National Hunt Sire Lines- 1st Monsun, 2nd Montjeu, 3rd Galileo

With the world in the grip of a pandemic, it may seem crass to write about something as trivial as horse racing, but we all need our distractions.

I was asked via Twitter to look at the overall performance of grandsons of Galileo in National Hunt Racing (I recently wrote about their performance at Cheltenham). As the overuse of sons of Galileo is a bugbear of mine, I didn’t take much persuasion to accept the challenge.

To make a meaningful comparison, I looked at the performance throughout the 2019/2020 season of sire sons of Galileo, Montjeu and Monsun. The numbers confirm that sire-sons of Galileo are nothing special in the world of National Hunt racing. In fact their performance is inferior to that of sires by Montjeu and especially by Monsun.

Methodology:

I looked at the sire standings for National Hunt in 2019/2020 for the top 550 sires from the Racing Post website. I then extracted and aggregated the results for the sons of Galileo, Montjeu and Monsun. The summary results are shown below:

SIRELINEWnrsRnrsW/R %WinsRuns%Stks Wnrs
GALILEO SIRES TOTAL12752224.3%174172110.1%11
MONSUN SIRES TOTAL22479728.1%322263712.2%15
MONTJEU SIRES TOTAL16561326.9%235202311.6%13

Summary of Findings:

Sons of Galileo fare poorly in terms of winners to runners and wins to runs compared with sons of Montjeu and especially sire sons of Monsun. There may be some reasons to account for the difference such as a younger age profile of the representatives of the Galileo tribe but there is nothing in the figures to suggest that National Hunt breeders should be flocking to sons of Galileo…

Blindly believing in sire lines on the flat or in National hunt racing will lead to lots of disappointments. There are individual sons of Galileo who could be promising jumps sires (Nathaniel especially) but overall the figures suggest that most sons of Galileo are not that welcome an addition to National Hunt pedigrees. The real concern is that sending one third of mares to sons of Galileo may eventually cause long term damage the National hunt breed by narrowing the gene pool. National Hunt breeders may feel reassured in using sons of Galileo ( everyone else is doing it) , but as the Corona virus has shown, being part of the crowd isn’t always such a good idea….

Detailed Workings: Stallions listed by their placing in the sires table by earnings- figures as shown on Racing Post website on 28/03/2020 and referring to UK and Irish earnings for 2019/2020 season

RankStallionWnrsRnrsW/R %WinsRuns%Stks WnrsEarnings £
13Mahler5321325%7275210%2£949,163
49Nathaniel173944%2211719%4£328,541
98Sixties Icon53415%71216%0£146,624
114Rip Van Winkle102934%1410114%0£121,731
135Sans Frontieres64115%91178%1£98,224
141Teofilo83921%91257%1£92,078
148New Approach72429%98211%0£87,972
164Soldier Of Fortune31127%64513%1£71,857
240Cima De Triomphe11100%2450%1£42,105
246Imperial Monarch21613%4469%1£40,774
253Australia3933%32811%0£37,282
255Heliostatic3560%41233%0£36,694
259Battle Of Marengo2633%42615%0£35,329
294Finsceal Fior21217%32811%0£27,716
390Vendangeur1425%1205%0£14,971
435Frankel090%0240%0£11,521
444Noble Mission1333%2633%0£11,039
451Roderic O’Connor1714%1157%0£10,552
465Intello090%0190%0£9,464
485Feel Like Dancing11100%1520%0£8,178
512Ruler Of The World1425%11010%0£6,607
529Cape Blanco030%060%0£5,688
537Red Rocks030%0120%0£5,478
GALILEO SIRES TOTAL 12752224.3%174172110.1%11


RankStallionWnrsRnrsW/R %WinsRuns%Stks WnrsEarnings £
11Getaway7525829%9886611%5£1,100,603
16Network216134%3219616%3£845,837
29Arcadio3014121%454819%1£541,960
30Shirocco3914826%5543613%2£531,547
57Schiaparelli105020%141549%1£283,101
63Gentlewave61250%83921%1£233,923
72Samum4667%81942%1£201,211
82September Storm93327%1714911%0£181,315
133Salutino51436%116517%0£102,638
149Aizavoski93030%127915%0£87,690
167Manduro51436%84916%0£69,827
220Noroit31619%4557%0£48,225
254Lauro3560%41429%0£37,087
264Axxos2367%21513%0£34,877
303Ocovango1425%2825%1£26,632
367Speedmaster22100%21217%0£17,480
MONSUN SIRES TOTAL 22479728.1%322263712.2%15


RankStallionWnrsRnrsW/R %WinsRuns%Stks WnrsEarnings £
17Scorpion4218922%557198%1£810,218
35Walk In The Park82730%98011%4£483,862
36Fame And Glory3313624%4938013%1£473,569
37Authorized225937%3220016%1£451,972
77Pour Moi113037%189020%0£195,358
92Montmartre72726%128814%2£155,773
96Maxios81747%115122%1£150,255
97Motivator72035%125920%1£148,850
103Papal Bull83126%101139%1£139,334
105Davidoff2540%41822%1£135,129
120Jukebox Jury61060%123139%0£114,475
153Camelot52818%5836%0£84,328
352Honolulu2450%21020%0£19,342
375Frozen Fire2633%22110%0£17,080
400Hurricane Run0110%0320%0£14,439
455Masked Marvel1250%1714%0£10,104
461Spider Flight050%0200%0£9,735
484Recital1617%1215%0£8,221
MONTJEU SIRES TOTAL 16561326.9%235202311.6%13

Cheltenham and Galileo..

