When Selkirk retired to stud in 1993, it goes without saying that the bloodstock landscape was a very different beast to the one that it is today.

As we know, the commercial market has since placed a greater emphasis on the faster and precocious animal, even allowing for the fact that it is the later-maturing, more middle-distance type that tends to have greater value down the road, especially for export. 

As for the breed itself, it was a far more diverse creature 30 years ago, with a host of wide-ranging bloodlines contributing to its development. Today, many of those have been lost – or are about to be lost – as a concentration of Northern Dancer, whether through Sadler’s Wells or the quicker Danzig and Storm Bird, and to a lesser extent Mr Prospector take precedent. It’a true that several of those lesser sire lines would have likely diminished with time anyway. But there is also the possibility that others have been squeezed, perhaps unfairly, by commercial forces, aided by the advent of big books.

The sire tables for 1992 paint an interesting picture. Sadler’s Wells assumed his customary position at the top. El Gran Senor, another Coolmore son of Northern Dancer (but sub-fertile), owed his place to the Group 1 exploits of Rodrigo De Triano. Shirley Heights’ son Slip Anchor was responsible for the Oaks and St Leger heroine User Friendly and thus also took high ranking. Others such as Ahonoora, by Lorenzaccio, Riverman, by Never Bend, Persian Bold, by Bold Lad, and Rainbow Quest, by Blushing Groom, also enjoyed good seasons. Among the first-crop sires, Chilibang, by the Forli horse Formidable, and Persian Heights, by Persian Bold, were first and second by number of winners in Britain.

Similar can be said of the Sharpen Up sire line, another popular influence of his time who popped up more than once through his son Selkirk over the past weekend

Not one of those sire lines are easily accessible today, with some having disappeared altogether. Similar can be said of the Sharpen Up sire line, another popular influence of his time who popped up more than once through his son Selkirk over the past weekend. 

A noted broodmare sire, Selkirk was represented by his 12th Group/Grade 1 winner in that department on Sunday by the 1,000 Guineas winner Elmalka, a daughter of Prix de l’Opera heroine Nahrain. Meanwhile his son Cityscape fired in a Group race double courtesy of Chilli Flag in the Grade 2 Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes at Churchill Downs in the US and La City Blanche in the Group 3 Queen Memorial Cup at Sha Tin in Hong Kong. 

Selkirk was Sharpen Up’s last major son to head to stud, his retirement coming nearly three years following his sire’s withdrawal from service in Kentucky. At the time, there was plenty to recommend the sire line, primarily through the siblings Kris and Diesis; Kris had been champion sire of 1985 following the exploits of Oh So Sharp, the first of his many Group 1 winners, while Diesis had already provided the first of his three Oaks winners, Diminuendo, from his base in Kentucky.

Elmalka (right) runs down Porta Fortuna and Ramatuelle to win the 1,000 Guineas to become the latest Group 1 winner out of a mare by Selkirk. Photo – Bill Selwyn

Selkirk, a tall, flashy chestnut raced by his breeder George Strawbridge with Ian Balding, was the champion miler of 1991 by virtue of his win in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, and turned in several Group 1 calibre performances the following year, notably when taking the Lockinge Stakes by a wide margin at Newbury, then a Group 2, and running a whisker second to Marling in the Sussex Stakes. He was retired to Lanwades Stud at a fee of £8,000 and went on to enjoy a consistently successful stud career that ultimately left him and his sons as the last meaningful representatives of his sire’s line.

Sharpen Up was the best runner sired by the once-raced Atan, an excellent juvenile for his breeder Bernard van Cutsem whose first season culminated in victory in the 1971 Middle Park Stakes. That win placed him among the best of his generation alongside his stable-mate High Top, who would go on to win the following year’s 2,000 Guineas, yet they were still rated inferior to van Cutsem’s more exalted youngster Crowned Prince. 

Surprisingly, neither Crowned Prince or Sharpen Up were to win again at three, although Sharpen Up did finish second in the July Cup. He stood initially for moderate fees at Side Hill Stud in Newmarket and when Kris emerged out of his third crop to become one of the best milers of the 1980’s, the syndicate cashed in and Sharpen Up was sold to stand at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky, where his fee peaked at $75,000 in the aftermath of Trempolino’s record-setting Arc win in 1987.

Given the popularity during their time of Kris and Diesis, in addition to other sons such as Trempolino and Sharpo, it’s disappointing that the Sharpen Up line hasn’t endured as well as it could have done. It is thanks to primarily to Selkirk that it remains relevant and in terms of sire line, even that now is diminishing. Selkirk left behind nearly 100 stakes winners, among them 17 at Group 1 level. Several early on were given their chance at stud, including Kirkwall, Trans Island and Altieri, but the best has turned out to be Cityscape, the record-breaking winner of the 2012 Dubai Duty Free at Meydan.

