Timing is everything in racing, and the latest masters (or should we say "mistress") of the art is Gaynor Rupert's Drakenstein Stud: they got it right when they snatched the present log leader, Trippi, from under the noses of the Americans, and they've done it again with Duke Of Marmalade, sire on Sunday of the victress of the Prix de Diane Longines (the French Oaks). When Lady Bamford's Star Of Seville surged home for the irrepressible Derby duo of the previous week, John Gosden and Frankie Dettori, she cut yet another notch in the C.V. of a stallion who is the latest example of what inevitably happens these days when horses are disposed of in a hurry.
The fanfare that trumpeted "The Dukes" retirement from racing, was universally acknowledged. He was a five time Group One winner, a grand specimen of a horse, and he carried the pedigree of a prince. However, by the time the young stallion's first crop had reached the mid-point of their three year old careers, the internationally-respected bloodstock commentator, Andrew Caulfield, was beginning to believe that a few innocent words from him in his earlier columns had come back to haunt him. He had greeted the horse's arrival at stud with "Duke Of Marmalade will eventually be a very welcome addition to the Coolmore register, as he comes from a female line with a big reputation for producing stallions" (click here). Richard Henry and his team of marketing wordsmiths at Coolmore don't need a second invitation when they see headlines like this, and they leapt on it with the alacrity of a ravenous lion, featuring Caulfield's quote on just about every advertisement for the stallion henceforth.
We used to accuse the Aussies of being fickle in their judgment of stallions, but it seems that patience is no longer a virtue anywhere in the civilized racing world, where breeders tend to condemn the progeny of young prospects before their initial crop has even reached its third birthday; it wasn't long before this regal beast's patronage had dwindled to no more than 30 mares. Happily for Drakenstein and South Africa, the stallion's record has taken a miraculous turn for the better, with another of his current three year old crop, Sound Of Freedom, nabbing the laurels in the Italian 1000 Guineas equivalent just a few weeks ago. All told, he now has 17 Stakes winners from his first three northern hemisphere crops, which places him at the head of his generation of sires in this department, including another standout performer in Venus De Milo, who very nearly made a winning job of the 2013 Irish Oaks (Gr.1). A reversal in that result would've had many a European breeder bemoaning the departure of the stallion, despite the glut of top class horses at their disposal.
The Drakenstein appetite for seizing the day is not confined to Trippi and Duke Of Marmalade, however. A little more than a year ago, they salvaged Legislate for the gene pool from the prospect of export, and were rewarded with the nation's greatest horserace, the Vodacom Durban July. In the summer of 2014, they raised their hands for Futura, and within weeks they stood beside him in the number one box for the race to which they've given new life, the L'Ormarins Queens Plate, then feted him as the hero of the J&B Met.
Now they have the enviable dilemma of promoting the competing stallion careers of these two excellent sons of Dynasty in the same year, a racing problem they've neatly side-stepped in the run-up to this year's "July", by withdrawing Legislate from that contest in the wake of the destruction he wrought upon his foes in the Gold Challenge (Gr.1) a fortnight back.
Not long ago, local breeders shunned the use of their home-bred winners of the nation's top middle distance events, consigning to oblivion the achievements of the likes of Elevation and Model Man, and trusting instead the Australian penchant for precocity. If we were looking for stamina, we succumbed to the outmoded colonial belief that valued anything from abroad ahead of the local champion. The evidence of that philosophy lies in the premiership list for 2015, where Captain Al (local) and Var (imported) represent the "speed" gene, and Trippi, Silvano and Fort Wood (notably all imports) serve the other. Meanwhile the former Durban July ace, Dynasty, whose opening R12,000 fee illustrates the skepticism that greeted local middle distance horses of his exceptional talents, and continues, it seems, to visit his triple Group One winning son, Jackson (R15,000), is living out his "annus mirabilis" right now. His status among the nation's progenitors is no better expressed than in his stud fee, which reportedly stands as the highest in the land at R250,000, with no access in sight.