It is a pity that Charles Darwin was not a horse-racing enthusiast as he would have had no need to travel to the Galapagos islands to perfect his theories. His Origin of the Species did of course discuss ‘selective breeding’ as opposed to natural selection and he once wrote that “Some dogs and horses are ill-tempered and easily turn sulky; others are good-tempered; and these qualities are certainly inherited”. You could point to Nasrullah, Roberto and Alleged as evidence of his prescience regarding ill-tempered stallions:) Although not a racing man Darwin’s interests weren’t always scholarly and his father once admonished young Charles for caring for ‘nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family’!
In the thoroughbred population it is easy to see the heritability of desirable traits. It is perhaps difficult to think of a better example of the efficacy of the spread of desirable genes through a population than the preponderance of Northern Dancer in the worldwide thoroughbred population. For a stallion who sired ‘only’ 635 foals and was still covering in 1987 that is a rapid dissemination of genes. The effect is much more rapid than in previous ages due to our larger stallion book sizes and the increasingly global nature of the stallion business. Where once we could talk about French breds or German breds, as if they were quite distinctive, this is no longer the case. There are no distinctive ‘island’ effects anymore, with thoroughbred populations developing in isolation from the rest of Europe and the world, rather we have a homogenised European thoroughbred population.
It is interesting to consider those stallions that are available to European breeders that are entirely free from the Canadian super stud. There is nothing intrinsically superior about these stallions but what is apparent is their scarcity and modest stud fees. The passing of Monsun , the retirement of Dalakhani and the decline of the Ahonoora , Forli and Sharpen Up lines has seen the ending of our best ‘free from ND’ options. The best of the few remaining options are as follows (in no particular order):
- Nayef- 2016 fee £5000 (Gulch ex Height of Fashion by Bustino). As a four time Group 1 winner and a half brother to Nashwan and Unfuwain , there is much to like about Nayef. His stud career has been somewhat underwhelming but he had his moments. Tamayuz was a cracking miler and now has a promising commercial sire son in Sir Prancelot, . Gulch was a versatile son of Mr Prospector and Mr P will no doubt in time also become ubiquitous in US pedigrees.
- Rio de La Plata- 2016 fee €5500 (2005 Rahy ex Express Way by Ahmad) Rated champion French two year old after a win in the Grand Criterium he was second to New Approach in the National Stakes. He was second in the French Guineas and he picked up two Group 1’s as a five year old having ran 30 times during his career. Rahy is a son of Blushing Groom who sired the likes of Fantastic Light, Noverre, Serena’s Song and Mariah’s Storm. His dam was Argentinian bred and raced. His first two year olds have performed respectably in 2016 and he is an interesting young stallion.
- Lord of England- 2016 fee €5500 (2003 Dashing Blade ex Loveria by Los Santos). A group 1 winner at three in Germany he has compiled a respectable stud record. Dashing Blade is a son of Shirley Heights and thus Lord of England represents the Mill Reef line.
- Tagula- 2016 fee €4000 (1993 Taufan ex Twin Island ex Standaan ) A decent two year old who won the Prix Morny he has had a long stud career made respectable by two horses much superior to himself in Canford Cliffs and current star Limato. Taufan is by Stop the Music who is by Hail to Reason. Given his age it is unclear whether he will still be active in 2017.
Amongst the National Hunt ranks there are more options including
- Robin Des Champs 2016 fee private (1997 Garde Royale ex Relayeuse by Iron Duke). A decent hurdler but an exceptional sire with Quevega, Vautour, Sir des Champs to his credit. Garde Royale was a Group 2 winning son of Mill Reef who sired Carling on the flat.
- Flemensfirth 2016 fee €10,000 (1992 Alleged ex Etheldreda by Diesis). A dual group 1 winner and a top national hunt sire, his sire Alleged is from the Ribot line and his dam is by Diesis who is by Sharpen Up, both once prominent sire lines now in decline.
- Vinnie Roe 2016 fee €3000 (Definite Article ex Kayu by Tap on Wood)- He wasn’t bred to be a stayer but he turned out to be a remarkable stayer. Definite Article is a son of Indian Ridge, a son of Ahonoora.
- Axxos 2016 fee €1200 (2004 Monsun ex Acerbis by Rainbow Quest)- A Group 2 winner and runner up in the Grand Prix de Paris, he is like many sons of Monsun being marketed to National Hunt breeders. There are lots of sons of Monsun on the market but most tend to have dams with some element of Northern Dancer.
- Gentlewave (2003 Monsun ex Saumerine by Saumarez). Another son of Monsun and a high quality one winner of the Italian Derby and runner up to Dylan Thomas in the Irish Derby.
- Gamut 2016 fee €3000 (1999 Spectrum ex Greektown by Ela Mana Mou). Winner of Grand Prix de Saint Cloud , however as a late maturing type he was unlikely to find favour on the flat. Has sired Road to Riches.
With the passing of time there will be no more options. On the grounds of age I have excluded stallions such as Turgeon ( 1986 Caro ex Reiko by Targowice)and Piccolo (1991 Warning ex Woodwind by Whistling Wind). There are bargain basement options such as Sabiango (Acatenango ex Spirit of Eagles by Beaus Eagle) and Major Cadeaux (2004 Cadeaux Genereux ex Maine Lobster by Woodman)- a winner of the Bet365 mile but yet to make any impact as a sire. There are also undoubtedly others that I have overlooked.
With each succeeding generation in a closed stud book, it becomes more likely that a major stallion like Northern Dancer will eventually achieve a presence in every single individual. What is remarkable, is the speed at which this has happened in European pedigrees for Northern Dancer. In Japan Sunday Silence is on his way to achieving a similar feat in an even shorter timeframe and Europe would benefit from importing some of his stallion sons and grandsons into Europe. The US has more variety and less domination by a single line. As mentioned at the outset I am not bemoaning the domination of Northern Dancer merely observing a change in equine history happening in fast forward. Darwin would have been impressed.