Hasili: is the head of a phenomenal racing dynastyPICTURE: Rob Watson
Hasili: a meeting with a living legend
WELL, if this is the answer then it's easy to understand why people should so often end up having asked themselves the wrong question.
Here she is, arguably the greatest broodmare of the modern era; certainly one of the most accomplished in the long history of the thoroughbred. And she looks as though she has wintered among the fjords.
Hasili's mane hangs down her neck in long sheaves. Ed Murrell, assistant manager at Banstead Manor Stud in Newmarket, ploughs an affectionate hand through the shaggy coat over her ribs and a clot of faded hair idles to the ground, trailed through the soft spring sunshine by a faint spindrift of powdered mud. It might have been torn from the stuffing of a sofa and, when her visitors have gone, perhaps some fortunate crow will carry it off as wattle for a nest. Five Group 1 winners, but such lowly rearing is all Hasili can be party to now.
You look her in the eye. Perhaps there is something of the mystery to be read there, in those rheumy dark pools. But no. The look of eagles? Hardly. She gazes back, calm and patient and knowing, from a lagoon long separated from the high tides of youth.
She was 26 eight days ago. But the old lady is healthy, cherished and ever in the best of hands. And the whole setting is Elysian: the warmest afternoon of the year so far, sap renewing in the trees around the paddock. The tearing of grass, as her three companions lose their curiosity, only serves to measure and deepen an absolute peace; likewise the notes of astonished gladness in the birdsong. Another winter survived. Besides, her legacy is guaranteed; her name already immortal.
The visit is prompted by a historic photograph - and by the questions it raises for anyone fascinated by the riddles of breeding, from the game's sagest old hands right down, in this instance, to the new bloodstock editor on whose desk it landed.
Published here for the first time, though tracing back to the end of a summer at grass, it shows Hasili reunited with her three Group 1-winning daughters: Banks Hill, Heat Haze and Intercontinental. A tableau that permits no doubt - no matter how often we are confounded by the anomalous outcomes of matings - that workable principles must be operating, at some level, in the selective breeding of racehorses.
Yes, there are times when a sprinter will sire a Derby winner, and vice versa. And yes, there are many times when a champion male and champion female will together produce only a feeble, inveterate loser. But then you look at Hasili, dam of five elite winners plus one who was better than them all, in Dansili. You look at the dynasty now extending through her sons and daughters and you know the grail cannot be illusory.
That does not render it any less elusive, of course. Even in her pomp, nobody would have known Hasili as a mare in a million. In fact Simon Mockridge remembers the day a couple of agents could not even pick her out from a group of five, with foals at foot, in a paddock adjacent to the Juddmonte offices.
"She's a plain Jane, a nondescript mare," the stud director shrugs. "But if she's an ordinary mare, she's done extraordinary things. And actually if you stand her up and break her down, she is incredibly well made. Very good angulation, very sound. She doesn't look overly robust, but she has good bone for her size and she's nice and square.
"She ran 17 times, proving herself tough, hardy, workmanlike. She was a very good two-year-old, won a Listed race in the French provinces, but was just found wanting when highly tried at three. She was obviously tough, though, physically and mentally. She's always been very laid-back, very easy to deal with, nothing fazes her. And that's been true of her progeny, as well, when you take into consideration that her sons and daughters have run in 63 Group 1 races and won or placed in 43 of them."
If the eugenic principles driving the industry are going to make sense anywhere, of course, it will be here at Juddmonte - source of more than 100 homebred Group 1 winners for Prince Khalid Abdullah over the past 35 years. And Mockridge stresses that the whole dynasty is rooted, first and foremost, in the Prince's passion and vision.
Sure enough, Hasili's family has the usual Juddmonte depth. Her dam Kerali was out of a top-class juvenile in Sookera, a Cheveley Park Stakes winner bought from Robert Sangster. Mockridge assumes Sookera to be the source of speed in Hasili's stock, as Kerali was by High Line and Hasili herself by Kahyasi.
Kerali's first foal Dissemble was sold to Brazil, where she produced no less a horse than Leroidesanimaux, sire of Animal Kingdom; and Hasili herself was entered for the Tattersalls December Sale after winning four times as a juvenile for Henri-Alex Pantall. Luckily she was withdrawn; still more luckily, Prince Khalid included Hasili among those mares he sent as a gesture of faith in a horse he did sell, Danehill, at his new home in Ireland.
