On The Road to Riccarton – Part 2

All in all, last week didn’t go too badly, the star Cloughmore performer being Maybe Miami, the dominant victor in the Open 1400 event at Riccarton. He’s now the second equal top-rated entrant for the Group 2 Coupland’s Mile, programed for 15 November, the middle day of the Cup Carnival. On current ratings, both Nashville and La Diosa will also comfortably make the field.

Pins filly Hot Fuss fought gamely to be narrowly beaten by the impressive Fastnet Rock colt Age of Fire in the Inglewood Stud Guineas Trial. She’s now gained a 65 rating and should be able to gain a place in the $300,000 Group 1 1000 Guineas field. Although she may lack the finishing speed of some of her rivals, her front-running style will keep her in contention for a long way in the 18 November feature.

On the subject of 18 November, the next three days see a range of candidates for the Group 3 New Zealand Cup further their preparations. The highly regarded Bloodstream (92) runs in the Open 1600 event at Friday’s South Canterbury meeting. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he’s been very cleverly placed to minimise the risk of gaining too many more rating points. Saturday’s Egmont Cup at Hawera features Blathwayt (92), Sampson (91), Wait A Sec (91), Zentangle (89) and Gobstopper (80). The Hawera track is currently rated a Slow 9 and is notorious for being difficult to handle by otherwise highly reliable gallopers; I suspect that the form coming out of this event may not be overly reliable in terms of predicting Riccarton success, but it’s nonetheless going to be interesting to see how these Cup contenders perform.

Finally, we have the Winton meeting on Sunday. Top-weight in the small but select field is our homebred La Nouvelle Vague, with perennial big race contender Sureasyouwereborn also in the field. As there is likely to be a strong pace, both horses should get a good hit-out.

The excitement is building!

Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad

We all know that breeding thoroughbreds is an exercise in ongoing conjecture but it’s always an especially interesting time when stallions have their first-crop 3YOs in action.

Readers of this site will have been well aware of my enthusiasm for Highly Recommended but there are a couple of other stallions in this year-group which are also looking distinctly promising – Reliable Man and Burgundy.

Purchasers of this year’s edition of my Karaka Yearling Sales Buyers’ Guide will certainly have noticed my endorsement of Reliable Man – several of his yearlings rated very highly indeed and one, the grey filly ex Run To The Bank, was purchased by long-term client, Christchurch trainer Kevin Hughes who outlaid what now appears to be a bargain $40,000 for the upstanding youngster. Reliable Man has two live VRC Derby prospects – SW Main Stage (ex Kiri, a stakes winning Prized mare with a strong affection for wet tracks) and SP Sully, already Group 1 placed in the STC Spring Champion Stakes and out of a mare bred on the Casual Lies – Kaapstad cross.

The stallion I didn’t see coming was Burgundy. By Redoute’s Choice and thus a three-quarter brother to the highly successful racehorse and sire Darci Brahma, he always looked attractive on paper but I’ll admit that he just didn’t grab me. He tried hard in his races but always seemed to struggle against top-class opposition. Anyway, at the moment he has the equal-top rating colt in November’s 2000 Guineas (Hard Merchandize) and the second top-rating filly in the 1000 Guineas (Dijon Bleu). Whatever happens from here on in, that’s quite an achievement.

The current top-rating Guineas filly is the freakish Prom Queen and I must admit that I would be a much happier man if her sire, Super Easy, had a few more top-liners up and running. As you’ll imagine, I’m talking through my pocket as I have a share in a Super Easy 2YO and am the outright owner of a yearling and an about to be born foal by the same stallion.

Anyway, it’s still early days

The Road To Riccarton – Part 1

In this article, I am trying something a little different – previewing races which are highly likely to clarify various horses’ chances for the upcoming NZ Cup Carnival at Riccarton next month. I’ll be focusing mainly on horses I have had a connection with and will include some pedigree comments that I haven’t already made elsewhere on this site.

To begin with, this Saturday’s Riccarton meeting features several horses taking the next steps in their preparation for the November Carnival.

Race 3  sees the 2YO filly Anne make her racecourse debut in the five-runner juvenile event. She’s one of my selections from this year’s Karaka  yearling sale catalogue and has run promisingly in both her trials. Unfortunately both trial winners are also in the field so on the surface of it she will have a difficult task. On the bright side, she will have a heap of improvement in her. She doesn’t have her second birthday until 11 November so she’ll certainly improve with age. Her trainer tells me that she’s got a great attitude; nothing fazes her. I have to say that his is somewhat atypical for the stock of Super Easy. Another plus is that she has an impressive pedigree: she’s inbred to Danzig and is closely related to the impressive Kermadec, winner of close to A$3 million.

