brigadier gerard, citation, classics, german breeding, hail to reason, jay leimbach, man o' war, monsun, national stud of england, northern dancer, peter burrell, raise a native, secretariat, soundness, stamina, tony morris
The internationally recognized bloodstock columnist and author Tony Morris offered the following observations on Jay Leimbach’s discourse on stamina and the classic Thoroughbred.
As a synthesis of the issues, combined with lengthy personal observation and study, these comments are among the best I’ve ever read.
In many ways, you and I are on the same wavelength. If either of us were the benevolent dictator of the breeding industry, things would be very different – or would have been, if either of us had been given the job as a lifetime post 40 years ago. It would be hard for a new dictator to alter things now.
There should be rules such that the Germans have – no job for a stallion who did not race for at least two seasons, did not achieve a rating that proclaimed his class, that had ever competed under medication, or had recognised hereditary faults. Germany produces sounder horses than any other country; of course, she doesn’t always produce the acknowledged best in the world, and her rules would have meant that such as Hail to Reason, Raise a Native, and, if we believe what has recently been claimed, Northern Dancer would not have entered the breeding population. But she has given us Monsun, and if nobody outside Germany knows of no other German sire, they ought to know about him.
The fact that today’s top horses do not race as often as their predecessors of a few (equine) generations is not all about lack of soundness; commercial considerations are often a large part of it. But there is no doubt: today’s horse is softer than the horse of even 40 years ago. We have bred from inherently unsound stock, and unsoundness breeds unsoundness.
But, Jay, references to breeding policies in plants and animals such as sheep and cattle don’t really signify much. In the early 1970s I was writing to eminent geneticists and asking them why they couldn’t offer solutions for the Thoroughbred; all I got in response was self-congratulatory guff about what they had done for increased milk yield and the good news for butchers in terms of beek and pork. They didn’t want to talk about the Thoroughbred, because they hadn’t a clue about the ATHLETIC animal, who is a completely different beast.
We are in a different world now, and the current crop of equine geneticists will revolutionise the game within a few years – if their findings are published.
In 1960, Peter Burrell, former director of the National Stud in England, gave a lecture in which he said that he believed that the British Thoroughbred had gone as far as it could go in the years before World War I. I have always accepted that view. I also took from that the assumption that American Thoroughbreds of that time were behind the British, and I believed that. Yes, there were exceptional individuals in the States, but overall the standard there was lower.
It remained lower for some time. Noor, who was some way short of top class here, had a few shots at Citation, and when properly on his game, could give him weight. Anyone who has properly analysed form, and recognised both the advances in breeding and the increased competitiveness of racing will know that Citation was a better horse than Man o’ War, and that Secretariat was a decided improvement on the pair of them.
By Secretariat’s time, America had more than caught up with Europe, but he was an exception. We were already recognising that America produced better horses than we did, we imported them in huge numbers, and Americans sent their stock to race here. The impact of all that was we found that traditional European pedigrees didn’t work anymore; Brigadier Gerard was the last of our home-grown superstars.
But, surprising as it may seem, the better American horses who came here – and they are still coming – have never been rated as highly as Brigadier Gerard was. America had reached the peak that Europe had reached just before World War I; the odd one might always rise above that plateau, but when it did, it would never reproduce itself.
I am well aware that America takes far more notice of times than we do in Europe, but, seriously, nowhere in racing do they really matter, when the main objective is to defeat the opposition. There is no virtue, or any more cash, in doing that in a faster time than is necessary. How many Kentucky Derby winners ran a faster time than Citation? How many of them were better than Citation? Aside from Secretariat, name one, and try to justify it.
I wrote a piece for the Racing Post a couple of days ago, referring to the fact that there was nothing special in her female line since Hail to All, and referred to his career – 12 starts at 2 and 16 more as a three-year-old. Yes, to be sure, horses aren’t as sound as they were then, but they also aren’t campaigned as aggressively, and commercial considerations affect the situation.