Volkswagen sires

Some cars retain their value more that others. Some stallions have offspring that retain their value better than others. In this month’s International Thoroughbred magazine I examine this issue with reference to National Hunt markets. To read the article follow the link

Stowaway revealed

 Jumps sires are often dead or infirm by the time their merits become apparent.  Stowaway has just turned 17 so given average luck he should be active for another 4 or 5 years (hopefully more).  His merits are now becoming abundantly clear and National Hunt breeders should be placing him near the top of their lists when planning their future matings. Use him before we lose him is my advice.


Stowaway is currently lying in 70th position in the Anglo-Irish jumps list with earnings of around £100,000. He has had 7 winners from 23 runners (30%). In 2009/2010 he finished in 170th position with total earnings of £76,648 and 3 winners from 22 runners (14%). In 2008/2009 he finished in 218th position with total earnings of £57,513 and 5 winners from 21 runners (24%).  “So what?” , would be most people’s response to these figures. However in this case the statistics tell an incomplete story. His winners to runners percentages are not particularly great but they mask the quality of some of the individuals that are now coming through. In addition the mares he initially covered were extremely modest as you would expect from a covering fee of €600.  Also Stowaway did not commence stud duties until 2001 so his oldest progeny have just turned 9.

Shark Hanlon and Stowaway

January 23rd 2011 saw Stowaway record a major double at Leopardstown. Hidden Cyclone (ex Hurricane Debbie by Shahanndeh) was a good winner of a Grade 2 Novice hurdle over 2 1/2 miles.  He was introduced into the betting for the Neptune Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham but his trainer John Joseph aka ‘Shark’ Hanlon feels that in time he will make a top class staying chaser. Shark Hanlon also trained the bumper winner Mart Lane (ex Western Whisper by Supreme Leader) who is also under consideration for Cheltenham.  Mart Lane is a full brother to the best horse sired to date by Stowaway in Western Leader (ex Western Whisper by Supreme Leader) who has won four times including a Grade 2 hurdle, prior to running second at Aintree in the Sefton hurdle.  All of these horses were bred by Ronnie O’Neill who stands Stowaway in Whytemount Stud in Kilkenny and who was the primary supporter in the early years. For good measure Stowaway Pearl (ex Kelly’s Pearl by Miner’s Lamp) won at Thurles on the 10th February and he is also trained by Shark Hanlon who has been key to the rise of Stowaway.

Stowaway race record

Stowaway was first seen on the racecourse as a two year old in October 1996, when he made a winning debut in a mile maiden at Newcastle for trainer Michael Jarvis. The potential he showed that day meant that he was transferred to Godolphin for the rest of his career.  He was beaten on his reappearance at three but then stepped up in class to win the Group 3 Gordon Stakes at Goodwood over 12 furlongs. He followed up in August by winning the Group 2 Voltigeur Stakes from Derby runner-up Silver Patriarch. The St Leger is the traditional target of Voltigeur winners and it was talked about for Stowaway but he failed to make it to Doncaster and in his absence the classic was won by Silver Patriarch. The Champion Stakes saw him return to action that season. He did respectably, finishing fourth behind Pilsudski over a trip short of his best but still finishing ahead of the likes of Derby winner Benny the Dip and Group 1 winners Revoque and Bijou D’Inde.

 Stowaway spent the winter in Dubai and made a winning reappearance in the Dubai Sheema Classic at Nad Al Sheba.  However this was before that race attained graded status. Alas this also proved to be  his last racecourse appearance. His career finished with a record of four wins from six runs and he had proven himself to be amongst the best of his generation. However it was also a career that seemed to fall short of its potential. He seemed an ideal candidate for the St Leger but never got the opportunity to compete in that classic. He never got the opportunity to run beyond 12 furlongs and he seemed a likely sort to improve with age but we never really saw that assumption tested. In addition he never raced on ground worse than good, but race reports filed after his maiden indicate that he had a high knee action so he should have been suited by softer ground.

