Brighter future for the British stayer

Double Trigger
Double Trigger’s statue at Doncaster; the top stayer’s wins included the Gold Cup and three editions of both the Goodwood Cup and Doncaster Cup

The recent announcements that York’s Ebor and Newmarket’s Cesarewitch will become £1 million handicaps within the next couple of years are just the latest developments to make owning or breeding a stayer a more attractive proposition in future.

It follows closely the creation of the Weatherbys Hamilton Stayers’ Million which offers a £1 million bonus to any horse that wins the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, the Goodwood Cup and York’s Lonsdale Cup – having also first won any one of four designated staying contests – the Sagaro Stakes, Ormonde Stakes, Yorkshire Cup or Henry II Stakes.

It has to be said that in practice the Stayers’ Million looks unlikely to be won (winning the Gold Cup and/or the Goodwood Cup would still be very remunerative, both races having first prizes of over £200,000 in 2017), but it represents another show of support for the staying horse who was facing an uncertain future not so long ago.

That was the concern of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association which commissioned a review of the racing and breeding programmes of the stayer in Britain in February 2015. The fate of the three-year-old stayer in particular was highlighted by the European Pattern Committee’s decision to downgrade Royal Ascot’s Queen’s Vase to listed level.

However, that demotion was reversed by the EPC as part of a Europe-wide enhancement to the pattern and listed programme for stayers in 2017. The first running of the Queen’s Vase as a Group 2 contest over its new distance of a mile and three-quarters went to Stradivarius, who, incidentally, went on to win the newly upgraded Group 1 Goodwood Cup, becoming the first three-year-old to do so for 27 years.

The EPC’s chairman Brian Kavanagh said:

“The EPC has agreed that it remains vital, now more than ever, that Europe supports a strong programme for horses racing over extended distances.  No other part of the world provides a meaningful programme of races for such horses and some appear to have almost given up altogether.

“The European programme needs to be ambitious enough to capture people’s attention and start to change behaviour, by making the breeding and buying of stayers a more attractive option.  Our aim was to embrace a small number of meaningful enhancements to the Pattern for 2017, with scope for further developments in the years to come.”

“In addition to the changes to the staying programme outlined above, the EPC agreed that a fundamental component of this project of trying to safeguard – and encourage – the future of the staying horse is to not only enhance the programme for them but to ensure that we protect the existing races.  As such, no 13f+ Pattern race in Europe is to be downgraded (unless voluntarily) before 2022 (i.e. protected for minimum of 5 years from 2017), with the position to be reviewed thereafter.”

Underpinning these opportunities for the better stayers, the BHA has strengthened the programme for horses who might one day graduate to such races with the provision of more handicaps and maidens for staying types. That includes catering for two-year-olds who might be future stayers by providing more races over a mile and a quarter and introducing sire-restricted events for two-year-olds whose sires won over at least 10f or 12f.

This year the BHA has focussed on boosting the staying programme for fillies and mares. This has included the creation of a new Group 3 contest at York next month, the Brontë Cup, over a mile and three-quarters. Providing staying opportunities for good fillies and mares is particularly important from a breeding point of view; staying mares have a value at stud which their male, entire counterparts do not, at least not as commercial flat stallions. Many mile and a half Group 1-winning colts, let alone those who have won over further, either struggle to find a place at stud as flat stallions in the first place, or soon end up in the National Hunt sector.

thebreedingshed has identified the following dozen three-year-olds as horses to follow this year over a mile and a half or more. All of them are currently maidens but their pedigrees suggest they should be suited by longer distances than they have been tried over so far.

AL MUFFRIH (colt by Sea The Stars) Third in a sire/dam restricted novice over 1m at Newmarket in October on only start. Dam (by Peintre Celebre) French 10.5f winner and a half-sister to Prix du Jockey Club winner Le Havre and 12f G3/14f listed winner Astronereus, also by Sea The Stars. Entered in Derby. William Haggas

BLUE REFLECTION (filly by Dansili) Fourth in 1m novice at Kempton in November on only start. Sister to winner up to 12.5f Stoney Broke. Dam half-sister to Allegretto, winner of Goodwood Cup, Prix Royal-Oak etc. James Fanshawe

CARADOC (colt by Camelot) Fourth in a 1m novice at Kempton in December on only start. Half-brother to 12.5f winner Evening Hush. Dam half-sister to winner up to 2m Injam. Entered in Derby. Ed Walker

CERAMIST (filly by Mastercraftsman) Third in a 1m novice at Nottingham in August on only start. Half-sister to French 12f winner Diavola. Dam, French 15f winner, half-sister to Daliapour, winner of Coronation Cup, Curragh Cup etc. John Gosden

CRYSTAL HOPE (filly by Nathaniel) Sixth in a 1m maiden at Nottingham in October on only start. Dam half-sister to Group 2 12f winner Crystal Capella, Canadian International winner Hillstar and last year’s St Leger runner-up Crystal Ocean. Sir Michael Stoute

HAZARFIYA (filly by Fastnet Rock) Third in a 1m novice at Newbury in October on only start. Half-sister to Derby winner Harzand and Irish 12f listed winner Hazarafa. Entered in Oaks. Sir Michael Stoute

PILASTER (filly by Nathaniel) Seventh in a 1m maiden at Doncaster in October on only start. Half-sister to winner up to 12f/St Leger fourth Windshear. Dam Portal (by Hernando) third in Lancashire Oaks. Roger Varian

SILVERBOOK (colt by New Approach) Second in a 10f novice at Chelmsford in November on only start. Dam sister to Prix Gladiateur winner and Prix du Cadran third Ley Hunter out of Irish Oaks winner Lailani. Charlie Appleby

SILVER CRESCENT (gelding by Champs Elysees) Ran 3 times at around 1m, fifth in novice at Wolverhampton in November on final start. Dam half-sister to dam of Yorkshire Cup winner Snow Sky and Prix Royal-Oak winner Ice Breeze. Grandam sister to Prix Royal-Oak winners Raintrap and Sunshack. Ralph Beckett

SOLDIER TO FOLLOW (colt by Soldier Hollow) Second both starts at around 1m, in novice at Windsor and maiden at Carlisle. Half-brother to French listed-placed winner up to 12f Not After Hours. Dam, won at around 12f in France, half-sister to Grand Prix de Chantilly winner Now We Can, placed twice in 2m Belmont Gold Cup. Andrew Balding

STARCASTER (colt by Dansili) Third in 1m/9f novice events at Leicester and Goodwood in autumn. Dam, Shirocco Star, second in Oaks. Hughie Morrison

THE CLIFF HORSE (filly by Canford Cliffs) Ran 3 times in 7f novices, second at Carlisle second outing. Dam (by Sadler’s Wells) closely related to Sydney Cup winner The Offer. Donald McCain