Thoroughbred Daily News
Quality Road - Paris Notion, by Dehere - Lane's End
Lane's End - Versailles, KY | 2014 | Entered Stud 2019 | 2019 Fee $35,000

Another Derby Mission With Noble Possibilities

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Noble Mission (GB) | Lane’s End Photo

By Chris McGrath

“One swallow does not a summer make, nor one fine day.” And similar circumspection is plainly advisable before deciding that a single migrant across the seas has opened a sunlit future even for one young stallion, never mind the entire business. Nonetheless it is heartening on many levels to see Noble Mission (GB), from his very first crop, get a son into both the GI Kentucky Derby and the Epsom original, which is staged for the 240th time Saturday.

Humanitarian is admittedly an outsider, unlikely to emulate Code of Honor, the promoted runner-up at Churchill. But nor is he just a token runner: saddled in the Maktoum cause by John Gosden, and with a nicely progressive profile. So however he fares, let’s acknowledge an authentic achievement not only for Noble Mission but also for William S. Farish, who stands him at Lane’s End and bred both Humanitarian and Code of Honor.

Farish, of course, was formerly ambassador to the Court of St James. He may perhaps have some sympathy for the Queen, whose pleasant duties at Epsom will be followed by a state visit from an unpredictable president. But it’s fitting that Farish, restored to civilian life, is still doing his bit for transatlantic harmony through Noble Mission. Because if ever an isolationist wants to see what his world might become, you just have to show him the bloodstock industry over the last generation.

To be fair, it is the Europeans who have lately been most parochial in the prescriptive, self-fulfilling perception of bloodlines, as oriented to turf or dirt. And now they have painted themselves into a corner. Yes, the Galileo (Ire) dynasty has earned its hegemony, and absolutely deals in qualities you want to see replicated in the 21st century Thoroughbred. But you certainly couldn’t say that about some of the sires so witlessly pursued by the commercial market over there, who might (and only might) get you a fast and early juvenile but will never produce a Classic winner even at a mile.

It’s no good commercial breeders protesting that they have no choice, being unable to compete with the wealthy end-users who can afford Galileo or other elite fees. Because when an affordable son of Galileo like Nathaniel (Ire) comes along, and produces champion Enable (GB) from his first crop, and five other Group winners in 2018, he still can’t get his yearlings even into the top 50 in the European sale averages.

You can see the result in today’s Derby field–and, to this extent only, Noble Mission is more symptom than cure. Because of the 13 runners, six are by the ageing patriarch Galileo himself; five are by various sons, and one is by a grandson. That leaves only the overnight sensation Sir Dragonet (Ire), who was unfancied for a Tipperary maiden barely five weeks ago. He is a son of the elegant Camelot (GB) but fear not, his second dam is a full-sister to Galileo!

On the face of it, that might appear to support a defeatist position regarding the people who not only stand Galileo, but also employ Aidan O’Brien, who saddles no fewer than seven runners. But who can say what the landscape might look like, if only the hundreds of mares corralled by unproven, plainly bred stallions with a couple of sprint stakes to their name had instead been sent to one who won’t make you a fast buck at the sales, but might just get you a Classic racehorse?

As it happens, with their own broodmare band saturated by his blood, it is the owners of Galileo who gave European credibility to their outcross experiments with Scat Daddy and War Front. (In the process, obviously, they have also shaped the profile of those horses in the U.S.)

But that only happened a) because they recognised a need; and b) met it imaginatively. And I am convinced that many other American stallions, given the chance, could emulate the European Classic success enjoyed by John Magnier and his original confederates when first importing sons of Northern Dancer.

That was typical of the cyclical, mutual regeneration of the gene pool either side of the ocean. And the American dirt horse–an animal I have been scandalized to hear dismissed, by European agents of clients who deserve far more reflective counsel, as a drugged speedball–offers precisely the assets required to crash Galileo’s private party.

Because the American ideal is not just speed, but speed you can carry two turns. The critical difference, compared with Europe, is that both commercial breeders and end-users are looking for a horse for the first Saturday in May. And if only we remember that sire-lines are very seldom immutably turf or dirt, then the same horse could prove just as eligible for the first Saturday in June.

We’ll leave aside the dubious practice of ascribing to an untested racehorse properties trademarked only to his top line. The fact is that only Coolmore, again, have in recent years shown reliable adventure in trying accomplished European campaigners on dirt at the Breeders’ Cup. (Especially since the synthetic experiment was abandoned by the series; before that, there were plenty of European “turf” horses who showed up the indigenous opposition on dirt.)

Coolmore obviously don’t do that purely out of altruism. And most of the time, it’s a bet-to-nothing–as with Galileo himself, who bombed in the Classic. Though he’d had a gruelling season at home, his performance nourished the theory that he represented a sire-line with an inveterate aversion to dirt. (A theory that required you to throw out half the pedigree of Sadler’s Wells: for every Kitten’s Joy, after all, there’s a Medaglia d’Oro.)

You’ll never see a turf champion run more like a dirt horse than did Frankel (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) and the failure to test him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, though pardonable on account of his trainer’s health, squandered an epoch-making opportunity to stem the ongoing retrenchment of prejudices either side of the ocean. As it is, his brother Noble Mission–who himself developed a hard-running style–has been given a chance to break down barriers instead.

Now let’s not forget that this is a two-way street. As we were reminded more than once on the Triple Crown trail this spring, horses perceived as turf-bred are as likely to miss their true metier on dirt as the other way round. And I see horses running in Europe every week whose earning capacity could be transformed by a change of surface, or sometimes merely of environment.

In their domestic market, however, American horsemen have not matched fine words about turf racing–about a huge expansion in the program, about welfare–with dollars and cents. Their neglect of horses like Kitten’s Joy or English Channel, in the sales ring, is no less reprehensible than the European relegation of Classic stallions to National Hunt farms.

So while he remains up against it, you have to hand it to Noble Mission. Himself a late bloomer, he has rocked everyone back on their heels with Code of Honor on the dirt. Remember Farish offered him as a yearling, but bidding stalled at $70,000 for a Saratoga debut winner and Grade I runner-up at two, now placed in the Derby itself.

It would be unfair to burden Noble Mission with too much responsibility, especially with a second book limited by colic. He already knows all about turf in the American sales ring, his fee down to $15,000 this year from an opening $25,000. But while even another Derby podium at Epsom would not yet allow us to say Mission accomplished, nobody should think of the broader possibilities he has shown as Mission impossible.

 

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