Race 5 is headed by Pat In Brackets, a recommended mating. I strongly suspect that this is a heartbreak horse as he seems to please himself as to when he puts in maximum effort. He’s down in grade and is ridden by the stable apprentice who has won on him before so if he feels like trying, he just might do so.

Race 6 is the Guineas Trial. The nine – horse field includes Hot Fuss, a recommended purchase from the Karaka Festival Sale a couple of years ago. As a $10,000 yearling she’s already a bargain, not least because she turned out to be a half-sister to the brilliant but ill-fated First Serve. Last start she was second in the Listed Canterbury Belle Stakes and it’s going to be very interesting to see how she performs on what will hopefully be a decent track. She’s bred on the same Pins- Kaapstad cross which produced the freakish Aerovelocity, so she just might turn out to be a very useful animal.

Race 7 at features both Maybe Miami and La Diosa in the Coupland’s Mile Prelude. Maybe Miami is undoubtedly one of the best 1400 sprinters in New Zealand, especially on rain-affected tracks, but he is going to have his work cut out for him on Saturday. Even with his rider’s apprentice allowance he’s going to have to concede 5.5kg to the brilliant La Diosa. Although this will be her first start for the season, she has had a couple of quiet trials and is highly likely to be too classy for what is not at all a bad field.

All in all, quite an interesting day.

Race 8 is the open stayers’ race and includes some of LNV’s likely rivals in the NZ Cup. Imperium is highly likely to win. He ran third in the Cup last year but desperately needs rating points to be sure of making this year’s field. As a son of Melbourne Cup winner Ethereal, there’s nothing wrong with his pedigre

Itsallbelt Wins NZ’s Longest Race

That was one tough performance. Carrying top weight on a Heavy 10 track and failing to settle in what is generally a slowly-run race did not prevent the gelded son of Handsome Ransom and the Istidaad mare Itsa Belt scoring a meritorious victory in yesterday’s Fasttrack Insurance 3210 at New Plymouth.

When Kevin Gray asked me to make some mating recommendations for his mares back in 2008, I well remember looking at Itsallbelt’s pedigree and thinking that this was going to be something of a challenge. As a racemare, she had failed to earn even a very small cheque in seven starts and her dam was by one of my least favourite stallions, Stylish Century. She did trace to the wonderful Flight family, but that was pretty much it.

One factor that I always have in mind is that I never encourage clients to spend their hard-earned on mares which could charitably be described as marginal. So that restricted my choice of stallion for Itsa Belt and also led me to start my search close to home. At the time Handsome Ransom had his first crop of 2YOs in action and they had attracted much favourable comment. He did have a weakness or two in his pedigree but at $4000 seemed to be a relatively low risk option; in addition, as a grandson of Roberto there was some chance that some of those desirable genes would end up in Itsa Belt’s offspring as Istidaad was out of a Roberto mare.

To be entirely honest, I had no idea that Itsallbelt would turn out to be a slow-maturing stayer that he is. Essentially, the Handsome Ransom mating was supposed to inject some speed into what was a very slow mare and to produce a reasonably compact physical type. I suppose that Itsallbelt has much more base speed than he dam did and maybe the Roberto duplication has helped in producing one tough animal who doesn’t like stopping, but this wasn’t one of those matings which makes you say – yes, I got that so right!

As I’ve said before, you’ve got to have luck on your side in this business.

Maybe Miami Victory Underlines RTR Sale Value

Maybe Miami is becoming one of my all-time favourite gallopers. The son of Iffraaj and the Waikiki Star mare Miami was one of my selections for long-time client Kevin Hughes at the 2013 NZB Ready to Run Sale and I have followed his progress with more than usual interest. Yesterday’s win in the Open 1200 event at Riccarton was his ninth success from 28 starts and took his stakes winnings over the $200,000 mark. His success is also a timely reminder that you don’t have to pay a fortune at this sale to become the owner of a decent horse.

One of the things I really liked about Maybe Miami’s pedigree was the consistency throughout recent generations of his female family. When he went through the sale ring he was the eighth foal his dam had produced; six had raced and five had won. Most of the mare’s offspring had been by reasonably-performed but not top-class stallions and most of them had been multiple winners. To me, this sort of consistency indicates two things: such a mare can produce sound racehorses and these animals have at least reasonably adequate temperaments. The pedigree was nicely balanced, with duplications of Mr Prospector, Northern Dancer, Princequillo and Dr Fager; the last-named was a brilliant USA sprinter whose influence remains strong to this day. As an added bonus, Miami traced directly to the wonder mare La Troienne.

Clearly, there was potential here. My homework also told me that the brown colt had been sold by NZB at their Select Yearling sale earlier in 2013 for $31,000 and I therefore assumed that his value at the RTR sale would be in the $40,000 to $50,000 range. When Kevin called me and let me know that he had been the successful bidder on Lot 117 for a mere $20,000, I was as thrilled as he was.

