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Archive for January, 2013

The last great renaissance of the thoroughbred on a global stage was in the decade of the 1970’s. As we kick off a new year, it’s time to ask: Is another waiting in the wings? 

Frankel spent the holidays reading the thousands of Christmas cards he received from fans around the world. On February 14, he begins his career as a sire. Who says there's no romance in thoroughbred breeding?

Frankel spent the holidays reading the thousands of Christmas cards he received from fans around the world. On February 14, he begins his career as a sire. Who says there’s no romance in thoroughbred breeding?

The title said it all: “Decade of Champions.”

Released in 1980, the beautiful book –now a collector’s item — was produced by noted American equine artist, Richard Stone Reeves, in collaboration with former London Daily Express writer, the erudite Patrick Robinson.The decade to which the book referred was that of the 1970’s and what a decade it had been. In America, three Triple Crown champions: Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. In Great Britain, the first Triple Crown winner in thirty-six years: the mighty Nijinsky. But that was only the beginning.

The great Seattle Slew, 1 of 3 winners of the Triple Crown in the 1970's, pictured here by Richard Stone Reeves in "Decade of Champions."

The great Seattle Slew, 1 of 3 winners of the Triple Crown in the 1970’s, pictured here by Richard Stone Reeves in “Decade of Champions.”

It was as though the racing gods were having a non-stop celebration of all that was mighty and memorable about the thoroughbred. Racing, whether on the dirt, turf, or over hurdles, truly deserved its title as the Sport of Kings –and Queens:  Ruffian, Forego, Spectacular Bid, Alydar, Exceller, Dahlia, Alleged, The Minstrel, Brigadier Gerard, Mill Reef, Vigors, Allez France, Pawneese, Roberto, Waya, Rose Bowl, Dahlia, Shuvee, Cox’s Ridge, Cougar II, Majestic Prince, Youth, Optimistic Gal, Red Rum and L’Escargot, Artaius, Empery, Shirley Heights, Ivanjica. They hailed from all over the world — a parade of champions.

The absolute star of British racing in the last century, the brilliant Brigadier Gerard.

The absolute star of British racing in the last century, the brilliant Brigadier Gerard.

The wonderful Mill Reef and trainer, Ian Balding

Mill Reef and trainer, Ian Balding. Barely taller than a pony, the mighty colt would win the Epsom Derby and the Arc in the same year for owner, Paul Mellon.

Was there a horse with a greater heart than Alydar? In the 1970's, most North Americans would have said, "Absolutely not!"

Was there a horse with a greater heart than Alydar? In the 1970’s, most North Americans would have said, “Absolutely not!”

"The greatest horse to ever look through a bridle." He may have lost the Triple Crown due to the misfortune of a pin stuck in his foot, but Spectacular Bid was one of the stars of racing in the 1970's. Shown here in his "walkover" at

“The greatest horse to ever look through a bridle.” He may have lost the Triple Crown due to the misfortune of a pin stuck in his foot, but Spectacular Bid was one of the stars of racing in the 1970’s. Shown here in his “walkover” at the Woodward Stakes of 1980.

Between them, they managed to shatter records and turn convention on its ear: two consecutive wins in The Arc (Alleged), three consecutive wins in the Ascot Gold Cup (Sagaro), a winner of both the Epsom Derby and The Arc (Mill Reef) and the emergence of the most brilliant miler in the history of British flat racing, (Brigadier Gerard). Below are Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard running in the 2000 Guineas of 1971:

And the fillies! They showed their heels to the colts with staggering consistency. Among their routs of the boys: winning the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes three times in four years, capturing The Arc four times in seven years, annexing The Washington International twice in three years, as well as earning the prestigious Champion Stakes (UK) four times over a period of six years. Even the coveted Jockey Gold Cup fell to the ladies for two successive years.

San San, a daughter of America's Bald Eagle, as she appears on the cover of The Blood-Horse after her Arc win.

San San, a daughter of America’s Bald Eagle, as she appears on the cover of The Blood-Horse after her Arc win.

The gutsy Three Troikas polishes off the decade by winning the Arc. She joined Allez France, San San and Ivanjica as the last of four "girls" to win it over a span of 7 years.

The gutsy Three Troikas polishes off the decade by winning the Arc. She joined Allez France, San San and Ivanjica as the last of four “girls” to win it over a span of 7 years.

Watch as the brilliant mare, Allez France, defeats the Queen’s Highclere and Comtesse Loire — as well as the colts! — to win the Arc in 1974:

Dominant sires of this renaissance were Northern Dancer and Bold Ruler. But there were others who played roles that altered the racing narrative of the seventies in dramatic fashion,among them the stallions Vaguely Noble (Exceller, Dahlia, Empery), Sea Bird II (Allez France), Nashua (Shuvee), Hoist the Flag (Alleged), Reviewer (Ruffian), the prepotent Never Bend (Mill Reef) and Bold Bidder (Cannonade, Spectacular Bid). As well, broodmares like Somethingroyal (Secretariat), Won’t Tell You (Affirmed), My Charmer (Seattle Slew) and Flaming Page (Nijinsky) brought their bloodlines to bear on the making of thoroughbreds who were to become legendary. Of course, there were surprises — bloodstock who weren’t brilliant producers coming up with stars, notably the stallion Firestreak, sire of Epsom Derby winner Snow Kinight.

