With the breeding season about to start, it is timely to take a look at the growing number of “speed” sires now available to breeders, a large number of which come from two sires of sires; Exceed and Excel (Danehill – Patrona) and Invincible Spirit (Green Desert – Rafha).
There is no denying that both horses deserve their place as top stallions, and the resulting
male progeny in turn also can lay claim to their positions in the world’s breeding barns given their prestigious wins. The worry however is that the very success that attracts mare owners to sires – multiple top class winners – also threatens to flood the market with bloodlines of ever narrowing diversity. Invincible Spirit has himself and 12 stallion sons at stud (ref Weatherby’s Stallion Book 2017), whilst Exceed and Excel has 8. This excludes those standing outside the UK, US and Europe and those who choose not to use the Stallion Book to advertise.. The same source tells us that 18 sons of Galileo can be visited.
A perfect storm
From a breed perspective this proliferation of horses from the Northern Dancer line has long been an issue but one which has been counteracted by using mares with no connection to this great sire-line, or with a healthy mix of stallions providing an outcross.
Certainly these opportunities still exist with new stallions only this year including Pearl Secret (Compton Place) – one of only a few remaining descendants of foundation stallion
The Byerley Turk. BUT the issue facing the industry today is the result of a cocktail of circumstances which can only lead to a perfect storm.
- Speed v. Stamina – As mentioned by trainer John Gosden before the 2016 St. Leger, the lack of good middle distance horses is threatening the long term future of the breed. Speed in middle distance is important of course but this has increasingly been bred to produce speed over shorter
distances, rather than the careful mix of “fast and durable”. It is for this reason that Dubawi and Galileo, perhaps the only consistent producers of classic distance horses, seem to hold the top spots in the sire lists by prize money and are the go to horses for breeders wishing to produce classic hopefuls.
- Sales Demand – Top lots seem to continue to come from the ranks of classic producing sires but for breeders without £100K to spend on a covering, the market offers lower priced stallions with some credentials as winning progeny producers. In turn, the rising cost of training a racehorse coupled with proportionately lower prize money in mid to low range races (class 4 and below being the largest proportion of UK races), means that purchasers want precocity – which for the reasons above invariably means sprinters.
- Reduction in owner breeder numbers – The rising costs of breeding and training means many breeders can no longer afford to do both. Historically breeders have had more time to play with and of course more patience in getting their mares’ progeny to deliver winners even if it takes longer for them to achieve that. After all the long game is the success of the mare, not just her racing offspring. This is not the case when the mix and type of ownership is changing. Shared owners, particularly success hungry, value for money, quick return on investment syndicate or racing club members want to see success in the fairly short term of the syndicate. This is generally a year or two of racing and then straight to the sales ring. As such the type of horse has to be precocious, race often, win and have a residual value at the end of its 3 year old season if it is lucky. That means as a stud owner breeding that type of horse if you want to make even a small profit – and where better to go to than a proven stallion at a cheap fee.
- Mediocre Pattern winners – There are a record number of pattern races in 2017 in the UK. Many of these are little more than handicaps made up to look better than they really are. Trainer Tom Dascombe said that it is harder to win a 0 – 100 handicap than some Group 3 races, and as a result a stallion which would have historically not made the grade is now able to stand as a Group winner. Add this to being a close relation to a proven sire of sires and we have a market flooded by stallions which have no business being at stud, but offer the market a chance of success “by association”. A prime example being two horses currently standing in Britain – one of which a full brother to Frankel which failed miserably in his ONE racecourse appearance, and the other, whilst a beautifully put together specimen, covered over 100 mares in his first season despite winning only a maiden and a listed sprint before retiring at 2! – both yet again from the Northern Dancer sire-line, but neither of whom would have been considered as stallion prospects 10, or even 5 years ago. Indeed at the recent TBA stallion parade at Tattersalls, only 1 of the stallions on show had achieved a Group 1 win!
- Shuttlers – The world is an ever smaller place and with the major studs having global interests, it is increasingly common to see stallions from the Southern Hemisphere standing in Europe. Certainly the Exceed & Excel group of stallions has therefore got double the exposure that other stallions had in the past. As such, his sons are able to spread the dynasty far quicker and wider than preceding dynasties such as Saddlers Wells and even Northern Dancer.
Storing problems for the future
I feel certain that some readers will be upset by some of the comments, but the situation is in a way no one person’s fault. Indeed anyone in business has to make the most of market demand and return on investment. Whilst the issue may not be immediately apparent however, it certainly will become so in the next few years when we are left with a choice of stallions all of whom are inter-related. Not only will this lead us to seeing the type of races common in Australia and elsewhere with 5 furlongs to a mile being a majority of races and anything over 10 furlongs seen as a marathon, but it will invariably damage the thoroughbred as a breed. In-breeding is not something I personally steer entirely clear of, but I do make selections based on what is best for the pedigree of the offspring, not what will sell. Although a major consideration has to be a return on investment, it should not be the primary concern. But as the choice of stallion narrows, so will the resulting next generation of sires and mares and the healthy if diminishing sprinkling of outcross pedigrees we see today will be a thing of the past. Not only that, but the racehorse will become a lesser animal. A clone of its predecessors and the result of a poorer gene pool. As breeders, as owners, as race-goers and as animal lovers we all need to look at where we are now and look also at the evidence. Class is in the proven stallions producing horses that train on and run at classic distances. Champion trainers win titles not at a 5 furlong seller at Southwell but at York or Ascot or Epsom, running horses with classic bloodlines, owned invariably by owners with time to let them progress.
I love breeding fast horses – indeed our best mare is an out and out sprinter producing sprinters. But they also train on to 7 furlongs and then further. We have also put her to Telescope and await the foal any day. Why you may ask? Because we do want speed and precocity most certainly, but also because the heady mix of Danehill and Galileo lines was
the best for the mare and the best for the foal – and hopefully will add some endurance to the speed. We could have gone to Dark Angel or Outstrip, or any other guaranteed sprint maker, and probably made a killing in a few years, but we live in hope that quality will shine through and someone will see the value in our approach and enjoy running a horse bred on its merits as an athlete and potential winner, not on its potential selling price. After all its easy to see the cost of everything, not so easy to see the value.