Are the right criteria used to judge new sires? VIEWPOINT.
Jocelyn de Moubray considers alternative ways of predicting which stallions will prove a success - not least the racing programme FLICKING through an American bloodstock magazine the other day I came across a first-season sire competition. What was interesting about the article was not the competition itself but the experts' opinions, which had been reproduced for each of the last ten years. It was striking how wrong they proved to be.
Every year three or four experts had given four or five picks for the top sires of the future, and yet between them they hardly mentioned any of the leading sires to have emerged in the US. Distorted Humor, Elusive Quality, Candy Ride, Tapit, Street Cry, Medaglia D'Oro and Birdstone - none had been thought worthy of a mention.
This made me wonder whether we judge the potential of new sires by the correct criteria. In Europe there seems to be a similar lack of correlation between the most sought after new sires and those who turned out to be the real thing.
Of Europe's four most expensive sires this year, two of them - Danehill Dancer and Monsun - started out their stud careers at the equivalent of less than pounds 4,000. The two most expensive British sires - Pivotal and Dansili - each began at the modest fee of pounds 6,000. There are many other examples of leading sires who started covering at less than pounds 10,000, among them Cape Cross, Invincible Spirit, Elusive City and Selkirk.
Is it impossible to predict which sires are going to be successful? Or are the experts giving too much emphasis to relatively unimportant criteria? It strikes me that two factors are given too much weight: what the stallion looks like and his sire line.
Yes, there are plenty of successful sons of, say, Danehill, Green Desert or Gone West, yet they would have been given every opportunity to succeed, but who would have predicted that Polar Falcon (Pivotal) , Waajib (Royal Applause) or even Konigsstuhl (Monsun) would produce top international sires? It also occurs that not enough account is taken of the racing programme in the countries where each sire's progeny are going to race or to a horse's pedigree away from its sire line.
The racing programme aspect is often underestimated but is extremely important. Sires are judged by the prize-money their progeny win and the number of black type performers they produce. To be successful they have to produce the right type of good horses, who are able to win the best races on offer. In Europe it is still the British programme that is decisive for a stallion's future and the British black type favours fast, precocious horses.
Of Britain's 293 black type races this year, 40 per cent are restricted to two- or three-year-olds, 61 per cent are run over a mile or less and 42 per cent are run over less than a mile. The French programme is different as only 45 per cent of black type races are run over a mile or less, and only 23 per cent over less than a mile, many of which are won by British and Irish trained horses.
STALLIONS who produce precocious sprinter/milers have many more opportunities to win black type in Britain than those who produce late-developing middledistance horses. Breeders are aware of this and of the 20 British stallions that covered 100 mares or more in 2009, 13 were either sprinters or sprinter/milers.
Looking at the pedigrees and racing performances of top sires it seems that it is not just the programme which favours speed. All top racehorses have speed and all top sires need to pass on speed, even if their progeny are best suited to middle distances. If there is one thing which links most top sires it is that their pedigrees often bring together a blend of speed and stamina.
Pivotal was a sprinter but he is out of a mare by Cozzene, who was out of a mare by the St Leger winner Bustino. Oasis Dream was a sprinter but his first two mares are by Dancing Brave and Mill Reef, while the sprinter Invincible Spirit is out of a Prix de Diane winner.
Dansili was a miler but his first two dams are by the stayers Kahyasi and High Line, while Danehill was a sprinter but the two grandsires of his dam Razyana, Ribot and Buckpasser, both won Group 1s over almost two miles. His son Danehill Dancer was also a sprinter, but three of the four sires in his third generation won Group 1 races over ten furlongs.
By German standards Monsun's pedigree could be said to be full of influences for speed and precociousness. He made a winning debut in August as a two-year-old. His dam made her debut over seven furlongs and his sire Konigsstuhl, to whom he bears a strong physical resemblance, was a Triple Crown winner by a top miler who had placed in Germany's top sprint race.
You could go on to look for speed influences in the pedigrees of Montjeu and Galileo. However, both won brilliantly on their two-year-old debuts and had such tactical speed that it is not, in hindsight, a surprise that they can both produce top class milers.
All of this reflection does not make it any easier to predict who will be the top sires of the future, but it does seem that there is more to it than just picking the good looking horses from the fashionable sire lines.