Stowaway’s Pedigree

Sire: Slip Anchor

Stowaway is a son of the runaway 1985 Derby winner Slip Anchor.   Slip Anchor did not follow on from his sire  and grandsire in throwing a Derby winner but he compiled a reasonable record from his time at stud. From 586 foals he had 302 winners(52%) and 28 (5%) stakes winners.  His best offspring included Oaks, Irish Oaks and St Leger winner User Friendly (ex Rostova by Blakeney), Italian Derby winner and Irish Derby runner-up Morshdi (ex Reem Albaraari by Sadler’s Wells), Italian Group 1 winner and Hardwicke Stakes winner Posidonas (ex Tamassos by Dance in Time) and Melbourne Cup runner-up Give the Slip (ex Falafil by Fabulous Dancer).  His best offspring weren’t precocious, stayed well and tended to be durable. The average winning distance of his offspring is a very high at 12.4 furlongs.  Slip Anchor’s stud fee began at £30,000 in 1987 before dropping to £25000 in 1989, £20000 in 1990. He was available at 3-4k throughout the noughties before his retirement from stud duties in 2007.

Dam: On Credit

On Credit, the dam of Stowaway showed high class form in France. She won as a juvenile, won twice over 10 furlongs at three and was twice runner-up in editions of the 11 furlong Group 3 Prix Fille de L’Air. She is also a half sister to Falafil (by Fabulous Dancer) the dam of the previously mentioned Give the Slip (by Slip Anchor). At stud she is also the dam of Credit-A-Plenty (by Generous) who was runner up in the Group 3 Park Hill Stakes.  Stowaway’s grand-dam Noble Tiara was twice a winner( over 10 and 12 furlongs) from nine starts she made as a three year old. This was her only season to race but aside from winning she placed fourth in both the Prix de Flore (Gr3) and Prix de Royallieu (Gr3). On Credit was a daughter of French Guineas winner, No Pass No Sale a son of Northfields. Slip Anchor worked well with Northfields and from only 7 horses bred on this cross they included Slicious (ex Precious Jade) winner of a Group 1 Premio Roma and Anchorite (ex Elysian) who was a high class two year old.

The secret of Success

Stowaway’s success has taken people by surprise.  At the time of his arrival at Whytemount Stud in 2001, it had been three years since he had set foot on a racecourse. Understandably there weren’t big queues of breeders to use this forgotten horse. His initial crop sizes numbered 30 with many of these mares being provided by the horses new owner, Ronnie O’Neill.  Following some success he secured 120 mares in 2009 and this rose to 200 mares in 2010 at a heady €1000 service fee. His fee for 2011 is listed as private, but even if the fee is trebled or quadrupled it may still represent value.

Understanding his success may be easier than we think.  It is well to remember what a high class racehorse he was and it is certainly likely that we never saw the best of him.  Physically he is a big good looking bay. His sire is a potent influence for stamina and the Mill Reef line is responsible for plenty of high profile National Hunt sires.  He has covered mostly moderate mares and made the most of his opportunities.  There is no secret to his success apart from his own abilities.

Nicks and the future

Stowaway seems to throw winners to all sorts of lines.  An unfamiliar name that occurs a lot amongst his offspring as broodmare sire is Shahanndeh (Assert ex Shademah by Thatch) who was a half brother to Sharastani who previously stood at Whytemount Stud and was the sire of many of his earlier mates.  Apart from Presenting the Irish national hunt stallion scene is dominated by sons of Sadler’s Wells. Given the success enjoyed on the flat by crossing Sadlers Well’s and Shirley Heights line mares it seems natural that many of these mares will be tried with Stowaway. His first 3 figure sized crop are now yearlings so it will take a few years to make an impact on the track. In the meantime, breeders should take advantage of his availability and I am confident that he will be highly placed on the sires table throughout the mid to late years of this decade.


Anchor (GB) 1982
Heights (GB) 1975
Reef (USA) 1968
Bend (USA) 1960
Mill (USA) 1962
(GB) 1969
(GB) 1962
Cross (GB) 1952
(GER) 1965
(GER) 1945
(GER) 1930
(FR) 1936
(GER) 1954
(GER) 1939
(GER) 1947
Credit (FR) 1988
Pass No Sale (IRE) 1982
(USA) 1968
Dancer (CAN) 1961
Hut (USA) 1952
Disgrace (IRE) 1976
(FR) 1966
Grace (FR) 1970
Tiara (USA) 1981
Noble (GB) 1965
(GB) 1957
Lassie (GB) 1956
(IRE) 1975
(USA) 1970
(IRE) 1968

French Lessons

The increasing success of French bred horses has been the most striking element of National Hunt breeding over the last decade. Mon Mome in the Grand National, Binocular and Hors la Loi in the Champion Hurdle, Kauto Star in the Gold Cup and Master Minded, Voy Pur Ustedes and Azertyuiop in the Queen Mother Champion Chase have taken jumps racing top prizes. Trainers and owners aren’t oblivious to such success and the respective champion trainers Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins are long time converts to the merits of French breds. The Irish and British breeding sectors do not seem to have actively responded to the new market realities and if nothing is done they will continue to lose market share. If the Anglo- Irish racing and breeding authorities wish to meet the challenge they need to think strategically and act courageously.

