Ireland Set Fair To Dominate Cheltenham Breeding Ranks


The great Istabraq, by Sadler's Wells, winner of three Champion Hurdles for Aidan O'Brien and JP McManus |


Whichever way you slice it, the green, white and orange of the Irish tricolour ran right through the middle of last year's Cheltenham Festival results. Some 28 races were run during the four biggest days in the jumps racing calendar, and the Irish raiding party won an unprecedented 23 of them.

This haul included the four championship prizes, as Honeysuckle (GB) (Sulamani {Ire}) won the Champion Hurdle, Put The Kettle On (Ire) (Stowaway {GB}) claimed the Champion Chase, Flooring Porter (Ire) (Yeats {Ire}) took the Stayers' Hurdle and Minella Indo (Ire) (Beat Hollow {GB}) was victorious in the Gold Cup.

There was more soul searching than celebrating among the British contingent, as the home team won just five races. Whether matters can be turned around this year remains to be seen, but given the Irish are responsible for 23 of 28 ante-post favourites, the early signs are ominous.

For those immersed in the world of National Hunt breeding, Irish dominance is not a new phenomenon. Results over the last 10 years provide a clear illustration, as there have been 276 Cheltenham Festival races run since 2012, and 151 (55%) have been won by a horse bearing the Ire suffix. That is just over four times more than Britain, which has been represented by 37 winners (13%) in the same time frame.

While the action on course generally revolves around Britain versus Ireland, in the breeding stakes French-breds have been a formidable presence with 80 winners (29%) since 2012. The remaining eight winners were supplied by Germany and the US, who delivered four apiece.

A significant factor in these results looking so lop-sided is the sheer weight of numbers, with Irish breeders producing far more jumps horses than their British counterparts.

Data published in the latest Weatherbys Fact Book shows that in 2021, Ireland was home to 4,599 National Hunt mares, which is 31.7% of the country's combined broodmare band and 3.8 times more than Britain, which had just 1,213 dedicated jumps mares, 14.8% of its total broodmare population. In turn, Ireland produced 2,722 jumps-bred foals in 2021, which is 3.9 times more than the 696 youngsters born in Britain who are destined to race over obstacles.

Moreover, not only do Irish breeders have a sizeable broodmare band to call upon, but the balance of National Hunt sire power has long since been based in Ireland.

It was a notable subplot to Frankel (GB) winning the 2021 Flat sires' championship that he was the first British-based title-holder since Mill Reef, who landed the spoils back in 1987.

But you have to go even further back to find the last time the champion National Hunt sire crown left Irish soil, with Spartan General (GB) registering a rare success for Britain during the 1978-79 season. It has been one-way traffic since then, with jumps racing titans like Deep Run (GB), who notched a remarkable 14 consecutive sires' championships, Strong Gale (Ire), Be My Native, Supreme Leader (GB) and Presenting (GB) all coming to the fore for Ireland.

Although Sadler's Wells never claimed a National Hunt sires' championship to go with his record-breaking 14 Flat equivalents, the breed-shaping son of Northern Dancer has exerted a similarly huge influence over the jumping scene. Nowhere has this been more apparent than at the Cheltenham Festival.

No fewer than 23 of Sadler's Wells' sire sons have been responsible for the winners of 84 Cheltenham Festival races in the last 10 years, while another 22 winners have the former Coolmore flag-bearer further back in their paternal pedigree. This means that in the last decade alone, the Sadler's Wells line has been responsible for 106 Festival winners, a huge 38.4% of the 276 races run.

No stallion has done more to extend Sadler's Wells's influence over the jumping sphere than King's Theatre (Ire), who claimed five sires' championships and also supplied 12 Festival winners in the last decade, a tally that makes him the most prolific Cheltenham sire of recent times. The late Ballylinch Stud resident's Festival roll of honour includes the likes of Brindisi Breeze (Ire), Champ (Ire), Cue Card (GB), Riverside Theatre (GB) and The New One (Ire).

Among the other successful sons of Sadler's Wells are names such as Milan (GB), source of seven Cheltenham winners since 2012 and the 2019-20 champion, Oscar (Ire), sire of 10 Festival scorers, and Glenview Stud's Sholokhov (Ire), whose four successes at the meeting include recent Grade 1 winners Bob Olinger (Ire) and Shishkin (Ire).

Other noteworthy sire sons include High Chaparral (Ire) and Montjeu (Ire), who were responsible for four-time Festival scorer Altior (Ire) and dual Champion Hurdle hero Hurricane Fly (Ire) respectively, while Montjeu's son Authorized (Ire) gave us the mighty Tiger Roll (Ire).

While Sadler's Wells's influence has helped cement Ireland's position as the nucleus of National Hunt breeding, he is also responsible for a British heavyweight in Overbury Stud stalwart Kayf Tara (GB), who has sired seven Festival winners since 2012.

As if all that were not enough, Sadler's Wells's own record includes an important winner from the not too distant past, as Synchronised (Ire) claimed the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup for JP and Noreen McManus.

However, despite his ongoing influence, you need to look a little further back to find Sadler's Wells's defining achievement in National Hunt racing, as he is immortalised as the sire of Cheltenham Festival icon Istabraq (Ire), who won three consecutive Champion Hurdles from 1998 to 2000.

Galileo (Ire), heir of the Sadler's Wells empire on the Flat, also has a handful of Festival winners on his vast stud record, and is the grandsire of a further four, with sons Nathaniel (Ire), best known for supplying queen of the Turf Enable (GB), and Soldier Of Fortune (Ire) each responsible for a brace. With so many high-class sons of Galileo on jumps breeders' radars, including the likes of Coolmore's National Hunt recruits Capri (Ire), Kew Gardens (Ire), Mogul (GB) and Order Of St George (Ire), we can expect his name to appear in prominent jumps pedigrees with increasing regularity over the coming years.

