Stowaway found dead

Sad to hear of the death of Stowaway just prior to the start of the covering season. I wrote about him in detail back in 2011 in this article http://www.montjeu.com/archives/346.  For any mare owners now looking for a substitute jumps stallion from the Mill Reef line I would recommend Robin des Champs (Garde Royale ex Relayeuse by Iron Duke). His ability to  sire outstanding performers such as Quevega, Sir des Champs and Vautour means that it is worth taking a chance on his less than stellar fertility figures.

Stowaway fever

The first two days of Cheltenham 2012 were dominated by the Sadler’s Wells tribe, in particular Oscar. However it was nice to see Stowaway a sire that we previously tipped for greatness (see earlier post) sire his first Cheltenham winner. The horse in question was Champagne Fever (2007 g Stowaway ex Forever Bubbles by Roselier) who determinedly held off all challengers to give his trainer Willie Mullins an incredible 7th bumper victory.

Career to date:

Champagne Fever was an impressive point to point winner at Quakerstown in April 2011. His first start under rules was at Leopardstown’s Christmas festival. This is often the venue for Willie Mullins to unleash his best bumper prospects and Champagne Fever obviously shown a lot of potential as he started odds on. However he had to give second best to Thomas Edison. Champagne Fever reappeared on the 22nd of January where he had little difficulty in opening his account at 1/4.  He was 16-1 and on the face of it not the stable selected for the Cheltenham Bumper but he battled bravely to repel all challengers and given that he has already won a point to point, he seems to have a bright future ahead over the bigger obstacles.

Pedigree

Stowaway is to my mind the most interesting national hunt sire in Ireland. He has earned respect the hard way and if he can survive for another few years he will benefit from massive books of increasing quality. As a son of Slip Anchor (with only one cross of Northern Dancer in the fourth remove) he offers an obvious choice for any of the thousands of granddaughters of Sadler’s Wells now in the National Hunt broodmare band.

Champagne Fever’s dam Forever Bubbles was unraced but she is a daughter of an outstanding jumps sire in Roselier. To date Forever Bubbles is the dam of a useful winner in Presenting Forever (by Presenting) and placed offspring by Luso and Topanoora. The second dam Cool Blue was a daughter of an even better jumps sire in Deep Run and she was a winner over hurdles and has become the dam of two winners to date. There is nothing particularly classy close up in the pedigree, but like any pedigree if you go back far enough you will eventually find something worthwhile. In the case of Champagne Fever you need to go back to her fifth dam Blue Petrel who was the ancestress of Andy Pandy who was well clear in Red Rum’s 1977 National when falling at Beechers, but who gained compensation 3 weeks later in the Whitbread. In addition the likes of Scottish National winner Belmont Kin  and graded winners The Bajan Bandit and TheRealBandit can be traced to Blue Petrel.  However these are distant connections and the pedigree is no more than modest and this is reflected in the price of €17,500 realised for Champagne Fever at the 2010 Tattersalls Derby Sale.

Conclusion

Champagne Fever is from an unremarkable family but on the damside the names Roselier and Deep Run appear and these are amongst the best national hunt stallions to ever stand in Ireland.  It is premature to include Stowaway in such company but he is certainly starting to make his mark.  Willie Mullins described Champagne Fever as “a big light framed horse” but he has a great engine and it will be no surprise to see him return to Cheltenham for further glory in the years ahead.

CHAMPAGNE FEVER (IRE) 2007 g gr

Stowaway
(GB) 1994
Slip
Anchor (GB) 1982
Shirley
Heights (GB) 1975
Mill
Reef (USA) 1968
Hardiemma
(GB) 1969
Sayonara
(GER) 1965
Birkhahn
(GER) 1945
Suleika
(GER) 1954
On
Credit (FR) 1988
No
Pass No Sale (IRE) 1982
Northfields
(USA) 1968
No
Disgrace (IRE) 1976
Noble
Tiara (USA) 1981
Vaguely
Noble (GB) 1965
Tayyara
(IRE) 1975
Forever
Bubbles (IRE) 1992
Roselier
(FR) 1973
Misti
(FR) 1958
Medium
(FR) 1946
Mist
(FR) 1953
Peace
Rose (FR) 1959
Fastnet
Rock (FR) 1947
La
Paix (FR) 1951
Cool
Blue (GB) 1976
Deep
Run (GB) 1966
Pampered
King (GB) 1954
Trial
By Fire (FR) 1958
Blue
Buck (GB) 1968
Royal
Buck (GB) 1957
Blue
Jirao (GB) 1957

What has happened to NH horses?

In this months international thoroughbred magazine I wrote about the decline of the National Hunt horse. The full text is shown below:

What has happened to National Hunt horses?

I normally sigh when I hear older racing folk talk about the good old days. If you were to believe them, horses were tougher, jockeys were tougher, the sport had more characters and everything was somehow better. To my surprise when I did a comparative study on the leading national hunt sires table over the past twenty years, it seems the traditionalists are almost certainly right when it comes to the assertion that horses were sounder in the past.

Methodology
I looked at the Racing Post tables of the 50 leading sires by prize money in the UK and Ireland in various years since their records began. I then aggregated the number of runners, winners, runs and wins for these top 50 sires and calculated the average number of runs per runner in a season and the average number of wins per winner. The results are shown in the table below.

