Late foaling dates no barrier to early success

Any theoretical age disadvantage can be overcome by the benefit of a kinder spring

As long ago as 1977, in my days as a Timeform comment writer, I began to question the perceived wisdom that an early foaling date represents a clear-cut advantage in a racehorse, especially at two years.

When the 1977 Irish season opened on March 17, the first two-year-old race fell to Sookera, who, as a May 15 foal was the youngest of the 13 runners. Sookera went on to win the Chesham Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Cheveley Park Stakes. Royal Ascot also saw the Norfolk Stakes provide Emboss – another May 15 foal – with his fifth consecutive victory. Later in the season the Phoenix Stakes was taken by Perla, a filly foaled on May 11, the Lowther Stakes was won by Enstone Spark, even though she had been born as late as June 6, and the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster provided Sexton Blake, a May 20 foal, with his third successive win.

The 26 two-year-olds which won the 32 Pattern races confined to them in Great Britain and Ireland in 1977 comprised four born in February, five in March and ten in April. But a total of six were May foals, with Enstone Spark striking a blow for the very small minority of June foals. The six May-foaled Pattern winners – Emboss, Music Maestro, Perla, Sexton Blake, Sookera and Thunor ­– collectively won an impressive total of 22 races at two.

One of the problems in trying to assess the realities of the situation is that Weatherbys’ analysis of foaling dates does not differentiate between foals intended for the Flat and those bred for dual-purpose or jumping careers. They tell us that only 7,307 of the 12,185 foals born in 2011 were intended solely for Flat careers, which is just under 60% of the total.

Foaling date analysis is grossly distorted by the jump-bred foals which tend to be born later in the season than their Flat counterparts

Consequently the foaling date analysis is grossly distorted by the jump-bred foals which tend to be born later in the season than their Flat counterparts. Take Brian Boru as an example. His 2011 foal crop, which numbered at least 90, includes no January foals and only four born in February, but there are 30 foals with May birthdays and another nine born in June. That’s 43% born in May or June.

Compare that to Duke Of Marmalade, one of Coolmore’s similarly busy Flat stallions. The supplement to the Return of Mares credits him with 105 foals born in Britain or Ireland in 2011. Only nine of them were born in May and none in June. That’s a very different 8.6%, which is probably a more realistic indication of the percentage of Flat foals born in May and June than the total of 22.51% shown in the foaling date analysis. If this crop by Duke Of Marmalade is anything to go by, May foals are outnumbered by more than nine to one.

Of course anyone with any faith in the weight-for-age table must accept that a foal born four months before one of its rivals enjoys a theoretical advantage. Timeform’s table suggests that a two-year-old racing over five furlongs should receive 7lb less from mature horses in the second half of October than in the first half of July. I used the word ‘theoretical’ because, as those two-year-olds showed in 1977, pure class can easily negate any perceived disadvantage. It is essential to remember that foals born in May are closer to the natural norm than their counterparts born early in the season, when the weather is so much colder, the daylight hours are shorter and there is no new, fresh grass.

The truth is that foals born in May or June may need some time but the best of them are more than capable of holding their own against somewhat older rivals. I looked at the birthdays of the Group/Grade 1 and 2 winners in Europe and North America during July. Some 50 individual horses were involved, of which three were born in January, ten in February, 13 in March, 17 in April, six in May and one in June.

The May sextet was especially interesting, as they included no fewer than four Grade 1 winners – Danedream (born on May 7), Point Of Entry (May 10), Acclamation (USA) (May 16) and Mayson (May 16). Several other Group/Grade 1 winners had late-April birthdays, including the major three-year-old winners Imperial Monarch and Great Heavens (both born on April 28) and Aesop’s Fables (April 30).

I am prepared to believe that a late birth date is possibly less of an issue for American-born foals, because of the warmer climate. The history of the Belmont Stakes certainly supports this view. Although it constitutes the last leg of the American Triple Crown, the Belmont is contested in the first half of June. Rather surprisingly, quite a few colts have won the race not long after their actual third birthday, good examples in the last 16 years being Touch Gold (May 26), Victory Gallop (May 30), Lemon Drop Kid (May 26), Birdstone (May 16) and Afleet Alex (May 9).

Two of July’s late-born Group/Grade 1 winners were American, as was Mucho Macho Man, another of America’s best four-year-olds. Despite his June 15 birthday, this son of Macho Uno was runner-up in two Grade 2 events during a five-race juvenile campaign and finished third in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, when still about six weeks short of his actual third birthday.

