It has long been said that England and America are two countries divided by a common language. More recently their racing industries have become divided by a common breed. They may all be thoroughbreds but this divide is fuelled by the different surfaces largely employed by the opposing industries, with the degree of separation increasingly being intensified by the various medication issues.
The extent of the gulf is illustrated by the latest European two-year-old ratings. Only six of the 50 juveniles which merited a rating of 110+ – that’s 3% – carry the USA suffix and the best of them, Hootenanny, ranks only joint-tenth. Compare this to the equivalent European Free Handicap of 20 years earlier. In 1994, 69 juveniles were rated 110 or more, with 28 of them – roughly 40% – being imports from the US. These 28 included four of the top five colts. Even as recently as ten years ago there were five American-breds among the top eight and altogether there were 14 among the 54 qualifiers – nearly 26%.
This suggests that European breeders, owners and bloodstock agents have been voting with their feet, feeling far safer in patronising the top European stallions (many of which would have headed to Kentucky had they been around in the 1970s and 1980s).
It is unrealistic to think that the American industry has nothing to offer European racing
It is unrealistic, though, to think that the American industry has nothing to offer European racing. In an effort to put forward a few comparatively new names for consideration, it is worth looking at the stallions who were responsible for the most qualifiers for America’s Experimental Free Handicap and also at the stallions with the largest representations among the entries for America’s 2015 Triple Crown events.
There are no prizes for guessing that the most prolific sire of Triple Crown entries, with 14, is Tapit, a stallion whose 2015 fee of $300,000 is twice as high as that of the next highest-priced stallion, War Front.
But how many Europeans would have guessed that one of his nearest pursuers, with 12 entrants, would be Curlin? Sure, Curlin was twice voted Horse of the Year and finished first, second and third in the Triple Crown events. But he has yet to prove that he is similarly effective as a stallion. Having started out at $75,000 in 2009, his fee in 2015 is less than half that – $35,000 to be precise – and his slow start means that he has fewer than 40 yearlings in 2015.
Curlin’s record has so far been that of a ‘nearly’ horse. From 206 named foals in his first two crops, he has managed to sire just two Graded stakes winners, headed by the Belmont Stakes and Metropolitan Handicap winner Palace Malice. However, there is reason for optimism. He has been peppering the target, with an impressive number of horses placed at Graded level, and it wouldn’t surprise me were he to make a breakthrough in 2015.
His third crop, numbering 89 three-year-olds, has already produced its first Graded winner in Ocean Knight, as well as four others who have been placed at Grade 1 or 2 level. He ranked second among the sires of Experimental qualifiers, with five, so his high number of Triple Crown entries is therefore not so surprising.
Curlin has several talented turf runners to his credit, while his sire Smart Strike has a respectable record with his European runners, so it could be interesting to see a few Curlins plying their trade in Europe.
For an article in the March 2014 issue, I amalgamated the previous five editions of the Experimental Free Handicap to see which stallions cropped up most frequently. I was surprised that the very decisive leader, with a total of 24 individual two-year-olds, was the champion middle-distance turf horse Kitten’s Joy.
Though he didn’t even tackle stakes company as a two-year-old, Kitten’s Joy has reinforced his position by siring six qualifiers for the 2014 Experimental – more than any other stallion. With his ability to sire top turf horses proven time and again, Kitten’s Joy can be expected to become a significant player with his European representatives.
One of the encouraging aspects of this study is that several first-crop sires figured prominently among the prolific sires of Experimental horses and Triple Crown nominees. These include the 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver (four Experimental horses and nine Triple Crown entries); the unexpected Temple City (a son of Dynaformer with four Experimental horses and six Triple Crown nominees from a crop of 83 named foals); and Lookin At Lucky (three and ten).
Lookin At Lucky had the rare distinction of having been the champion of his generation both at two and three, and he shares the same sire, Smart Strike, as Curlin.
Two other first-crop sires, Majesticperfection and Munnings, scored three each on the Experimental, but these two were sprinters, so neither figure among the leading sires of Triple Crown horses. Munnings, though, could be one worthy of interest from Europeans, as his sire Speightstown has shown he can get good European runners, such as Lord Shanakill, Tropics, Bapak Chinta and Calypso Beat.
Watch out too for Hootenanny’s sire Quality Road. In addition to siring Hootenanny, who ranked equal third among the males on the Experimental with a rating of 122, Quality Road was also responsible for Blofeld, an unbeaten dual Grade 2 winner who received 119. This Lane’s End stallion has ten Triple Crown nominees from a crop of 96, so is clearly one to watch.