Australia and the Shuttle Effect

AUSTRALIA AND THE SHUTTLE EFFECT 
By Kelsey Riley 
Australia has become a melting pot of sire lines and pedigrees from across the globe, and nowhere is that more evident than this week’s Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale. Books 1 and 2 of the country’s first yearling sale of the season include the progeny of 21 Northern Hemisphere-based shuttlers (accounting for 159 of the 912 yearlings catalogued), and sires like More Than Ready (36 catalogued), High Chaparral (Ire) (12) and Street Cry (Ire) (7) have become as revered in Australia as anywhere else in the world. 

While shuttlers boast a strong presence Down Under, a look at Australia’s leading sire table reveals another dynamic to the story. Nine of the top 10 current leading sires in Australia–excluding number three Monsun (Ger), whose more than A$3.9 million bankroll is almost exclusively courtesy G1 Melbourne Cup winner Protectionist (Ger)–are Australian-bred ‘colonial’ sires, with just Street Cry breaking the mold in the eighth position. Just three of the top 20 sires are, or were, shuttlers. 

This trend is a clear contrast to the early 90s, when the concept of shuttling took off and horses like Last Tycoon (GB) and Bluebird were made available to Australian breeders. Those early experiments proved especially fruitful; Last Tycoon was champion sire in 1994 and Bluebird sired nine Group 1 winners Down Under. Both those early shuttlers were owned by Coolmore and Robert Sangster, and in 1990 that powerhouse teamed up with John Messara’s Arrowfield Stud, then a relatively new operation, to purchase Juddmonte’s American-bred, British-raced G1 Sprint Cup winner Danehill (Danzig) to stand dual hemisphere in a move that would revolutionize the Australian breed. Messara later recalled that the team had desired a son of Danzig with turf sprinting form, and the Arrowfield master now notes the major impact shuttling has had on shaping the Australian breed. 

“It broke the traditional mold of farmer-breeders with limited capital buying the stallions they could afford,” he explained. “That tradition had produced some outstanding results, but naturally restricted the range of horses Australian farms could buy.” 

“Secondly, it changed the economics of the stallion business because it substantially increased the potential income a stallion could earn and increased his opportunities to succeed with different broodmare populations,” Messara continued. “That made it easier to attract a new generation of city-based investors to stallion and broodmare ownership.” 

Messara explained that the introduction of shuttlers rapidly improved the Australian breed to a world-class level. 
“It very quickly expanded and refreshed our gene pool with results that continue to be seen in major races around the world, and in our yearling sales and sires’ premierships,” he said. “It brought all our various breeding industries much closer together, a trend accelerated by the internet, which has revolutionized our access to news, results, data and vision for racing and breeding in most countries.” 

Messara noted these trends encouraged major international players to establish shuttle-based businesses in Australia, and also enticed breeders from other jurisdictions, like Japan and Europe, to invest in Australian mares. 

The rise in quality of the Australian Thoroughbred is evidenced by the parade of Royal Ascot-winning sprinters to come out of Australia since Choisir (Aus)–a son of Coolmore shuttler Danehill Dancer (Ire) (Danehill)–became the first Australian-trained winner in Britain when recording a remarkable King’s Stand/Diamond Jubilee double in 2003. Three years later Takeover Target (Aus)–a son of French Derby winner and shuttler Celtic Swing (GB)–won the same race. Miss Andretti (Aus) and Scenic Blast (Aus), winners of the King’s Stand in 2007 and 2009, were by imported sons of Royal Academy and Sadler’s Wells, respectively. Choisir’s son Starspangledbanner (Aus) took the Golden Jubilee S. in 2010. That race was renamed the Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the year Black Caviar (Aus), another third generation descendant of Royal Academy through her sire Bel Esprit (Aus), made her successful raid. The following year Black Caviar topped the Longines World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, a first for an Australian-bred. 

As much as Danehill’s success paved the way for shuttling, Messara explained that it also “cooled the enthusiasm” for any sires outside the Danzig line; breeders wanted to stick with what was working. Nonetheless, the likes of Dehere, Tale of the Cat, Red Ransom and More Than Ready came along from other lines and enjoyed success. 

