Turf Puts Focus on Best of Both Worlds


Uni | Horsephotos


Is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence?

That's certainly a plausible inference, looking at the latest Grade I event staged on American turf. Of the seven fillies and mares contesting the Just A Game S. at Belmont on Saturday, four were bred in Europe; and three of those also started their track careers there. Moreover the solitary American winner at Royal Ascot was actually bred and raised in Ireland, and exported only last fall from Tattersalls.

It stands to reason, of course, if European blood tends to appear more effective on “the weeds”. Turf, or a synthetic variant, is the theater of operation for just about every Thoroughbred over there. Little wonder if raiders from their elite have such a good record on grass at the Breeders' Cup, taking on horses drawn from what is generally perceived to be a lesser caste of the indigenous population.

Sure enough, I see horses running every week in Europe that would elevate their earnings and breeding profile in North America. Nonetheless I feel that the success of European imports–whether purchased in training like Uni (GB) (More Than Ready); or acquired in their youth like Newspaperofrecord (Ire) (Lope De Vega {Ire})–needs to be placed in due perspective. Because there's no doubt in my mind that European breeders are suffering by their wilful neglect of American bloodlines.

Yes, all credit to those American scouts who found these Just A Game protagonists. And hats off to Wesley Ward, his patrons at Stonestreet Stables and agent Ben McElroy, who found G2 Queen Mary S. winner Campanelle (Ire) (Kodiac {GB}) in the consignment of breeder Tally-Ho Stud at the October Sale for 190,000gns.

But their expertise should not diminish those other performances that actually gave American blood a “sneaky-good” week at Ascot–even though the weather, conspiring with the melancholy ambience of the pandemic, had produced conditions inimical to horses purportedly adapted to fast going.

Remember that a culpable insularity in the European market over recent years duly resulted in a very sparse representation, through the week, of American bloodlines. In most races, especially over routes of ground, there was none whatsoever. Yet such few bullets as were fired repeatedly circled the bull's-eye.

At Group 1 level, Kimari (Munnings) was an excellent second in the Commonwealth Cup; likewise another sophomore filly, Sharing (Speightstown), in the Coronation S. Two sons of Uncle Mo lined up for the G2 Norfolk S.: one, Golden Pal, travelled best but was just worried out of it, by a neck, in the dead ground; the other missed the break but finished well for fourth. A similar credit goes to Monarch of Egypt (American Pharoah) in the G3 Jersey S., having made a scything move from last to first before just being clawed back in the cloying final strides.

Though running in the silks of partner Peter Brant, who bought him with M.V. Magnier as a yearling, Monarch of Egypt modelled the latest solution to what is an increasing challenge to his trainer's patrons at Coolmore. For his dam, the Classic-placed Up (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), typifies the saturation of the farm's broodmare band by its epoch-making champion sire. As a fresh outcross option, there has been an extra premium on American Pharoah's strong start in grass racing.

Hitherto Coolmore's investment in War Front has been as effective as anything–perhaps bar their own, lamented Scat Daddy–and the latest reward is Chesham S. winner Battleground. He's the first foal out of one of Galileo's very best daughters, Found (Ire). (Britannia H. third Cherokee Trail, incidentally, represents the same formula, being by War Front out of a smart Galileo {Ire} mare.)

I'd say that's a pretty creditable effort, in the circumstances. In fact, for so small a group to figure so prominently on soft turf should encourage people to reconsider their assumptions about the eligibility of American bloodlines for different environments.

All pedigrees tend to be read too prescriptively. It always makes me smile when trainers, asked how a horse might handle a novel surface, reply that “the sire acted on it so we should be okay”. Yes, a stallion may sometimes replicate mechanics that are effective in certain conditions (which is presumably why we do get some legible statistical trends). But quite apart from the dam's equal contribution to build and movement, you would think that staring intently at the same horse striding out every morning might be a better place to start.

Anyway the fact is that many perceived aptitudes, in terms of racing surface, are self-fulfilling. Don't worry, I'm not going to reiterate for the umpteenth time how many “dirt” bloodlines only need opportunity to transfer their dynamism to turf, and vice versa. But carrying speed is said to be a dirt hallmark. And I don't know a horseman anywhere who wouldn't like a fast horse who can keep going fast. (That's the whole point of Epsom, after all: next Saturday you'll need a horse round there that has all bases covered.)

There's no doubt that the overwhelming hegemony of Galileo and his sons (plus Urban Sea's other great son Sea The Stars {Ire}) in elite European racing beyond a mile has obtained a somewhat self-sustaining quality, with commercial breeders washing their hands of stamina influences and instead seeking sanctuary in sharp and early sprint sires. These stallions do not have the slightest pretension to getting you a Classic winner.

Typically, the precious few who do try to stem the Ballydoyle tide in Classics are owner-breeders. And they have actually been well rewarded for doing so. For one thing, even if they stick to what they know, they can still get to Enable (GB)'s sire Nathaniel (Ire), himself a son of Galileo, for no more than £25,000. But who can say what their pathetic lack of enterprise is costing the premier European stables, farther afield? As it is, David Redvers has been able to buy champion Roaring Lion and now 2,000 Guineas winner Kameko–both, of course, sons of Kitten's Joy–for an aggregate of just $250,000.

I am absolutely certain that their sire is just one example of the neglected Classic potential available to European operations on the American marketplace. And that's because, in polar contrast to the gross caricature that somehow retains currency among European horsemen who should know better, American commercial breeders are still dedicated to the Classic grail. Yes, they want speed; but they want speed that will last two turns on the first Saturday in May.

One of the most prominent (and therefore, presumably, one of the most affluent) agents in Europe once told me that he never goes to Keeneland because American breeders are only interested in speed. I merely smirked to myself. I should have laughed in his face. Because really it's disgusting that someone in his position doesn't understand how many Kentucky stallions could give his clients' mares a chance to break the Ballydoyle and/or Urban Sea monopolies at Epsom.

In recent times, it has instead been American professionals who have shown a wholesome spirit of adventure, whether at Royal Ascot or Tattersalls. Yet they, in turn, should think carefully about the kind of variegation they want to import from the European gene pool.

Bravo to those who have taken the logical next step, after seeing the success of horses bought off the track in Europe, by trying to recruit them less expensively at source. But if unearthing a Royal Ascot juvenile is a challenging commission, then let's not forget that it's pretty much the same one that has caused this worrying imbalance in European commercial breeding.

The rags-to-riches story of Campanelle's sire is a phenomenal one; and he has been supervised by a family of horsemen touched by genius. But for every Kodiac (GB) or Dark Angel (Ire), commercial farms have flooded the market with a score of cheap imitations. And even the biggest fan of Kodiac–and there are now more than ever, after his staggering new exploit in hoarding three Group sprints on the final day of Ascot–will struggle to acclaim him as any kind of Classic influence.

European breeders trade gratefully on the heritage of Royal Ascot, and are duly profiting from transatlantic competition for yearlings that might have the zip to run there the following June. But American breeders should recognize that the authentic family silver of the European gene pool, which could certainly serve their broodmare bands, is housed in a different cabinet.

Certainly it would be unfortunate if Europe's commercial toxins were now to contaminate the enduring strengths of the American Thoroughbred as well.

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