I recently wrote about the deeply concerning rush by National Hunt breeders to use sons of Galileo http://www.montjeu.com/archives/1122. The results at Cheltenham don’t lessen that concern.

Herd mentality will see one third of NH mares go to sons of Galileo this year. Looking at the results at Cheltenham, where Galileo had 3 runners and his sons sired 17 runners, there is nothing to justify such faith.

Nathaniel did very well with 2 winners (albeit Burning Victory was fortunate that Goshen unseated) from 3 runners. However, he is a £25000 flat sire and if you take him out the results are very ordinary. If Irish and UK breeders want to reclaim some of the ground they have lost to French breds then they will have to put less trust in the adverts from the stud farms and look at supporting a more varied range of NH stallions… The full listing of runners by Galileo and his sons is shown below.

HorseSirePositionRunnersClassType
WhatsnotoknowMahler815Grade 1Hurdle
SupasundaeGalileo717Grade 1Hurdle
SacchoaandvanzettiFinsceal Fior1122Grade 3Hurdle
Fraser IslandAustralia1822Grade 3Hurdle
Ocean WindTeofilo623Grade 1NHF
Mahler AllstarMahler1223Grade 1NHF
Annie McMahler912Grade 1Chase
Itchy FeetCima de Triompheur12Grade 1Chase
ConcertistaNathaniel122Grade 2Hurdle
Vienna CourtMahler822Grade 2Hurdle
Bob MahlerMahler323HcpChase
Deise AbaMahler523HcpChase
Le MuseeGalileo1323HcpChase
Like the SoundSoldier of Fortunepu23HcpChase
Burning VictoryNathaniel113Grade 1Hurdle
Navajo PassNathaniel413Grade 1Hurdle
Lord LamingtonAustralia1013Grade 1Hurdle
BuildmeupbuttercupSixties Icon324Grade 3Hurdle
Chris’s DreamMahler1012Grade 1Chase
Big BlueGalileo1923HcpHurdle

Galileo, Groupthink, National Hunt Breeding And A New Heresy….

Back in 1633, Galileo was convicted of heresy for his espousal of the heliocentric view of the universe. He was sentenced to house arrest which lasted until his death in 1642.

Sadler’s Wells transformed National Hunt breeding, so breeders seem to assume that Galileo will do the same. Here is my heresy; when it comes to National Hunt breeding, I don’t believe in Galileo… The Catholic Church admitted it was wrong in 1992. I wonder if it will take as long to admit to a mistake by National Hunt breeders?

Grounds for Concern:

1. Sadler’s Wells was a great sire of jumpers, Galileo isn’t.

Looking at Racing Post Ratings, from 294 runners over jumps, Galileo has sired just two runners rated over 155, Celestial Halo on 167 and Supasundae on 165 . In contrast from 362 runners, Sadler’s Wells has 11 runners including the imperious Istabraq on 181, Synchronized on 171, Pridwell on 169, Essex on 165 and Theatreworld on 164 .

Galileo also suffers in comparison with Montjeu. Montjeu had fewer National Hunt runners at 249, but has sired 8 horses rated 155 or above, headlined by Hurricane Fly on 173. To date sire sons of Montjeu have also achieved more than sons of Galileo in the National Hunt realm(eg Douvan, Min, Tiger Roll, Might Bite aka Does Bite) but that’s a discussion for another day. The fact that Galileo hasn’t sired good jumpers doesn’t mean that his sons won’t succeed, but it does create a doubt. Where there is doubt, you would expect caution but instead we have a reckless herd mentality on an almost unprecedented scale.

2. Galileo’s National Hunt Stallion Sons are unproven

Galileo has no proven, established National Hunt stallion sons. Mahler has made a good start (eg Chris’s Dream, Ornua) but not enough to warrant 227 mares in 2019. Soldier of Fortune attracted 275 mares in 2019 and 290 in 2018. That is a lot of faith to put in a stallion who still has to deliver a really top horse but who at least has Busted and Lord Gayle as his dams grand-sires.

Displaying even more faith, but without a comparable female line or any racecourse evidence, were the 275 breeders who used Order of St George, the 225 who went to Idaho and the 190 mares who went to Telescope. That is around 1200 mares from those 5 sons of Galileo. Am I the only person who thinks this might be insane?