A New Kind Of Competition… 
The prominence of shuttlers on the sire table likely reached its peak in 2001/02; at the end of that racing season, eight of the top 10 leading sires were shuttlers. The number of shuttlers at the top of the leaderboard dropped steadily thereafter, however, to six the following year; four in 2003/04 and three in 2004/05. In 2012/13 there was one shuttler on the top 10 general sires list, and in 2013/14 there were none. 

A closer look at the current sire table, however, will reveal that eight of the top 10 sires are either sons or grandsons of shuttlers. Fastnet Rock (Aus) and Redoute’s Choice (Aus), currently one-two, respectively, are both former champion sires and sons of Danehill, and six of the top 10 are sons or grandson of Danehill. I Am Invincible (Aus), a son of Invincible Spirit–who shuttled Down Under just three seasons–was last season’s champion freshman sire, and he currently leads all second-season sires. His first-crop son Brazen Beau (Aus) won the G1 Coolmore Stud S., one the country’s premier sire-making races, at the Melbourne Cup carnival and was recently purchased by Darley for stud duty. The two top 10 sires with ‘Australian’ pedigrees are number four Lonhro (Aus)–a former champion sire–and number five Reset (Aus). Reset is a son of Zabeel (NZ), while Lonhro is a grandson of that legendary Cambridge Stud resident. 

While Australian-bred sprinters are once again dominating the country’s sire ranks, it is in fact the result of shuttling that has come full circle, and the Australian-bred sons and grandsons of former shuttlers are now providing stiff competition to the new generation. 

“The standard of horse racing in Australia has improved so much with the advent of shuttle stallions,” said Alastair Pulford, Head of Sales at Darley Australia. “The horses by those stallions are now that good that they in turn have become top-level stallions. Before the advent of the shuttle, we derived our stallions from the also-rans in Europe, so we never really had access to those top stallions. Now that we have had access to them, their progeny who are proven in Australia generally end up making the best stallions in Australia.” 

Pulford added, “Australia was very lucky in terms of the shuttle. We were getting horses from England, Ireland, Japan, France, America–we were accessing horses from all parts of the world at a really elite level, so it had to improve the breed, and it improved it rapidly. It’s taken two or three generations and we’re right up there now.” 

Byron Rogers, who spent eight years as Stallion Nominations and Bloodstock Manager at Arrowfield and maintains ties with the Australian market as a managing partner of Performance Genetics in Kentucky, shared that sentiment. 

“It really was a melting pot of international sires coming in for about a decade from three different continents,” he explained. “The legacy of the shuttle sires is very, very strong, but now because you have some of these local stallions coming up to compete against the shuttle sires, and because they’ve upgraded the strength of the pedigrees over a generation, now you have that not every sire that shuttles from Europe or America or Japan really necessarily suits to come down to Australia. They’re getting more selective about what they actually bring down and what actually fits the Australian market.” 

While a strong local market may mean those shuttling stallions are more selective, it doesn’t mean they won’t try something different. Pulford cited Street Cry (Ire), currently eighth on the sire table, as an example. The Irish-bred, American-trained son of Machiavellian, who died at 16 in September, won the G1 Dubai World Cup over 10 furlongs and the GI Stephen Foster H. over nine, and was a member of Darley’s inaugural group of shuttlers after it purchased its first Australian property, Kelvinside Stud in the Hunter Valley, in 2003. 

“The market still rules, so in order to give a shuttle stallion an opportunity, he has to have enough broad appeal in the markeplace for us to bring him down,” Pulford said. “Having said that, there is an element of us wanting to provide stallions that aren’t necessarily straightforward for the marketplace here, in an attempt to shape the market in some way. Street Cry probably is the best example. He was a very high-class horse, but being a dirt-performed horse over a mile and a quarter he wasn’t an absolute obvious one for Australia. He took his time to become accepted in the marketplace here. He stood A$30,000 his initial year, but to be honest we battled with him. We cut his fee in half the following year and got some momentum off a lower fee, and then once the results came it became easy for him.” 

Street Cry has sired three Group 1 winners in Australia–a pair of G1 Caulfield Guineas winners and a G1 Melbourne Cup winner. His GI Kentucky Derby-winning son Street Sense no longer shuttles, but he was responsible for this year’s G1 Golden Rose S. winner Hallowed Crown (Aus), who has been purchased by Darley for stud duty. 

