Of course it was no secret that Sprinter Sacre is very good indeed but the sight of him coasting up the Cheltenham hill unchallenged and unextended has played over and over in my mind since the Festival and, despite the years of Desert Orchid, Istabraq, Best Mate, Kauto Star and Denman, it’s hard to imagine a jumper to match him.
Is it because he’s here with us as others are dimming in the memory? Perhaps. Is it because after Frankel, those of us who love both codes are just desperate for a superstar to take his place? Maybe. Most of all, though, it’s because he is an exquisite physical specimen with the talent to match those haughty looks. How could we not love him?
For all small or hobby breeders, hope plays a massive part in everyday life. Hope and patience. In this regard, I can speak from experience for once, the first foal of my sole mare having recently made his somewhat inauspicious bumper debut at the age of five. It is therefore heartening to learn that for small French breeder Christophe Masle, Sprinter Sacre was only the second racehorse he ever bred, and that his dam, Fatima III, had been booked to another stallion who had suffered a setback when she was ready to be covered, so she ended up going to Network instead. Surely the most fortuitous accidental mating of all time.
Masle had been sold the mare by her breeder Bernard Cypres, and while Masle has struck gold early in his breeding career, Cypres has a proven track record with such AQPS greats as Nupsala and Ucello II to his credit. Like all bigger breeders, Cypres had to cull a few mares and Fatima III’s poor race record meant she was one to leave his broodmare band. Thus, she became the property of his neighbour, but all is not lost for the Cypres family as Bernard’s son Jacques now runs the Société Coopérative Agricole des Eleveurs de Chevaux de Course (SCAECC), which, with the French National Studs gradually being privatised, now runs Haras de Cercy, the home of Network. What better advert for that fledgling breeding co-operative in the heart of France’s jumping country than to stand the sire of the top-rated steeplechaser in training?
And so to the Flat
As usual, I’m several decades behind, and have only recently started reading Ann Hagedorn Auerbach’s Wild Ride, on the collapse of the Calumet empire and the brutal death of Alydar. If there are any other latecomers to this enthralling book, then get googling and make sure you order a copy pronto. You won’t regret it.
It’s less than 25 years since Alydar died but much has changed in the breeding world, notably the size of stallions’ books. Back then, investors in Alydar were concerned that he was being ‘overbred’. He wasn’t just active during the North American season but also covered some mares to southern hemisphere time, a more unusual occurrence in those days. Their worries were not just with the welfare of the horse but also a potential lowering of the sales price of his offspring owing to a glut of youngsters available.
Nowadays, few words of dismay are uttered if a stallion covers a three-figure book but in the season prior to Alydar’s death he had covered 107 mares – a figure of outlandish proportions at the time, when 50 to 60 was the industry norm.
While it’s unlikely that there will ever be a mandatory cap on book sizes – only Shadwell has publicly taken any steps to protect their stallions and reassure their clients in this regard – breeders should be able to glean some idea from stallion owners as to the size of book they are expecting him to cover. Most are forthcoming with this information but would it put people off using a particular sire if they felt that number was too high? In most cases it I believe it would not, and that is particularly so when it comes to first-season stallions.
It may be a constant gripe of breeders but it’s easy to see why stallion farms are so quick to move on under-performing sires to lesser breeding nations (sometimes even before they’ve justified their under-performer tag) when there’s so much interest in the new recruits to the breeding sheds. We’re all guilty of this. Even if we don’t patronise the freshmen, who can deny a frisson of excitement at waiting to see which of the new boys will be quickest out of the gates with his first two-year-old runners?
Perhaps the answer this year lies in the fact that there are plenty of Bushranger juveniles to be found among the 160 two-year-olds listed in training with Richard Hannon – and that’s before the breeze-up sales have even started. Regular bloodstock contributors to this magazine have consulted crystal balls to give us their idea of this year’s champion first-season sire (by prize-money, listed left) and, as you’ll see, plenty of bases are covered.
Hall of Fame needed
To revert to the earlier theme of equine superstars, is it not about time we had a Racing Hall of Fame? Raceday attendances are not a problem – certainly not for the type of meetings advertised on the Tube – and now that it’s all change at Racing For Change, I hope Great British Racing will consider an inititative which celebrates those at the heart of the matter: the horses. It needn’t end with the stars of the track – influential stallions and broodmares are every bit as important if fans of racing want a deeper understanding of the sport they love. They’re where it all begins.