For those who suffered withdrawal symptoms after the last Gold medal had been won at the Olympics (and I was one, despite initially not wanting the Games to be held in my city) 2013 could provide a similar scenario on the racing front. Where do we go after Frankel and Camelot?
The two pin-up boys have helped to stimulate interest in our sport, boosting attendances and television audiences, through their brilliance on the track. They embody thoroughbred perfection, the kind every breeder wants to breed and every owner wants to own.
Of course, there’s no guarantee that Camelot will be retired and dispatched for stallion duties after his bid for the St Leger on September 15, whereas Frankel is set to swap the hospitality of Warren Place for the tranquil surroundings of Banstead Manor Stud at the end of this season.
The question of how Khalid Abdullah’s behemoth will acclimatise to stud life is an intriguing one – for a start, he won’t be accustomed to letting other thoroughbreds get quite so close to him when it’s time to ‘perform’, something of a prerequisite for a successful sire. But if he takes to his new career with the same aptitude he showed on the track, Frankel will be a champion.
In the case of Camelot, his bid for glory on Town Moor could make him the first winner of the Triple Crown – the colt’s version anyway, not counting Oh So Sharp’s triumph for the girls in 1985 – since Nijinsky 42 years ago. So why have we had to wait so long for another horse targeted at all three races?
In his column this month, Tony Morris explains why the concept of a Triple Crown winner lost support in the 1970s as speed overtook stamina in the desirability stakes, leaving the St Leger as the black sheep in the Classic family.
“Nijinsky ran twice and was beaten twice [after the St Leger] and many felt the excursion to Doncaster had taken the edge off him,” says Morris. “Whether or not that was true, the race soon began to fall out of favour. American pedigrees had come to dominate, speed came to be valued much more highly and breeders lost faith in St Leger winners as prospective sires.
“It did not seem to matter that Nijinsky proved a huge success at stud; winning the St Leger was a drawback so far as a stallion career was concerned – unless the horse seemed acceptable to National Hunt breeders.”
He continues: “In 1989 we had to recognise that the Triple Crown was no longer an aspiration for every owner and breeder. Hamdan Al Maktoum shunned the opportunity that Nashwan had provided. And in 2009 the connections of Sea The Stars followed suit.”
The idea that winning any Classic/Group 1 race could damage – not enhance – a horse’s prospects at stud is not easy to fathom, especially when the animal has already proved himself supreme over shorter distances.
Perhaps Nashwan and Sea The Stars would have hacked up in the Leger had they been allowed to take their chance. Perhaps they would have been trounced. Perhaps their very appearance in the extended 14-furlong contest would have made them less appealing to breeders, affecting the quality of mares sent to them at stud. We’ll never know.
On the subject of Nashwan, the sire of Arc winner Bago and multiple Group 1 victor Swain, he remains one of the best horses to have stood at Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Stud, for whom manager Richard Lancaster has worked for the last 28 years.
Lancaster, who succeeded Kirsten Rausing as Chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association earlier this year, would love to stand another Derby winner at Shadwell. He is also weary of the preoccupation with speed in pedigrees.
“In the sales ring people want quick, early maturing types. Yet it seems a bit strange when you think that, apart form the Guineas races, our Classics are over 12 furlongs and further,” he explains in The Big Interview.
“Breeders shouldn’t forget that you need a horse with a certain amount of stamina to win the Derby. If thoroughbred racing is all about that piece of wood at the bottom of the hill at Epsom, as [renowned breeder] Federico Tesio said, then a lot of horses bred today will never have the stamina to compete in that race.”