10/11/2013 5:03PM

Sparkman: The international merry-go-round

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What is the world’s most international race meeting? For many years, the Breeders’ Cup meeting could claim that title, but that is no longer true. The Dubai World Cup meeting, which benefits from easier access to Southern Hemisphere racing countries as well as more total purse money, now serves as a showplace for horses bred and trained in more different countries than any other meeting.

The Breeders’ Cup might not long even rank second by that measure. It has been well documented that the proliferation of autumn international meetings in England, France, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Japan over the past decade has diverted some of the world’s best horses – horses who previously had few other international options – from the Breeders’ Cup.

Last weekend’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting at Longchamp in Paris made its bid for international honors by attracting horses trained in six different countries, plus a Brazilian-bred Argentine Group 1 winner, Going Somewhere, who was transferred from Juan Etchechoury’s stable in Argentina to David Smaga at Lamorlaye, France, specifically so he could run in the Arc.

The origins of the runners at the Arc meeting, which included seven Group 1 races and four Group 2 races over two days at the beautiful racecourse in the Bois de Boulogne near the heart of Paris, were even more varied. The countries of origin of the first nine home in the Arc itself illustrate just how international top-class international racing has become.

The brilliant, undefeated Arc winner, Treve (Motivator–Trevise, by Anabaa), is French-bred and -trained, but the next eight home were all born elsewhere: Orfevre (Japan), Intello (Germany), Kizuna (Japan), Penglai Pavilion (United States), Al Kazeem (Great Britain), Ruler Of the World (Ireland), Flintshire (Great Britain), and Going Somewhere (Brazil).

The 11 group races on the two days produced winners born in six different countries: France (Treve, Cirrus des Aigles, Valirann), Great Britain (Moonlight Cloud, Maarek), Ireland (Pollyana, Ebiyza, Indonesienne), Germany (Altano), Japan (Karakontie), and the United States (Dalkala).

In truth, though, at the top level of international racing – at least everywhere but the United States – country of birth hardly matters. Karakontie, the winner of the Group 1 Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere (Grand Criterium), is perhaps the best example of the fluid approach of the world’s premier breeders. The 2-year-old colt was is a homebred for the Niarchos family, whose breeding operation is based primarily at its historic Haras de Fresnay-le-Buffard near Falaise, France, and at the Oak Tree division of Lane’s End in Kentucky. His late sire, Bernstein, by Storm Cat, stood at Castleton Lyons in Lexington, Ky., and shuttled to Argentina during the autumn, where he led the sire list in 2006 and 2007.

Stavros Niarchos, the founder of the family’s bloodstock operation, purchased Karakontie’s fourth dam, Pasadoble, by Prove Out, for $45,000 at the 1980 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of selected yearlings and bred and raced Pasadoble’s all-time great daughter, Miesque, by Nureyev. Niarchos, of course, also bred Miesque’s classic-winning son, Kingmambo, by Mr. Prospector, and daughter, East of the Moon, by Private Account, as well as their stakes-winning sibling Moon Is Up, by Woodman.

Niarchos sent Moon Is Up, the dam of South African Group 1 winner Amanee, by Pivotal, to Japan to be bred to 13-time leading Japanese sire Sunday Silence, but the resulting filly, the Japanese-bred Sun Is Up, was unplaced in France. That has not stopped her from becoming an excellent broodmare, and Karakontie is her third stakes winner following listed stakes winners Bottega, by Mineshaft, and Sunday Sunrise, by Lemon Drop Kid.

The Niarchos family also bred and raced 2004 Arc winner and European champion 3-year-old Bago, by Nashwan, and sold him to stand at Shizunai Stallion Station in Japan. They chose to send Sun Is Up back to Japan to be bred to Bago in 2011, which is why Karakontie carries (Jpn) after his name and not (USA). Karakontie is trained at Chantilly by veteran English-born French trainer Jonathan Pease, who, by the way, was also the trainer of Bago.

In the Lagardere, Karakontie, the winner of the Group 3 Prix la Rochette four weeks ago, had to chase down the front-running Noozhoh Canarias, who was bred in Spain by Grupo Bolanos Gran Canaria, owned by Juan Carlos Bolanos Marrero, and trained at La Zarzuela by Enrique Leon Penate. Noozhoh Canarias’s sire, Caradak, by Desert Style (by Green Desert, by Danzig), won the 2006 Group 1 Prix de la Foret for Godolphin before he was sold to stand at stud in Spain, where he has quickly become the king of a relatively tiny breeding industry.

The pedigree of Noozhoh Canarias’s dam, Noozhah, is right from the international mainstream, however, since her sire is Singspiel, by Sadler’s Wells’s son In the Wings, and the sires of her next two dams are Rainbow Quest and Fabulous Dancer. And, indeed, the overall results of the 11 races fall right in line with the most powerful international pedigree trends of the past four decades.

