The rich history of shuttle stallions

Horses have gone back and forth between hemispheres for more than 150 years, and in Redoute’s Choice the Aga Khan has brought to Europe a stallion who should cut the ice

Numerous sports now flourishing in many parts of the world had their origins in England, and because they were invented here it was a long time before we were prepared to acknowledge that other countries were actually more proficient at them.

It was in August 1882 that, according to the famous announcement in The Sporting Times, English cricket died at the Oval, the Ashes being sent to Australia. The obituary notice may have been premature but it did amount to an acknowledgement that one of the colonies had caught up. In football we maintained our arrogance way beyond the instigation of the World Cup in 1930, declined to enter the competition until 1950, then were humiliated 1-0 by the USA. If we could find excuses for that, there were none three years later when Hungary came to Wembley and showed us how the game should be played in a 6-3 victory. Only then did we finally accept that we were no longer the masters.

In racing our superiority was taken for granted for many generations; we even staged some races in the early part of the 19th century offering weight concessions to French-bred horses. But by the 1850s the French were actually winning major races on English soil and there were a few successful American raids. Gladiateur was a French-bred Triple Crown winner here in 1865, Kisber won a Derby for Hungary in 1876, and five years after that US-bred Iroquois notched victories in both the Derby and the St Leger. We could no longer ignore what was going on elsewhere and assume that we still led the field.

Of course, every other country was breeding from material with roots in England and regarded as surplus to requirements here. What found its way to Australia and New Zealand was supposedly inferior stock, and we fondly imagined that those countries would lag behind us indefinitely. We were wrong. The New Zealand breeding industry, still pretty much in its infancy, bred a legitimate star in Carbine from a horse and a mare culled from English studs.

Musket, a son of 1858 Derby runner-up Toxophilite, had been a decent racehorse whose nine victories included an Ascot Stakes, but he made little mark as a sire at home and was allowed to leave as an 11-year-old in 1878.

Three years later the Duke of Westminster parted with his barren seven-year-old mare Mersey, who was actually a half-sister to the dam of his Derby winner Bend Or, though that fact was not known until DNA testing proved the point in 2010. The 1884 liaison between Musket and Mersey resulted in Carbine.

It came as some surprise that Octagonal’s innings in France proved so unproductive

Having won all five of his races as a two-year-old in New Zealand, Carbine crossed the Tasman and continued racing until he was five, retiring with a career record of 33 wins, six seconds and three thirds from a total of 43 starts.

Only once unplaced and proven at every distance between five furlongs and three miles, he most remarkably won the 1890 Melbourne Cup under 10st 5lb in record time. He had barely embarked on his stud career in Australia when his owner, Donald Wallace, lost a fortune in a bank failure and was forced to sell him. The Duke of Portland bought the then ten-year-old for £13,000 and installed him at his Welbeck Stud alongside St Simon, who was already a multiple champion sire.

Keen on Carbine

Other breeders shared Portland’s optimism about Carbine, who was immediately fully booked for his first three seasons at Welbeck, and such was the sudden recognition of form down under that within a year there came two other imports who had both been placed in the Melbourne Cup – Carnage (three-parts brother to Carbine) and Trenton, the latter already 15 years old.

Carbine naturally got the best chances in England and, while his overall record was disappointing, he did get the Derby winner Spearmint, and further Derby winners in the male line followed in Spearmint’s son Spion Kop and Spion Kop’s son Felstead. Carnage made no impression and was swiftly sold to Germany, where he wound up covering half-bred mares, but Trenton left his mark as broodmare sire of Oaks heroine Rosedrop, who became dam of Triple Crown hero Gainsborough, himself the sire of Hyperion.

The fad for horses from down under soon passed and it was a long while before anyone in the northern hemisphere took much notice of what was happening there. It was American movie mogul Louis B Mayer who revived the notion, purchasing Bernborough in 1947.

Unfashionably-bred and raced in his first four seasons solely at the obscure Toowoomba course in Queensland, Bernborough eventually came to compete at top city level and racked up a sequence of 15 consecutive victories as a six- and seven-year-old.

Without ever ranking among the leading US sires, Bernborough did creditably enough, getting 21 stakes winners, including the English-raced smart sprint handicapper Hook Money, a grandson of La Troienne who was himself responsible for some high-class performers, notably Shandon Belle and Daylight Robbery.

A far more important acquisition by the Americans was Noholme, a brother to the outstanding Australian champion Todman, who arrived in the States with ten wins, including a Cox Plate, already on his cv. He did not adapt well to US racing, scoring only twice from 24 efforts there, which meant that he had quite a struggle to earn credibility at stud. But he famously came good with 11% stakes winners, among them Carnauba, General Holme, Shecky Greene and Nodouble, the last-named North America’s leading sire of 1981.

In the era of the shuttle stallion the world has become smaller, with breeders in each hemisphere conscious of – and respectful of – the form of the leading runners in the other. Understandably, perhaps, it was those in the Antipodes who particularly relished the opportunity to use top performers from Europe and the States, while in the north we tended to be lukewarm about the horses sent in our direction – and we did well to recognise that we would derive no benefit from some of them. But it came as some surprise that Octagonal’s innings in France proved so unproductive after he had provided proof of outstanding merit as both racehorse and sire back home. Was he unjustly neglected?

However, the tide is turning. Did we really need another son of Danehill here? No, not Danzero, who was not up to the mark, but Exceed And Excel has swiftly established himself as a big league player and it is easy to imagine that 2013 newcomers Helmet (a son of Exceed And Excel) and Sepoy (by Elusive Quality) are going to attract the sort of patronage to earn them a shot of achieving distinction here.

Redoubtable choice
But no new arrival in Europe from down under is going to receive a warmer welcome than Danehill’s son Redoute’s Choice, already a champion sire in Australia and about to serve his first season north of the line at the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval. This is a horse with the proven capacity to deliver top-class performers over a range of distances, and he can hardly have been given a more telling vote of confidence by the Aga, who has earmarked him as the prospective mate for 15 of his choicest broodmares.

The list is headed by the brilliant unbeaten Arc winner Zarkava and she is joined by four other Group 1 winners in Shareta (Yorkshire Oaks and Prix Vermeille), Sagawara (Prix Saint-Alary), Rosanara (Prix Marcel Boussac) and Daryakana (Hong Kong Vase). Among the others are Shalamantika and Vadaza, already dams of Group 1 winners.

No horse from the southern hemisphere has ever come north with more impressive credentials, and such conspicuously strong support from the world’s most successful private breeder can only encourage other European breeders, private and commercial, to get involved. The leading sire by average at each of the last eight Easter yearling sales, Redoute’s Choice is by far the most commercial horse ever to stand at one of the Aga Khan’s studs.

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