Market demand for speedy talent at stud
The Last Lion: Middle Park scorer won four of his ten starts
PICTURE: Getty Images Market demand for speedy talent at stud
By Martin Stevens 4:17PM 23 OCT 2016
THE Irish stallion ranks will next year welcome at least two three-year-olds, with July and Richmond Stakes winner Mehmas having been confirmed for Tally-Ho Stud and Middle Park Stakes scorer The Last Lion retired this week to Kildangan Stud.
Racing fans have howled with outrage at being deprived of horses they have grown attached to, and understandably so. Both horses displayed the speed and tenacity that should have made them forces to be reckoned with in the big sprint races next year.
More than a mild dose of disappointment was detectable as Mark Johnston, who expertly handled The Last Lion to win four of his ten starts from the Brocklesby in April to the Middle Park late last month, paid tribute to his charge.
"Of course, as a trainer, I would have loved to have him next year and to see what he might do stepped up to a mile or in the top sprint races against his elders," he said.
"I had every confidence he would have trained on and done well but, at the same time, I'm delighted for his owners and for the horse himself that he has done so well in such a very short space of time and that he's already in such demand for stud purposes."
While not seeking to justify stallion masters retiring colts at the end of their two-year-old seasons – not least because it cannot be in the long-term interest of the thoroughbred to breed from horses whose ability to train on past two goes untested – recent history shows how they are reacting to market demand for fast, precocious talent at stud and that there is serious money to be made in striking while the iron is hot and collecting an extra year of covering fees.
Dark Angel ranks as one of Europe's most exciting young sires of two-year-olds and sprinters, his commercial popularity epitomised by a fee that has risen from €10,000 in his first season to €60,000. He was retired to stud at three and has supplied two outstanding sprinters, Lethal Force and Mecca's Angel, who won Group 1 races at four and five.
Other stallions who have been covering since the age of three include Sir Prancealot, by some distance this year's leading freshman sire by number of winners; Gutaifan, who was warmly received by breeders in his debut season at stud and was sent more than 200 mares this year; and Zebedee, who has had one first-crop son, Ivawood, finish placed in the 2,000 Guineas and another, Magical Memory, win the Duke of York Stakes at four.
Coolmore also retired Fasliyev and Holy Roman Emperor at two – with the mitigating circumstances of injury in the first instance and to replace the infertile George Washington in the second – and attracted large books to them before they achieved success with their runners.
That handpicked selection of sires who have succeeded in spite of early retirement does not amount to proof that a lack of a three-year-old career is a recipe for success; it merely demonstrates why they are popular with commercial breeders who will hope to produce a foal who looks capable of following in their father's footsteps and giving buyers a quick return on their outlay.
After all, you could just as easily put forward Kodiac and War Front as exhibits A and B to show that it doesn't take a precocious runner to produce a precocious runner. Both brilliant two-year-old sires raced once in their juvenile season and failed to win.
An interesting footnote to the purchase of The Last Lion by Godolphin and his immediate retirement: most of the above-named colts retired at three were owned by keenly commercial Irish operations, while Sheikh Mohammed has been applauded for keeping horses in training over several seasons allowing them to become known to racing fans.
This move, alloyed with Godolphin reducing breeding-stock numbers at the sales this year, could be said to reveal a more obviously profit-driven side to Sheikh Mohammed's organisation.