Duncan finds gems among the ugly 31.12.13

Leading breeder Neville Duncan didn’t like the look of Starlight Lady as a weanling, nor Operational’s dam Opera Queen, when he first saw them on separate trips to Sydney several years ago.

But Duncan, who regularly travels to the east coast to look for quality-bred mares capable of enhancing the broodmare herd of his Oakland Park Stud at Jindong, bought them anyway.

And tomorrow Starlight Lady and Operational will run in the Perth Cup.

“I was in Sydney for the broodmare sale and I saw this weanling walk around by Fantastic Light out of a very nice mare, Dancing Starlight,” Duncan said.

“It was a backward, weenie, shitty little thing. But it looked like it would stay to me so I bought it.

“I was in Sydney again looking to buy mares when I saw Operational’s mother come into the sale ring. She was in foal to Tiger Hill, who I am a big fan of.

“I looked at the mare and thought she was ugly, but it was a good (pedigree) match with the stallion and the price matched.”

Duncan and his wife Susan, with trainer Fred Kersley, have revelled in the success of boom three-year-old Ihtsahymn’s hat-trick of victories in the WA Guineas (1600m), Kingston Town Classic (1800m) and Cox Stakes (2100m).

Kersley will saddle Operational and Ask Me Nicely in tomorrow’s $500,000 GRD Perth Cup (2400m), while his daughter Karen has prepared Starlight Lady for WA’s premier distance race.

The Duncans have retained a share in Operational but they sold their share in Starlight Lady to Jason Martin and Nigel Quick prior to her brilliant second to Classique Ivory in the Kalgoorlie Cup (2300m) on September 21.

Starlight Lady showed she was on song for the cup with her strong third to fancied pair Pop Culture and Knightlike in last Wednesday week’s ATA Handicap (2200m).

Operational has not had a perfect path into the cup, his campaign delayed by a skin infection.

The five-year-old showed great courage last Saturday to sustain a strong run and fought right to the line when second to Wroughted, who carried a 3.5kg lighter weight on 54.5kg, over 1500m.

“He has been a slow-maturing type who has a bit left in him,” Duncan said.

“I was impressed by his first start in the Scahill Stakes (1400m). You are talking about a horse who doesn’t get warm until 2000m.”

Robert Edwards West Australian