That said, he is clearly better than ever as a now mature four-year-old. He looked like a Grade 1 winner in the making when he landed the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap – his third victory from four starts in 2012.

The American Acclamation is another who managed to win at two, despite his late birthday, but he too has flourished as a mature performer at four, five and six. This grandson of Nureyev, by the excellent Californian stallion Unusual Heat, received the award for champion older male for 2011 and he has now won the last three editions of the Grade 1 Charles Whittingham Memorial Handicap.
The May 10-born Point Of Entry picked no less a race than the Man o’War Stakes – a race won in the past by such as Secretariat, Dahlia, Theatrical, Daylami, Fantastic Light and Cape Blanco – to record his first Grade 1 win.

Point would be worthy Entry to Kentucky stallion ranks
Point Of Entry’s win in the Man o’War Stakes was part of a tremendous Graded stakes treble on July 14 for his sire Dynaformer. This treble was completed by the ex-French Starformer in the Grade 3 Robert G Dick Memorial Stakes and by Ioya Bigtime in the Grade 3 Stars And Stripes Stakes.

The saddest aspect of Dynaformer’s demise was that the he does not have any top-flight stallion sons carrying on his excellent work in Kentucky

Devotees of the former Three Chimneys stallion, who died earlier this year at the age of 27, won’t be surprised to hear that all three wins came on turf. Altogether Dynaformer left a legacy of 23 Group/Grade 1 winners, including such notable European performers as Lucarno, Rainbow View, Wiener Walzer and Americain. It’s hard to imagine that he achieved so much after starting out at a fee of only $5,000 at Wafare Farm.

The saddest aspect of Dynaformer’s demise was that the gigantic son of Roberto does not have any top-flight stallion sons carrying on his excellent work in Kentucky. It would no doubt have been a very different story had his 2006 Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro not suffered such a catastrophic injury in the Preakness Stakes. Consequently, it is to be hoped that Point Of Entry can build on his achievements sufficiently to earn a place at one of Kentucky’s top stallion stations. In addition to the Man o’War, Point Of Entry has also won the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes over a mile and a half on turf.

As might be expected of a Phipps homebred, the Man o’War winner has a first-rate pedigree. Like Barbaro, he is out of a grand-daughter of Mr Prospector. Whereas Barbaro was produced by a daughter of Carson City, Point Of Entry’s dam Matlacha Pass is by Seeking The Gold, the stallion who will always be best remembered as the sire of the brilliant Dubai Millennium (himself sire of the important Dubawi).

Point Of Entry and Starformer figure among a total of five Graded winners out of grand-daughters of Mr Prospector in Dynaformer’s 2008 crop. The others are the Fillies’ Mile winner White Moonstone, the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes winner Brilliant Speed and the 2012 Grade 2 turf winner Casino Host. White Moonstone and Casino Host are others out of mares by Seeking The Gold, who also sired the dam of the triple Grade 1 turf winner Riskaverse.

Point Of Entry’s second dam, the Pleasant Colony mare Our Country Place, was a regular visitor to Seeking The Gold. This mare – a daughter of the top-class Nijinsky filly Maplejinsky, herself a daughter of the champion sprinter Gold Beauty – produced five Seeking The Gold foals, four of them fillies.

All four fillies made their mark in one sphere or another. Country Hideaway twice landed the Grade 2 First Flight Handicap over seven furlongs, while her sister Pleasant Home did even better, taking the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in 2005. Their sister Matlacha Pass wasn’t nearly so durable, managing only three starts, of which she won two.

Nonetheless, she became the most successful broodmare of the sisters, even though Country Hideaway numbers the Graded winners Boca Grande and Vacation among her progeny.

Point Of Entry is Matlacha Pass’s second Grade 1 winner following that highly talented filly Pine Island, who suffered fatal injuries in the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. By then Pine Island had won the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes – a race also won by her third dam Maplejinsky and by Maplejinsky’s champion daughter Sky Beauty – and the Grade 1 Gazelle Stakes. Pine Island, like Point Of Entry, was by a Roberto line stallion, her sire being Kris S’s son Arch.

The fourth sister, Home Sweet Home, was exported to Japan, where she became a regular visitor to the Florida Derby winner Brian’s Time – like Dynaformer a son of Roberto. They produced Birdie Birdie, Japan’s top-ranked three-year-old colt on dirt
in 2010.

With a background like this, Point Of Entry is well qualified to succeed as a stallion – provided American breeders can forgive him for being a turf horse with plenty of stamina. Let’s hope they remember that the very successful stallion Kitten’s Joy was another who made his name on turf, largely over a mile and a quarter or more.

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