The tragic spring for the New Zealand breeding industry has extended to the first day of summer with the shock death of Waikato Stud stallion Sacred Falls.
The two-time Doncaster Handicap winner died yesterday morning after a brief battle with a rare liver condition.
"We are obviously gutted because he was a special horse to us for much more than business reasons," said Waikato Stud boss Mark Chittick.
"He was bred here on the farm and was by the old boy [O'Reilly] and came back to us about the same time O'Reilly died.
"But it was even more than that. He was part of our life at a really tough time when Lisa [Chittick's late wife] was fighting her illness. We sold the horse as a yearling for $160,000 and then bought back into him after he won the 2000 Guineas.
"He went on to win those two Doncasters and we watched those together when Lisa was in Waikato Hospital for the first win and in UCLA hospital for the second win
"They were very special wins for us to share together so he is a horse we had a lot of emotional attachment to. So this morning has been really hard."
Sacred Falls, who was raced primarily by Raffles Racing, has his first crop three-year-olds racing now and the liver condition that claimed him was incredibly rare.
"We can only find nine reported cases of it worldwide," explains Chittick. "And by the end, his liver was so damaged, it had grown to five times its normal size. We actually thought this week he was getting better and over the worst of it but sadly things deteriorated overnight on Saturday."
Sacred Falls's death comes after the equally shocking loss of world class stallion prospect Roaring Lion, who fell sick just hours after arriving at Cambridge Stud in August.
Cambridge Stud also had Tavistock suffered a hoof problem that ended his breeding season prematurely.
The Mitagator may not be a natural 2000m horse but trainer Peter McKay thinks he could be at Ellerslie 2000m horse.
The big free-rolling gelding was first to fast and then too tough for his opponents in the $70,000 group three Eagle Technology Stakes at Ellerslie on Saturday, his tactical early speed giving him the inside running on a 1m 33.1s time for the 1600m which made it near impossible for those back in the field to make ground.
While his best form has been in 1400m to 1600m races, including a third in the Rich Hill Mile last season, The Mitagator will step up to 2000m for the $200,000 Zabeel Classic on Boxing Day.
"He has only had one start over 2000m and that was at the back end of his three-year-old season when he was probably on the way down," said McKay.
"But he is a lot stronger now and you would think he would have earned some respect with his racing style now and while I am not sure 2000m is his ideal trip often the 2000m weight-for-age races at Ellerslie can suit leaders.
"So he will go there next and if he races well there it gives up a lot of options."
With so much attention on beaten favourite Dragon Leap the class of winner Two Illicit was almost overlooked by some after the $50,000 Trevor Eagle Memorial on Saturday.
Dragon Leap threw almost certain victory away by running most of the way to the outside fence in the last 200m, still only going down a short neck.
He is a class act and won't be the last horse to get lost on the wide open spaces of the Ellerslie home straight, although his $4 quote for the Vodafone Derby is just a bit silly.
But as wayward as the runner-up was winner Two Illicit might be a very good filly judging by how she claimed the listed 1500m at just her third start, continuing a golden run for owners Trelawney Stud who had Loire win the 1000 Guineas last month.
With her first black type secured Two Illicit might get one or even two cracks at some more during Ellerslie's Christmas carnival.