The mammoth books covered by so many of today’s stallions have several disadvantages, not least the fact that they tend to prevent a wider range of stallions being given a chance to prove themselves. The likes of Alzao, Fairy King and Night Shift still all rank among the top 30 on Weatherbys’ list of leading sires in order of cumulative earnings, yet Alzao won nothing more important than a Group 3 in Italy, Fairy King ran only once and Night Shift won only one of his seven starts.

However, these three all had very strong pedigrees. Alzao was by Lyphard out of a Group-winning half-sister to the top American colt Tom Rolfe; Fairy King, of course, was a brother to Sadler’s Wells; and Night Shift was a brother to the champion filly Fanfreluche. Needless to say, their bloodlines proved more important than their performances and between them they sired getting on for 40 Group 1 winners, including winners of the Derby, Oaks, Arc and King George.

The lists of champion stallions in New Zealand and South Africa contain numerous other impeccably bred horses who shook off their comparatively unimpressive racing careers

The lists of champion stallions in New Zealand and South Africa contain numerous other impeccably bred horses who shook off their comparatively unimpressive racing careers. New Zealand’s imported champions included Noble Bijou, an unraced half-brother to Allez France by the great Vaguely Noble, and Mellay, an unraced son of the winners of five British Classics.

The South African list includes Northern Guest, with this unraced brother to El Gran Senor and Try My Best becoming another example of the Northern Dancer magic. Danzig’s unraced son National Assembly never quite made it to the top of South Africa’s general sires’ list, but he finished as high as second and was rarely out of the top half dozen. As befits a son of Danzig, he also became champion sire of two-year-olds on several occasions.

You can get some idea of the power of National Assembly’s pedigree from his yearling price of $2,500,000 at Saratoga in the heady days of 1985. His third dam was Grey Flight, who, together with her champion daughter Misty Morn, enjoyed a remarkably successful partnership with Bold Ruler. This cross produced the champion American stallion What A Pleasure, plus the champion racehorses Bold Lad (USA) and Successor.

National Assembly’s dam Renounce was out of What A Pleasure’s smart sister Bold Princess, which made her a half-sister to the high-class American turf horse Intrepid Hero and to Sovereign Dancer, yet another Northern Dancer colt whose stallion career outshone a less-than-inspiring racing career. National Assembly went into training with Vincent O’Brien, but never had the chance of adding to his family’s illustrious history.

National Assembly’s merit was perfectly demonstrated at Meydan on Dubai World Cup day. Soft Falling Rain, a colt who was conceived when National Assembly was a veteran of 24, improved his record to seven wins from seven starts when he defied being the youngest in the field to win the Godolphin Mile. Nearly two hours later it was the turn of another of National Assembly’s sons to shine. This time it was National Emblem, a champion older horse in South Africa who sired Shea Shea, winner of the Al Quoz Sprint. Shea Shea now has the King’s Stand Stakes on his agenda. Sadly, National Emblem is no longer around to capitalise on Shea Shea’s success, as this Klawervlei Stud stallion died of colic early in 2013, at the age of 21.

National Emblem’s 15 victories from the ages of two to five were gained at up to a mile and a quarter, so Shea Shea’s connections can’t be blamed for trying him over a mile earlier in his career. However, another of National Emblem’s best sons, Nhlavini, was a dual winner of the Cape Flying Championship over five furlongs. Also, Shea Shea’s broodmare sire, the Blushing Groom horse Jallad, gained his Group successes over six and seven furlongs. Sprinting is also what Shea Shea does best.

Blushing Groom also appears in the pedigree of Soft Falling Rain, but in the fifth generation. Sheikh Hamdan’s admirable colt may have been conceived and foaled in South Africa, but his pedigree is essentially American.

His dam Gardener’s Delight was bought by Gainesway for $250,000 as a yearling at Keeneland in 2004. With Giant’s Causeway as her sire and a Seattle Slew mare as her dam, Gardener’s Delight is bred to the same pattern as Eskendereya, who looked like a champion in the making when he won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and Wood Memorial over nine furlongs in 2010. Although Gardener’s Delight never raced, she could have been expected to stay a mile and a quarter as both her parents scored over that distance.

Gainesway was owned by the late Graham Beck, a South African who transferred Gardener’s Delight to his Highlands Farm, which numbers Main Aim and Pathfork among its stallions.

It will be fascinating to see what Highlands Farm achieves with its very well-connected stallion Great Britain, a Listed winner in Dubai and brother to Cape Cross who was rated 118 by Timeform. Once upon a time, when stallions’ books were smaller, some brave Irish breeder would probably have taken a chance on this son of sire of sires Green Desert.

