The biggest gripe about modern-day breeders is that they are so obsessed with speed that potential middle-distance sires are badly neglected in favour of young sprinting stallions, writes Tony Stafford. The perceived decline of many top staying races, including the St Leger, has long been cited as proving that point.
For many years Ladbrokes’ sponsorship bolstered the St Leger, steadfastly at the same time staving off calls for the race to be opened, like its Irish counterpart, to horses older than the Classic age of three. William Hill, now supporting the event after the Levy impasse between bookmakers and the BHA , find the race in its rudest health for many years.
Saturday’s Classic will go down in history as having been won by Capri, one of four Aiden O’Brien-trained colts, all sons of Galileo and also winner of the Irish Derby back in July. He will earn the win on his career resume while the other ten clock up defeats.
Remarkably ten is also the total number of career defeats accumulated by the six stallions with runners in the 2017 St Leger. The others were Sea The Stars, with three runners, and Dalakhani, Frankel, Dubawi and High Chaparral, with one runner each.
It doesn’t take much for memories of even the best racehorses to fade, but listing the field and its various sires, suggests that as only the truly great were represented, something out of the ordinary is indeed needed to challenge at this exalted level.
So just to remind ourselves – I needed that refresher as much as the next man – here goes. Frankel, obviously, was the greatest. By Galileo, he won all 14 career starts, including the 2,000 Guineas and the only ‘blemish’ if you dare call it that was his non-appearance in the Derby or any other mile and a half race. Any doubt he would have stayed that (or a longer) trip must have been dispersed by his seven-length romp in the 10.5 furlong Juddmonte International at York.
Frankel raced throughout his career for his breeder, Khalid Abdullah, and with only two crops on the track, is making a strong case of becoming the chief challenger to Galileo and Dubawi going forward.
Galileo, of course by Sadler’s Wells, won his first six starts, encompassing the Derby, Irish Derby and King George before succumbing to the highly-talented Fantastic Light in the Irish Champion Stakes. His only other defeat was when proving unsuited by US racing in the Breeders’ Cup on his final start.
Dubawi, the joint least-raced with Galileo among our sample, also had eight races. He lost three times when fifth in the 2,000 Guineas, third in the Derby and runner-up in the QEII. Basically a miler, he was an unbeaten Group 1 winning juvenile and collected the Jacques Le Marois as a three-year-old.
High Chaparral raced 13 times, one fewer than Frankel, and lost three times, as many as Dubawi. The defeats came, typically for a Ballydoyle inmate, first-time out at two, and then, less so, in successive Arcs de Triomphe, in the second as a four-year-old he was third behind Dalakhani. On the plus side were impressive victories in the Derby (from stablemate Hawk Wing), Irish Derby and two Breeders’ Cup Turf races.
Dalakhani, principally regarded as a sire of stayers, won eight of his nine races for the Aga Khan, his owner-breeder. Dalakhani’s only failure came when as an odds-on chance for the Irish Derby (having won the French) he finished half a length behind the John Oxx-trained Alamshar, also an Aga Khan home-bred. His son Defoe, with four successive wins before Doncaster, was one of the few major disappointments in the race.
That leaves Sea The Stars, a son of Cape Cross, bred and raced by Christopher Tsui and still owned by that family. He is a half-brother to Galileo and was trained by John Oxx throughout a career that began with a narrow defeat as a juvenile, but soon cranked up with wins in the 2,000 Guineas, Derby, Irish Derby, Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion and the Arc, for eight out of nine in all.
Two of three representatives, Crystal Ocean and Stradivarius fought out the minor placings half a length behind the determined Capri, and were separated by a short head. They will take divergent paths, Crystal Ocean going the mile and a half route for Sir Michael Stoute and owner-breeder Sir Evelyn Rothschild. Meanwhile, Stradivarius, home-bred by Bjorn Nielsen, looks the obvious major home challenger to Order of St George for Cup honours, starting with the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot on October 21. The third Sea The Stars, Raheen House, seemed not to get home after looking dangerous two furlongs out.
So here were the sons of six stallions, all winners at two mostly at Group level, although Galileo’s sole run as a juvenile, in a late October maiden, produced a 14-length victory romp. The result was an enthralling race, with the “team tactics” element there for all to see. The Anvil’s fast pace, probably in itself insignificant in that the others largely ignored him, was still effective in that the other Aidan O’Brien trio were the nearest to him until he capitulated. The race was run in a fast overall time, suggesting good ground at worst.
It still took a supreme effort by the winner and an inspired Ryan Moore, who had confided in close friends that he feared Crystal Ocean might beat his mount. These were three high-class animals which should go on to win many more races. In passing it is worth mentioning the fine effort in fourth of Rekindling, trained and ridden by Aiden’s two sons Joseph and Donnacha. Expect this colt, markedly smaller than most of Saturday’s opponents to make hay when he goes to Australia for owner Lloyd Williams. Maybe the 2018 Melbourne Cup will be on his radar?
There were winners on Saturday’s card for both Dubawi and Frankel, but the speed sires did get a look in with Zebedee and Acclamation collecting the William Hill Portland (Spring Loaded) and Park Stakes (Aclaim, does his spelling irritate you, too?). The one name which will provide a “what-might-have-been” moment for the Coolmore partners is Scat Daddy, who died late in 2015 just after his stud fee at Ashford, Kentucky, had been raised for the following season to $100,000.
Scat Daddy’s son Seahenge was the apparently lesser-fancied of two O’Brien runners behind Ryan’s mount Mendelssohn, but came through under Donnacha to win the Champagne Stakes. Seahenge had been well beaten behind the smart Expert Eye at Goodwood, but as a first-time winner was something of a rarity among O’Brien youngsters and showed it here.
Scat Daddy, a son of Johannesburg, was originally owned by Joe Scatuorchio, but Michael Tabor acquired a half-share and the colt won a number of races for them including the Grade 1 Florida Derby before a troubled, disappointing 18th of 20 on his last start in the Kentucky Derby led to his retirement.
Sire principally of Caravaggio and the smart No Nay Never, already turning heads at the yearling sales, Scat Daddy was the hottest ticket at Keeneland September when Coolmore’s J P Magnier and agent Kerri Ratcliffe were clearly intent on snapping up the best of his final crop of yearlings, several for seven figures. If the great Mr Sundowner (a good second at Catterick last week over a mile and a half) is anything to go by, Scat Daddy could even produce a Derby or indeed a St Leger winner from his final two crops.