On the cusp of the official start of the covering season we sadly lost two stallions in February.
In America, Lucky Pulpit died of an apparent heart-attack while covering a mare and the baton will now be passed to his most famous son, California Chrome, who signed off from his illustrious racing career at the end of January having banked almost £10 million in prize-money for his colourful connections.
This much-loved Eclipse Horse of the Year was important for American racing in so many ways. His 16 wins from 27 starts made him an enduring hero in an era when our champions of the turf are there one minute and off to stud the next.
It was a huge shame that he was unable to make his intended appearance at Royal Ascot in 2015 but his presence that summer in Newmarket – a very welcome temporary boarder at Rae Guest’s stable – added extra sparkle to a Heath laced with stars. California Chrome’s subsequent victory in last year’s Dubai World Cup, having run second to Prince Bishop 12 months earlier, was richly deserved and it is fervently hoped that his nemesis of late, Juddmonte’s top-rated Arrogate, takes up his engagement at Meydan later this month.
Closer to home, we lost Fame And Glory to the same fate as Lucky Pulpit, just as he was about to start his fifth season at Grange Stud in Ireland. Had he still been with us, the five-time Group 1 winner would have been a worthy inclusion in Aisling Crowe’s feature on the versatile members of the dual-purpose sire ranks (pages 54 to 60). With his eldest crop being just three, it’s far too early to say whether or not Fame And Glory would have been a good stallion, but I’m willing to bet that in a handful of seasons we will be ruing his untimely death.
At risk of accusations of being stuck in the dark ages, I still rue the fact that he wasn’t retired to Coolmore’s Flat base in the first place, but as we’ve come to find, somewhat depressingly, it’s all too hard for St Leger heroes or Ascot Gold Cup winners to attract sufficient support at stud as Flat stallions.
Of course, where a horse stands and whatever label we give him doesn’t change his genetic make-up or alter the fact that, especially with a horse such as Fame And Glory, he was a top-class galloper that any racing fan would be thrilled to own. And there’s the rub.
Few things in the racing world could be more special than receiving a trophy from the Queen at Royal Ascot as the owner of the Gold Cup winner, yet precious few people want to buy potential stayers as yearlings. This conundrum makes breeders who need to balance the books understandably cautious when it comes to using middle-distance stallions.
As John Flood points out in our feature, Flat breeders are still welcome to use Mount Nelson since his move to Ireland, despite the fact that his presence at Boardsmill Stud has now effectively labelled him as a jump sire.
It is merely a matter of perception, of course. As the annual cry of stallion fees being too high and books being too large still lingers, it’s worth the few smaller owner-breeders left out there using a little imagination when it comes to stallion choice. As the wonderful story of California Chrome reminds us, good horses can come from anywhere.
Thanks to Mark Johnston for mentioning our German stud feature from last month’s issue in his stable’s publication, the Kingsley Klarion. As the former trainer of Gestüt Etzean resident Jukebox Jury, Johnston was pleased to hear that the stallion benefits from the unusual regime of living with a mare year-round after she has conceived to him by natural cover.
He said: “Gestüt Etzean should not be viewed as an oddity, where stallions have companion mares, but as a pioneer of a better way of doing things.” Hear, hear.