• Punjabi Girl wins The Fillies Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
  • Sir Cecil wins The Colts Championship Stakes (Gr.1)
  • Sir Cecil wins The Kingfisher Ultra Derby Bangalore (Gr.1)
  • Desert God wins The Tetrasoft Inc. Bangalore St. Leger (Gr.2)
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Monday 09 Sep 2013
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

Last year, Equine Lover, a daughter Ace bred at the Poonawalla Farms, won the Mysore 1000 Guineas, Gr.3. We are now on the threshold of the 2013 running of the same race so a full year has gone by. A startling oddity of this year has been the fact that Poonawalla Farms had just one Classic winner and that was the older In The Spotlight. Strictly from memory, this is perhaps the most barren spell that that nursery has had in the last three decades or so. Champion Stud Farm for last seven years consecutively, the crown is slipping and it unlikely that it can cling on to the title when the final figures are toted at the end of October. 

Nature abhors monopolies and has its own ways of ensuring an even distribution of honours. For the Poonawalla Farms, it is nothing more than a blip and they will surely bounce back. However, there will be a bit of a hiatus and much will depend on how Arazan's massive first crop of 80 plus foals fares when it starts racing in November 2014. In the meantime, it does prompt the perennial question and provides the occasion for the debate on relative importance of the sire versus the dam. 

Legend has it that an Arab horse breeder who had fallen on bad times, would reluctantly sell his stallion but that he would rather starve and die than sell his mare. To the legend has been added, in our times, the discoveries of science. Research on mitochondrial DNA (mDNA) clearly shows how certain genes are passed on down the tail female line. Studies on X-Factor --synonymous with a large equine heart -- have brought to light how this trait is transmitted by a dam to her foals. A dam can pass on the X-Factor to her foals, whether colts or fillies, but if one of those colts becomes a stallion, he can only pass it on to his daughters. This strengthens the case for matriarchal predominance. One leading Indian breeder, also a votary of the dam-side, actually believed that a stallion was only a biological necessity. His results have been very average. 

In India, we have a unique breeding scenario with a stallion mostly covering the mares resident at the stud. In the last three decades or so, the traditional owner-breeder, who maintained his mares on livery basis and paid the covering fee, has almost disappeared. The mares at a stud farm are these days are owned predominantly by the stud farm. Some mares die during the year, some are discarded and some sold or given away. Their places are taken by fillies retiring from racing or imports from abroad. Thus, from one year to another, the broodmare band of a given stud farm remains fairly constant in terms of quantity and quality. The fortunes of a stud, however, move up or down like a barometer and that movement can be linked directly with the success -- or otherwise -- of the changes in the stallion roster. 

The Indian Stud Book has maintained breeding records from 1935. The Indian Classics were instituted from the year 1942-43 (contested by the 1939 crop). Statistics for the earlier days are not available but it is safe to say that Renala Stud was the dominant force at that time till the Partition when it became a part of Pakistan. There were several reasons for Renala's success and the foremost among them was the fact Sheridan, Short Hand, Illuminate and Philosopher were outstanding stallions. With Renala passing into Pakistan, there was a temporary vacuum till Manjri Stud, taken over by the Maharaja Gwalior, emerged as a front runner with Yeravada, Bhopal, Jammu and Kunigal snapping at the heels. Hyder Ali and his son Star of Gwalior were responsible for Manjri's eminence. 

The Maharajas of Kashmir and Gwalior died in early1960s. The death of Maharaja Jiwajirao Scindia had a significant impact on the fortunes of Manjri Stud. The priceless Kashmir Collection was taken over lock, stock and barrel by Mr. Suresh Mahindra to found Greenacres Stud and for about a decade and a half we had Yeravada and Greenacres in ascendance. Yeravada rode on the back of success that Prince Pradeep (ably supported by Hervine and briefly Valoroso) enjoyed while Greenacres was grateful to Rock of Gibraltar's stellar role and the admirable second fiddle of Flower Dust. Neither Manjri, nor Yeravada, nor Greenacres (Broadacres, after its move south) have stood a stallion of the calibre of Hyder Ali, Prince Pradeep or Rock of Gibraltar and have stepped out of the limelight. 

Another period followed when there was no first among equals till Poonawalla Farms and Usha Stud broke away from the field to usher another bi-polarisation. Malvado, Riyahi and Placerville -- with Alnasr Alwasheek and Diffident in supporting roles -- made a heady pace for the Poonawalla Farms. Usha Stud had Grey Gaston and Razeen, with a generous helping hand from Common Land, Treasure Leaf and Steinbeck, helped it to lie just behind the pace and every now and then get to the front. Doaba, Dashmesh, Manjri, Kunigal, Nanoli and Sohna landed some, occasional heavy blows without mounting a serious challenge to the Big Two.  

Nanoli and Sohna's cases are somewhat similar. Both the farms looked, at times, as if they could emerge as the Third Force. That didn't happen for the simple reason that they had intruded into the spotlight on the strength of the performances of their 'got-abroads' while their resident stallions were useful at best. Cristofori, Storm Trooper, Black Cash and Ikhtyar (not considering the the temporary stallions like Alnasr Alwasheek, Greensmith and Glory of Dancer) at Nanoli and Conquering Hero, Ontario and Noverre at Sohna did not cut much ice. This brief, historical recap illustrates how the truism "a farm is good as the stallion it stands" (or its converse, "a stallion is good as the farm it stands at") has come about in India. To which can be added --"The success of the 'got-abroads' does not reflect the merits of a farm".  

