Mehmas retirement illustrates modern realities of Bloodstock industry
Last week news emerged that Al Shaqab Racing had sold 50% of the high-class two-year-old MEHMAS to Tally-Ho Stud and he would be retired to stud after his next start in the Middle Park Stakes, forgoing a three-year-old campaign next season.
The news was greeted with anguish by many racing fans, as it grates on many that a high-class two-year-old would be retired despite being physically and mentally sound.
While it isn’t unusual for colts to be retired to stud without having raced as a three-year-old due to injury, making a decision to retire a sound three-year-old to stud based on commercial reasons is a largely modern phenomenon.
Holy Roman Emperor was perhaps the first in 2007, for all that it was George Washington’s infertility that was the big factor in the decision to retire him.
A year later, Dark Angel was retired at the conclusion of his juvenile campaign to stand at Morristown Latin Stud and since then, the O’Callaghan family has bought a string of similarly-profiled two-year-olds to begin their stallion careers as three-year-olds such as Zebedee (Tally-Ho Stud), Approve (Morristown Latin), Sir Prancealot (Tally-Ho Stud) and Gutaifan (Morristown Latin).
Rathbarry Stud also got in on the act by retiring Lilbourne Lad to stud after his two-year-old season.
The traditional argument to justify such decisions was that the programme book made it very tough for three-year-old sprinters, particularly in the first half of the season.
However, that has been addressed in recent years with the introduction of a series of three-year-old sprints on both sides of the Irish Sea culminating in the Commonwealth Cup at Royal Ascot.
So, why is it still happening?
As is the case in so many situations in life, the answer comes down to money. The reality is that the commercial end of the bloodstock industry demands precocious speed and is willing to pay well for it.
While an outside observer wouldn’t have to be too pernickety to express concerns about sending a mare to a stallion that hasn’t proven themselves a three-year-old, the breeding industry has shown that having high-class two-year-old form is enough for most.
For example, in their first seasons alone, Dark Angel covered 120 mares at a fee of €10,000, Zebedee covered 154 at €5,000, Approve covered 118 at €5,000, Lilbourne Lad covered 123 at €7,500 and Sir Prancealot covered 139 at €6,000.
These are numbers that put them up amongst the best supported first-season sires of each of their years. It isn’t just the breeders that have shown an acceptance of horses with such profiles, as the progeny of all of those stallions were amongst the most in-demand of the first-season sires as both foals and yearlings.
The trend has continued and if anything grown this year, as despite being a far from high-profile two-year-old, Gutaifan was in incredibly high demand in his first season at Morristown Latin Stud, covering no less than 203 mares at a fee of €12,500.
At the end of the day, it comes down to risk and reward. If a stallion master feels that a two-year-old has done enough as a juvenile to attract the sort of business that the above sires did, retiring them after their two-year-old year can clearly seem more attractive than rolling the dice with them as a three-year-old, risking devaluing their value and reputation if they fail to add to their achievements.
Of course, for a high-class two-year-old to go on to win the Commonwealth Cup and compete against the top older sprinters as a three-year-old would lead to a significant increase in their value and reputation.
However, when one weighs up the two options in the cold light of day, it is no surprise that the likes of Mehmas are being retired as two-year-olds.
The remarkable success of Dark Angel has served to legitimise this practice and with Sir Prancealot making a strong start of his own with his first runners this season, it is unlikely to stop any time soon.
That said, while the commercial realities make it understandable, one does have to worry if such practice is in the best interests of the thoroughbred breed, particularly if it becomes even more common.
Ultimately, in a free market situation, the power is in the hands of the breeders. If they continue to be willing to embrace sires that haven’t raced beyond their juvenile campaign with such enthusiasm, the practice is likely to increase before it decreases.
Wi-Fi move a major positive for Irish Racing
Very welcome news emerged from Horse Racing Ireland last week with the announcement that significant investment will be made to make free wireless internet available to racegoers at all 26 Irish racecourses.
The project is likely to cost in the region of €2m, with HRI providing a maximum of €1m in grant aid and the racecourses funding the remainder, and it is hoped to be completed in 12-18 months.
In this day and age, access to the internet is a huge issue and it isn’t enough to rely on customers to use their own data to get online, especially at well-attended events during which data networks can become congested and inaccessible.
Modern customers want to be fully connected not just to keep abreast of all the developments as they happen, but also to use social media and share their experiences with their followers.
An example of just how important internet access is to the attendance of sporting events these days can be found in the recent case of American college sports.
In light of falling attendances, a number of stadiums introduced free Wi-Fi and found that their attendances immediately bounced back, prompting many stadiums to take the same action with similar results.
While this move requires significant investment from both HRI and the racecourses themselves, there is scope for them to get a quick return on their investments, as they have the option of making commercial agreements with bookmakers to make them the only bookmaker whose website can be accessed on the network. It will be interesting to see if Irish tracks go down this route.
Either way, it is excellent news for Irish racegoers and one that will enhance the racing experience.