Forget Frankel. Of course, the very idea is absurd for anyone who enjoyed the privilege of seeing that exceptional horse in action over the last three years. But as the 2013 season unfolds we need to try to remember what we should expect of a normal, average year on the racecourse.
That could be 2010, when Frankel was just a two-year-old and we could only suspect his greatness, or 2008, when New Approach was an admirable champion, Timeform-rated 132. The 2009 season was not normal, dominated by Sea The Stars, who was himself decidedly out of the ordinary.
If we are going to measure the stars of 2013 by the standard Frankel set as a three- and four-year-old, we will be severely disappointed. We have now seen the best we are ever likely to see, so we must adjust our sights, acknowledge normality and rest content with it. The best sires tend to come from the ranks of horses whose racing merit was expressed in the high 120s to mid 130s – like Northern Dancer, Sadler’s Wells and Galileo – so let’s not get sniffy about colts who might be rated a full stone behind Frankel.
If we are going to measure the stars of 2013 by the standard Frankel set as a three- and four-year-old, we will be severely disappointed
And we should be aware that some of Frankel’s victims, horses whom he kicked out of the way and left for dead, are going to prove worthy sires, capable of getting stock who will match or even surpass the pick of Frankel’s progeny. Brigadier Gerard got nothing to equal the best by his Guineas victim Mill Reef, nor anything to match the best by Riverman, his runner-up in the Champion Stakes. Plenty of other such examples might be cited.
There are any number of ways in which a great sire might be defined, but, for the sake of convenience, let’s look at the individuals who have sired the winners of 100 or more European Pattern races. Only a horse with a consistent record of success over an extended period can accomplish that feat, and since the Pattern was introduced in 1971 only eight have earned the distinction.
The members of that elite band, with the number of Pattern wins collected by their progeny, are: Sadler’s Wells (327), Danehill (198), Galileo (137), Nureyev (121), Habitat (108), Riverman (102), Danzig (101) and Northern Dancer (100). Six of them raced in Europe, acquiring Timeform ratings. On the Timeform scale the two best were Habitat and Galileo, both on 134, followed by Sadler’s Wells on 132, Nureyev and Riverman on 131, and Danehill on 126. Best guesses in relation to the two who raced in North America might have Northern Dancer about on a par with Sadler’s Wells, while Danzig, who ran only three times and never contested a stakes race, would have to be rated inferior to Danehill.
Not many stand-outs on track
None of the eight was a racing superstar and only two of them could be described as clear best of his generation – Habitat as a miler in 1969, Galileo as a middle-distance performer in 2001. Northern Dancer was voted best in North America in 1964, but may not have been best on merit, while there would certainly be a case for suggesting that if Nureyev had remained healthy he would have achieved a higher rating and perhaps clinched a championship.
Danehill’s rise to sire stardom was immediate in Australia, but it was only after the death of Caerleon and his promotion to number two in the Coolmore pecking order that he obtained the chances to become a major influence in the northern hemisphere.
Danzig did not exactly come from nowhere, as his morning workouts marked him out as a potential star before he even raced
His sire Danzig did not exactly come from nowhere, as his morning workouts marked him out as a potential star before he even raced, and his wins in a maiden and a couple of allowance events suggested that he ought to take high rank as a stakes performer, but he wasn’t sound and that didn’t happen. He was fortunate that many prominent breeders chose to believe the hype, affording him good opportunities from the outset of his term at Claiborne, and after his initial results proved outstanding there was no looking back.
Of course, opportunity is always a huge factor. No horse can succeed in the short or long term with poor mares, and it takes a special one to succeed over a long period with few mares. Northern Dancer stands out as the special one among the eight in that respect, never having had a bigger crop than the 36 who were born in 1974, with Be My Guest and The Minstrel among their number. The huge prices attained by his auctioned yearlings were, to a significant extent, determined by their rarity.
Habitat came before the era of inflated books, which makes his stats impressive. He had many years as number one among the sires of Pattern winners, and it was not until 2009, 22 years after his death, that he was relegated to number two in the comparable table of broodmare sires. Needless to say, it was Sadler’s Wells who shifted him from top spot in both tables.
Danzig and Nureyev were both active when bigger books became the norm, but neither ever became hyper-active. Danzig never had a larger crop than the 61 born in 1993, and in terms of quality it was one of his poorest, with a single Pattern winner (Blue Duster) in Europe and one scorer in Graded company (Dream Scheme) in North America.
Similarly, Nureyev’s busiest season in the breeding shed was the one that resulted in a crop of 69 in 1995 and, again, bigger did not mean better. His daughter Isle de France won the Group 3 Prix Minerve in France and the Grade 3 Hillsborough Handicap in the States, where his only other Graded winner was the colt Social Charter, at Grade 3 level in the Fayette Stakes. His crops in other years never exceeded 53.
Sadler’s Wells started out with a first book of 59 and Danehill entertained 77 mares in his initial season, but as each enhanced his reputation the tallies became enormous. Sadler’s Wells twice had books of 196, one resulting in a crop of 174; Danehill had a crop of 151 (including Rock Of Gibraltar) in 1999, the outcome of liaisons with 193 mares in the previous spring.
Galileo has known nothing but three-figure books and has twice clocked up double centuries – in 2008 and 2011, when he recorded a personal best 214. As an already three-time champion sire, recognised as the best in the world, he is surely destined for a long reign at the top.
There can be no doubt that he is going to be kept busy in the seasons to come, although rumour has it that his fee – listed as ‘private’ – stands at a whopping €300,000, with the alternative of a foal share deal.
A horse of Galileo’s status might represent a reasonable exception, but logic should dictate that, in the era of huge books, there should be no huge fees. The cited examples of Danzig and Nureyev getting their worst results from their biggest books are but two among many; more mares inevitably means more dross, while carrying no guarantee of more quality. Northern Dancer’s 1980 crop of 31 foals included ten individual Pattern or Graded winners; I have to believe that no stallion will ever match that ration of racing distinction in a single crop.
By and large, the 2012 sales season proved strong, to some extent buoyed by the common phenomenon of buyers getting into horses when the world economy generally is suffering and other forms of investment become less appealing. And there is reason to believe that Qatar is in for the long term, prepared to compete with those already established as top-of-the-market players.
But despite all the discernible positives, it is also easy to identify a number of high-profile horses – some already with runners, others still untried – at fees that really cannot be justified. Reputations fall just as rapidly as they rise in this business and breeders need to be particularly wary in a 2013 stallion market where value is hard to find.