There have been 232 individual winners who have struck at the last 10 Festivals, and these have been supplied by 124 different stallions. The diversity among this number means that, while Sadler's Wells has been an almost ubiquitous force in recent Festival history, his line is not alone in having had a significant bearing on proceedings.

Another name more commonly associated with high-class Flat performers is Danehill, who has been represented by four successful sire sons with eight winners to their credit, namely Aussie Rules, Dansili (GB) and Duke Of Marmalade (Ire), who all have one winner apiece, as well as Castlehyde Stud's Westerner (GB), who has five.

Danehill's rags-to-riches son Danehill Dancer (Ire) also emerged as a force in the National Hunt world, primarily through the exploits of the much-missed Jeremy, whose five Festival winners include Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero Appreciate It (Ire) and Champion Bumper victor Sir Gerhard (Ire), who are back for more this year. These results have seen Danehill feature in the male line of 15 recent Festival winners.

The last decade has also seen significant success for descendants of other prominent National Hunt influences such as Alleged, Garde Royale (Ire) and Monsun (Ger). Alleged's name has appeared in the male line of 11 winners in the last 10 years, with Shantou responsible for five of those and the mighty Flemensfirth having supplied another four, while Astarabad and Sir Harry Lewis also sired one winner apiece.

Garde Royale's success owes plenty to Robin Des Champs (Fr), whose 10 Festival winners in the last decade include National Hunt celebrities Quevega (Fr) and Vautour (Fr). Garde Royale has also been represented by Kapgarde (Fr), sire of A Plus Tard (Fr), a past Festival winner and a strong contender for this year's Gold Cup.

As far as furthering their legacies, time may be running out for Alleged, whose breeding sons have either passed away or been retired from active duty, and Garde Royale, for whom Kapgarde is a sole representative between Britain, Ireland and France. Monsun, however, has already left his imprint on 12 Festival winners through six sire sons, and remains well represented among the European stallion ranks.

Other sire lines may have been a more plentiful source of Festival success, but Monsun can lay claim to the highest-rated Cheltenham winner in recent times thanks to Sprinter Sacre (Fr), the son of Network (Ger) who won an Arkle and two runnings of the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

The other sons of Monsun to supply a Festival winner are Arcadio (Ger), Gentlewave (Ire), Maxios (GB), Schiaparelli (Ger) and Shirocco (Ger). There were eight sons of Monsun standing across Britain and Ireland in 2021–namely Axxos (Ger), Gentlewave, Getaway (Ger), Masterstroke, Maxios, Ocovango (GB), Schiaparelli and Vadamos (Fr)–and between them they covered 940 mares, which gives an indication of the sire line's ammunition for the years ahead.

Given that National Hunt horses have longer career cycles than their Flat counterparts, by the time most jumps stallions reach the peak of their powers plenty have either been pensioned or passed away, as evidenced by Milan being the only serving champion jumps sire at present. With so many high achievers no longer in action, breeders will be looking to Cheltenham to reveal who is capable of filling the void. Once again the Irish ranks look to hold all the aces.

Among those with a strong hand are the likes of Sadler's Wells's son Yeats (Ire), who sired four winners last year and will be represented by leading fancies Conflated (Ire), Flooring Porter (Ire), Mount Ida (Ire) and Party Central (Ire) this time around. Another member of the Sadler's Wells line with a strong team is Grange Stud's Walk In The Park (Ire), sire of past Festival scorers Douvan (Fr) and Min (Fr).

The son of Montjeu could start the week with a bang when Jonbon (Fr), a brother to Douvan who fetched a record £570,000 at the Goffs UK Yorton Sale in November 2020, lines up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on Tuesday. Walk In The Park will also be represented by the progressive Ginto (Fr) and Champion Bumper favourite Facile Vega (Ire), who is out of six-time Festival heroine Quevega.

Glenview Stud's Blue Bresil (Fr) could also be set for a good week, with the son of Smadoun (Fr) set to field the likes of Blue Lord (Fr), Constitution Hill (GB), Redemption Day (GB) and Royale Pagaille (Fr).

The French ranks will be typically well represented, not least by the progeny of Doctor Dino (Fr), who stands at a record fee for a jumps sire at €18,000. The Haras du Mesnil resident looks set to supply well-fancied runners such as Dinoblue (Fr), Fil Dor (Fr) and State Man (Fr), while his compatriots No Risk At All (Fr), sire of Allaho (Fr) and Epatante (Fr), and Kapgarde, source of A Plus Tard and Prengarde (Fr), could also make an impact.

There are also a host of younger names for whom a first Festival winner would mark a major milestone in their upwardly mobile careers. These include Arctic Tack Stud's Jet Away (GB), source of Ryanair Mares' Novices' Hurdle second favourite Brandy Love (Ire), Haras de la Tuilerie's Masked Marvel (GB), who is responsible for Champion Hurdle challenger Teahupoo (Fr), and Kilbarry Lodge Stud resident Diamond Boy, sire of Brown Advisory Novices' Chase fancy L'Homme Presse (Fr).

During a busy weekend of sport, Ireland were made to work hard for their 32-15 victory over England in Saturday's Six Nations contest at Twickenham, with the gloss added to the final score only inside the last six minutes. When the Cheltenham roar goes up and the countries renew their rivalry at the Festival this week, all known form suggests that matters will prove much more one-sided.

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