As shown in the accompanying chart of the sire lines of the Arc meeting winners, seven of the 11 winners trace in tail-male line to Northern Dancer, two to Mr. Prospector, one to Ahonoora, and one to Sharpen Up (also a grandson of Mr. Prospector’s grandsire, Native Dancer). Northern Dancer, of course, stands at the head of by far the most dominant male line on the international scene, and Mr. Prospector ranks a clear second in that category.

The Northern Dancer male line annually accounts for more than 60 percent (and rising) of all European group stakes winners, and Mr. Prospector generally about 15 percent (a percentage that is also increasing, principally because of his great-grandson Dubawi), so the Arc meeting sire line results are entirely in keeping with the current state of the European breeding industry. The male line of Ahonoora is the last, fading vestige of the once-great male line of Herod, and Group 2 Prix Dollar winner Cirrus des Aigles, a highweight in France, England, and the United Arab Emirates during 2011-2012, is its best representative in decades. Sadly, Cirrus des Aigles is a gelding (and thus barred from participation in the Arc), and there is no obvious top-class young sire from Ahonoora’s male line who looks likely to extend the male line of Herod into another generation.

Indonesienne, the winner of the Group 1 Criterium des Pouliches Prix Marcel Boussac, is another illustration of both the international character and the American roots of a wide swath of Europe’s best racehorses. Her sire, Muhtathir, the winner of the 2000 Group 1 Prix Jacques le Marois, was by far the best son of his sire, Elmaamul, one of the best sons of Diesis, by Sharpen Up. Indonesienne’s dam, Mydarshaan, is by Darshaan, a grandson of American-bred Mill Reef, out of Mypreciousprospect, by Mr. Prospector.

As is always the case, the distribution of broodmare sire lines at the Arc meeting was a bit more varied. The Northern Dancer male line accounted for four of the 11 winning broodmare sires, but the other seven came from seven different male lines: Ahonoora, Blushing Groom, Halo, Never Bend, Seattle Slew, Sharpen Up, and Surumu.

This eclectic, international character of European breeding and racing lends their horses an advantage largely absent these days from the American breeding and racing scene, which shows only scant signs of emerging from two decades of somewhat isolationist behavior. And if the plans for future “Super Group 1” medication-free races proposed at the meeting of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities in Paris during Arc week bear fruit, American racing and breeding is likely to become even more isolated and the Breeders’ Cup less international and much less important to the Thoroughbred breed.

The 11 group stakes winners from the Arc weekend all boast an American-bred ancestor within the first three generations of their pedigrees. As the biggest horse-racing events become more and more international, however, that may become a much rarer phenomenon.
 

John Murray More than 1 year ago
John Sparkman is becoming a must read columnist on European racing and international bloodlines. He and Andy Beyer raise the bar. Barry T excellent post,
BarryT More than 1 year ago
So with Northern Dancer at 60% and rising and Mr. Prospector at 15% and rising, this pretty much looks like an homage to the endlessly reviled Native Dancer. You can't live with him...and you can't live without him. As I suggested in a question I posed on Boojum Bonanza's site, the true foundation sire of the modern thoroughbred is Phalaris and he has two branches--Nearco and Native Dancer. Nearco expresses his influence much more dominantly through the male line; Native Dancer, through both. As to the Breeders' Cup becoming irrelevant, Good Riddance! It is singlehandedly responsible for the destruction of the American stakes schedule. The Suburban Handicap, once the most important handicap on the American racing calendar, is no longer even a Grade I race. The Handicap Triple Crown--the Metropolitan Mile, the Suburban Handicap, the Brooklyn Handicap--harder to win than the three-year old Triple Crown and much more prestigious in its day, is no longer spoken of and for all intents and purposes doesn't exist. The Fall meeting at Belmont--the Woodward, Man o' War, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and later the Marlboro Cup--just a faint memory. And who really cares who wins the Gulfstream Park Handicap, the Santa Anita Handicap, or the Whitney? And speaking of Native Dancer, after he won the Belmont, he went after the four most important midsummer races for 3-year olds--the Dwyer, the Arlington Classic, the Travers, and the American Derby--and he won all four. The only horse ever to do it. With the exception of the Travers (and that has also diminished in status), the other three have either disappeared or are of no consequence. I've been following Thoroughbred Racing a good deal longer than most people have been alive, and I can tell you that I never thought I'd see the day that the Arlington Classic and the American Derby would not be MAJOR fixtures on the racing calendar. US racing has become irrelevant--and to the rest of the world, almost a joke. And if we didn't have the Kentucky Derby, we'd be invisible. And that's an even bigger joke. Imagine the Kentucky Derby being more important than the Belmont Stakes! Only in America. I wonder whether Bill Nack and I are the only two people alive who regard the Breeders' Cup as the worst curse ever to afflict American racing. I feel so much better now that I've gotten that off my chest. And by the way, the Europeans have always known how to use our bloodstock much better than we have--certainly for the past 40 years. We've become a minor league farm team--supplier of talent--to their major leagues.
EddySealy More than 1 year ago
There is nothing I can add to your article, you are 100% right.