Holy Roman Emperor (APRH)
Back in the spring many in the breeding world were scandalised by the news that Holy Roman Emperor, evidently quite sound and about to start serious work toward a Classic campaign, had been abruptly taken out of training and switched to stud duties. Of course, there was a commercial reason for the decision, which supposedly had more to do with the luckless George Washington’s failure to impregnate his mares than with any lack of confidence in the future of Holy Roman Emperor as a racehorse.
Even so, this was another example of the tail of breeding wagging the dog of racing, and many deplored the fact that a horse who had competed only as an adolescent, and whose true merits as a athlete remained a matter for conjecture, was to enter the ranks of stallions as a three-year-old and be allowed to cover a substantial number of mares. Yes, he was a well-bred horse, and his form as a youngster did suggest that he was the second best of his generation at that age, but two-year-old form was no basis for establishing any horse’s right to stand at stud, and the move set a precedent that might well prove injurious to the breed if it were to become a trend.
Last week came the news that another immature horse, Middle Park Stakes winner Dark Angel, had ended his brief career when subsequently beating only one no hoper in the Dewhurst. He is off to stud at three, not because he has proved himself an outstanding performer, but because he has indicated that, without substantial improvement, he would be unlikely to enhance his reputation at three in a racing schedule that offers limited opportunities to the horse who has acquired a Group 1 penalty at two.
Dutch Art, winner of the 2006 Middle Park, and unbeaten that season, was deliberately campaigned this year where the penalty clause did not apply, and he did show improved form, notably when runner-up in the July Cup, enhancing his reputation. But he did not actually win a race, which had to be disappointing for his owners, and that may have been a factor in the decision of Dark Angel’s connections to part with their colt.
So is there a trend underway? If so, it is one much to be regretted, because we have developed the breed over two centuries, and proven its quality, largely on the basis of three-year-old form. We have learnt that, generally speaking, juvenile performance is insignificant, which is only to be expected when we consider the hosts of human athletes in all sports who excel in their youth, but are incapable of making the top grade in their maturity.
Nine times out ten precocity is just that, and no indication of future development. Fasliyev, taken out of training early through injury, always had dubious qualifications for stud duty, profited handsomely from the patronage of ‘first season faddists’, but was soon revealed as just another stallion and has had to find a new home. Holy Roman Emperor may well suffer a similar fate, and while we all wanted to believe in Teofilo as a great horse in the making, the fact remains that he did not begin to prove his greatness.
The old adage that the purpose of racing is the improvement of the breed has never been strictly true, and in this ultra-commercial era it is less true than ever. It is not the individual breeder’s business to concern himself with the improvement of the breed as a whole, and for the market breeder it is never a consideration. But, if he is wise, he should be concerned with trying to improve his own breed, and that means that he should seek to use only stallions who have thoroughly established their merit – i.e. by showing superior form at three.
Of course, history does provide examples from which a counter-argument might be developed, but they are very few in number, and have to be considered exceptions to the rule. Once in a blue moon an un-raced horse will make a splash at stud, the best example of that phenomenon in the northern hemisphere in comparatively recent times being the immaculately-bred Alibhai, who wielded considerable influence in the States.
And North America also provides the two best examples of horses who went on to excel as sires after racing careers that ended at two. One was Hail to Reason (Turn-To), who famously was given a tough time by trainer Hirsch Jacobs in a 1960 season that began with a 12th place finish in a three-furlong dash at Santa Anita on 21st January and ended with a victory over seven furlongs in the World’s Playground Stakes at Atlantic City on 10th September.
In that time he won nine of 18 races, his trainer countering accusations of harsh treatment with the comment: “I thought it better to let him wear out than rust away.” Clearly best of an undistinguished crop of juveniles, Hail to Reason broke both sesamoids on his near-fore shortly after his last stakes win, and went on to get a ratio of 14 per cent stakes-winners to foals and claim an enduring place in notable pedigrees.
Raise a Native (Native Dancer) was more of a fly-by-night, lasting for only four races between February and July before he bowed a tendon. He was unbeaten and not really tested by indifferent competition, and the five and a half furlongs of the Great American Stakes was the longest distance he ever essayed. Aided by a good colt in Exclusive Native in his first crop, Raise a Native quickly achieved wider patronage, and in due course Mr Prospector spread his genes throughout the breed.
In these islands over the last 150 years, only two horses whose careers ended at two have achieved champion sire status. The first was Kendal (Bend Or), who won six races in 1885 and broke down at Newmarket in the Rous Stakes, the last of his eight starts. He got his chance at stud on the basis of the fact that he had beaten a half-trained and still un-raced Ormonde in a gallop at Kingsclere, and earned his renown as a sire through 1897 Triple Crown victor Galtee More.
The other – and far more celebrated – champion sire to have raced only at two was unbeaten The Tetrarch (Roi Herode), who achieved the unprecedented feat of heading the list when only eight years old in 1919. Though less than normally fertile, the so-called “spotted wonder” wielded huge influence at stud, and though his male line soon died out, he remained a factor in prominent pedigrees through his daughters, among them the fabled Mumtaz Mahal.
TONY MORRIS : Author extraordinaire – European Bloodstock News