Problems and openings for breeding stayers

Dylan Thomas: Group 1 winner should be a sire valued under both codes

PICTURE: Mark Cranham ( Problems and openings for stamina breeding
1:01PM 17 JAN 2017

Bryan Mayoh argues many jumps sires are of value to Flat breeders

THOSE who value the diversity of the racing programme should be seriously concerned at the decline in the production of middle-distance and staying horses in Britain and Ireland.

We are not yet in the position of Australia, where only three of the past 20 winners of the country's greatest race, the Melbourne Cup, have been homebred, but we are in danger of following the same fashion for short-distance speed.

With this approach now well established in the US and increasingly evident in France, there is a danger that Japan will soon be the only major racing nation in which middle-distance racing ability is a principal objective for breeders.

The choice of stallions at stud is a clear indication of what the market wants, and in Britain and Ireland the trend is clear.

In the 2017 Weatherbys and RacingFX stallion guides I identified 157 British or Irish stallions targeted at Flat breeding, as against 182 in the corresponding publications in 2007.

Of these, 43 per cent had best racing distances of five or six furlongs, as against 32 per cent ten years ago; 42 per cent were best over seven to nine furlongs (counting eight to ten-furlong specialists such as Frankel in this group), versus 46 per cent in 2007; leaving only 15 per cent of stallions that required at least ten furlongs to show their best form, versus 22 per cent in 2007.

Put another way, breeders wishing to use a sprinter can choose from 15 per cent more stallions than those of ten years ago; those looking for Flat-oriented middle-distance sires have scarcely more than half as many to choose from – just ten in Britain and 12 in Ireland.

Of the two nations, Britain is slightly the worst ‘offender', with 51 per cent of the advertised stallions being sprinters, 36 per cent milers and only 13 per cent middle-distance horses.

Lovers of US racing might not find this a problem. Those that love British racing surely should.

Consideration of what might be done to redress this situation is beyond the scope of this article, but among the possibilities – some already raised by the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association – are:

Maintaining a logical Pattern-race programme regardless of ratings parameters, while strengthening the black-type programme for middle-distance fillies.

Increasing the number of two-year-old races confined to horses by stallions that won over at least ten furlongs.

Developing high-value handicaps over 1m4f or more, particularly for three-year-olds.

Increasing rewards for middle-distance three-year-olds via the EBF, Plus Ten and other potential incentive schemes.

Of course, if such things are proposed there are bound to be siren voices asking "where are the stallions to produce more middle-distance horses? After all, there are only 22 in the entire British Isles."

The answer is remarkably simple. Britain and Ireland are fortunate to have considerable numbers of jumps breeders driven by a passion for their sport.

The top jumps stallions are no longer the moderate Flat horses who once plied this trade. Disregard by Flat breeders has meant many high-class racehorses, of the type that 50 years ago were targeted to breed Derby winners, stand as jumps sires.

A swift search revealed almost 70 middle- or long-distance horses with ratings of over 120 stand as jumps sires in Britain or Ireland, compared with only 19 advertised as Flat sires.

The average rating of these horses is 125.3, just below the 127.6 for middle-distance Flat sires (who include Galileo and Sea The Stars) but higher than the 123.5 of milers and 120.9 of sprinters.

They include horses who on objective measures of performance – although clearly not commercial ones – were good Flat sires, such as Champs Elysees, Dylan Thomas and Mount Nelson; outstanding racehorses and now successful jumps sires that were scarcely used as Flat stallions, like Westerner and Yeats; and newer jumps sires who in former days would have been highly regarded Flat breeding prospects, such as Fame And Glory and Telescope (in whom, for the sake of transparency, it is only fair to say I own an interest).

Flat owner-breeders with the courage not to follow the herd may find that if they breed middle-distance horses their chances of long-term success are enhanced. Their produce can compete in valuable handicaps or conditions races over distances that most of the thoroughbred population are not bred to stay.

Eventually they might be sold for good money to countries such as Australia or Hong Kong that for various reasons are unable to produce such horses. Patience invested in accepting initially lower returns could ultimately reap much greater rewards.

For such breeders, using a jumps-oriented sire who was a top racehorse with a good pedigree can offer excellent value. After all, covering jumps mares doesn't affect their genes.

For the long-term benefit of the breed the combination of speed and stamina preserved by jumps breeding could be vital if the constant march to the mediocre monotony of a sprint-obsessed breeding programme is to be halted.

As well as being co-breeder of high-class jumps horses Lifeboat Mona and Sizing John, Dr Bryan Mayoh is a lifelong thoroughbred-breeding obsessive. Although he is an elected TBA Board member, the views expressed in this article are his own and not necessarily those of the TBA.

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