Understanding the marketplace
Someone once explained the difference between advertising and marketing as follows- with advertising you try and sell what you’ve made, with marketing you only make what you can sell. With respect to Irish Thoroughbred Marketing and British Bloodstock Marketing they are actually in the advertising game trying to promote a product that has already been produced. Their governing bodies need to think about true marketing and how their respective breeding and racing industries can produce and showcase products that are truly in demand.

The French breds that are in demand in the UK and Ireland have previously demonstrated ability on the racecourse. For a buyer this means that the horses are broken, schooled, fit and ready to run and yet they are at an age when many of their Anglo-Irish peers are still being left to develop. The problem for the Anglo-Irish store horse is that the evidence in favour of this model versus the French model is inconclusive at best. However there can be no doubt in an owner’s mind regarding the costs and time involved in bringing his store horse to the racetrack. The traditionalists used to argue that horses who had started “too early” would burn out quickly but the racing careers of such as Kauto Star (36 runs over 8 seasons and counting), Big Bucks (30 runs and counting), Mon Mome (41 runs) have changed that assumption. In addition some veterinary evidence may indicate a beneficial impact of early exercise and training on subsequent injury rates.

Meeting the challenge- race planners

Underpinning the French system is the race programme that provides lots of opportunities to test younger horses. There is no reason why elements of the French racing programme cannot be adopted by the Anglo-Irish race-planners. It might horrify some (or many), but why not run three year old bumpers, three year old hurdles from February onwards and four year old chases on a regular basis? The world would not end and traditional race programming would still exist for less precocious types. In a business situation rather than allowing a competitor an unchallenged position you would seek to win back the business and such moves would allow a segment of the market to compete directly with the French runners. An additional benefit of such moves is that it would allow breeders earlier indications of the merits of jumping stallions. Given that many jumps stallions are deceased before their worth has been established this is another important consideration.

Meeting the challenge- breeders

1. I don’t believe that French jumps stallions are manifestly superior to their Anglo-Irish counterparts but there are some lessons that might be learned. Firstly a much greater number of French stallions have actually raced over jumps. In the UK and Ireland the likes of Alderbrook, Midnight Legend, Broadsword and Monksfield performed over jumps but they represented a tiny minority of the stallion population. It seems incongruous that jumps breeders do not seem to place any weighting (and often a negative weighting) on stallions having demonstrated an ability to jump. It is also worth remembering that one of the outstanding steeplechase sires of the modern era, Roselier, won the French champion hurdle.

2. There has been a loss of diversity in the National Hunt stallion ranks. This is driven by huge books for fashionable stallions, many of whom are unproven. There has also been an unhealthy concentration on certain sire lines especially sons of Sadler’s Wells. The consequence is reduced opportunities for other stallions to make a breakthrough. The French have smaller book sizes and many stallions get an opportunity there that would not be available in the UK or Ireland. Irish and UK breeders should be less fashion conscious and more adventurous.

3. Invest in proven French stallions. Larger book sizes give Irish and UK stallion masters an economic advantage over their French rivals. This affords them the opportunity to tap into successful French lines. The purchase of Robin Des Pres and Robin Des Champs for stud duty in Ireland are indicators that some studs are adopting this policy. More studmasters should use this key difference between the marketplaces to their advantage. In a business context this is analogous to poaching your opposition’s key staff, something that can strengthen your position and weaken theirs.


Competition between breeding nations is healthy and can lead to improved standards all round. The French have done a superb job in gaining a very substantial share of the Anglo-Irish market, driven by racecourse success. This success has naturally resulted in higher prices for promising young stock and some purchasers are now questioning whether there is still value to be obtained. However it would be a very dangerous assumption by Anglo-Irish breeders that the French will price themselves out of the market. With the Anglo-Irish industry in crisis, doing nothing is not an option so radical and new thinking is required to regain competitiveness.