This post first appeared earlier this week at Paulick Report.
The runaway victory by Novellist in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday carries several points of importance for breeding and racing. First, German breeders and their bloodstock are hitting the brass ring of premium international success at a far higher rate than their opponents, rather in the fashion of the Dormello Stud operation of Federico Tesio and Mario Incisa, breeders of Nearco and Ribot, the best among many high-class racers.
There is no single reason why this should be so. The breeders in Germany do not spend outlandish sums for bloodstock, nor do they have the sought-after bloodlines to work with. This makes their results all the more impressive and perhaps instructive to the rest of the bloodstock world.
One explanation for the ascendency of breeders in Germany and their bloodstock came in a conversation a few years ago. In the aftermath of the debacle of Bellamy Road’s effort as favorite in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, I sat down to dinner with the internationally known and respected bloodstock writer Tony Morris.
In a wide-ranging and illuminating talk, Morris mentioned that breeders in Germany were doing excellent work and that they were reaping the rewards for years of concentrated effort. Although I knew the international performers already on the stage from German breeding, Morris’s contention was that there was more depth and quality to come.
To my query about why this was so, he said that the breeding programs of the best German studs focused on the athleticism of the parent stock. In addition to racing ability, the criteria for breeding stock included an emphasis on conformation, on soundness, and on racing without medication.
Yet I’m not sure even the Morris would have envisioned the volume of premier winners German breeders have been producing of late. For decades, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and King George have figured notably among the most contentious international races, and German-breds have won three recent runnings of those races, with Danedream (2011 Arc, 2012 King George) and Novellist in the King George.
Novellist is the latest of these but surely not the last. The momentum for Thoroughbred breeding in Germany is very positive, and when the production of top international performers indicates a sea change in breeding, as when North American breeders were producing horses like Sir Ivor, Habitat, Nijinsky, and Mill Reef nearly half a century ago, it is wise to pay attention.
Although dropped in Ireland when his high-class dam was there for covering, Novellist is as pure a product of the German breeding and racing program as one could wish. He is by the grand old sire of German breeding, Monsun, whose influence is going to be larger than one country can contain. Already the sire of 96 stakes winners (15% to foals), Monsun has sired such internationally acclaimed performers as Shirocco, Stacelita, and Manduro.
Unfortunately, Monsun died last September at age 22, and this year the stallion’s top winners include Novellist, Estimate (Ascot Gold Cup, England), Silasol (Prix Saint-Alary, France), and Maxios (Prix d’Ispahan, France), all G1s. Their successes came at distances from nine to 12 furlongs, and nearly all the performers by Monsun showed improved form over a distance of ground.
Given that heritage of stamina, German breeders did not ignore the importance of speed in a pedigree.
Novellist is the fifth winner from five racers out of Night Lagoon, the highweighted juvenile filly in Germany for 2003. Novellist is much her best produce to date, but the stakes-winning daughter of Lagunas (a highweighted juvenile colt by 1978 King George winner Ile de Bourbon) has visited prominent stallions abroad (Arc de Triomphe winners Montjeu and Dalakhani) interspersed with matings to Monsun.
Part of the thorough attention that German breeders have paid to breeding Thoroughbreds is their emphasis on the classics, both those races restricted to 3-year-olds and those supreme all-age contests, and the avoidance of one-dimensional sprinters. As a result, the stock from German studs does not make much of an impact in the top sprint category, but there also aren’t any classics run at five or six furlongs.
American breeders have reached compulsively for the speed gun in breeding, in part due to the benevolent despotism of Mr. Prospector, who was such an influence for malleable speed of the highest quality that some of his sons and daughters won at the premium level going 10 and 12 furlongs. Very few speed sires are in Mr. Prospector’s class, however.
That makes the development of sires with genuine classic merit all the more important for breeding and racing here in the States. Horse of the Year Curlin, winner of the Preakness and a very close second in the Belmont Stakes, has made a promising start to his stud career as a sire of horses who mature well and show class going two turns. From the evidence to date, the big chestnut is following closely in the footprints of his sire Smart Strike, whose best offspring generally show their form at a mile or more, typically in their second season of racing or later.
Curlin has sired a Belmont Stakes winner in his first crop, and Palace Malice franked the form of his classic victory last month with a clever-looking success in the G2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, which is intended as the bay colt’s prep for the 10-furlong Travers.