Munnings masterpieces

Sir Alfred James Munnings would doubtless have approved of having a high-class horse named in his honour, particularly one who would have made a fine subject for one of his paintings. Now aged 16, Munnings is a striking white-faced chestnut by the 2004 champion US sprinter Speightstown, winner of that season’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Speightstown has sired 17 Grade 1 winners in North America, along with the Prix Jean Prat winner Lord Shanakill, his only Group 1 winner in Europe, and although very much in the twilight of his stallion career (now aged 24), he enjoyed a good year in 2021 with new Grade 1 winners Lexitonian, who emulated his sire by winning the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, and Flagstaff who won the Churchill Downs Stakes. He was also the sire of the dam of the latest Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Aloha West.

Munnings wasn’t one of his sire’s Grade 1 winners but he had a collection of placings at that level in the Champagne Stakes and Hopeful Stakes at two, in the Haskell Invitational, King’s Bishop Stakes and Vosburgh Stakes at three, and in the Carter Handicap at four. However, he could boast three wins at Grade 2 level, in the Woody Stephens Stakes and Tom Fool Handicap at three, both at Belmont, and in the Gulfstream Park Sprint Championship at four. All those wins were at seven furlongs, though his third place in the Haskell over nine was no disgrace behind Rachel Alexandra and Summer Bird, the champion three-year-old filly and colt of their year.

Having raced for the Coolmore partners, Munnings entered Ashford Stud in 2011 at a fee of $12,500 which settled at $10,000 for several seasons before taking a hike to $25,000 in 2016. That was as a result of him registering his first Grade 1 winner as a sire the year before with three-year-old filly I’m A Chatterbox who came from his first crop. She won the Cotillion Stakes, as well as finishing third in the Kentucky Oaks, and landed another couple of Grade 1 contests at four, the Delaware Handicap and Spinster Stakes.

Munnings’ other US Grade 1 winner prior to 2021 was El Deal, another Alfred Vanderbilt winner in 2017, he too from his sire’s first crop. That 2012 crop also included Om, who was to finish runner-up in two Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprints but had an earlier claim to fame for winning the Del Mar maiden in which future Triple Crown winner American Pharoah made his debut.

By 2021, Munnings was standing at a career high of $40,000 but the biggest jump in his fee came this year when it more than doubled to $85,000 (just $5,000 behind Speightstown) after a hugely successful 2021 in which Munnings finished third behind Into Mischief and Curlin in the North American earnings list.

Only Into Mischief, leading sire for the third year running, had more stakes winners than Munnings in 2021. After two Grade 1 winners hitherto, Munnings added another three in 2021 alone, making him Speightstown’s most successful stallion son. Those Grade 1 winners included the four-year-old filly Kimari, winner of the Madison Stakes. She was also placed in two visits to Royal Ascot earlier in her career, finishing second in the Queen Mary Stakes at two and third in the Commonwealth Cup at three. Kimari went through the ring at Fasig Tipton’s November Sale where M. V. Magnier bought her for $2.7m and she reportedly remains in training with Wesley Ward this year.

Munnings’ other two Grade 1 winners in 2021 were the two-year-olds Jack Christopher and Eda. Jack Christopher won both his starts, including going one better than his sire in the Champagne at Belmont. He’d been favourite for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but was scratched on veterinary advice the day before the race and subsequently underwent surgery on a shin. Eda won the Starlet Stakes at Los Alamitos.

Munnings has also had a big winner at the Dubai Carnival this year with Shahama completing a hat-trick of wins at Meydan for her Bahraini connections in the listed UAE 1000 Guineas. A $425,000 breeze-up purchase, she’s a half-sister to champion two-/three-year-old and Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Afortunado.

Munnings had himself cost $1.7m at Fasig Tipton’s Calder Selected Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale. He was from Speightstown’s first crop out of La Comete, an unraced half-sister to the Personal Ensign Stakes winner Icon Project and the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby winner Lasting Approval.

Grandam La Gueriere won the Queen Elizabeth II Desafío Cup at Keeneland and was a half-sister to the John Henry Handicap winner and Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Al Mamoon and to the great grandam of a more recent Breeders’ Cup Mile runner-up Circus Maximus, also a dual Royal Ascot winner in the St James’s Palace Stakes and Queen Anne Stakes.

La Gueriere was out of a half-sister to Daniel Wildenstein’s brilliant 1974 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Allez France. The family ultimately traces back to La Troienne through her daughter Big Hurry.

Sir Alfred Munnings: Horses at exercise on Warren Hill, Newmarket

A postscript about Alfred Munnings. The current Munnings is the most recent of several racehorses to be named after the English painter (1878-1959). There was one in his own lifetime, in fact, a 1944 foal by Fair Trial out of Drawing Prize, a daughter of Picture. He was owned and bred by Lord Astor, one of the artist’s most important patrons. From the same family as this equine Munnings came Lord Astor’s prolific winner High Stakes whose portrait his owner commissioned. As well as painting for Lord Astor, Munnings’ works included other famous horses of the time, including John Hay Whitney’s St James’s Palace Stakes and Eclipse Stakes winner Royal Minstrel, the classic-winning colts Hyperion, Solario and Fairway, the King’s 1942 fillies’ triple crown winner Sun Chariot, and the 1953 1000 Guineas winner Happy Reírter.