As you will imagine, I’m looking forward to the Group 2 Couplands Mile at the CJC’s NZ Cup meeting with more than usual interest. Apart from Maybe Miami, La Diosa and Nashville have also been entered.

I’m also looking forward to this year’s edition of the Ready to Run sale.

A Cautionary Tale

One of the first things you learn when you get involved in thoroughbred racing and breeding is that you don’t always get it right. If it’s any consolation to anyone reading this who’s a relative newcomer to the industry, you can have over 40 years’ experience and still make decisions which hindsight shows are very dumb indeed.

Few of you will have been aware of the result of Race 2, a maiden 1600 event, at Friday’s Otago RC meeting run at Oamaru. The winner was a 4YO Darci Brahma mare named Dee and Gee who jumped well, sat outside the leader, shot away at the top of the straight and held on by a narrow margin. Fairly ho-hum, you’d have to say.

Not so much, I’d reply. Dee and Gee is one of the four yearlings our Cloughmore Racing partnership bought into at the 2015 yearling sales. She was a December foal and, in spite of being by a proven stallion out of a four-win mare from a strong family, cost just $16,000. She had four starts for us but, after showing initial promise, the decision was made that she wasn’t going to be a profitable proposition. The clincher was a dismal run on a rock-hard track at Whakatane. So, understandably, we decided to either sell or lease her. Our partnership was tempted to buy out the majority owners but were unable to agree on a price and, to be entirely honest, we also had reservations about whether she could become a paying proposition. At least we had the sense to lease her.

And here we are, just nine months later, watching that very same Dee and Gee greet the judge at her first South Island start. What irks me is that she looks like a totally different horse. No longer is she a chunky little thing with a questionable and choppy action. No longer does she need a wet track. No longer is she slow out of the barriers. And no longer does she race ungenerously.

Time. That’s what it’s all about. Her former trainer got it exactly right about what she could and couldn’t do nine months ago and gave us a fair and honest assessment of her. She may still be just a racehorse who will do well to break even. However, there’s a possibility that she will turn into what her pedigree suggests she ought to be – a decent stayer.

If that happens it will prove the point that racing success isn’t just about the facts in front of us. It’s also about patience and imagination. (Note to self).

Highly Recommended On A Roll

Readers of articles on this site will have been aware of my admiration for this son of Fastnet Rock for quite some time and, although it’s early days, I’m increasingly getting the feeling that I just may have been right.

As I’ve mentioned before, advocating for a stallion before he’s even got as far as getting his first mare in foal is just a little ridiculous because we have no idea what sort of foals he’s going to leave. We can make suppositions about which bloodlines will suit him best but this is a long way from analysing the pedigrees if his best runners after he’s had several crops to the races.

However, it’s worth saying that what really is boosting my confidence about Highly Recommended is that there are very good genetic reasons as to why all of his winners so far are decent horses.

His 2YO SW Waldorf is out of a mare bred on a Pins x Centaine cross. Highly Recommended’s female family has done very well with Pins’ sire Snippets and this mare also features two significant Star Kingdom lines – Kaoru Star and Todman – which complement Marscay in Highly Recommended. Group 1 placed Joyfilly has Storm Cat close up and the affinity between him and the Royal Academy influence in Fastnet Rock is well established. Yesterday’s impressive Riccarton winner Greenpark Gem has Kaoru Star in her pedigree, although of probably greater significance are the Nureyev and Blushing Groom lines in Stravinsky. Even the minor winner Vishnu has Kaoru Star close up.

It’s going to be very interesting indeed to analyse the pedigrees of High Recommended’s winners over the next few months. Both Waldorf and Greenpark Gem look well above average and Stylish Applause (Volksraad/Star Way) won very nicely at Te Aroha last weekend.

I’ll keep you posted

Metallocene – An Example of Successful Inbreeding.

He’s only won a restricted maiden at Kranji after two of the favourites were withdrawn but the way this son of Darci Brahma dispatched his rivals in that event last Sunday suggests that he’s well above average. NZ Thoroughbred Marketing devoted an article to him in their 28 August edition; he clearly has some upside if his jockey and trainer are to be believed.

Metallocene was bred by long-time client Terry Archer out of the winning Galileo mare Glam Girl. Do feel free to research the purchase price: you’ll discover that Terry found himself an extreme bargain. If Australians have a fault (OK, I am just being polite) it’s that they under-rate world-class bloodlines if they haven’t set the world on fire on their own rock-hard tracks. Galileo was not rated by Australians when Terry made his purchase; which was just as well, I suppose.

Anyway, I did the mating for Glam Girl’s second foal, the Jimmy Choux mare Chambon, and when Terry intimated that it would be a good idea to spend some more serious money on his Galileo mare, I immediately thought of Darci Brahma.

