Chris McGrath ruffles feathers at AGM

Racing Post Bloodstock Editor warns that preoccupation with speed is harming industry

Racing Post Bloodstock Editor Chris McGrath didn’t hold back in his assessment of the breeding industry during his guest address at the 100th AGM of the Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association in Newmarket on July 12.

Chris McGrath: addressed the TBA AGM audience

In his speech entitled ‘Speed, stamina and surfaces: a plea for diversity’, McGrath bemoaned the focus on producing fast horses, to the detriment of the staying animal, with young, speed stallions – often retired after their two-year-old season – covering huge books, while established staying sires struggled for mares.

He highlighted a recent article by Andrew Caulfield, which itself referenced a letter by Peter Stanley about Flat breeders’ lack of support for Mount Nelson and Champs Elysees, which prompted their sale to the Irish National Hunt sector.

McGrath quoted Caulfield’s figures concerning British and Irish stallions that covered 120 or more mares in 2016; from 48 stallions, only seven won at a mile and a half, and just two – Golden Horn and New Approach – featured in Darley’s 29-strong roster.

With TBA Board member Sam Bullard, Director of Stallions at Darley’s Dalham Hall Stud, sitting just a few feet away, McGrath also questioned why the operation was standing The Last Lion, retired after his Group 1-winning two-year-old season.

Bullard later explained why The Last Lion did not race at three and defended the Darley position over its stallions, stating that Sheikh Mohammed would “love to win the Derby again and stand the winner at stud”.

McGrath discussed the virtues of US dirt horses, challenging the “never the twain shall meet” view of turf and dirt runners and highlighting the success enjoyed by Coolmore with the progeny of War Front and Scat Daddy.

He later turned his attention to British Champions Day, which he described as a “bribe to stop horsemen running their horses at the Breeders’ Cup”. McGrath went on: “[Staging] Champions Day two weeks before the Breeders’ Cup is insanity – the timing is wrong and change needs to happen.”

McGrath concluded by returning to the staying theme, urging the audience to “think big – think Big Orange!”

Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland and Chairman of the European Pattern Committee, delivered a speech on the Pattern and said that its flexibility with regard to the sprint and staying programmes had yielded a number of upgrades and improvements.

In his speech, Chairman Julian Richmond-Watson reflected on the TBA’s work and remit over the last 100 years to protect and improve the breed, and told the audience it was working hard to address the challenges posed by Brexit.

Oppenheimer’s views
Owner-breeder Anthony Oppenheimer, whose brilliant Derby and Arc winner Golden Horn now resides at Sheikh Mohammed’s Dalham Hall Stud, asked whether it was time to try and introduce a limit to the number of mares a sire could cover in a season, suggesting 120 as a sensible number.

Julian Richmond-Watson replied that, ultimately, market forces would dictate whether a stallion had too many progeny going through the ring.

Oppenheimer later revealed that his star colt Cracksman was on course for the Great Voltigeur Stakes at York on August 23 following his close second place in the Irish Derby, but would not be running in the St Leger.

He went on to say that Curragh pilot Pat Smullen was most taken with the son of Frankel, the jockey explaining that Cracksman was still somewhat immature and would make a better four-year-old. Oppenheimer will heed that advice and keep Cracksman in training next year.

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