Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
The Bangalore Summer Classics for three year-olds are over. For the first time in its entire history, all the three Classics have been won by horses imported "in utero". In fact, the "got-abroads" have had such a rollicking time during the season that they occupied nine of the 12 slots that went up in the frame, with two of them placing in two Classics. The home-grown product, conceived and born in India had to be content with just three places.
These Classics were meant for the 2009 crop born in India. That crop had 1673 foals of which only 111 were imported "in utero". That amounts to just under 7 % of the whole crop. Yet, when it comes to elite racing results, they have held the sway to an extent of 75 %. Are the "got-abroads" so superior or has the quality of the indigenous production dipped alarmingly? Admittedly, there are over 30 Classics yet to be run by this crop and the home team may come back strongly to redress the balance. There is, though, no harm in taking stock now.
As a rule, the average "got-abroad" is superior to the average home-bred. That is obvious because the breeders import to improve their existing stock and so it goes without saying that the product they buy abroad is considered to be superior in quality. Statistics, too, bear this out. The 14 crops born in India from 1995 contained a total of 21,491 foals of whom 896 were "got-abroad". 32 of the "got-abroads" were Classic winners, giving that category a strike rate of 3.57 %. The home-bred struck less frequently, its strike rate being 1.45 %.
The stock that we are importing is superior to what we have but not in terms of intrinsic quality. The seven "got-abroads" who were on the board in Classics during the current Bangalore season are Borsalino, Machiavellianism, Vijays Pride, Silver Birch, Plenipotent, Portia and Turf Lightning. Their dams, respectively, are Running Flame, Empress Jesse, Designer Chic, Safinaz, Beldon Hill, Pescare and Cahermee Queen. Running Flame, of course, is our own and was discussed at length last time so it is time to turn the attention to the other six.
Empress Jesse, the dam of Machiavellianism, cost a mere US $ 7,500 when purchased at Keeneland in Novemver 2008 although she was in foal to the Belmont Stakes, Gr.1 winner Jazil. Jazil's covering fee that year was US $ 12,500, much higher than what Empress Jesse was sold for. Jazil has since lost appeal and his fee has steadily decreased. Machiavellianism is his only stakes horse to date. Though Empress Jesse was unplaced, she was a half-sister to a black-type winner, came from an excellent family, that of Arazi, Formidable, Flying Partner, Noverre, etc., her successive maternal grandsires were of a high quality and most importantly, she had then produced three winners- now four - in U.S.A. She was a good bargain buy.
Vijays Pride's dam Designer Chic was unraced and in foal to Bertolini who was then standing at a fee of GBP 3,000. Her only previous foal was then a weanling. Designer Chic was knocked down for 10,500 euros. Her dam was also unraced and had produced one ordinary winner; however, she was a half-sister to the Epsom Oaks, Gr.1 winner Casual Look. Like Empress Jesse, she is a daughter of Red Ransom.
The only plus point in favour of Safinaz, the dam of Silver Birch were that she was bred by the pedigree guru James Underwood, was a regular breeder and her fifth dam was a half-sister to Nearco. Placed at 4, she was rated 41 and her only winner from five foals came in Spain. There was no black-type in the previous generation, either. The mare was in foal to speedy Indesatchel who was standing at Bearstone Stud for a fee of GBP 3,000. Indesatchel's progeny had yet not raced when Safinaz was bought. He has had winners since and his fee has gone up fractionally by GBP 500. Safinaz was probaby purchased privately since there is no record of her sale at Goff's or Tattersalls.
Trained by Richard Fahey, Plenipotent's dam Beldon Hill won three races over short distances on all-weather surfaces and earned a rating of 74. Her only other foal till then was a weanling and she was in foal to Iffraaj who commanded a fee of 12,000 euros at Kildangan Stud. Iffraaj's first crop, which broke previous European record for number of winners, was yet to race. Incidentally, despite early success, Iffraaj's covering fee has dropped. Beldon Hill's dam is a half-sister to the dam of Machiavellianism. Centaur Bloodstock paid 28,000 euros on behalf of Mebajeona Stud to secure Beldon Hill.
Portia's dam Pescara raced in the Godolphin colours, was a winner of one race and Gr.2 placed. She was rated 110. Three of her five foals to race till then were reasonable winners and she was in foal to Bertolini. Her two subsequent foals have also won and as there has been black-type in each of the four generations, she was an excellent buy at 11,000 euros.
Cahermee Queen ran just once when she finished seventh of seven runners. She was rated 62 and had produced two winners from her three foals to race. She came up at Goff's sale in Novemeber 2008 when in foal to Kodiac (covering fee 5,000 euros) whose first foals had yet not raced. Kodiac is three-parts brother to successful sire Invincible Spirit and so 9,500 euros paid for Cahermee Queen represented fair value.
