From the end of March, almost 30 young stallions in Europe will have their credentials put to the sword in the harshest test of all: first runners on the racecourse. A percentage of their offspring have already been judged in the sales ring and, to a certain extent, opinions will have been formed as to their perceived merits or otherwise.
Two of the most successful stallions currently standing in Europe, Galileo and Dubawi, have delivered ample proof that forming opinions too early can be dangerous, and Galileo’s slowish start with his first two-year-olds is worth bearing in mind when it comes to runners for his sons Frankel and Nathaniel. In the clamour around early-season juvenile winners for stallions, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that it’s the Group races and longer-distance maidens in the second half of the season that are most informative when it comes to assessing the horses who will figure prominently in their Classic seasons – at least for those that are actually given the chance to stay in training at three.
It’s the Group races and longer-distance maidens that are most informative when it comes to assessing the horses who will figure prominently in their Classic seasons
The first chance many of us will have to see a Frankel two-year-old at a racecourse could well be during Tattersalls’ Craven Breeze-up on April 11, when a half-brother to the black-type runners After and Temps Au Temps takes to the Rowley Mile as part of Malcolm Bastard’s six-strong consignment.
After a major breakthrough with the 2015 champion freshman sire Zoffany, it’s another big year for Dansili, whose credentials as a sire of sires will be further tested through runners for four of his sons – Bated Breath, Delegator, Famous Name and Requinto. A top-class Group 1-winning juvenile who was out as early as the third week of the season himself at two, Zoffany had plenty of early types in 2015, including a hat-trick of Royal Ascot winners in Waterloo Bridge (Norfolk Stakes), Illuminate (Albany Stakes) and Washington DC (Windsor Castle Stakes). But his first crop also offered strength in depth and Highclere Thoroughbred Racing’s Foundation will bid to become his first Classic winner after landing the Juddmonte Royal Lodge Stakes and finishing third to Marcel in the Racing Post Trophy.
In France, the team at Haras de la Cauvinière will be hoping that lightning can strike twice when Rajsaman bids to emulate Le Havre’s great start at stud. As the last son of Linamix to retire to the stallion ranks, Rajsaman was well supported by breeders and will be an interesting young sire to follow.
All Power to Annie
Before we start to think about the bright young things, there’s the Cheltenham Festival to look forward to first.
The build-up to Cheltenham wouldn’t be complete without dramatic defections of hot favourites and the injury to reigning Champion Hurdler Faugheen is a major blow. It does, however, open up the intriguing possibility that his stable-mate Annie Power will eschew the OLBG David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, and the towering eight-year-old was swiftly made favourite after Faugheen’s withdrawal from the picture despite not actually holding an entry for the race.
Should Annie Power prevail, she will become only the fourth mare to win the Champion Hurdle in its near 90-year history and the first to line up since 2009 when Whiteoak, winner of the inuagural mares’ hurdle the previous year, finished 12th.
Those bemoaning the dominance of the Willie Mullins/Rich Ricci pairing may not appreciate the transplanting of one pink-and-green-spotted runner for another at the head of the Champion Hurdle betting, but victory for Annie Power would provide an important reminder to owners and trainers alike not to overlook National Hunt fillies at the sales. It would also be a fitting result coming so soon after the passing of the last mare to be crowned Champion Hurdler, Flakey Dove, who died in February at the age of 30.
The Price family’s homebred was properly tested on the racecourse, winning 14 of her 44 starts in five seasons of racing and joining African Sister (1939) and Dawn Run (1984) on the Champion Hurdle roll of honour in 1994. It’s fair to say she didn’t soar to the same heights as a broodmare but with several of her daughters having followed her to the paddocks, Flakey Dove could be represented at the Festival by her grand-daughter Fairytale Theatre, a dual winner for Paul Nicholls who is now in the hands of Dan Skelton and has an entry in the OLBG David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.