Bold Ruler with trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

Bold Ruler with trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. As a sire, he produced Secretariat, Bold Bidder, Waya and What A Pleasure, among others. Bold Ruler was also the great grandsire of Seattle Slew throiugh his grandson, Bold Reasoning.

Dahlia never won the Arc, but Nelson Bunker Hunt's filly won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (defeating the likes of Roberto), the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, the Man O' War Stakes and the Washington DC International over a space of two years.

Dahlia never won the Arc, but Nelson Bunker Hunt’s filly won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (defeating the likes of Roberto), the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup, the Man O’ War Stakes and the Washington DC International over a space of two years.The daughter of Vaguely Noble was  adored by racing fans worldwide.

Exceller, a son of Vaguely Noble, was also owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt at this time. He deserves to be remembered for the champion he was and not only his tragic fate.

Exceller, a son of Vaguely Noble, was also owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt at this time. He deserves to be remembered for the champion he was and not only his tragic fate.

How good was Exceller? The son of Vaguely Noble was good enough to beat two Triple Crown champions in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup. Affirmed (Steve Cauthen) was seriously hampered by a loose saddle, but be that as it may, Exceller’s performance was stunning:

Zoom forward to 2013.

Zenyatta, Deep Impact, Frankel, Danedream, Galileo, New Approach, Empire Maker, Black Caviar, Oasis Dream, Redoute’s Choice, Goldikova, Invincible Spirit, Bernardini, Medaglia d’Oro, Igugu, Tapit, Rags to Riches, Fastnet Rock, Rachel Alexandra, Lonhro, Exceed and Excel, Orfevre, Royal Delta, Havre de Grace, King Kamehameha, Gentildonna, Street Cry ……. these are but a few names of elite thoroughbreds who are globally leading the charge to what may, indeed, be a time full of promise on tracks from Hong Kong to Belmont to Longchamps. In truth, the number of established to promising thoroughbreds in both hemispheres who are now in breeding careers is astounding — simply too numerous to mention here. It is inconceivable that these talented individuals will not align in this decade or the next to produce something akin to the thoroughbred renaissance of forty-three years ago.

Does Zenyatta know something about her first born's future? The colt, by leading sire Bernardini, is definitely one to watch in 2015!

Zenyatta with her first born. The colt, by leading sire Bernardini, is definitely one to watch in 2015!(Photo and copyright, Mathea Kelley)

Australia's beautiful Redoute's Choice.

Australia’s beautiful Redoute’s Choice.

The magnificent Deep Impact, working out in his paddock.

The magnificent Deep Impact, working out in his paddock. The son of Sunday Silence is the sire of Japanese Triple Crown winner, Gentildonna as well as a host of other fine individuals.

The stallion Exceed and Excel.

Darley’s Exceed and Excel has most recently sired Excelebration and the Australian champ, Helmet.

Some, like Frankel, Havre de Grace, Goldikova and Danedream are newly-retired and have yet to make any impact at all. In the case of Khalid Abdullah’s superstar, decisions will have to be made about just how much more Northern Dancer blood is desirable in Frankel progeny. (Frankel is inbred to Northern Dancer 3 X 4 (Galileo, Danehill), to Natalma (4 X 5) and to Buckpasser 5 X 5.) As was pointed out in The Blood-Horse (January 2013), if Northern Dancer is to be virtually eliminated in prospective broodmares selected, Frankel will lose out on about 40% of the best potential there is at the moment — a testimonial as to just how sweeping the Galileo and Danehill influences really are in European and Southern Hemisphere thoroughbreds.

Impossible to think that the champion, Rachel Alexandra, won't exercise her own influence on the generations of thoroughbreds to come.

Impossible to think that the champion, Rachel Alexandra, won’t exercise her own influence on the generations of thoroughbreds to come.

Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty, December 2012. As the HOTY and her gorgeous companion prepare for a new career, we are invited to hope for babies like them.

Havre de Grace and Plum Pretty, December 2012. As the HOTY and her gorgeous companion prepare for a new career, we are invited to hope for babies like them.

On the bright side, some 15 American mares have been accepted into Frankel’s first book, among them Oatsee (Unbridled ex. With Every Wish by Lear Fan {Roberto}), Balance (Thunder Gulch ex. Vertigineux by Kris S. {Roberto}) and In Lingerie (Empire Maker ex. Cat Chat by Storm Cat {Storm Bird}). The interest of American breeders in Frankel and the “40% Question” that dogs his pedigree makes one wonder if this isn’t a fabulous opportunity for the North American and Southern Hemisphere breeding industries, since some of their finest boast influences that have already proven successful when mixed with Northern Dancer descendants. For example, the sire Deep Impact — heralded as one of Sunday Silence’s  best — is a product of the Sunday Silence/Northern Dancer cross. Other superstars, like Black Caviar and Japan’s Gentildonna are still racing, although it is likely they will retire in 2013. It has already been suggested that Black Caviar will go to Frankel.

