IT’s totally apt that Burghley’s two leading stallions this year – Courage II and Puissance – sum up the vital characteristics of a five-star horse: bravery and power.

Courage II has enjoyed a phenomenal strike rate of Burghley winners as has Puissance in producing cross–country machines. Three top-10 progeny after the toughest cross-country course amongst just seven five-star events in the world. That’s the feat recorded for Puissance by SAP Talisman (Sam Watson), Oughterard Cooley (Wills Oakden) and Arklow Puissance (Wills Oakden).

It’s rare to even find three Burghley runners amongst his progeny in a stallion’s lifetime, not to mention a trio that powered up the Burghley leaderboard last Saturday.

And two of those – Oughterard Cooley, whose breeder Gerry Lynch and his daughter Ciara had travelled over to watch (see Breeders’ 10 page 93), and Arklow Puissance stayed in the top-10 by close of play. Both are out of Cruising dams, another tip of the hat to James Kann Cruz’s damsire.

Foaled in 1988, Puissance was bred in Borris, Co Carlow, by Jim Whitty. By Slyguff Stud’s Imperius, himself the sire of another top eventing sire in Master Imp, the dark bay was out of the Diamonds Are Trumps dam, Lady Marlane.

He was sold to Stephen Lanigan O’Keeffe, who described in his Breeders’ 10 feature three years ago about why he bought the young Puissance.

“I had no intention of owning a stallion, but went to the farm of legendary breeder, Jim Whitty, to buy a filly foal as a foundation mare. I duly bought her, but could not get the picture of Puissance, (then a backward yearling) out of my head.

"He just resonated with images of Hyperion and Northern Dancer, both compact, vibrant horses with enormous energy who were breed-shapers in the thoroughbred world.

"Jim knew what he had and I had to pay the then outlandish sum of IR£10,000 to buy him. It was the best money I ever spent on a horse.”

Joy and sadness

Later standing at Michael Hutchinson’s Ballyquirke Stud, Puissance produced a litany of tough five-star eventers before the stallion’s death in October 2020.

Old Road, Dromgurrihy Blue (Oliver Townend was 11th on him at Burghley eight years ago), a fleet of horses for Sam Watson such as Horseware Bushman; his team silver horse at the 2018 World Equestrian Games, Ardagh Highlight, Imperial Sky and Horseware Lukeswell are just some more of his stock.

“I got great joy from the Burghley results, but tinged with a little sadness,” Lanigan told The Irish Field this week. “In my biased view, Puissance was clearly the greatest-ever event sire and he was hiding in plain sight for most of his 32 years. I was only breeding from a few mares, but the formula was simple: cover with Puissance, send the progeny to Sam Watson and have an international horse.

“It was so obvious, and I could never understand why more breeders did not see this. An interesting statistic is that, while he was only a half-bred horse himself, his progeny were phenomenal gallopers, as is evidenced by their record in making the time in top-level three-day-events. Sam always quotes their mental aptitude and ability and Michael the very powerful canter stride which they all showed from the start.

“May people treasure his few remaining daughters.”