Should broodmares pass the racecourse test?

2011 Melbourne Cup winner; both his dam and grandam were unraced
2011 Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden; both his dam and grandam were unraced

The Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown brought together the finest field of middle-distance performers in Europe this year, one that only next month’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe would seem likely to be able to rival. The second and third were Found, winner of the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Turf, and her stable-companion Minding, whose wins this year include the 1000 Guineas and Oaks. The Aidan O’Brien-trained fillies are both daughters of Galileo, the sire responsible for so much of their stable’s success this season, and each are out of Group 1-winning mares.

Found’s dam Red Evie won the Matron Stakes (whose latest renewal on the same card as the Irish Champion was won by another O’Brien-trained daughter of Galileo, Alice Springs) and the Lockinge Stakes, while Minding’s dam Lillie Langtry was also a Matron winner (for O’Brien) in addition to winning the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot.

But the colt who beat this blue-blooded pair (not to mention a field that also included another of their stable-companions Highland Reel – by Galileo of course – as well as the Derby winner Harzand), the Prix du Jockey Club winner Almanzor, couldn’t boast such a pedigree. His dam, Darkova, bred like Harzand by the Aga Khan, never saw a racecourse. Does that matter? Not now that she’s bred what is apparently the best colt of his generation in Europe, surely.

But it’s a question worth asking in the light of this recent quote from Julian Richmond-Watson, chairman of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association. In the September 2016 edition of the TBA’s monthly publication Thoroughbred Owner & Breeder, Richmond-Watson states:

Breeding from horses that are unsuccessful or do not run must in the long run be detrimental to the breed’s soundness and quality.’

Trainer Jean-Claude Rouget, for one, presumably would not agree. He bought Almanzor for €100,000 as a yearling at Deauville seven years after paying the same sum at the same venue for another yearling colt, he too out of an unraced mare. Named Le Havre, that colt not only went on to win the Prix du Jockey Club, as Almanzor has done, but also sired La Cressonniere, the unbeaten winner of eight starts at the time of writing for the same stable, including both French fillies’ classics this year.

La Cressonniere’s dam, incidentally, would be another to fail the ‘Richmond-Watson’ test. She did race, running six times in France, but Absolute Lady never finished closer than fourth – which was all the more disappointing given that she was herself a daughter of Galileo.

Another daughter of Galileo who shouldn’t have made it anywhere near the breeding shed by the same criteria was Galicuix. She finished last of twelve on her racecourse debut in a maiden at Sandown (beaten thirty lengths) and confirmed her lack of ability by again failing to beat any of her nine rivals in a similar contest at Salisbury on her only other start. Galicuix was given a chance to redeem herself as a broodmare, though, producing the 2000 Guineas winner Galileo Gold.

This year’s classic winners Almanzor, La Cressonniere and Galileo Gold (plus Le Havre) constitute a very small sample of horses out of mares who either failed to win or did not even race at all. As Richmond-Watson rightly points out, ‘one or two exceptions do not make a rule.’ But are the horses we’ve mentioned really ‘one or two exceptions’ or do they represent a much larger body of evidence which suggests that unraced mares, or those who fail to win a race, are not necessarily weak links in the breeding chain after all.

Would a hugely successful breeding operation such as Juddmonte, for example, have any place for mares who were maidens, or who did not race at all, at its studs? Juddmonte lists 222 broodmares in its 2015 studbook. Of those, 24 raced but failed to win, and another 25 did not race at all. These 49 therefore constitute 22% of the Juddmonte broodmare band or just over a fifth of its mares.

Are these non-winners really ‘detrimental to the breed’s soundness and quality’ ? The majority are, in fact, daughters or siblings of Group or Grade 1 winners. Among Juddmonte’s unraced broodmares are a sister to their outstanding broodmare Hasili named Kalima and two of Hasili’s daughters who never made it to the track, Responsible (by Oasis Dream) and Very Good News (by Empire Maker).

More importantly, Juddmonte have had success with well-bred mares who either did not excel on the track or did not perform at all. Derby and Arc winner Workforce was out of the unraced Soviet Moon, a half-sister to the St Leger winner Brian Boru. Special Duty, the Cheveley Park Stakes winner who was awarded the 1000 Guineas and its French equivalent, was out of a once-raced sibling of the US Grade 1 winners Sightseek and Tates Creek, while Binche, who ran just twice without success, became the dam of the Prince of Wales’s Stakes winner Byword and his half-sister the multiple US Grade 1 winner Proviso.

The single horse who has probably had the most impact on the wider breed produced by Juddmonte is probably Danehill – the offspring of a mare (Razyana, out of a half-sister to Northern Dancer) who ran just three times without success.

 For another example of a mare who achieved little as a racehorse but plenty at stud, look no further than Lagrion who was discussed here last month.

According to this American study, there is no appreciable difference in the percentage of stakes winners produced by unraced or non-winning dams on the one hand and ‘ordinary’ (i.e. non-black-type-earning) winners on the other.

Breeding from horses that are unsuccessful or do not run might indeed weed out a number of broodmares that the breed could well do without. But in a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it would also deprive the breed of plenty of conduits of precious genetic material. The fact a mare couldn’t run fast enough to keep warm may simply mean that she hasn’t herself been able to put to use the genetics she has inherited; but the above examples show it would be wrong to infer from that that her own offspring won’t be able to either.

[Dunaden image: Flamelai]