Group 1 racing returns to the calendar this Saturday with the running of the Winx Stakes (1400 metres) at Randwick.
The retirement of a number of Group 1 winners over the last few weeks has left a gaping hole in Australia’s top class ranks – or has it?
With the spring around the corner, the retirement of the likes of Black Caviar, Pierro, All Too Hard, Ocean Park and More Joyous is a monumental loss for racing fans. This is indisputable.
But is the dearth of top class gallopers as bad as has been suggested?
Over the last few weeks, I have compiled a list of Group 1 winners in Australia over the last five years, since the start of the 2008/2009 season.
Over the last five seasons, there have been 340 Group 1 races in Australia – 67 in 2008/2009, 69 this season (2012/2013) and 68 the other three seasons.
There have been 209 Group 1 winners during this time, including a number who have won multiple features. Mares Black Caviar (14 Group 1 wins in Australia), More Joyous (8) and Typhoon Tracy (6) head the list.
This is far from a definitive list, and there are likely to be errors.
For example, while Albert The Fat is no longer trained by Chris Waller, he may still race on as he is currently spelling in Victoria. For the purposes of this list, though, I’ve listed him as retired as he currently is not consigned to any trainer.
Similarly, a horse like Wall Street – who raced a mere three weeks ago – is no longer with Mike Moroney. Whether this means he is retired or heading to another stable, time will tell.
Also, there are other horses who are listed as still in training that may not be seen on a racetrack again. Once again, we go to Chris Waller – Metal Bender and My Kingdom of Fife are still listed as in training, although they haven’t raced in 64 weeks and 91 weeks respectively.
Who knows, though? Both could be Cox Plate-bound if they stand up to training.
The same goes for dual Stradbroke Handicap winner Black Piranha, who is still listed as in training with Con Karakatsanis – despite the fact Karakatsanis is currently serving a stint on the sidelines due to the Howmuchdoyouloveme affair.
However, this article serves to give readers some idea as to the current whereabouts, and indeed the racing status, of notable recent Group 1 winners, with one eye on those who may be expected to star in the spring.
What is notable, albeit expected, is the number of Group 1 winners now at stud. Given a Group 1 win makes a horse vastly more valuable from a breeding perspective, this is hardly surprising.
There are 41 stallions who won a Group 1 race in the last five years who are now at stud, with a number – the likes of All Too Hard, Pierro, Ocean Park, Americain, Reliable Man and Your Song – preparing for their first season in the breeding barn.
While most of these stallions now stand in Australasia, perhaps shuttling overseas during the northern hemisphere’s breeding season, a couple are permanently stationed elsewhere.
The most notable is former Godolphin galloper All The Good, who won the Caulfield Cup in 2008 at what was his final start.
Since 2010, he has stood at Cokay Stud near Istanbul in Turkey, with his first two year olds hitting the track this year.
Turkey has been attempting to expand its bloodstock industry in recent years, with stallions like Dehere and Lion Heart now based in the country.
Another jurisdiction with a growing presence is China, the home of Spring Champion Stakes winner Sousa, who stands at Darley’s Lisui Farm in Beijing.
Darley has the most Group 1 winners of the last five years at their various farms. In addition to Sousa, there are another five Group 1 winners at their studs – Benfica, Denman and Sepoy stand at Kelvinside Stud in the Hunter Valley in NSW, while Helmet and Skilled are at Northwood Park in Victoria.
However, it is Darley’s arch rivals Coolmore who have the two most decorated stallions of the last five years in Pierro and So You Think. Both won five Australian Group 1s each, although So You Think also won five Group 1s in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
One of the 41 stallions is still racing, but retires after one final racetrack appearance this weekend. That galloper is two time Kingston Town Classic winner Playing God, who runs in this Saturday’s Group 3 Strickland Stakes (2000m) at Belmont in Perth.
As for the mares, 43 Group 1 winners are now at stud. Of these, 18 already have at least one foal on the ground, while 15 are due to have their first foal in the next few months.
Not all are in Australia, either.
Japan’s dominant breeder Katsumi Yoshida purchased four Group 1 winners – Mosheen, Absolutely, Southern Speed and Shamrocker – with all four now in Japan. They have been joined by Kiwi Group 1 winner and Australian Group 1 placegetter King’s Rose.
Mosheen was served by Japanese champion Deep Impact about a month ago, while it was said the others may visit Deep Impact. But Yoshida has a number of stallions to choose from, including the likes of Harbinger, Workforce, Victorie Pisa, Heart’s Cry, Zenno Rob Roy, Agnes World and Falbrav.
Coolmore have been building up their Australian broodmare stocks, with recent purchases Nechita and Sea Siren – both who still have racing ahead of them in Europe – heading to Ireland to join Melito, who has already produced one foal in Australia.
Of those still in Australia, Bel Mer and Tuesday Joy are at the head of the pack, having produced three foals already.
A number of high profile mares are set to be served for the first time, none more prominent than Black Caviar.
The lucky stallion to serve her is set to be announced in the next couple of weeks.
Other high profile mares to go to stud for the first time this season include More Joyous, set to visit Frankel, as well as Secret Admirer, Ortensia, Lights of Heaven and Pear Tart.
Perhaps the most intriguing of all mares at stud is Forensics, the 2007 Golden Slipper winner who makes this list courtesy of her 2008 Myer Classic victory.
