing 1982 Brooklyn Handicap (gr. I) winner Silver Supreme (by Al Hattab) and multiple French stakes winner Pasadoble (by Prove Out). The last-named mare, in turn, produced one for the ages in multiple U.S., English, and French champion Miesque (by Nureyev), a great miler and an equally great broodmare whose produce record includes the important sire Kingmambo (by Mr. Prospector).
Holy Tobin, Santa Quilla’s daughter by multiple champion J. O. Tobin, was no Miesque either as a racer (she never started) or as a broodmare, getting only two stakes-placed runners from 11 named foals. Among the others is Elle Meme, dam of Good Ba Ba; although a daughter of 1989 English champion 3-year-old male Zilzal (a first-rate miler), Elle Meme could manage only one placing from five starts in U.S. allowance company after a couple of minor wins in France at 2 and 3.
Zilzal has not been nearly as outstanding a sire as he was a racehorse, but he is a son of the great Northern Dancer stallion Nureyev, a fact which may be the key to Good Ba Ba’s excellence. While Lear Fan has only two foals of racing age from Zilzal mares, he has 49 foals from daughters of Nureyev. Eight (16.3%) have been stakes winners, including champion Loup Solitaire and multiple French highweight Verveine. Lear Fan also has five winners from five foals produced from daughters of Nureyev’s son Theatrical (IRE), including two stakes winners. These results are far better than Lear Fan’s results from mares from other sire lines
The spark behind the Lear Fan/Nureyev nick appears to be the presence of the full brother and sister Lt. Stevens (broodmare sire of Lear Fan) and Thong (granddam of Nureyev). (Additional reading: Alan Porter commented on Good Ba Ba in a discussion about inbreeding to siblings.) However, the nick has not extended to Nureyev’s close relatives Sadler’s Wells and Fairy King (both by Northern Dancer out of a half-sister to Nureyev), suggesting that reasonably similar racing aptitudes and complementary conformation types have also been crucial.
As a gelding, Good Ba Ba will not be passing on this golden cross in the breeding shed. But if he remains sound and healthy, he may have many more thrills to provide his adoring fans, and that in itself is no small legacy.