The Name of the Game… 
Australia’s legacy is its prepotency for producing world-class sprinters. The greatest value on the racing calendar is placed on early 2-year-old sprints–namely races like the A$2 million Magic Millions 2YO Classic, the A$3.5 million G1 Golden Slipper and the A$1 million G1 Blue Diamond S., all over 1200 meters and contested before what would be September for Northern Hemisphere horses–and as such the greatest demand on the commercial market is for yearlings bred for early speed. 

“Every spring the breeders, racing public and the papers and media lament the lack of staying prospects emanating out of Australia, but there is seemingly a reluctance amongst the breeders to do much about that, because they have to be practical in a market sense,” Pulford said. “If you turn up at Magic Millions or [Inglis] Easter with a staying-bred yearling you’re generally going to take a penalty for it.” 

Rogers noted that while rich juveniles races “are really defining the selection in Australia,” there is still a lucrative Classic program for domestically bred horses. The key contests for 3-year-olds are the G1 Victoria Derby (A$1.5 million) and G1 Crown Oaks (A$1 million) both over 2500 meters in November–about three months after they officially turn three–and the G1 Australian Derby (A$2 million) and G1 Australian Oaks (A$1 million) in April. 

“Around 40-50% of all the mares in Australia are bred for sprinting,” Rogers said. “But if they keep bringing down some of these horses that want to go a route of ground, by default you do breed a certain portion of the population that want to get some ground. We still run Derbies and those sorts of races that horses have to be bred in Australia or New Zealand to win, so there is a subset of the population that has been bred for that and they’re now trying to cater more races for those types of horses.” 

Rogers continued, “The byproduct of the precocity is that Australia is very good at producing turf sprinters, but you can’t select totally for that type of horse–you actually have to have a market for the alternative, those horses that want to get a mile to 10 furlongs. They are trying to build that up over a period of time.” 

Rogers noted that Australia’s major racing states have started including more options for distance-oriented juveniles in recent years by cutting out some of the early 2-year-old sprints with suspect form and adding some longer events at the end of the season and beginning of the 3-year-old year. He said the new races had been supported by trainers, and while they had yet to produce a top 3-year-old, he noted, “It takes about 20 years to reframe a breeding population, so it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight.” 

“It’s something that’s occurring over time, but it’s one of those things you have to gradually build along because people have to breed towards it,” Rogers said. “You can’t just change it overnight.” 

Rogers acknowledged the fact that it is difficult for a breeding population to truly excel at producing two completely different types of horse. While Australia’s sprinters are amongst the best in the world, Europe’s strength is in its stayers, a fact that many Australian trainers have recently latched onto, causing a rising phenomenon of importing horses for Australia’s best staying contests. 

“It’s very difficult for an entire population of horses to do two things at once,” Rogers said. “In Europe, if they’re going to breed really good 10 and 12 furlong horses, it’s very hard for them to turn around and breed very good sprinters, and vice versa in Australia.” 

He added, “It’s not as simple as just breeding a stayer to a stayer, and getting a high-class stayer. It’s a bit more complicated than that. So if Australia wanted to breed the 10-12 furlong horse, we’d have to change a lot more than just putting on a couple races as late 2-year-olds and early 3-year-olds for distance runners. We’d have to actually change the Magic Millions and the Golden Slipper and all those races to be more distance-oriented, like they have in Japan, for example [where the 2-year-old championship races are contested over a mile in December].” 

Market Matters… 
Another factor encouraging Australian breeders to produce horses able to compete over a route of ground are the lucrative export markets of Asian countries like Hong Kong and Singapore. The worth of Australian-breds to those countries was highlighted earlier this year when Amber Sky (Aus) (Exceed and Excel {Aus}) and Sterling City (Aus) (Nadeem {Aus}) won both Group 1 sprints–the Al Quoz Sprint and the Golden Shaheen–on the Dubai World Cup card. Those countries’ most important races are generally at a mile or above, however. 

“There are a couple driving markets there,” Rogers said. “The Hong Kong Derby is a 10 furlong race that they run for 4-year-olds. Some of the bigger export markets do like horses that can run a mile and further, so that’s partially driving [change], along with the fact that you can’t breed totally for speed, because you end up with a horse that can’t even get five furlongs. The export markets aren’t wanting a totally one-dimensional horse, so there is a move to make the racing environment in Australia a little closer to what some of our export markets are wanting.” 

