by Alan Porter
When Juddmonte Farms' stallion, Chester House died from the complications of cancer in the summer of 2003, after only three seasons at stud, it appeared the program had potentially suffered a severe loss.
Chester House’s oldest offspring were only yearlings at the time but with his credentials they seemed well-poised for success. A handsome son of Mr. Prospector, Chester House was out of El Gran Senor’s grade-I winning daughter, Toussaud. That mare was already also well-known as the dam of grade I winner Chiselling and graded stakes winner Decarchy (both by sons of Mr. Prospector, and therefore three-parts-brothers to Chester House), and Honest Lady, a grade I winner who also captured second in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I). The following year Toussaud would add further luster to her record, when her son, Empire Maker, captured the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
In addition to the quality of his pedigree, Chester House had established himself as a high-class and versatile racehorse. Like his dam, he began his career in England, winning a maiden in two starts at 2. At 3, after a win in a conditions event on his second outing, he was asked to tackle older horses in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal Ascot, and produced a great effort to go down by a neck to the 7-year-old Faithful Son, with the formidable Daylami in third. An easy winner of the Steventon Stakes next time out, Chester House then tackled group I company in the Juddmonte International Stakes (Eng- I). There he reproduced his Royal Ascot running almost to the foot, finishing third, beaten a pair of heads by One So Wonderful and Faithful Son, although, not for the first time, he comprised his effort by hanging in the straight. Chester House didn’t quite reproduce that level of form in his final two outings of the year, finishing second in a listed race at Goodwood (when unsuited by the slow pace) and sixth in the Dubai Champion Stakes (Eng-I). At 4, Chester House began his career with a tally in a listed race at Chester, and then took the Brigadier Gerard Stakes (Eng-III) by four lengths. These efforts saw him sent off as favorite for the Prince of Wales’s Stakes (Eng- II), but he ran nowhere near as well as in the previous year, finishing fourth. He occupied the same position in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes (Eng-I) and then took third, but beaten nearly 10 lengths by the runaway winner, Royal Anthem, in the Juddmonte International (Eng- I).
In the light of those efforts, it’s not surprising that Chester House was a 64-1 shot when sent to Gulfstream Park to make his dirt debut in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I). However, he produced a remarkable effort, and after stumbling at the start, and trailing the leader by as much as 18 lengths at one stage, closed to such effect that he took fourth, beaten only 3 1/2 lengths as Cat Thief narrowly defeated Budroyale. A little surprisingly, given how well he had run on dirt, Chester House was back on the turf when he reappeared at 5, starting the year with a third in the Explosive Bid Handicap (gr. III). Returning to the dirt for his next three outings, Chester House failed to recapture his Breeders’ Cup form, finishing third in the Excelsior Breeders’ Cup Handicap (gr. III), fourth in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. II) and unplaced in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I). Back on the turf, Chester House ran much better when carrying top-weight to second in the Eddie Read Handicap (gr. IT). This was a prelude to the Arlington Million (gr. IT), in which Chester House ended his career on a high note. He produced probably his best effort in defeating by 3 1/4 lengths Manndar, the winner of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic (gr. IT) and Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) that year.
As a stallion, Chester House’s deeds have been somewhat unheralded. Of course, one reason is that since he was no longer at stud when his first runners hit the track, there has been no advertising and promotion of his achievements. Another is that his runners have taken some time to hit their best stride, and also that, in a reversal of the usual pattern quality of his offspring improved with each successive crop. In fact, his first crop was really nothing to write home about: it did contain four stakes winners, but only one, Spring House, winner of the San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. II) and Carleton F. Burke Handicap (gr. III) captured a graded event. Chester House’s second crop yielded six stakes winners, with the Distaff Turf Mile (gr. III) winner, Take the Ribbon, and Orchid Handicap (gr. III) victress, Hostess capturing graded events. It’s the third crop — now 4 years old — that has really made waves, however. To date it has produced 11 stakes winners, headed by Divine Park - recent winner of the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) — and graded scorers Ventura, Warning Zone and Phoenix Tower. Overall, the record now shows that Chester House has sired 21 stakes winners and seven graded winners from 223 foals of racing age (9% stakes winners to foals) and he also has a total of 38 black-type performers (17% stakes winners to foals), so it’s clear that he was turning into a very useful stallion to say the least.
Divine Park was a $20,000 Keeneland September Sales purchase in 2005. He didn’t start until he was 3, but wasted little time drawing attention to his ability. A winner at Aqueduct on his debut, he took a seven-furlong allowance race at Keeneland in a new track record on his second start. He made it three for three with a win over C P West in the Withers Stakes (gr. III), but then went to the sidelines with a knee injury. Divine Park resurfaced in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I), but finished ninth there, then ran a disappointing seventh in the General George Handicap (gr. II). The 4-year-old got back on track with a win in an Aqueduct allowance contest and, in his only other outing prior to the Met Mile, took the Westchester Handicap (gr. III) by five lengths in a sharp 1:32.74.
Divine Park is the fifth foal and fourth winner for his dam, the Ascot Knight mare, High in the Park. A winner of three races, High in the Park is half-sister to the stakes winner Summer Prince, and to the dam of the Queen’s Plate victor T J’s Lucky Moon. Divine Park’s second dam, Czar’s Princess, is by another Met Mile winner, Nijinsky II’s son, Czaravich. She is half-sister to two top-class fillies in Imperial Gesture and Sardula. Imperial Gesture is by Langfuhr, like Ascot Knight, a son of Danzig, so is bred on similar lines to Divine Park’s dam. She won the Beldame Stakes (gr. I) and Gazelle Handicap (gr. I), and her placings included a second in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) and third in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I). Sardula, a daughter of Mountain Cat, captured the Kentucky Oaks (gr. I) and Hollywood Starlet Stakes (gr. I). Tempest Dancer, a full sister to Sardula, was a listed stakes winner, and dam of the Stymie Handicap (gr. III) winner Windrush (by Seeking the Gold, a son of Mr. Prospector, and so bred on similar lines to Divine Park). Divine Park’s sixth dam, My Alison, is ancestress of several other notable runners, including At Talaq, winner of the Grand Prix de Paris (Fr-I) and a successful stallion in Australia; One Pound Sterling, a stakes winner in Canada, and subsequently an outstanding sire in New Zealand; the Canadian classic, Prince of Wales Stakes winner, Val Dansant; and grade I winner Annoconnor.
Chester House is one of a legion of successful stallions bred on the Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer cross — others include Kingmambo, Fusaichi Pegasus, Elusive Quality, Grand Slam, Thunder Gulch, Smoke Glacken, Northern Afleet. Most of those horses have done well when crossed back over mares from the Northern Dancer line (breeding a stallion back to mares from his own broodmare sire is a pattern which often seems to do well) and Chester House is no exception. Eleven of his 21 stakes winners are out of Northern Dancer line mares, with Divine Park (rated A by TrueNicks) being one of four Chester House graded winners bred on the cross.