She was shipped to the United Kingdom with the intention of trying to gain European black type, but plans were scuttled and there has been no word about her since.
At the time, Darley Australia’s managing director Henry Plumptre said “she will be retired and be sent to stud in England or the United States” if plans didn’t work out.
If she did go to the breeding barn as expected in the first months of 2011, her first foal would be a yearling now, so it will be worth keeping an eye on the northern hemisphere next year for a two year old out of Forensics.
While it is easy to focus on those now at stud, the geldings should not be forgotten.
There are 40 Group 1-winning geldings who have now been retired, headed by Theseo (5 Group 1 wins), Danleigh (4), Scenic Shot (3) and Niconero (3).
They are also joined by the likes of Takeover Target (2) and Weekend Hussler (1), who won limited Group 1 races in this timeframe but won a number before this list was compiled.
It is tougher to find out where geldings are, although services like the Living Legends farm in Melbourne make it easier to track some of the grand horses of the turf.
From this list, Apache Cat, Efficient, Zavite and Zipping are currently at Living Legends.
Sadly, at least 14 Group 1 winners of the last five years have met an untimely fate, with their deaths a matter of public record.
The most notable is Typhoon Tracy, a winner of six Group 1 races who died after giving birth to her first foal – a colt by Street Cry – last year.
Others of note included Caulfield and Melbourne Cup winner Viewed, who died after suffering complications from a twisted bowel; Cox Plate winner Pinker Pinker, who had an anaphylactic reaction to a routine injection; Golden Slipper winner Crystal Lily, who suffered a heart attack on the training track, and Sydney’s darling Hot Danish, who was put down after failing to recover from a leg infection.
Three time Group 1 winner Whobegotyou died suddenly last September, with no explanation as to his death.
Rangirangdoo, Lion Tamer and The Verminator were euthanised after incidents on the racetrack, while others to have died include BMW winner Cedarberg, Kingston Town Classic winner Gilded Venom, Sydney Cup winner Jessicabeel and T J Smith Plate (now J J Atkins) winner Pressday.
And so, we are left with those still racing, those who we hope will be the headline horses of the spring.
Six Group 1 winners still racing will not race in Australia again – Dunaden, Kidnapped, Mawingo, Mental, Nechita and Sea Siren.
So of the 209 Group 1 winners we started with, we are left with 75 still racing, with many expected to be in the thick of things come the end of October and start of November.
Not all fit into that bracket – Fiumicino, who runs in this weekend’s Listed Winter Cup (2400m) at Rosehill, is one Group 1 winner not expected to be among the bigger races in the spring.
Another is Phelan Ready, who still hasn’t managed a win since his second career victory and only Group 1 success in the 2009 Golden Slipper. He runs in this weekend’s Listed Glasshouse Handicap (1400m) at the Sunshine Coast, but has looked past his best for quite some time.
And Stand To Gain, a longshot winner of the Sydney Cup two years ago, won his first race since at Sandown last week – a victory in a benchmark hurdle, only one start after he finished 21 lengths from the winner in a Ballarat BM 78 over 3000m.
Definitely not Group 1 form!
Others unlikely to match-up to Group 1 form these days include the final winner of the Western Australia Derby while still at Group 1 level in Dreamaway, one time South Australia Derby winner Shadows In The Sun, stud disappointment Shellscrape and even last year’s winner Fat Al.
And while history is on his side, it seems a stretch to suggest SA Derby winner Escado will measure up to Group 1 standard, given this year’s edition of the race was a glorified benchmark handicap.
Nineteen of the 75 Group 1 winners still racing have won more than one race at the highest level. These include Shoot Out (5), Metal Bender (4), It’s A Dundeel (4), Appearance (3), Hay List (3), Manighar (3) and Yosei (3).
Also among that group is the injury-prone Atlantic Jewel, sure to win more if she returns in top form, as well as last year’s Melbourne Cup winner Green Moon and top three year olds Epaulette, Fiveandahalfstar and Norzita.
Darley’s Guelph is the only multiple Group 1 winner of the current two year old crop, having won the ATC Sires Produce Stakes and the Champagne Stakes.
Of those, It’s A Dundeel immediately sticks out as the winner of four Group 1 races despite a limited record. If he has improved at all during the winter, don’t be surprised if he dominates all before him this spring.
If the strength of this year’s three year old crop is to be believed – and you would struggle to find someone who thinks they were weak – then perhaps hopes may rest with other lightly raced Group 1 winners like Royal Descent, Hawkspur, Gondokoro and Super Cool.
At the moment they are perched on a perilous precipice – will they progress to become a star, or like so many before them, will they be a one hit (or one race) wonder?
Perhaps one or two of them has the ability to make the step from Group 1 winner to superstar. Super Cool, in particular, looks to have a great deal of untapped ability, and recent three year olds who have won the Australian Cup have progressed come the spring.
There are 27 Group 1 races from late August until early November, beginning with two races recently elevated to Group 1 status in the Memsie Stakes and Makybe Diva Stakes.
Given the list of Group 1 winners around to contest these spring features, don’t be surprised to see a number of new additions to the Group 1 honour roll in the coming months.
We need to hope horses find form or that new stars are born. Otherwise, from a form perspective, it could be a mediocre spring ahead.