Pulford stressed that providing stallions with a route profile is important for Darley, and he said the ground paved by the likes of Street Cry and More Than Ready has made it easier to promote their newer recruits, like Bernardini. That triple Grade I winner has produced 10 Southern Hemisphere stakes winners, including Group 1 winners Boban (Aus), Ruud Awakening (Aus) and Go Indy Go (Aus). 

“The American horses probably a decade ago weren’t that easy, because people had a fear of or an aversion to dirt performed horses,” he said. “But Street Cry has been a great horse for us, and probably More Than Ready in a similar vein for Vinery, in that people could draw confidence from that, so when it came to bringing Bernardini out the ground had been laid for that sort of horse. Bernardini was always well accepted in the marketplace here and he’s sort of carved out a niche. He had a quiet enough spring but he’s certainly proven he can sire some of the top horses in the country.” 

Pulford praised the American racing system and its ability to turn out top-class sire prospects. 

“I love American racing because it’s speed racing– they’re racing on the pace, they’re fast-run, genuine races and the best horse generally wins,” he explained. “American racing seems to be, from afar, far less tactical than Australian racing. That has to be good for determining who the best horses really are and giving them their chance [at stud]. In Australia, the best horse generally comes through in the end, but sometimes they take a while to do it, or have bad luck along the way.” 

Pulford said another reason for giving distance stallions a shot Down Under is that the fierce competition among sprinters has created a very tall task for horses of that profile. 

“If you look at our general sire list it tends to be dominated by local-bred Australian sprinters, and most commonly from the Danzig line, but not always,” he said. “So you have to be very good as a short course horse to come here and carve out a niche at stud.” 

Arrowfield threw its confidence behind the concept of U.S.-bred, distance-excelling sire prospects when purchasing GI Kentucky Derby and G1 Dubai World Cup winner Animal Kingdom (Leroidesanimaux {Brz}) for stud duty in 2013. 
“Our purchase of Animal Kingdom takes a slightly different direction, but reflects this more recent trend as well as echoing the original shuttle stallion concept and the Irish-Australian purchase of the U.S.-bred Danehill after a European racing career,” Messara explained. “Animal Kingdom represents an Australian investment with Darley and Team Valor in an internationally recognized racehorse with a global, Danzig-free pedigree and a stud career in both hemispheres.” He added, “We might see more of this kind of co-operative investment in a wider range of horses as we all seek the next breed-shaper with the right physical, genetic and racing qualities for our respective markets.” 

High Expectations, High Achievements… 
Another recent groundbreaking shuttler with a route profile has been High Chaparral (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells). The 2002 G1 Epsom Derby and two-time GI Breeders’ Cup Turf winner, who died last month in Ireland, stood his first Southern Hemisphere seasons at Windsor Park in New Zealand and sired four Group 1 winners in his first crop, including the globetrotting superstar and current Coolmore sire So You Think (NZ), who is represented by his first yearlings this year. Another son of High Chaparral, the six-time Group 1 winner Dundeel (NZ), recently completed his first season at Arrowfield. 

Coolmore Stud, along with Darley, is one of the few operations that offers breeders an array of shuttle choices from Europe and the U.S.–indeed, six of the 12 stallions at Coolmore Australia in 2014 were shuttlers. Coolmore Australia’s General Manager Michael Kirwan said of High Chaparral, “He was an elite horse in middle distance and Classic races, which are very lucrative races in Australia, but people don’t look to breed middle distance horses as their stock horse. Their standard horse is a sprinter-miler, not a middle distance horse. But when a horse like High Chaparral came along and made the impression he made–he had four Group 1 winners in his first crop, and his five Group 1 winners in Australia have won 25 Group 1 races between them–Australian breeders really sat up and took note of him.” 

“The opportunities abound for stallions that can produce high-quality staying stock,” Kirwan added. “There’s a great enthusiasm for the better middle- distance and Classic races across Australia, and any move towards looking to stimulate more domestically bred middle-distance horses would be very much welcome I’m sure by breeders and horsemen across the country.” 

While Kirwan noted that the sire table is currently dominated by sprinters, he said the significance of shuttlers with other profiles, like High Chaparral, should not be underestimated. He explained that Coolmore aims to provide the market with an array of prospects so as to increase the chances of finding a top stallion. 

