Sunday Supplement: Stallion Fashion

Sunday Supplement

Sunday Supplement

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Having spent all my life doing my best to divest myself of any money I might have accrued along the way, I find late in the seventh decade of my existence, that I wish I had some. Well, more than some, or as that great writer and horseracing devotee Damon Runyon would have styled it, more than somewhat.

Life in the second decade of the only other Millennium you or me are destined to experience is all about fashion. It – or you or me or he or she – is either in or out. How else can you explain sudden changes in clothing, music popularity, actors and even stocks in the market? It’s just as true, indeed more so with horse racing and especially stallions.

I have been germinating this far from profound thought for much of the summer as I have tried to put a handle on a particular two-year-old it has been my privilege to watch on the Manton gallops. He is called Spark Plug – although the name was only added to the Dylan Thomas colt a week or so before last weekend’s successful debut at Bath.

Before watching his progress, which culminated in a 12-1 unbacked success, as at the time of his win I was admiring Great Hall in the St Leger paddock between chats with John Magnier, whose Leading Light was about to win the year’s last English Classic race, I shared the received wisdom that Dylan Thomas was an under-achieving sire.

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Now John, as the boss of Coolmore stud, must be the final arbiter of the fees charged to the rest of us – or rather them – for the services of their select roster of stallions, which are proudly headed by Galileo, several years senior to Dylan Thomas in age – and galaxies apart in terms of achievement.

Breeding racehorses is a case of head over heart and breeders like Tony O’Callaghan, Magnier’s brother-in-law and boss of Tally Ho Stud, always knows when to pass on a non-achiever. I once had the temerity to take up the chance to get one of his cast-offs, Contract Law and with stud owner Richard Kent have two quite lucrative years standing him at £1,000 (or to friends £500) a pop.

That was quite odd as when he’d come up for sale at Newmarket, a young Swedish lady bought him, thinking she was getting a brood mare, another amazingly odd but true incident in my life. I was sharing a taxi from the station with said lady and her friend Marten Julian of Dark Horses Annual fame, travelling to one of the far northern racetracks when the opportunity to get her out of trouble arose and, true to form, I took it.

Dylan Thomas started out on the road to breeding success in 2008 pegged at the same starting point as had Galileo six years earlier. Their opening gambit was 50,000 Euro. In Galileo’s case that had slipped to 37,500 four years later, but it was the explosion of his first lot of brilliant three-year-olds that year and the subsequent triumphs of Teofilo as a juvenile that brought an instant rise to 150,000 in 2007.

That was the last year a fee for Galileo has been officially advertised. In 2008, when Dylan Thomas went off, Galileo’s was described as “private” as he has been ever since, and anyone getting in for less than 300k in the interim has been lucky in the extreme.

As the partners ride the wave, taking in the fees from upwards of 150 mares each year – conservatively 50million – Dylan’s path has been more prosaic.

While Galileo’s six wins were all achieved by the time of the King George in his three year old year – he previously won the Epsom and Irish Derbys – Dylan Thomas stayed in training an extra year to top up his tally to ten from five. Galileo was beaten in the Irish Champion, a race Dylan won twice, and the Breeders’ Cup.

In addition to the Irish Champion Stakes wins at three and four, Dylan also won the Irish Derby and King George and ended his winning thrillingly under Kieren Fallon in the Arc. His end of career rating was 128, two spots lower than Galileo’s. He’s by Danehill, one of the greatest and most versatile stallions of all time: Galileo is a son of Sadler’s Wells, for a long while rated possibly the greatest of them all, eclipsing his own sire Northern Dancer, before himself moving over, usurped by Galileo.

Dylan Thomas stood at Coolmore in successive years at 35k, 25k, 17.5k and 12.5k before going into action this year at 10,000 Euro. Years two to four are always tricky with few horses on the track (none until the third year) but I do detect a stirring by DT. Only yesterday he had two winners, one in an Irish bumper ridden for Aidan O’Brien by his daughter Sara, and another in a Listed race in France.

That’s why I’d like to have money – Qatar, Dubai, Coolmore money. I’d buy him, stand him at my own new stud and acquire 100 mares to send to him, then sit back and watch the money roll in – if I lived that long!

The October Yearling sale, run at Newmarket by Tattersalls, is the true barometer of stallion fashion. Book 1 catalogues 513 yearlings; 965 appear in the all-things-to-all-owners and trainers Book 2, while a slimmed-down Book 3 has a tight 300 offered. Galileo’s entire strength of 47 at the auction adorns Book 1, so take up almost 10 per cent of it. Needless to say, no vendor of a Galileo yearling needs either Book 2 or 3 to accommodate him.

Dylan Thomas meanwhile has none in the first segment; ten in Book 2 and five more in Book 3. I’ll be having a good look at all of them, hoping to unearth another gem, as Johnny McKeever and Brian Meehan did with Spark Plug last year.

My boss Raymond Tooth has already had a bit of a shocker, losing one of three Dutch Art yearlings, a nice colt, after a paddocks accident, but he has a nice filly in Book 2 and a full-brother to Dutch Art Dealer, sold in the same ring by him last year and a good winner for Paul Cole second time out, in the bargain-basement Book 3. It’s that time of year soon – and I love it. See you there, but you’ll have to have plenty to buy the Dutch Art – Nine Red filly.


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