3. The sheer scale of the problem

Next season those five stallions will be joined by Leger winners Capri and Flag of Honour, who can both expect significant books. There are a host of others including Finsceal Fior, Imperial Monarch, Proconsul, Vendangeur, Sans Frontieres, Shantaram also in the marketplace. The total foal crop in the UK (4655) and Ireland (8788) in 2019 was 13,443 foals. In Britain it is estimated that 23% of the foal crop is intended as NH or dual purpose and in Ireland it is 48%. This would equate to 5,288 national hunt or dual purpose foals. We could be looking at over 1,700 or around one third of the National Hunt crop being by sons of Galileo.

Conclusion:

I’m sure that there will be many good horses sired by the sons of Galileo. The sheer weight of numbers make that almost inevitable. However, the percentages may be less than expected.

No one is asking about the implications of having so many foals from the same sire line. Half of the foals will be fillies so we are the changing the National Hunt breed forever.

French National Hunt breeding has outperformed the UK and Irish sectors over the past two decades. There are a lot of factors at play, but a willingness to embrace diversity in sire lines and smaller books that allow more stallions a chance have an impact. Irish breeders acting individually think they are being rational but the cumulative effect of their group-think could damage everyone in the National Hunt sector…

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.

Montjeu jumps to the fore

Sadler’s Wells has had a profound effect on the jump racing scene, even more so than his impact on the flat. A look at the current jump stallions standings shows Sadler’s Wells himself in 15th position by prize money and an astonishing 7 of his sons are ahead of him in the stallion rankings. These are Old Vic, Oscar, Accordion, Saddlers’ Hall, Kayf Tara, King’s Theatre and the new kid on the block Montjeu who sits one place ahead of his sire in the table. To date in the 2008/09 season Montjeu has been represented by 60 runners and 11 winners and considering that his oldest progeny have just turned seven he is likely to move nearer the top of the table over the coming years.  Montjeu’s merits as a jumps sire were highlighted over the Christmas period when he sired a grade 1 hurdles winner, and two placed grade 1 runners. The placed runners were Blue Bajan (2002 Montjeu-Gentle Thoughts by Darshaan) who finished a close up third to Harchibald in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and Won in the Dark (2004 Montjeu-Mesata by Lion Cavern) who ran Sublimity to half a length in the Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown. Won in the Dark had previously scored in Grade 1 company when running away with the champion 4 year old hurdle at Punchestown and he is currently quoted at 25-1 for the Champion Hurdle. However Montjeu’s Christmas cracker was Hurricane Fly (2004 Montjeu-Scandisk by Kenmare) who won his second Grade 1 in spectacular fashion when quickening right away from the field in the champion novice hurdle at Leopardstown. Hurricane Fly showed real acceleration after the last and it was no surprise that he had been more than useful on the flat where he once won a listed race defeating no less than Literato and Spirit One in  France.  He is now clear favourite for the Supreme Novices at Cheltenham and he is even quoted in the Champion Hurdle betting by some firms. The dam of Hurricane Fly produced another stakes horse in Hunzy (by Desert King) who picked up some cheap Italian black type. Hurricane Fly’s second dam Yankee Lady was a sister to Yankee Gold who won a Royal Whip and Ballymoss Stakes. She was by Lord Gayle who is now in so many National Hunt pedigrees because of the impact of his son the champion sire Strong Gale. Hurricane Fly was not bred for the National Hunt game but it is no surprise that he has shown such talent in the field. As for Montjeu’s credentials as a jumps sire, they could hardly have been better. Sadlers Wells was an outstanding sire of hurdlers siring Istabraq, Theatreworld, Pridwell and French Ballerina amongst others. Montjeu’s broodmare sire Top Ville sired a number of top jumps sires and promising younger sires including the tragically short lived Toulon, Beneficial, Un Desperado, Pistolet Bleu and Norwich. Had Montjeu not been such a success on the flat no doubt he would now be a very stallion at Coolmores National Hunt division. As it is he seems set to follow in his fathers footsteps as a top class stallion in both realms.

HURRICANE FLY (IRE) 2004 c b

Montjeu
(IRE) 1996
Sadler’s
Wells (USA) 1981
Northern
Dancer (CAN) 1961
Nearctic
(USA) 1954
Natalma
(USA) 1957
Fairy
Bridge (USA) 1975
Bold
Reason (USA) 1968
Special
(USA) 1969
Floripedes
(FR) 1985
Top
Ville (IRE) 1976
High
Top (IRE) 1969
Sega
Ville (USA) 1968
Toute
Cy (FR) 1979
Tennyson
(FR) 1955
Adele
Toumignon (IRE) 1971
Scandisk
(IRE) 1995
Kenmare
(FR) 1975
Kalamoun
(GB) 1970
Zeddaan
(GB) 1965
Khairunissa
(GB) 1960
Belle
Of Ireland (GB) 1964
Milesian
(GB) 1953
Belle
Of The Ball (GB) 1958
Yankee
Lady (IRE) 1977
Lord
Gayle (USA) 1965
Sir
Gaylord (USA) 1959
Sticky
Case (USA) 1958
Ceol
An Oir (GB) 1961
Vimy
(FR) 1952
Pal
An Oir (IRE) 1956