Speightstown’s appeal an exception to rule
When John Gosden was asked to comment on the Breeders’ Cup’s turnaround on banning Lasix, he said: “There’s no doubt medication weakens the breed. It has to be looked at from the point of view of the American thoroughbred. There’s no doubt we’re finding them increasingly unsound and not the tough horses they used to be.”

Last year’s champion trainer is by no means the only person thinking along these lines, and there aren’t too many American stallions with European appeal.

Oddly enough, one exception to the rule is Speightstown, a champion sprinter whose career was seriously interrupted by soundness issues. Eugene Melnyk, who paid $2 million for the son of Gone West as a yearling, made some interesting comments after Speightstown’s victory in the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Sprint (in which, incidentally, all 13 runners competed on Lasix).

He said: “I learned a lot with the experience with Speightstown, and what I learned is not to push a horse when he is not ready. We really believed that he was ready as a two-year-old and we pushed a little bit, and finally nature took its course and said, ‘Forget about it, pack it in’ and we did that.”

You wouldn’t have expected a patchy record like this to endear Speightstown to Europeans

After making just a single start at two, Speightstown won four of his seven starts during the first eight months of his second season. Unfortunately further problems then arose. Off the track for 21 months, Speightstown returned to make two starts in May 2003, only to be sidelined again until the end of March 2004. He then more than made up for lost time by winning five of his six starts, including four graded stakes.

You wouldn’t have expected a patchy record like this to endear Speightstown to Europeans, but Speightstown is very good looking and can sire imposing yearlings. He was helped considerably when one of his first-crop runners in Britain turned out to be Lord Shanakill, winner of the Mill Reef Stakes before finishing second in the Dewhurst. This tough colt went on to Group 1 success at three, when he landed the Prix Jean Prat. Last year the WinStar stallion had no fewer than 31 runners in Britain and Ireland, but his 13 winners didn’t include Bapak Chinta, who was unable to reproduce the form that had won him the Norfolk Stakes in 2011.

Although Speightstown’s Anglo-Irish results were unexceptional in 2012 (with an average earnings index of 0.79), it has been a very different story elsewhere. His talent was demonstrated on Dubai World Cup day by Reynaldothewizard, who has improved with age and gained his finest victory in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen.

A striking aspect of his Meydan success is that it made him the fifth Group/Grade 1 winner to emerge from the 99 named foals in Speightstown’s first crop, which contains three other graded winners, including the speedy American colt Munnings.

Several of these winners are now themselves at stud, with Haynesfield, Jersey Town and Munnings in Kentucky, and Lord Shanakill in Ireland.

Speightstown also has Grade 1 winners Poseidon’s Warrior and Golden Ticket in his third and fourth crops. It will be interesting to see whether his future European runners can come close to matching the success of their American counterparts.

How well represented are American sires over here?
Exactly how big has the divide become between the North American industry and British and Irish racing, I wondered recently? I thought it might be revealing to look at the 11 Kentucky stallions who this year command fees of $70,000 or more. I expected the Darley USA residents would have been substantially represented during 2012 and this proved to be the case for Street Cry, with 80 Anglo-Irish runners, but the younger Bernardini and Medaglia D’Oro lagged behind with 20 and 19.

The highly progressive Malibu Moon doesn’t even make it into the 2012 Statistic Record annual

The tried-and-tested Giant’s Causeway, with his Coolmore connection, had a sizeable 2012 representation, with 47 runners. Distorted Humor, with two European Group 1 winners to his credit, had only 19 representatives, while Smart Strike, who has had Group winners in Britain, Ireland and France, had 13.

Some of the others showed just how hard it can be to overcome the catch-22 situation whereby breeders and buyers are reluctant to give a stallion a chance until he has proved himself in Europe. And of course that can’t happen until they have sufficient runners. The excellent Tapit (fee now $125,000) had only five runners in Britain and Ireland, and so did War Front, whose fee is up to $80,000. Awesome Again, with dirt the preferred surface of most of his best winners, had only three – the same figure as Tiznow, another very American stallion.

That leaves Malibu Moon, who like Bernardini is a son of AP Indy, the retired champion sire whose only Group successes in Europe were the Group 3 victories of Mingun and Admiral’s Cruise. The highly progressive Malibu Moon doesn’t even make it into the 2012 Statistic Record annual.

I suspect the one to keep an eye on is Danzig’s son War Front, whose cumulative total of eight runners in Britain and Ireland includes Declaration Of War, Lines Of Battle and Warning Flag (a Group-placed two-year-old winner in Ireland in 2010 who has since done well under the name of Sweet Orange in Hong Kong). Interestingly, all three of these good winners have form on turf and all-weather.

Hard Spun, another of Danzig’s higher-priced sons, stands at $60,000. Thanks to his Darley connection, he had 31 runners over here in 2012. But will Europe be the destination for as many of his progeny now that his best daughter, the ex-English Questing, showed much better form on dirt in the USA?