Balance shown here with her A.P. Indy colt, Mr. Besilu (2009) who is still unraced.

Balance shown here with her A.P. Indy colt, Mr. Besilu (2009) who is still unraced.

Oatsee nursing Shackleford.

Oatsee nursing Shackleford.

First progeny of champions Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra and Blind Luck have yet to strut their stuff, but their longterm influence on the American-bred thoroughbred can only be positive. Young sires like Bernardini, Fastnet Rock, Empire Maker and New Approach are producing fine-to-brilliant winners and the more established sires, notably Galileo, King Kamehameha, Deep Impact and Tapit, are showing remarkable consistency in producing champion offspring with both depth and scope. And the broodmares are more than doing their part — individuals like Better Than Honour, Helsinge, Kind and Vertigineux immediately come to mind.

Bernardini in the Southern Hemisphere at Darley Australia in 2011.

Bernardini in the Southern Hemisphere at Darley Australia in 2011. (Photo and copyright, Bronwen Healy.)

King Kamehameha, a son of Kingmambo, has been visited by mares like Stardom Bound, who recently produced a colt by this up-and-coming Japanese sire.

King Kamehameha, a son of Kingmambo, has been visited by mares like Stardom Bound, who recently produced a colt by this up-and-coming Japanese sire.

Zenyatta's second foal is sired by Tapit, shown above.

Zenyatta’s second foal is sired by the handsome Tapit, shown above. The Gainesway stallion is off to a very impressive start at stud.

Darley's Shamardal, a son of Giant's Causeway, is a young stallion that has already had success on the track. Together with Footstepsinthesand (Giant's Causeway), he was recently hailed as one of the best young sires of 2012.

Darley’s Shamardal, a son of Giant’s Causeway, is a young stallion that has already had success on the track. Together with Footstepsinthesand (Giant’s Causeway), he was recently hailed as one of the best young sires of 2012.

However, not every champion produces champions. And some of our contemporary thoroughbreds may need more than one generation to exert the kind of influence they will undoubtedly bring to the evolution of the breed.

The foundation for another “decade of champions” (if it hasn’t already begun) appears to be there for the taking.

But it will require that the breeding industry worldwide exerts the kind of patience it took to arrive at a Deep Impact, or a Frankel, or a Galileo, or a Montjeu. Of course, smaller breeding enterprises can’t afford to wait. But those who can need to act on the understanding that no stallion will immediately produce a string champions in his first or second season. It takes time. Recent examples of impatience in the Northern Hemisphere — fed by a market place that is looking for a rapid return on its investment — are the soft reception of brilliant prospects like Smarty Jones and Invasor (a winner of the Triple Crown in his native Uruguay, as well as the 2006 Breeders Cup Classic and the 2007 Dubai World Cup) or the sale of Empire Maker and I’ll Have Another to Japan. There is nothing wrong with enriching the breed — in fact, it is an essential aspect of what has become a global industry. And clearly, the glut of Sunday Silence blood in Japan requires that Japanese breeders look elsewhere for stallions and mares that might work well with Sunday Silence bloodlines.

Three Chimney's Flower Alley has had the kind of patient management one would want for all promising young stallions. ow, as the sire of the champion I'll Have Another, he's finally getting the attention he deserves.

Three Chimney’s Flower Alley has had the kind of patient management one would want for all promising young stallions. ow, as the sire of the champion I’ll Have Another, he’s finally getting the attention he deserves.

The mighty Curlin, who stands at Lane's End, is sure to leave his mark on the thoroughbreds of the 21st century.

The mighty Curlin, who stands at Lane’s End, is sure to leave his mark on the thoroughbreds of the 21st century.

Nor is the practice of introducing different strains of bloodstock a new one: the Aga Khan sold many excellent individuals to outside interests in the 20th century — among them, Mahmoud — and North American racing owes its beginnings to imported stallions from Great Britain and France. But when a stallion is marginalized because his produce are not immediately successful, or because it is thought that he won’t get the time he deserves to prove himself, the foundation for greatness starts to crumble.

No question that we live in a world where the concept of time, and its incumbent impact on our expectations, has speeded up considerably from what it was back in 1901. Nor can the realities of the global marketplace be ignored. But sometimes, in order to go forward, one must agree to go back. And in order for the promise of a Frankel or a Zenyatta and so many other exceptional individuals to come to fruition, leading breeders must do exactly that by exercising the kind of patience, knowledge and wisdom that breeds a champion.

(Below is footage of Smarty Jones’ daughter, the fabulous Better Life, winning the 2012 Longines’ Singapore Gold Cup two months ago. Born in Australia and out of a Sunday Silence mare, Better Life was crowned the Champion Miler of the Southern Hemisphere in 2012.)

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