The quality of a horse is not always directly related to the price. The average price at Goff's 2008 sale was around 25,000 euros. The Indian purchases mentioned above were around an average of 13,000 euros. The average rating of mares bought is 72. None of the mares had thrown a horse abroad who had black-type and they were in foal to reasonable speedy stallions. Yet, the foals that they dropped in India have held their own against the best home product.
Bangalore Turf Club Ltd.'s list of ratings gives one very important piece of information at the bottom. It says that the average rating of all horses under its jurisdiction is 48. Bangalore is a fair yardstick so it will not be very much off the mark to say that the average rating of all horses in India is 48. When Indian horses go abroad, they usually knock off 15 points from their rating. If you do that, the average rating of an Indian-bred - and it includes "got-abroads" works out to 33 on the International scale. It doesn't take much to beat a horse rated 33, does it?
Till recently, though, the indigenous product was able to keep the "got-abroads" in check. That was because we had stallions like Razeen, Placerville, and Glory of Dancer who were able to sire superior racers consistently. It is a statistically proven fact (some prominent breeders in India do not accept that as being conclusive evidence) that as a stallion ages his strike rate falls. He is still capable of throwing a very a good horse. Just that he doesn't do it with same regularity. Razeen had 447 foals till the age of 16 from which he produced 52 Classic winners at a strike rate of 11.6 %. His 123 foals since then have yielded just five Classic winners at a diminished strike rate of 4.6 %. It will undoubtedly vary from stallion to stallion but the stats pertaining to Placerville, Malvado and Everyday II show a similar falling rate.
The three horses, other than "got-abroads", which filled the places in the frame, were Jersey Girl, Shivalik Hero and Super Storm. The filly is by Burden of Proof, a frontline Classic sire who is now 20 years-old (the Kunigal stallion was 16 when Jersey Girl was conceived) and the other two by Rebuttal, an emerging Classic sire. There is an interesting fact about the 2012 Kingfisher Derby Bangalore, Gr.1. The thirteen runners that went to the post for the race included not a single horse bred either at Poonawalla Farms or the Usha Stud. The last time that happened was 33 years ago in Everynsky's year. Since then, the two nurseries have between them won the race no less than 20 times. With the elderly Razeen, Placerville and their barn-mates represented by foals in their twilight years, there was bound to be a dip in their fortunes.
In nature, there is never a vacuum anywhere or at any time. There is room at the top and it will be filled in. What is of essential importance is the quality of new sires. Will they reach the levels established by Grey Gaston, Everyday II, Malvado, Riyahi, Placerville, Steinbeck, Burden of Proof and Alnasr Alwasheek? As Indian breeding enters a transitional phase, we can only guess today though we will know for certain in a few years time. The notion entertained by some that Indian breeders are not spending enough on new stallions is not a valid one. Stallions like Noverre, Ace, Arazan, Admiralofthefleet and Multidimensional have not been cheap buys. The price of a stallion, however, has no relation to the quality of stock he produces. Therein lies the uncertainty and the fascination of breeding.
PAST THE POST
It is difficult to understand how some people believe that Indian breeding is today where Japan and south American countries were 10-15 years ago. The Japanese did not - and still don't venture out in numbers out for the simple reason that the stake money in Japan is much higher. Still, they have won the Melbourne Cup with Delta Blues in 2006, Dubai World Cup with Victoire Pisa and Deep Impact ran second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Hakuchikara, bred in Japan, won a race in U.S.A. as long ago as the late 1950s. Incidentally, Hakuchikara was later presented to India where he sired the Classic winners Goldfinder, Tokaido Express and Topspin.
As early as 1947, Endeavour II came from Argentina to stand as a stallion in U.S.A. The Endeavour II-Pretense-Sham (Secretariat's plucky rival) -Jaazeiro male line had a longish innings. Another Argentinian stallion, Nigromante, sired in 1963 Preakness winner Candy Spots. El Chama and Prendase, two horses bred in Argentina and trained in Venezuela, fought out the finish of the Washington D.C. International in 1955. In the next decade Forli, also an Argentinian-bred, came to U.S.A.,stood as a stallion at Claiborne and became a chef de race. Since then, Argentinian horses have regularly won top races in U.S.A. and made it to the stallion ranks. Invasor, who won the Dubai World Cup in 2007, was also born in Argentina. What is true of Argentina is also true of Brazil, Chile and Uruguay and similar names can be quoted to show how far ahead they always have been and still are.
No Indian-bred horse has as yet placed in a Group race which appears in Part I of the International Cataloguing Standards Booklet. Let that be the first and immediate target. In the meantime, we have our hands full in holding mediocre "got-abroads" at bay on our own turf.