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Germany's wonder mare Danedream prepares for final challenges

By Alysen Miller CNN
updated 4:32 AM EDT, Wed September 12, 2012
 Andrasch Starke celebrates on Danedream after winning the 2011 Prix De L´Arc De Triomphe at Longchamps. Andrasch Starke celebrates on Danedream after winning the 2011 Prix De L´Arc De Triomphe at Longchamps.
Danedream's biggest triumph
Champion jockey
Wonder horse
  • Danedream rated one of the best fillies of all time
  • German racing's most famous daughter has string of big race wins
  • Preparing to bow out with second Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe triumph
  • Danedream's early performances on the course uninspired

(CNN) -- Her story reads like the plot of a Hollywood movie: the little filly considered too small to race is now widely hailed as the best thoroughbred Germany has ever produced.

Danedream may not have the celebrity status of Australia's Black Caviar or the awe-inspiring invincibility of England's Frankel, but here, in the land of her birth, they could not be prouder of German racing's most famous daughter.

Danedream first came to the world's attention when she captured last year's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Europe's most prestigious race, beating a strong international field -- and the course record -- in the process.

She followed it up with an impressive victory in the King George at Ascot this year -- beating Nathaniel by a nose to become the first filly and the first German-trained horse to win Europe's two most important all-age races.

And her latest triumph came in her native Germany, winning the Longines Grosser Preis von Baden by half a length Sunday against some of the best three-year-old colts in the country.

Germany's wonder mare

But just two years ago, few believed that the delicate filly would one day be a champion. As racing fairy tales go, Danedream's story has more than a few similarities with the story of Seabiscuit, the unlikely hero of American flat racing during the 1930s.

Impeccable bloodline

Although she boasts impeccable bloodlines (her sire Lomitas is a former German Horse of the Year and one of the most prominent stallions in Germany; her mother, Danedrop, though unraced, carries the blood of great sire Danehill in her veins), Danedream was backward as a yearling and eventually consigned by her breeders, Gestut Brummerhof, as a two-year-old.

Her appearance in the sales ring at Baden-Baden in the spring of 2010 failed to whet buyers' appetites and she was eventually sold for just 9,000 euros to a former furniture retailer named Heiko Volz.

"It was the best deal of my life and probably the best deal in the racing business," a delighted Volz told CNN.

It was the best deal of my life and probably the best deal in the racing business
Heiko Volz

Sent to trainer Peter Schiergen's yard in Cologne for training, her two-year-old season was solid if not electrifying, belying few hints of her true ability.

It was when, as a three-year-old, Schiergen stepped her up in trip to 2,300m that she first demonstrated her class, running third to the colts in the Italian Derby.

But it was on her return to Germany that Danedream firmly buried her detractors once and for all, winning the Grosser Preis von Berlin by five lengths and the Grosser Preis von Baden by seven lengths.

Arc triumph

If the secret was out in German racing circles, few outside of Germany knew about the little bay filly with the incredible lengthening stride. Which brings us back to that day in Paris in 2011.

By now part-owned by Japanese owner-breeder Terry Yoshida, she was supplemented as a last-minute entry to the 2001 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

"We had to pay 100,000 euros to get her in," said her trainer. "The owners said they wanted to have a horse run in the Arc for once in their lives. They would have been happy with a good result or a place in the top four horses. Nobody thought she would win."

I think one of these horses comes along maybe every fifty years. She's a horse of a lifetime for me
Andrasch Starke

It was a view shared by the bookmakers as she was sent off as a 20/1 outsider. But while all eyes were on the giant Australian favorite So You Think, or perhaps on one of the Aga Khan's stash of smart fillies such as Sarafina, Danedream slowly but surely moved through the field, taking over the lead from St Nicholas Abbey in the final furlong and eventually winning easily by five lengths.

Her winning time of 2:24:49 broke the course record held since 1997.

"She took off in the straight and destroyed the colts. It was amazing," says Schiergen. Training Danedream has a special significance for him: a former champion jockey, Schiergen rode her sire Lomitas to victory in the Grosser Preis von Baden in 1991.

Amazing horse

"The biggest feeling for me was Lomitas. He was my first Group 1 winner and he was an amazing horse. But as a trainer I have to say that Danedream is the best horse I've trained in my time."

While Schiergen has masterminded Danedream's career from the ground, her jockey, Andrasch Starke, is heavily involved in Danedream's preparations, riding the filly out most days.

"She's very easy, anybody could ride her," he says modestly. She is known for her economical approach to training: "She just does what she has to. She doesn't give you the feeling that she's a Group 1 horse in the work but when the starting gates open she's a different horse."

Thanks to his association with Danedream, Starke's trophy cabinet contains such silverware as few German jockeys have ever dreamed of, including the Arc and the King George, which was presented to him by British monarch Queen Elizabeth II.

She has done so much for German racing. Even if you don't know racing, you've heard of Danedream
Peter Schiergen

"I think one of these horses comes along maybe every fifty years," he acknowledges. "She's a horse of a lifetime for me."

On the eve of her defense of her Grosser Preis von Baden title the "Danedream effect" was very much in evidence in Baden-Baden.

Baden Baden besieged

Nestled in the foothills of the Black Forest, the sedate spa town has been besieged by the international racing set.

Friday's yearling sales drew an unprecedented level of international interest, with trainers and bloodstock agents from countries including the UK, France, the USA and Hong Kong, all hoping to snap up the next Danedream.

Indeed, Danedream has become something of an unofficial ambassador for German racing. So it is with interest that a nation expectantly awaits her next move.

With the end of her career now closer than the beginning, Schiergen has mapped out her few remaining appearances with precision: after Baden, she will head to Longchamp where she will attempt to become the first filly since Corrida in 1937 to defend the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, followed by a tilt at the Japan Cup in November, where she will likely remain and be retired to stud.

For Schiergen, who has been so closely associated with this dynasty, it is a bitter sweet ending. "It's sad that she won't stay in Germany. She has done so much for German racing. Even if you don't know racing, you've heard of Danedream. But they have good stallions in Japan, such as Deep Impact. Maybe they'll send me a nice yearling to train. I hope so."

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