The market never really latched on to Cityscape – his largest crop was his first at 71 foals – but he’s been more than useful nevertheless

The Juddmonte homebred spent nine seasons at Overbury Stud, where he never stood for more than £5,000. For whatever reason, the market never really latched on – his largest crop was his first at 71 foals – but he’s been more than useful nevertheless. That first crop contained the winners of the Fred Darling and Musidora Stakes in Dan’s Dream and Give And Take, and subsequent European crops have yielded Caernarfon, a sister to Dan’s Dream who was placed in last year’s Oaks and made a pleasing return when third in Sunday’s Dahlia Stakes, and the high-class American runners Avenue De France, winner of last year’s Grade 2 John C Mabee Stakes, and the current Grade 2 winner Chili Flag. The latter surely now deserves a crack at the top level following her success on Saturday.

However, Cityscape has done particularly well in Argentina, where shuttle trips to Haras Vacacion have provided champions Zillion Stars, Top One Escape and The Punisher as well as Sunday’s Group 3 Sha Tin winner, La City Blanche. Now 18 years old, Cityscape is a permanent resident of Argentina and given his age, it has to be unlikely that he will be seen on these shores again.

Cityscape: Selkirk’s son had a fine weekend

Selkirk’s daughter Nahrain, meanwhile, has thrown another top-notcher in Elmalka and on this occasion for the Roger Varian stable, which prepared the mare to win the 2011 Prix de l’Opera and 2012 Flower Bowl Stakes. Nahrain’s first foal, Benbatl (by Dubawi), was a hardy international performer for Godolphin, for whom he won 11 races including the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes in Australia, Group 1 Dubai Turf at Meydan and Group 1 Grosser Dallmayr Preis – Bayerisches Zuchtrennen in Germany. The son of Dubawi now stands at Big Red Farm in Japan where his first crop are yearlings. Another foal out of Nahrain, Fooraat, was Listed-placed.

Elmalka runs in Sheikh Ahmed al Maktoum’s colours, as did Nahrain and for a spell, her own dam Bahr. Bahr was in Sheikh Ahmed’s colours when saddled by Barry Hills to win the Washington Singer Stakes as a two-year-old but was then switched to Godolphin, for whom the daughter of Generous won the following year’s Ribblesdale and Musidora Stakes and ran second in the Oaks. Nahrain was by far the best of her six winners but another daughter Baharah was pretty smart as the winner of a pair of Listed races for Gerard Butler following her sale for 30,000gns as an unraced three-year-old out of the Darley fold. More recently, the high-class sprinters Go Bears Go and Far Above have represented the line descending from Bahr to good effect; Far Above’s half-brother Night Raider could well go on to do the same this season despite his underwhelming effort in the 2,000 Guineas.

The Maktoum family’s association with this family stretches back to Bahr’s dam Lady Of The Sea, Elmalka’s third dam. In turn, the daughter of Mill Reef is out of the legendary New Zealand mare La Mer, a striking example of the innovative attitude of Captain Tim Rogers. Well attuned to the southern hemisphere scene, Rogers infused an Antipodean flavour to his Airlie Stud in the late 1970s with the import of La Mer for a rumoured NZ$300,000. A daughter of the British-bred Royal Charger stallion Copenhagen, La Mer won 24 races for trainer Malcolm Smith and the Wynthorpe Stud, then the base for a fledgling educational facility which had paid just NZ$8,000 for the filly as a foal at foot with her dam La Balsa from her breeder, Jack Alexander. Regarded as one of the greatest mares to grace New Zealand, La Mer’s haul included the Group 1 New Zealand Oaks, Manawatu Sires’ Produce Stakes and Air New Zealand Stakes. 

Shipped to Ireland, La Mer went on to breed seven winners for Rogers but only one, the Habitat colt Cipriani, won a stakes race. Today, the family flows at its strongest through Lady Of The Sea, a Haydock maiden winner in 1989 for Sheikh Mohammed. That wasn’t always the case – she was sold in 1996 for just 25,000gns to Breckenbrough Ltd but due primarily to Bahr, a yearling at the time of her dam’s sale, it remains a very relevant and current family.

Elmalka’s win completed an outstanding afternoon for her sire Kingman. Now the sire of 11 Group/Grade 1 winners, including Kinross out of a Selkirk mare, he was also responsible for the Pretty Polly Stakes heroine Friendly Soul (incidentally a homebred for Selkirk’s owner-breeder George Strawbridge, who bred her out of his multiple stakes-producing mare In Clover) and Salisbury conditions race winner Running Queen.

Nahrain (yellow cap): Roger Varian’s first Group 1 winner is the dam of Elmalka. Photo – George Selwyn