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Fame And Glory - Curragh - 28.06.2009

The success of Montjeu's son Fame And Glory in Sunday's Irish Derby maintained Sadler's Wells' stranglehold on the Classic

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker 

Domination of colossus taken to new level

WHENEVER we talk about the potential of artificial breeding technologies such as AI and cloning, the first question raised is this: What would racing look like if all the pedigrees were similar, or the same? What would our Classic races become if all the horses had, theoretically, closely matched genetic potential?

Ask no more, because we have seen the answer. It takes place at the Curragh every June, and it is called the Irish Derby.
Despite a collective wringing of hands over the demise of stamina at the expense of speed, we have, coming mainly from Ireland, an absolute fount ofmiddle-distance and staying ability. The Investec Derby was loaded with it this year, thanks largely to team Ballydoyle, which has been stacking the race increasingly with runners by Sadler's Wells and sons. However, it is in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby that the phenomenon has reached a perhaps unprecedented pitch.

This year was the latest example of a movement reaching back to the turn of the century, the year 1999, when Cash Asmussen cantered to victory on the magnificent Montjeu for trainer John Hammond and owner Michael Tabor. The colt led home a 1-2-3 for his sire Sadler's Wells, and things have not been the same since.

Sure, the progeny of Sadler's Wells had been around for a good decade by then, but at least there was some competition for them, before Montjeu and then Galileo, who won the race in 2001, went to stud. The Irish Derby field in 1995 contained 13 horses by 12 different sires, with 12 different trainers. Last Sunday there were 11 horses by sixsires, with six trainers.

You know that dizzying feeling you get when watching some of the big-race fields take shape, as if the horses are on a carousel going round and you've seen them all before? It is not only the relentless spin of famous namesakes, hard enough to separate in the mist of memory; it is the pedigrees themselves. Many of these we are, in fact, witnessing in duplicate - seven individual mares have produced two Irish Derby runners each since 1999, including three setsof full brothers.

Here is how small the genetic circle has become: a full 59 of the 116 runners in the Irish Derby since 1999 have had Sadler's Wells in the first two generations of their pedigrees. Fifty-one of those horses were by Sadler's Wells or one of his sons, while another eight were out of a mare by Sadler's Wells.

They have been undeniably successful, yielding seven of the 11 winners during the timeframe - a total of 64 per cent of all winners. That compares to 51 per cent of them in the population of Irish Derby runners.

However, when we look at the picture from another angle, it becomes clear that the Sadler's Wells runners are just as likely to flop as to succeed. During the 11-year period, 55 horses finished in the top five places in the race, while 61 horses finished sixth or lower. The runners with Sadler's Wells in the first two generations filled 49 per cent of the top-five places and 51 per cent of the sixth-or-lower places. Remember, they comprised 51 per cent of all runners, so this is exactly where their opportunity suggests they should finish - no better, no worse. This is what makes sorting the winner from the losers so difficult.

We see a similar result when looking at the record of the seven mares who produced duplicate runners. They are: Affianced, with Soldier Of Fortune (by Galileo, won in 2007) and Heliostatic (Galileo, seventh in 2006); Highland Gift, with Golan (Spectrum, third in 2001) and Tartan Bearer (Spectrum, fourth in 2008); La Meilleure, with Sholokhov (Sadler's Wells, second in 2002) and Napper Tandy (Spectrum, seventh in 2003); Lady Of Vision, with Dr Brendler (Distant View, ninth in 2001) and Monsieur Henri (Chester House, eleventh in 2006); Shouk, with Masterofthehorse (Sadler's Wells, fourth in 2009) and Washington Irving (Montjeu, eleventh in 2008); Star Begonia, with Roosevelt (Danehill, third in 2003) and Five Dynasties (Danehill, eighth in 2004); and Urban Sea, with Galileo (Sadler's Wells, won in 2001) and Urban Ocean (Bering, sixth in 2000).

In other words, a roll of the same dice turns up different numbers every time. Galileo and Montjeu have been responsible for more than 100 foals apiece in every year since their entry to stud. Most of their foals are endowed with the stamina to run a mile and a half, but few with the brilliance to win over the distance at the top level.

For example, the first two finishers on Sunday, Fame And Glory and Golden Sword, wereboth by sons of Sadler's Wells, but sixth through eleventh places were all also filled by runners sired by Sadler's Wells and sons.

Fame And Glory is one of seven Irish Derby runners since 1999 to have Shirley Heights as his broodmaresire. All but one of these runners was sired by Sadler's Wells, Galileo or Montjeu - but Fame And Glory was not just the only winner among them, but the only one to finish among the top three. He has the brilliance to do it, whereas Bashkirov, Cobra, Masterofthehorse, Puerto Rico and Washington Irving did not.

Galileo, Montjeu and Sadler's Wells are exceptional sires, and High Chaparral - sire of Golden Sword - is shaping with some promise. But all of these horses come from one source, the Coolmore-Ballydoyle machine, which also relies strongly on a necessarily limited population of mares.

As we have noted several times recently, Ballydoyle has hit on a winning formula. But competition is good for most things, not least for competitive events, such as horse racing. Coolmore is churning out the raw material, but on the face of it this is hard to sort - even Ballydoyle has been loathe to favour one horse from the other in the run-up to the Classics.

There have been around 20 Irish Derby runners since 1999 bred by a recognised Coolmore entity, while the next most prolific breeder would be the Aga Khan, with 12 runners. Half of these finished in the first three, including the winners Alamshar and Sinndar, by the Danzig-line sires Key Of Luck and Grand Lodge respectively.

However, the Aga Khan's operation has backed off as Coolmore's has intensified; whereas it fielded four runners in 2000, it sent out just four more runners in total over the last five years.
As to the other big breeders, most have teamed up to an extent with Coolmore. All three of the Juddmonte-bred runners were sired by Sadler's Wells and trained by Aidan O'Brien, the result of a breeding partnership. Similarly, all four of the Jim Bolger-bred runners were by Coolmore sires, and two were trained by O'Brien, including the 2007 winner Soldier Of Fortune.

Coolmore's number one global competitor, Sheikh Mohammed, has had just four Irish Derby runners since 1999, and only two were homebreds. Ballymacoll and Moyglare Stud Farms have made a brave go of it, with four runners each, but in Ballymacoll's case they were all by Coolmore sires.

Where will the competition come from? Or is this how middle-distance European racing is destined to look? These questions remain unanswered.

 

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