Winter Win Is A Sweet Result

Slightly Sweet bounces back to form with victory in the Listed ATC Winter Stakes. (Steve Hart)


It’s funny how things work out some times.

That said, the Esplin family wasn’t exactly rolling in the aisles when Saturday’s Listed ATC Winter Stakes winner, Slightly Sweet, was passed in for $27,500 at the 2013 Gold Coast Magic Millions Yearling Sale and, you can bet there wasn’t a LOL in sight when the same filly was again ‘overlooked’ at the Nationals a few months later.

Hamish Esplin explains: “My mother, brother, sister and I breed from around 30 mares each year at our Kulnura property, near Peats Ridge in NSW. The aim is to sell all our colts and keep some of the better fillies, but that wasn’t the case with Slightly Sweet.

“It’s the first time, and probably the last, that we’ve ‘backed up’ a filly to a sale after she was passed in at another, and while I’d like to suggest that we were geniuses for keeping Slightly Sweet and racing her, that wasn’t the case.”

Well, maybe a little bit of genius given that Slightly Sweet’s Winter Stakes victory – her third at stakes level – takes her earnings to $481,685, not to mention substantial riches as a future broodmare.

Slightly Sweet caught most racegoers by surprise when sent out a $26 pop in the Winter Stakes, after having distanced herself from the winners’ circle since capturing the Group Three James Carr at Randwick in April 2015. Two starts prior to the Carr, Slightly Sweet came from the clouds to notch up her initial black type victory in the Group Three Keith Nolan at Kembla (defeating, among others, 2017 Group One Coolmore winner, Heavens Above).

“That was a very good crop of 3YO fillies,” Esplin adds. “Winx, First Seal, Fenway, Heavens Above.

“Despite her form tailing off since she resumed as a 4YO, (trainer) Jason (Coyle) reckons she was worth persisting with and always had faith in her.

“Slightly Sweet will probably have another run in a fortnight (Listed Winter Challenge) and we’ll see how she goes from there. If she holds her form, we might tip her out and bring her back for some of the big mare races in the autumn.

“We don’t like to retire our horses too early. I think there’s far too much concentration on sending horses to stud before their time and, after all, having fun at the races is what it’s all about.

“We raced a mare called Plucky Belle who won a Group One (Coolmore Classic) as a 6YO and, fingers crossed, Slightly Sweet can do the same.”

Slightly Sweet is out of the Dubai Destination mare, Semitone, who was also bred by the Esplins.

“Semitone’s dam, Slightly Sharp was an imported mare who was only tiny – around 14 hands – but she ended up producing five winners including the Listed winner, Stay Tuned,” Esplin recalls. “And while Slightly Sharp was small, Semitone was huge and she didn’t end up racing at all. She’s been alright in the breeding barn though with two winners from as many to race, including the stakes placed Positive Charge.

“Waiting in the wings is an unraced 2YO filly (by Equiano) called Sharp Tune that’s also with Jason, a yearling filly by Mossman, a weanling full sister to Slightly Sweet and she is currently in foal to Olympic Glory.”

Slightly Sweet, meanwhile, is one of 16 stakes winners by Red Ransom stallion, Charge Forward, who originally stood at Arrowfield Stud for 12 seasons before heading, this year, to Tim and Celie Nolan’s Murrulla Stud in the Hunter Valley.

And just to keep it all in the family, Charge Forward was bred by Hamish’s father, Phil Esplin, a leading solicitor, former director at Arrowfield and popular breeder/owner who sadly passed away five years ago.

“Charge Forward is out of our former Bletchingly mare, Sydney’s Dream, a tremendous producer and a mare, I’m happy to say, from which we’ve kept a number of fillies … and the daughters of those fillies.

“Charge Forward was sold as a yearling to Peter Horwitz, who raced the horse to considerable success, winning the Breeders’ Plate, a Todman, the San Domenico at three and, the following autumn, the Group One Galaxy.

“When he retired to Arrowfield, we purchased some shares in Charge Forward and have bred quite a few winners by him over the years. When the opportunity came up to buy a majority shareholding in the stallion, we jumped at it and now he’s moved to Murrulla.

“I reckon he’s done a good job at stud with horses like Headway, Response, Shrapnel and Solar Charged, and he gets a lot of winners. He’s proved to be a great outcross too for a lot of mare owners.

“What’s particularly exciting is that he’s turning out to be a top notch broodmare sire as well, with his daughters producing this year’s Golden Slipper winner, She Will Reign, that very good 2YO of the Moodies in Limestone and the Perth stakes winner, Precious Memories.”


Not surprisingly, Tim Nolan is happy to have Charge Forward on board and explains interest in the stallion has been encouraging.

“We’ve only had him for a couple of months, but he’s generated a lot of interest and there’s been a constant run of enquiries and bookings. Even more so after Slightly Sweep’s win on Saturday.”

The Power of Passion