A post-Cheltenham feature in the Racing Post commented that not one National Hunt stallion sired more than one Festival winner — and the last time a stallion did was 2002.
This year’s leading sire at Cheltenham — Oscar, a retired 24-year-old son of Sadlers Wells — still produced a good result with a winner, two seconds and two thirds. But it proves what we already know; identifying good progenitors is easy when it’s too late. Perhaps these offspring were the result of a middle-aged stallion coming to prominence and attracting a lot of mares.
The piece made me curious as to which stallions had sired more than one successful horse in our sporting disciplines. A quick(ish) reccy of the sires of the top 30 horses in British Dressage (BD), British Eventing (BE) and British Showjumping (BS) revealed that one stallion, the Oldenburg Rubin Royal, had sired three grand prix dressage horses while the jumping legend Balou Du Rouet appeared twice — once in showjumping and once in eventing. The remaining 85 jumping, eventing and dressage horses were sired by 85 different stallions. It made me think; just how many different stallions are now responsible for our competition horses?
I’m sure if we looked at the sires of the top 50 horses in each discipline we would find another 50 different stallions at least.
How many stallions are there now and what does this mean for sport and breeding? We already know the numbers of UK-based sport horse stallions has in the past three decades markedly increased, to which we can add hundreds of stallions from European studbooks. While on the one hand this means an almost infinite choice for the mare owner, on the other it has to make selecting the sire less straightforward. Does the final choice even matter that much anymore? Clearly there are many stallions capable of producing top horses. Or is it the person on top that produces the results and influences the sire rankings?
What’s a good mare?
It is not easy for the stallion owner, who now has to get his stallion noticed in an ever competitive market. Start them early and use good mares perhaps? While we know the influence of a good mare is important, it has to be that the good mare is becoming even more influential if we want to produce top sport horses.
But what is a good mare? One that can produce the goods in sport perhaps? Yet despite mares making up around 50% of the equine population, males are still the preferred gender. Using the same top 30-horse lists, dressage riders are the least likely to select a mare to compete — just three out 30 — while showjumpers are the most; 11 of the current top 30 showjumpers are mares.
It is no different in racing, and in a bid to encourage mare ownership, Cheltenham is running the first ever “all-mares jumps card” on the second day of its April meeting, offering a prize pool of £190,000.
While there is nothing like that sort of money in sport, perhaps the fact that Charlotte Dujardin is making headlines on mares might make dressage riders more inclined to look their way. However, why can’t the disciplines take a leaf out of Cheltenham’s book and run some high profile mare-only competitions, thus encouraging mare ownership and highlighting mares that should be used for breeding?
Perhaps then it might be the stallion owners selecting the mares for breeding instead of vice versa.
Ref Horse & Hound; 29 March 2018