*2000-2001 results were affected by the cancellations of some meetings due to the foot and mouth crisis

Summary of Findings.

1. The average number of runs per horse per season is in freefall, dropping from over 4 per season to its current mark of 3.66. This is the major cause of concern arising from this research as it seems to indicate that our current national hunt horses are much less robust than their equivalents from only 20 years ago.
2. The jumping horses who do win, win far fewer races per season than in the past. The average number of wins has fallen from 1.78 wins per season to 1.48 per season a 17% reduction. This however may simply be a logical follow-on from the fact that all horses (winners and non-winners) are running much less often.
3. The impact of bigger book sizes is very apparent. The number of combined runners in a season for the top 50 sires went from 2,207 (an average of 42 runners per stallion) to 5,347 (average of 107 runners per stallion), a 142% increase in 21 years.

Considering the Options -Possible Reasons for decline
1. The question that arises is whether the reduced run frequency is a deliberate policy by trainers who are adopting a more protective and selective approach to racing their charges or an indication that their charges cannot handle a more regular racing regime? Its difficult to be definitive but it is reasonable to assume that owners nowadays( as in the past), prefer to have their horses compete if they are fit and well and capable of winning. As a trainers primary concern is to keep his owners content, I can see no reason why they would deliberately pursue a policy of fewer runs apart from special cases where a horses handicap mark is being protected or campaigns are all about one race (eg Best Mate and the Gold Cup).

2. Are trainers responsible for the decline? Perhaps increased string sizes with less individual attention for horses coupled with altered training techniques such as interval training and all weather gallops have caused an increase in injury rates? I don’t believe it to be case and improved veterinary techniques should also see faster rehabilitation from injuries but in the absence of statistical data we have to consider the possibility.

3. Blame the stallions and the bigger books. Its easy to conclude that because stallion books are bigger and horses are running less often there is a cause and effect situation. I don’t subscribe to that theory. If we take an example based on a book of say 80 mares being ‘acceptable’ and anything more than that being ‘excessive’ it is easy to see logical difficulties in this approach. I fail to see how by virtue of covering a single mare beyond the magic number (80 in this case) that the quality of all the offspring could be effected, as this would require the genes of the foals in the already pregnant mares to somehow be altered by a subsequent event! More credibly it could be argued that bigger books mean that less thought was given to compatibility with the mare, but this is a subjective area and unless there is an obvious conformation issue on both sides it may not be quite so easy to prove a stallion selection was unwise.

3b. Its not the bigger books- it is the bigger books being used on the wrong stallions. There is perhaps some merit in this argument. We have seen many examples of unproven new national hunt stallions attracting massive books of mares.  If these stallions prove to be progenitors of unsound offspring then there will be an awful lot of fragile offspring on the ground. Against that, the trend for bigger books has been of even greater benefit to the successful and proven stallions who it should be hoped will therefore have an opportunity to transfer their positive attributes to even greater numbers.

4. It’s something else entirely- The decline in average number of starts is not exclusive to jumps racing. Research on lifetime starts in the US lifetime show they almost halved since the 1950’s.  Unsound stallions who required medication to race is often put forward as a major cause and the internationalisation of bloodstock means that those bloodlines are prevalent here also. It is also possible that the modern thoroughbred has passed a tipping point in terms of soundness, it is after all a closed stud book and with every generation the level of inbreeding is increasing. National Hunt racing may just be another example of this and something more radical than tinkering with book sizes or alternative stallion selection will be required to make an appreciable difference to this trend.

Conclusion

We often don’t notice change when it occurs quite gradually. Looking in the mirror each morning, the ovenight ageing process is imperceptible but looking back on old photographs the transformations become obvious. Something similar is happening before our eyes in National Hunt racing. Horses are racing and winning less often each season and the cumulative effect is now quite striking. This should be a matter of concern to all lovers of the sport and at the very least further research into the underlying causes is required.

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 http://issuu.com/international_thoroughbred/docs/itb_march/58

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.

Statistics

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.

STOWAWAY (GB) 1994

Slip
Anchor (GB) 1982
Shirley
Heights (GB) 1975
Mill
Reef (USA) 1968
Never
Bend (USA) 1960
Milan
Mill (USA) 1962
Hardiemma
(GB) 1969
Hardicanute
(GB) 1962
Grand
Cross (GB) 1952
Sayonara
(GER) 1965
Birkhahn
(GER) 1945
Alchimist
(GER) 1930
Bramouse
(FR) 1936
Suleika
(GER) 1954
Ticino
(GER) 1939
Schwarzblaurot
(GER) 1947
On
Credit (FR) 1988
No
Pass No Sale (IRE) 1982
Northfields
(USA) 1968
Northern
Dancer (CAN) 1961
Little
Hut (USA) 1952
No
Disgrace (IRE) 1976
Djakao
(FR) 1966
Exbury
Grace (FR) 1970
Noble
Tiara (USA) 1981
Vaguely
Noble (GB) 1965
Vienna
(GB) 1957
Noble
Lassie (GB) 1956
Tayyara
(IRE) 1975
Targowice
(USA) 1970
Shahla
(IRE) 1968