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OLDIES BUT NOT GOLDIES
By Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)
Wednesday 18 Sep 2013
Major Srinivas Nargolkar (Retd.)

These days not many people listen to the radio. Just suppose you do and as you are shaving, the radio plays Frank Sinatra's 'Young at Heart'. Your day, if not the week, is made. If you are a connoisseur of wine and some evening you are served a vintage Cabernet Shiraz Terrazas de Los Andes, the taste will linger on your tongue for a long time. Oldies are certainly goldies but not in every field. Certainly not in tennis when you see Federer being dumped out of a major by players whom he dismissed disdainfully from his presence just a couple of years ago. Or, in cricket, as you watch Tendulkar being made to jump through the hoops by an off-spinner like Nathan Lyon who, not so long ago, would have had a permanent crook in his neck, following the flight of the ball as it repeatedly sailed into the crowd beyond the long on boundary. Age catches up even with sporting superstars and unlike their silver screen brethren, they have no character roles into which they can slip. Age also catches up star stallions. 

With advancing years the prowess of a stallion diminishes. There could be physical deterioration which prevents a stallion from doing the job. There could be issues with the cooling of libido or problems of fertility. Some prominent breeders in India with whom the topic was once discussed do not agree. It was easy to see where they were coming from. It is a well known fact that Sir Victor Sassoon's Crepello, one of the best horses trained by Sir Noel Murless, was sired by Donatello II when the stallion was 19 years old. Everyday II was a ripe 20 when he covered Baydon Queen to beget the Invitation Cup victress Bugs Bunny. India's all-time great sire Razeen was a member of Northern Dancer's crop conceived at the age of 25. 

The three eye-catching instances clearly show a stallion retains the ability of siring something exceptional in his twilight years. What, however, definitely happens is that his strike-rate drops. In India, the average age of a stallion, when it was last determined some time in 2001, was 16. Beyond that age, a stallion lives with a dispensation from God.  

So 16 has been taken as the cut-off age to analyse the stud performances of the Wall of Fame stallions in India. Alnasr Alwasheek, Always a Rainbow, Burden of Proof and Steinbeck have been omitted because they are still alive. Prince Pradeep, Grey Gaston and Riyahi died when they were 16, 15 and 16 respectively and so there is no evidence of how age affected them. Treasure Leaf left Usha Stud in his later years so a vital constant is missing from his data; he, too, is omitted. Statistics of other stallions, till the crop of 2009 which has all but finished its Classics, are given below.  

COMMON LAND (1972-1999) 

Total foals       244    Classic winners  17   Percentage  6.96

Foals till 16     170                             13                     7.65

Foals after 16    74                               4                     5.41

EVERYDAY II (1967-1992) 

Total foals       208     Classic winners  24   Percentage  11.5

Foals till 16     135                              17                      12.6

Foals after 16    73                               7                        9.6 

ILHEUS (1978 - 2000) 

Total foals        386     Classic winners  26  Percentage   6.73

Foals till 16      294                              26                      8.84

After 16             92                                0                      ----- 

KNIGHT OF MEDINA (1971 - 1991) 

Total foals        217     Classic winners  12  Percentage   5.53

Foals till 16      153                                9                     5.88 

Foals after 16     64                                3                     4.69   

MALVADO (1972-1999) 

Total foals       372     Classic winners  29   Percentage     7.8

Foals till 16     205                              19                        9.3  

Foals after 16  167                              10                        6.0  

PLACERVILLE (1990-2011) 

Total foals       696      Classic winners  41   Percentage   5.89

Foals till 16     608                               40                       6.58

Foals after 16    88                                1                       1.14 

RAZEEN  (1987- 2011) 

Total foals       593      Classic winners   57   Percentage    9.61

Foals till 16     403                                51                     12.66

Foals after 16  190                                  6                       3.16 

ROCK OF GIBRALTAR (1951-1976) 

Total foals       141      Classic winners    19  Percentage   13.47

Foals till 16       81                                 12                     14.81

Foals after 16    60                                  7                      11.67  

What the above statistics clearly highlight is the fall in percentages of Classic winners after the age of 16. The deterioration varies from marginal to noticeable to significant to alarming. That is not surprising knowing what we know, generally, of the ageing process and that it affects different individuals differently. Of course, these statistics relate to India and may or may not applicable to all environments. And, it has to be emphasised that they pertain only to the strike-rate. The ability of an old stallion to produce a top class runner is unimpaired. Some such instances have been mentioned earlier but the case of Byerly Brigade needs to be cited. Byerly Brigade, winner of the Deccan Derby, was sired by Red Indian in his 27th year. 

PAST THE POST 

The story of racing and breeding is a fascinating one. The sport really came into its own after the restoration of King Charles II in the mid-seventeenth century. The Royal patronage gave an impetus to the English breeding industry which was stagnant till then. The arrival of warm blood stallions Byerly Turk, Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian and other, lesser known sons of the desert proved the catalyst for the eventual evolution of the Thoroughbred as we know it today. The three 'founding fathers' lived to a very ripe age and it would be interesting to know how the advancing years affected them, if at all.