There is a difference between price and worth. Bargains can be found by recognising that difference. Browsing through a list of stallions in Britain at fees of under £5000 there were a few surprising names. Some of these are older stallions who have fallen out of fashion, some are stallions facing into difficult second, or third seasons and others just seem cheap to me. In no particular order my selections as the best value bargain basement sires are as follows:
1. Proven Sire standing in the UK= Generous at £4500.
Ok his sales figures are terrible and he is being marketed as a dual purpose sire. However he is a very good sire of racehorses and that should count for something. He is the sire of 37 stakes winners from 599 foals of racing age which is a very respectable 6%. He started his career with huge expectations and a fee to match. When early results were solid rather than spectacular, it was impossible to resist a big money offer from Japan where his sire Caerleon was very popular. On his return to these isles he was being marketed as a dual purpose sire and covering very moderate mares. He still managed to sire a classic winner in Mystic Lips (2007 German Oaks) from one of the mares covered since his return. He is also achieving success as a broodmare sire and Tartan Trader came within a length of giving him a Derby success as a broodmare sire to go with the Guineas victory of his brother Golan. To these can be added Tungsten Strike and High Accolade who are also out Generous mares.
2. Promising UK based sire= Lucky Story at £4000
It’s very early days for Lucky Story but he has made a bright start. He has sired Art Connoisseur who is unbeaten in two runs and will be well fancied in whatever engagement he takes up at Royal Ascot. He has also sired Caranbola who is a winner and was second in a Listed race. That isn’t a lot to go on but its a better start than anyone would have predicted. Lucky Story is a son of Kris S out of a Miswaki mare and is a full brother to the St James Palace winner Dr Fong (who stands for £9000). Although he never won a group 1, Lucky Story was the equal of his brother and he won two Group 2 races at two in the Vintage Stakes at Goodwood and the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster. At three he put up a fine performance in the QEII at Ascot running Ratki to half a length with Refuse To Bend, Soviet Song and Antonius Pius in his wake. With a pedigree free of Northern Dancer and two promising performers in his first crop he offers value to British breeders.
3. Unknown but seems cheap- Zafeen at £3000
Zafeen won the Mill Reef Stakes at 2 and was second in the Prix Morny. At three he was runner up to Refuse to Bend in the 2000 Guineas and won the St James Palace. He was rated the champion European three year old miler. He is a son of supersonic Zafonic, who to date has not left a major sire son (although Count Dubois is doing well in South Africa and Ifraaj has just started his career). His dam Shy Lady was by Kaldoun and was a 6 furlong listed race winner in Germany from the family of Diffident. Northern Dancer is buried far back in his pedigree at 4sx6d so there should be no problem breeding to stallions from his line. Zafeen looks good, he was a top class racehorse at two and three, his pedigree is respectable and he looks very reasonably priced to me.
Aidan O’ Brien totally dominated the Guineas weekend at the Curragh. He won three Group 1’s, two Group 3’s and a Listed race. Many racing people would argue that such success is only to be expected given the quality of the horses stabled at Ballydoyle. The argument goes that good horses make good trainers and AP O’Briens success is 95% down to Coolmore firepower and 5% down to Aidan O’Brien not making a mess of them.
A look at the pedigrees of his Group 1 winners seems to back up that theory. Henrythenavigator is a son of Kingmambo out of Sequoyah a Moyglare Stakes winning Sadler’s Wells mare, so it is a tip top pedigree. Henry didnt go to the sales but I’m sure his reserve would have been at least €500,000. Halfway to Heaven is by Pivotal out of the very speedy Cassandra Go who won a Kings Stand. She cost €450000 so again nothing shabby about that pedigree. Duke of Marmalade is from the last crop of Danehill and is out of a Kingmambo mare tracing to Lassie Dear, the family of Wolfhound and Lemon Drop Kid. Again he was never sold but a reserve of at least €400000 would have seemed reasonable.
His Group 3 Greenlands winner Astronomer Royal is the last of the Danzigs so he had rarity value to go with his pedigree and his two year old winner Heart Shaped is a Storm Cat filly who is a half sister to AP Valentine. Based on those pedigrees it would seem fair to argue that any of the top ten trainers in Ireland or Britain could have expected similar glory from such impeccable pedigrees.
But there was one other winner that weekend, a gelding called Hebridean running in the colours of Ann Marie O’Brien. He is by Bach out of Delphinium by Dr Massini and his full pedigree is shown below. He passed through the ring at Tattersalls Ireland on the 3rd November 2006 and was bought back for €15000. Bach was an admirably tough horse trained by Aidan O’Brien who ran 22 times and won a soft Group 2 when winning the Royal Whip but whose best run was probably finishing 3rd in a Breeders Cup Mile to Val Royal. He was sent straight to Coolmore’s NH division where he competes with Hebrideans broodmare sire Dr Massini. Dr Massini was trained by Michael Stoute and after winning his first two starts he was made favourite for the 1996 Irish Derby. Unfortunately for Mick Kinane, he opted to ride him that day and missed out on partnering Zagreb. He won once at 4 and then started showing temperament and refused to race on his next start. At five he was transferred to Aidan O’Brien and he was the subject of a major gamble in the Irish Lincoln. However the money was lost as he practically pulled himself up. His career ended in ignominy when he refused to race at Listowel. Despite his temperament and his lack of group wins he still got a spot at NH stud and has taken his chance well. Delphinium the dam of Hebridean is by a sprinter in Tumble Wind and she was trained by Joe Crowley, Aidan O’ Briens father in law. She only ran at two and she never raced beyond 7 furlongs. She never gave the judge much trouble and in her four races her best finishing position was 6th of 12 at Limerick.
When people talk about overproduction and the need to cull some moderate mares they probably had the likes of Delphinium in mind. I suspect Hebridean was bred in the hope (and not even the expectation) of winning a bumper. It was his breeders family connections that saw him stabled with his betters in Ballydoyle and he must be one of the worst bred horses to ever occupy a stable there. However as Ryan Price is reputed to have said ‘my horses can’t read pedigrees and I don’t train pedigrees, I train horses’. Hebridean doesn’t seem to know his place as he keeps improving and further success seems likely.
His success illustrates two points. One is the vagaries of breeding and the dangers of being too dogmatic about pedigrees. The second is that Aidan O’ Brien is truly a training genius. There can be no arguments in this instance about buying success in the sales ring. This success is 100% down to Aidan O’Brien and is achieved despite of and not because of Hebridean’s pedigree.