Sunstar (1908–1926) was a British Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. In a career which lasted from June 1910 to May 1911 he ran nine times and won six races. He won the 2000 Guineas Stakes and followed with a win in the Epsom Derby.
Sunstar was a medium-sized dark bay or brown horse bred by his owner Jack Joel. He was sired by Sundridge out of a mare named Doris. Sundridge had been a specialist sprinter, excelling over five and six furlongs which led some commentators to doubt his son's ability to stay middle distances. Sundridge had not made an impressive start to his stud career and had been sold to a French breeding syndicate in September 1910, before Sunstar's achievements made his potential evident. He was the Champion sire in 1911, and sired many other good winners, although most of them did better over shorter distances. Doris was a poor racehorse who never rose above selling company, but proved a highly successful broodmare: in the year of Sunstar's Derby win she produced a filly named Princess Dorrie who won the 1000 Guineas and the Epsom Oaks in 1914. Joel sent his colt to the stable of his private trainer Charles Morton at Wantage in Oxfordshire.
1910: two-year-old season
Sunstar showed useful form in winning three of his six races as a two-year-old in 1910. He began his career at Royal Ascot in June when he ran fourth in the New Stakes, a race now known as the Norfolk Stakes. He recorded his first win in the Exeter Stakes at Newmarket and then finished second to St Nat in a race at Goodwood before winning the International Plate at Kempton. In the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster he finished third to Pietri. He returned to Newmarket for the Hopeful Stakes and produced his best performance of the season when dead-heating with Borrow, a colt who went on to win the Middle Park Stakes in October.
1911: three-year-old season
In the winter and early spring of 1911, Sunstar began to make rapid progress and Morton decided to test the colt in a private trial race at Wantage. On the morning of Good Friday, 14 April, Sunstar was pitted against two good older horses The Story and Spanish Prince and won impressively. The form of the trial looked even better when both of the beaten horses won important handicap races in the subsequent weeks. News of the supposedly private trial soon became public, and when Sunstar appeared at Newmarket for the 2000 Guineas twelve days later, he started the 5/1 second favourite in a field of fourteen runners. Ridden by the French jockey George Stern, he won by two lengths from, Lord Derby's colt Stedfast in a race record time of 1:37.6. Two weeks after his win in the Guineas, Sunstar was moved up to ten furlongs to run in the Newmarket Stakes, despite the concerns of his trainer, who felt that the unusually hard ground presented a risk of injury to the colt's legs. He won the race from Beaurepaire and Persephone, showing that despite his pedigree, he had the stamina for middle distances and confirming his position as favourite for the Derby.
Nine days before the Derby Sunstar pulled up lame in his right foreleg after a training gallop. He had sustained an injury to the suspensory ligaments or the "back tendons" so painful that he was unable to put any weight on the injured leg, making his participation at Epsom extremely doubtful. Morton worked on the injury for the next week, with one treatment involving wrapping the affected leg in cabbage leaves. He was able to deal with the superficial lameness, but informed Joel that the underlying condition remained and that although Sunstar would be able to run in the Derby, any further aggravation of the injury would almost certainly end the horses career. Joel took the decision to run Sunstar, whatever the long-term consequences. In the build-up to the race there were rumours that Sunstar was the target of a plot to prevent his runnining, orchestrated either by Joel's personal enemies or by unscrupulous bookmakers who stood to lose heavily if the colt were successful. Joel responded by ensuring the Wantage stables were subject to strict security measures. It was later alleged that the source of the rumours was Joel himself, and that the whole affair was either a poorly judged practical joke or an attempt to obtain better odds.
At Epsom on 31 May, Sunstar, despite widespread rumours about his fitness, started the 13/8 favourite in a field of twenty-six runners. The race took place on a fine day and attracted the customary enormous crowd including the King and Queen. The field was considered weaker than usual, with several of the year's best colts missing the race, including the City and Suburban Handicap winner Mushroom, who had never been entered. The start was unsatisfactory, as Stedfast refused to line up with the other runners and was left several lengths behind when the race began. George Stern settled Sunstar in fourth or fifth place behind Bannockburn, Phryxus and Eton Boy, until the turn into the straight when he sent the favourite through a gap on the inside to take the lead. Sunstar went clear of the field, but Stedfast, who had made up a great deal of ground, emerged as his challenger and got to within a length of the leader a furlong from the finish. At this point Stern felt Sunstar falter as his suspect foreleg gave way, but despite his injury, the colt pulled ahead again and won by two lengths from Stedfast, with Royal Tudor four lengths back in third. His winning time of 3:36.8 equaled the second fastest time in the race's history. Sunstar's lameness returned as soon as he pulled up after the race and he was barely able to walk to the winner's circle. It was a first Derby win for Stern, after finishing second on Jardy in 1905 and Louviers in 1909. In addition to the winner's prize of £6,450, Joel reportedly took over £30,000 in winning bets. Initial reports stated that Sunstar was to be immediately taken out of training and retired. In reality, the colt showed some signs of recovery and was being prepared for the St Leger at Doncaster in September when he broke down again in training in August and was then retired to stud.
In their book A Century of Champions, Tony Morris and John Randall rated Sunstar a "superior" winner of the 2000 Guineas and an average winner of the Derby. The premature ending of his career meant that he was never tested against Prince Palatine, who was probably the best horse of his generation.
Sunstar was retired to stud duty at Jack Joel's Childwick Bury Stud near St. Albans, Hertfordshire, at an initial fee of 300 guineas. He proved to be both a very influential sire and broodmare sire. He was also exceptionally fertile and covered such large books of mares that Joel was criticised by rival breeders. Among his progeny were:
- Craig an Eran (born 1918), won 2000 Guineas Stakes
- Sunny Jane (born 1914), won Epsom Oaks
- Zodiac (born 1921), won Irish Derby Stakes
- Buchan (born 1916), leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland (1927)
- Galloper Light (born 1916), won Grand Prix de Paris; sire of Epsom Oaks winners, Beam and Light Brocade
- Sunbonnet (born 1914), won Kentucky Oaks, Alabama Stakes, American Champion Three-Year-Old Filly
- Alan Breck (born 1918), leading sire in Argentina
- North Star (born 1914), won Middle Park Stakes, sire of Kentucky Derby winner Bubbling Over
- Roselyon (born 1916), sire of King's Plate winners Aymond and Willie the Kid
Sunstar was the leading broodmare sire in Great Britain and Ireland in 1930. He was notably the damsire of:
- Sunstep (born 1916), became a foundation mare for Claiborne Farm
- Ellangowan (born 1920), won 2000 Guineas Stakes
- Kopi (born 1926), won Irish Derby Stakes
Sunstar died on 21 August 1926, and was buried alongside his sire Sundridge in the equine cemetery at Childwick Bury Stud where his monument still stands
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