I have always rated the potential of the Darci Brahma – Sadler’s Wells cross. Apart from the huge success of Danehill x Sadler’s Wells, The Sir Tristram strain in Darci’s pedigree has a strong affinity with Miswaki. Many years ago I urged Donna Logan to buy a filly bred on this Danzig x Miswaki x Sir Tristram cross; she developed into the Group2 winner Focal Point so I was confident that the Darci mating was worth trying from this point of view.

However, what about the 3×3 inbreeding to Zabeel that sending Glam Girl to Darci Brahma would produce? Would it make the progeny too dour or too temperamental? I remember talking to Terry about the risks but the mare really did need a big horse at that point in her breeding career and, at the end of the day, if you don’t take a few risks in life, where do you end up?


Inbreeding – Here’s Some Really Interesting Data !

Every month the excellent Australian magazine “Bluebloods” publishes five-generation pedigrees of Group 1 winners from around the planet. (It’s always encouraging when our trans-Tasman cousins get something right; perhaps this comment is not unrelated to the topic of genetics which has been the focus of most of my recent articles).

Anyway, better not be too rude about the green and golds – there’s no credit in demolishing a soft target. Back to the pedigrees. This month’s edition of “Bluebloods” features 24 Group 1 winning pedigrees; I’ve just finished analysing them and they’ve thrown up some fascinating data.

No less than 23 of the 24 pedigrees feature inbreeding in the first five generations; 8 instances involve just one stallion, the other 15 contain duplications of either 2 (7 cases), 3 (6 cases) or 4 (2 cases) stallions and/or mares.

Of these 23 inbred pedigrees, no less than 20 include duplications of Northern Dancer in these first five generations. Other stallions who appear are Mr Prospector (7 times), Hail to Reason (2), Danzig (2), Nijinsky (2) and Blushing Groom (2). Buckpasser, Mill Reef, Never Bend, Sir Ivor, Sadler’s Wells, Storm Cat, Raise a Native, Native Dancer, Konigsstuhl, Tamerlane and Nearctic all appear once. On the distaff side, Special turns up twice; Natalma and Where You Lead make a single appearance.

When we try to interpret any data we’ve got to be careful. The most important question of all is – to what extent do these patterns of inbreeding occur in the racehorse population at large? In other words, if 20 out of every 24 racehorses have Northern Dancer duplications in the first five generations of their pedigrees, then we have proved nothing at all. Moreover, we need to remember that 17 of the 24 Group 1 contests referred to took place in the Northern Hemisphere, that part of the planet where Northern Dancer reigned supreme. And there’s also the question of whether or not our 24 races are a representative sample of all Group 1 events.

So what can we conclude? Well, our analysis may suggest that Northern Dancer is a more significant influence for racing quality than many of us had previously imagined. (You’ll have noticed that Danzig, Nijinsky, Sadler’s Wells and Storm Cat are all Northern Dancer descendants as well). It is generally accepted that inbreeding to this phenomenal animal helps to provide athletic ability, soundness and equable temperament in our mares’ offspring; it’s the dominance of these figures which may be surprising. Secondly, one out cross Group 1 winner out of 24 does not exactly strengthen the position of those of us who support out crossing as a method of improving the breed. Finally, it’s at least interesting that 15 of the 24 pedigrees we’ve looked at contained more than one incidence of inbreeding.

When the Southern Hemisphere Summer rolls around, I’ll repeat this exercise and report back.

Truth and Lies in Thoroughbred Breeding – Part 4

Some three years ago the excellent Manchester Guardian printed a fascinating article about thoroughbred genetics. I’ll link it below but there are a couple of points of interest which I’d like to comment on.

Firstly, the writer mentions the estimation that around 30-35% of racetrack performance is determined by genetics. Unfortunately, a detailed analysis of how this figure was arrived at was not produced, but you’d have to think that this is one very interesting statistic. Does it mean that agonising over the best possible mating is a waste of time or does it mean something entirely different. Perhaps it could suggest that since environmental factors affecting racing performance do not vary very much at all (please note, this comment is just for the sake of argument), then it must be the 30-35% genetic factors which make the difference.

The second really surprising aspect of the article was the assertion that inbreeding is much more likely to occur in the pedigrees of good sprinters than of good stayers. This is probably reasonably true and there’s also an implication is perhaps that good sprinters are easier to select from an analysis of their pedigrees than are good stayers. I’m not sure whether this data is solely sourced from the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s fair to say that the terminology used in this section of the article is anything but exact, but my experience has been that this is not the whole story. Sprinters can come from the most surprising bloodlines – Vonusti (Ustinov), Start Wondering (Eighth Wonder) – but stayers are much more predictable. It’s very rare for a 2400 winner to be sired by a sprinting stallion. I must admit that I haven’t any reliable data to back up this theory but it certainly my impression based on looking at thousands of sale catalogues.

Anyway, here’s what The Guardian has to say.