“Australia is a fabulously successful breeding jurisdiction, and we’re not in a position to pre-prescribe what will and will not work for breeders,” he said. “We like to try to identify horses we feel firstly are capable of establishing themselves as elite stallions–we want to provide breeders in Australasia the opportunity to use the best racehorses, not just domestically, but internationally; the best-credentialed stallion prospects that can be found. We’re in a privileged position where we also have operations in North America and Ireland, and that provides us with the opportunity to identify quality racehorses and stallion prospects in a series of jurisdictions.” 

One of Coolmore Australia’s newest recruits is Eclipse champion 2-year-old Uncle Mo (Indian Charlie), who is represented by his first yearlings this year. In addition to being an outcross to a broodmare population heavily saturated with the Danehill line, Kirwan noted that Uncle Mo has many of the attributes desired by Australian breeders. 

“He was an elite racehorse–he was a brilliantly fast horse–that’s something Australian breeders have a distinct preference for when choosing a stallion,” Kirwan said. “He was mature and precocious. He got stock that really impressed people who bred to him, and people who hadn’t. He really stamped his stock–they’re big, strong, well put together horses with big hips and good hind legs.” 

Uncle Mo’s first Northern Hemisphere yearlings were well received at this year’s yearling sales, with 96 selling for an average of $111,958. 

Kirwan also made note of the American trailblazers that have helped in the promotion of Uncle Mo. 

“People are more than happy to acknowledge the series of high-class dirt runners that have come to Australia and made a very strong impression,” he said. “The list is as long as your arm: there’s More Than Ready, Street Cry, Dehere, Tale of the Cat–a series of very smart dirt runners with similar profiles to Uncle Mo, good 2-year-olds and very, very fast. Part of the reason he had such appeal is that he had a similar profile to those horses that have succeeded here from North America in the past.” 

Also debuting on the yearling market this year, from the Darley roster, are a pair of high-class Australian-breds very much in the mold of the country’s speciality: Sepoy (Aus) (Elusive Quality) and Helmet (Aus) (Exceed and Excel {Aus}). Both were extremely fast and precocious 2-year-olds that displayed the ability to train on. Sepoy won the G1 Blue Diamond S. and G1 Golden Slipper and added the G1 Manikato S.–against elders–and the G1 Coolmore Stud S. as a 3-year-old, and Helmet took the G1 Sires’ Produce S. and G1 Champagne S.–the second and third legs of the Sydney 2-year-old Triple Crown–followed by the Caulfield Guineas a sophomore. 

“They were really what Australian racing is all about– we’re very, very excited about both of them,” Pulford said. “Sepoy’s progeny have been admired since they were foals. The breeders love them and they’re very confident. Horses like Sepoy and Helmet, while they’re not absolute shoe-ins at stud–nothing is ever certain–there are very few horses with their profiles that miss out completely.” 

While one can never be entirely sure about where the next great sire is going to come from, one thing that is certain is that shuttlers have changed the landscape of the Australian breeding industry significantly in a short space of time. Pulford noted that before the days of shuttling, a typical European import stallion would be a Group 2 or 3 winner with some pedigree, but those days are gone, the standard having risen significantly. 

“Nowadays the thought of bringing a non Group 1-winner here is virtually impossible,” he said. “And they can’t just be one-time Group 1 winners–they have to be proper stallion prospects.” 

Regardless of where Australia’s next great sire hails from, it is inevitable that shuttlers have had a significant impact on that country’s breed, and will likely continue to shape it in the years to come. 

The Reverse Reaction… 
The impact of shuttling has truly come full circle, with the improvement of the Australian breed meaning Australian-bred sires are now reverse-shuttling. While Darley and Coolmore are sending the likes of Fastnet Rock, So You Think, Exceed and Excel, Helmet and Sepoy to their Northern satellites, Arrowfield has also been a pioneer in this sector, having sent its champion sire Redoute’s Choice to the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval in France for the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Redoute’s Choice’s first Northern Hemisphere foals were well received at this year’s breeding stock sales, with three sold for an average of $178,391. 

Arrowfield also shuttled Redoute’s Choice’s son Snitzel (Aus) to Shadai Stallion Station in Japan in 2007 and 2011, and All American to Darby Dan in Kentucky in 2011.

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