The result was Dansili, second in four Group 1 races but never beaten so narrowly as when careering into third on his final start, in the Breeders' Cup Mile. It is staggering to think a horse as celebrated as Dansili, who started his own stud career at £8,000 and has since peaked as high as £100,000, should have prevented his dam from claiming outright a record she instead shares with Eight Carat, responsible for five top-tier winners in Australasia.
As it was, four subsequent foals by Danehill - Banks Hill, Intercontinental, Cacique and Champs Elysees - all formally made the grade, along with Hasili's daughter by Green Desert, Heat Haze. Her only other starters were Storm Cat's daughter Deluxe, who went down by just half a length in the Prix Saint-Alary before winning a Grade 3 in the US; and the once-raced Sadler's Wells colt Raise The Flag, who recently sired his first stakes winner in New Zealand.
To Mockridge, it is precisely Hasili's lack of flamboyance - her freedom from mental quirks or physical extravagance - that qualified her to amplify the stellar qualities of her mates.
"Danehill was selected as a mate purely and simply because he was such a very strong horse," he says. "She was just a vessel. She allowed Danehill to dominate, she allowed Green Desert to dominate. And Dansili was an incredibly robust first foal, a big forceful character.
"Danehills were also very sound of mind, very easy to train, and we've seen how incredibly tough and durable Hasili's stock have been. They take their racing, they take their training. And if Heat Haze wasn't quite so easy, in that regard, then that was probably Green Desert."
The situation is much the same, then, as with a jug. Fancy design and ceramics are all very well - but not if the base is too narrow and you can knock it over easily; or the sides are full of fissures; or the lip does not pour cleanly. The transmission, through Hasili, has had no deviation, no wobbles. As such, her sons have distilled the greatness of Danehill, as a sire of sires. Mockridge speculates it must be nearly unique for the same stud to stand three full brothers, albeit their respective fortunes here admittedly diverged considerably.
"To look at, colour-wise and markings-wise, Dansili and Cacique are nearly identical," he says. "But their physiques are very different. One looks a miler, strong and robust; the other has a bit of extra stretch, and looks a middle-distance horse.
"From humble beginnings, Dansili has obviously become one of the elite stallions in Europe and is now emerging as a sire of sires. But Cacique, unfortunately, was subfertile - and though we tried many techniques over the seasons, his fertility was declining and he wasn't getting the mares."
Incredibly, from Cacique's first crop of just 29 foals, three became Group 1 winners. But if mare owners can be forgiven for being chary of booking Cacique, their treatment of Champs Elysees would seem more culpable.
He is now seeking a fresh start at Castlehyde Stud as a National Hunt stallion, in which role he could very well emulate the success of another Juddmonte graduate in Beat Hollow.
Yet his exile has struck many as a depressing measure of the fast-buck vices besetting commercial breeding today, when pubescent colts are retired from the track after six months to receive mares by the hundred.
Now that so many people are trying to breed yearlings, rather than racehorses, Champs Elysees had the commercial recklessness to sire hardy, progressive animals like Ascot Gold Cup winner Trip To Paris, who improved his rating with time and distance from 76 to 116.
"Once a horse has been pigeon-holed, you just cannot change perceptions with breeders," Mockridge sighs.
It must be conceded that Hasili's daughters also have a fairly chequered profile in their own breeding careers. Banks Hill has produced a Group 1 winner and Breeders' Cup runner-up by Galileo, in Romantica, as well as Ideal World, a son of Kingmambo who has sired a triple Grade 1 winner in South Africa. And Heat Haze has a promising three-year-old with Sir Michael Stoute in Mirage Dancer, a son of Frankel who won his sole start to date at Doncaster last autumn.
But it would be a typical paradox of the breeding business if they were surpassed by the unraced Responsible, Hasili's last foal in 2011. The daughter of Oasis Dream produced an "exceptional" Frankel filly last year and has just delivered a brother to that first foal.
"Who knows?" Mockridge says. "It could be the daughter who didn't put her energy into racing that turns out to be the one who puts it best into her stock. It's the unknown, of course, that makes it all so interesting. You can never predict how things will unfold - lots of things go into the mix.
"We're fortunate Prince Khalid is not governed by fashion, which is definitely a good thing. At the end of the day, he is trying first and foremost to breed a racehorse; and, ultimately, a Classic winner. So it's vitally important to have a team on board, as we do here, to give sound pedigree advice.
"That can be based on years of trial and error, other people's as much as our own. You just hope you get it right - and Prince Khalid invariably does."