To return to last year's drought experienced by Poonawalla Farms. There are, probably, two important reasons for it. Firstly, the ageing stallions Placerville and Alnasr Alwasheek had lost their earlier sharpness and their strike rates had diminished. (This aspect will be further discussed in a forthcoming article). Secondly, their new stallion Ace, while having winners aplenty has been short on runners of quality. This is exactly what happened to Usha Stud when China Visit failed to reach the standards set by his predecessors and the expectations they generated. The quality of Usha Stud broodmare band has been more or less constant. Younger Razeen and Steinbeck worked well with that band and in his first season Multidimensional has certainly found it to his liking. China Visit had 47 foals in his 2008 crop from which 37 started in their first year and 21 were winners who won 36 races between them. Two years later, Multidimensional had 50 foals in his 2010 crop and with two months still to go, has already surpassed the figures of China Visit. A telling fact is that while China Visit's 2008 crop won no black-type race in 2010-11, Multidimensional has already four black-type wins including three Gr.1s. That is a quantum jump in quality. With the broodmare quality remaining roughly constant, look at the difference in results that a stallion has made.  

The importance of a stallion is not restricted to stallions at the top end. Pratap Stud enjoyed a purple patch when Tecorno was around. There is a Wall of Fame in the Stud Book Department where photographs of stallions who have had a minimum of 10 individual Classic winners are displayed. Jersey Stakes, Gr.3 winner Tecorno had nine and just missed getting on the wall. The son of Tentam, who imbued his progeny with speed and precocity, was extremely popular. The subsequent stallions at Pratap Stud, including the Epsom Derby, Gr.1 winner Oath, have not been able to do as well. 

What is true of a broodmare band is also true of an individual mare. Take the case of God's Grace, the dam of Alaindair This daughter of Razeen met with a paddock accident in her early days and it is only the abundant care bestowed on her which helped her to be saved for breeding. As a sister to four black-type winners whose dam, herself a Classic winner, was an own-sister to the brilliant Klairon Gold and half-sister to Right Ahead, God's Grace had tremendous paddock value. She had six foals before Alaindair, four being sired by Steinbeck and two by China Visit. Three of them earned the small black-type though none was a star. The stardom was reserved for Alaindair, her first foal by Multidimensional. Steinbeck is a Wall of Fame stallion and China Visit has been far from a dud.

God's Grace was barren to Steinbeck in 2011 and has a full-sister to Alaindair born in 2012. At that point, however, the fifteen year-old mare did not have much to commend her and was sent out -- a rare happening at Usha Stud -- to be covered by Badal Stud's new Namid horse Total Gallery, a fast customer with the Prix de l'Abbaye de Longchamp, Gr.1 to his credit. Whether God's Grace went to Punjab only for the covering or whether she has been given away on terms is not known. In the meantime, her produce record thus far underlines the importance of the right stallion.   

There are stallions and there are mares. Then, there are prepotent stallions and superior mares. It is the prepotent stallions and the superior mares which help to evolve a better Thoroughbred. The early indications are that Multidimensional is a prepotent stallion and he helped to transform the produce record of God's Grace with Alaindair which otherwise was modest at best. What is true of a prepotent stallion is also true of a superior mare. Take the case of Pashmina (by Fair Aid) who was a half-sister to four Classic winners in Fair Haven, Mica Empress, Rock's Son (all by Rock of Gibraltar) and Mica Emperor (by Flower Dust). Rock of Gibraltar and Flower Dust were formidable stallions of their times while Nasrullah's son Fair Aid was a failure. Pashmina did not win in her eight starts and this is what her produce record looks like :- 

1968 - Purita (by Cornish Flame), placed; dam of Own Opinion, Mayapan and Aztec.

1969 - Olympic Flame (by Cornish Flame). 5 wins.

1971 - Sweet Memories (by Nijinsky). Classic winner. Dam of Classic winners.

1972 - Fragrant Memories (by Time Machine). Class I winner, black-type placed.

1973 - Far Superior (by Rishikesh). Class I winner.

1975 - Red God (by Everyday II). 1 win, placed 4th in Bangalore Derby, Gr.1.

1976 - Shahtoosh (Jethro). 4 wins.    

The stallions which Pashmina visited were very average but because she was a superior mare, her stud record is more than respectable. (Everyday II, of course, went on to become a great stallion but his progeny had not raced when he covered Pashmina and hence was an unknown quantity). A superior mare and a prepotent stallion are both priceless and the argument regarding who is more important -- the stallion or the mare -- is, perhaps, totally unnecessary. You cannot clap with one hand. A mare cannot produce a foal without a stallion. A foal receives exactly half its genetic make-up from the stallion and exactly the same amount from the dam. 

A prepotent stallion upgrades an average mare's produce. A superior dam makes for the deficiencies in an average stallion. The mating of a prepotent stallion with a superior mare increases the chances of a very good horse being born. Nature, however, functions in strange, mysterious ways and science has not yet been able to unravel its secrets. Mr. Prospector ranks as one of the all-time great stallions. He had an own-brother who spent his last days in India! 


One opinion that is worth quoting is that of, Arthur "Bull" Hancock -- the man who imported to U.S.A. Nasrullah and Princequillo, the grandfathers of 'Big Red' Secretariat -- of Claiborne Stud. He said, "A good stallion is half the herd. A bad stallion is the whole herd".