In 1913 The Tetrarch convinced many long-time observers of racing that he was the fastest, most brilliant two-year-old ever known on the Turf. He ran seven times and won seven times; in the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot his margin of victory was ten lengths, and in the Rous Memorial Stakes at Goodwood it was six. His only close call came in the National Breeders’ Produce Stakes at Kempton Park, where he was left many lengths at the start, but got up to score by a neck, conceding 17lb to the runner-up and 18lb to the third. In no other race did a rival finish within three lengths of him. His Free Handicap mark of 9st 10lb confirmed his outstanding merit.
He raced only at sprint distances, never past six furlongs, but such was his reputation that he was widely considered invincible over any distance, featuring as favourite for both the 2000 Guineas and the Derby throughout the winter. The only doubt anyone seemed to entertain about him was the fact that he had missed his final engagement at two, in the Imperial Plate at Kempton, after having rapped a foreleg at exercise, with the result that he became slightly lame. There was no indication that the colt had a long-term soundness problem, though it has to be said that public relations were not high on any trainer’s agenda a century ago, and The Tetrarch’s handler Atty Persse would have been the longest of longshots to issue regular health bulletins on members of his string.
Four days before the Guineas it became known that The Tetrarch would not be leaving Stockbridge for Newmarket, but no reason was given. The public continued to believe in the champion two-year-old and he remained as short as 7-2 for the Derby after the first Classic had been run. But in mid-May, Persse finally had to come clean, telling the Press Association that he had advised owner-breeder Dermot McCalmont to scratch The Tetrarch from the Derby. The trouble that had caused his non-appearance in the previous autumn’s Imperial Plate had recurred, and he could not be made fit for further racing.
How would breeders react to The Tetrarch’s early retirement? The received wisdom was that form as a three-year-old was what mattered most for a prospective stallion, and soundness was inevitably highly prized. Evidence of a measure of stamina was also desirable. Here was a horse that had never competed at three, racing only in sprints, and was manifestly unsound. The devil’s advocate might also point out that the so-called ‘spotted wonder’ had written his own pedigree; at birth he would have been regarded as unfashionably-bred.
Promising start at stud
It turned out that breeders gave The Tetrarch the benefit of their doubts, at least for a while, and they were rewarded for it. The horse got top-class runners, and along with outstanding speedsters such as Tetratema and Mumtaz Mahal, there were genuine stayers, including three winners of the St Leger. His problems at stud were not about getting stock who trained on, stayed and were sound, but simply getting his mates in foal. He was never very fertile, and ultimately completely infertile.
The Tetrarch was exceptional in many ways, not least in carving out a highly successful stud career without having raced beyond adolescence, and until recent years few colts of my time who raced only at two were granted reasonable opportunities as stallions. The exceptions include Whistling Wind, who headed the Irish Free Handicap in 1962, and Double Jump, top weight in England’s Free Handicap two years later; both were sprint-bred and campaigned only in sprints.
Whistling Wind ran only three times, always at the minimum trip, and his best win came in the National Stakes at Sandown. He was an intended runner in the Prix Morny, but split a pastern shortly before that race, was sold to the Irish National Stud for £25,000 and had his first covering season as a four-year-old. Double Jump won his first five races, including the Prix Robert Papin and the Gimcrack Stakes. Expected to trot up in the Middle Park, he burst a blood vessel in the race and was never seen on the racecourse again. He too began at stud as a four-year-old.
Each horse got winners but getting stock of real class proved too much for both. It seemed reasonable to suppose that Whistling Wind and Double Jump had simply been speedy juveniles, more precocious than their contemporaries at that early stage, and would have been unlikely to dominate again at three. Their stud careers did nothing to advertise the practice of providing opportunities for horses who raced only at two.
However, around the same time in the States there were two examples of horses who made early exits from racing, but who made lasting impressions on pedigrees. Hail To Reason and Raise A Native each headed the Experimental Free Handicap, the former in 1960, the latter in 1963, but their careers at the track were very different.
Hail To Reason had his first two starts in three-furlong dashes at Santa Anita in January and February, and he did not win until the sixth time of asking, by which time he had switched to New York. He was at his peak between July and September, when he won six out of seven, including the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga by ten lengths and the World’s Playground Stakes at Atlantic City by four and a half, the latter event representing his swan-song. All in all, he won nine of 18 starts.
The enhanced programme sends a clear message to the connections of prominent precocious juvenile colts: come out and compete
Raise A Native, a horse who was all speed, had only four starts, opening with a six-length romp in a three-furlong event at Hialeah at the end of February. His three subsequent efforts came at Aqueduct between May and July, and he won them all, registering two track records and equalling the third. In training for his first start at six furlongs he ruptured his near-fore tendon sheath, and that was that.
Hail To Reason and Raise A Native both started at stud at three, and they were both soon among North America’s leading sires. The former had the Belmont Stakes winner Hail To All and a couple of high-class fillies in Straight Deal and Admiring in his first crop, while the latter had Exclusive Native from his initial season’s coverings. In time, Hail To Reason would earn further fame through Halo and Roberto, Raise A Native through Mr Prospector and Alydar.
While breeders in this part of the world held to the belief that two-year-olds were mere adolescents, not to be trusted as parent stock until they had proved themselves at three or over, it seemed unlikely that there would be comparable cases to those of Hail To Reason and Raise A Native here. But there came an example when Fasliyev failed to remain sound for racing as a three-year-old, and before we realised what a flop he was as a sire, Holy Roman Emperor was diverted from a planned Classic campaign to replace infertile George Washington, and a trend has developed out of a fad.
Dark Angel was taken out of training after a poor effort in the 2007 Dewhurst, and rated only 113 by Timeform. In the following spring he was covering a book of 114 mares. More recently we have witnessed other early exits for commercial reasons, from the likes of Approve and Zebedee in 2010, Lilbourne Lad in 2011, and Sir Prancealot in 2012. And there came a fashionable excuse for such moves – the dearth of suitable and worthwhile opportunities for three-year-old sprinters, who were too often made to struggle against seasoned older campaigners. Reference to the programme book indicates that they had a point.
But from next year that excuse should be redundant. The European Pattern Committee has acknowledged the shortcomings in the sprint division, and has made radical changes to the schedule for 2015, instituting a new Group 1 for Royal Ascot and upgrading ten other events, three in England, four in Ireland, two in France and one in Germany.
The enhanced programme sends a clear message to the connections of prominent precocious juvenile colts: come out and compete, and prove that your horse is more than the early-developing adolescent that he’s shown himself to be.
Is it going to produce the desired result? I wouldn’t bet on it.