Aintree Preview

The main talking point from the Cheltenham Festival was the dominance of Irish trainers, and for breeders, horses bred in the Emerald Isle.

It is part of a wider trend that has been developing, and if we look ahead to the Aintree meeting and the country of origin of Grand National winners over the last 20 years, it provides further evidence of changes in the NH breeding base.

If we take a look at the winners since 1998 (it wasn’t until 1988 that foals started to be identified with either a GB or an Ire suffix), 14 winners were bred in Ireland, three winners were bred in Britain (Earth Summit, Red Marauder and Rule The World) and three have come from France – Mon Mome, Neptune Collognes and Pineau De Re.

While this is obviously a very light overview – placed horses or number of runners from each country and subsequent percentage results have not been considered – it does give an overall indication of trends.

Just a little ahead of our period of analysis in 1991 and 1997 the race was won by horses bred in New Zealand – Seagram and Lord Gyllene.

The first victory was a great win for the annual “coincidence backers” – the victory coming in the last year of race’s sponsorship by the company of the same name.

Seagram was imported by his trainer David Barons, who sourced a number of NH horses from the southern hemisphere through the 1980s. It was a buying decision that also yielded him the lovely, white-faced Playschool, winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Coral Welsh National and the Irish Gold Cup.

After retirement Barons immigrated to New Zealand in 2001 and he died this February aged 81; Seagram’s owner Sir Eric Parker of Crimbourne Stud and one-time president of the Racehorse Owners’ Association, died in 2014, also aged 81.

While Parker has found immortality in the record books through his ownership of the National winner, perhaps his lasting legacy will come on the Flat. He bred the Prix du Moulin and the Prix de la Foret winner Indian Lodge, but it is as breeder of the promising and developing sire Havana Gold, which could leave him with a lasting legacy.

Parker failed to sell the son of Teolfilo as a foal, but found more success with him at the Tattersalls October Book 1 Sale in 2011 when Amanda Skiffington bought him for 80,000gns.

He won his first four starts as a two-year-old for owner Carmichael Humber and was successful at Haydock in the Listed Ascendant Stakes for ownership entity Qatar Racing Limited & CSH (Havana Gold).

As a three-year-old after some strong placed efforts in early-season Group 1s, including in the Poule d’Essai des Poulains and the Irish 2000 Guineas, Havana Gold got his reward at Group 1 level in the Prix Jean Prat.

Retired to stand at Tweenhills Stud, last year Havana Gold made a very strong start with his first batch of two-year-olds – Havana Grey flew the flag for his sire achieving a Molecomb Stakes (G3) victory and seconds in the Prix Morny (G1) and the Flying Childers Stakes (G2). His efforts have been backed up by Headway, who achieved group race placings at two, and who on his seasonal debut this spring won the Listed Spring Cup at Lingfield. He is a 20-1 chance for the 2,000 Guineas.

A young sire on the Irish point-to-point scene making an early impression with his first few four-year-old runners is Aizavoski, who stands at Arctic Tack Stud in County Wexford.

The son of Monsun has an impressive strike-rate to date as he has sired two winners from three runners – the Belharbour winner Envious Editor and Brewers Project who won at Ballyarthur.

As a racehorse Aizavoski achieved eight Listed victories in France (twice on major tracks but mainly at the provincial courses) and picked up a couple of Group 2 placings. He was owned and bred by the Wildensteins, is a son of Monsun and is from their family of Arcangues and Cape Verdi.

He has always stood at Arctic Tack, his fee mainly listed as private.

Coolmore’s late stallion Fame And Glory is also sire of two Irish pointing winners – Deja Vue and Commander Of Fleet – as well as two promising placed horses, including Kiltealy Briggs who is entered in the GoffsUK Aintree Sale.

He has also produced two bumper winners so far: the Noel Meade-trained Young Ted and the Stuart Crawford-trained Largy Glory.

Sans Frontieres, who stands at Beeches Stud, produced his first winner when Treasure Dillon took the four-year-old maiden at Durrow point-to-point.

This season’s GB and Irish NH sires’ list is currently headed by Flemensfirth who is out to win his first NH sires’ title.

He has finished in the top ten leading NH sires since the 2007-08 season and in the top four six times. He was a little down the field last year in sixth, and failed to get a Cheltenham Festival winner this year, but he has enjoyed a strong season numerically courtesy of 157 winners (at the time of writing), the most of any NH sire. Further, of those stallions with large numbers of track performances (over 900 runs in the season), he boasts the strongest wins to runs returns at 15 per cent.

His leading performer Waiting Patiently is being trained – as his name suggests – with the long game in mind – he did not run at Cheltenham and does not have entries at Aintree.

Milan, sire of last year’s Grand National winner, continues to be a consistent stallion and is currently in fourth placing (the same position as he finished in 2016-17) and this year (again at the time of writing!) is achieving that without the bonus of a National winner.

The 17-year-old Yeats in 12th place is just beginning to gain traction and get a foothold in the top echelons of the sires’ list. His first Cheltenham Festival winner Shattered Love have helped his results.

Scorpion is tracking his stud companion on the prize-money table, and although his Gold Cup runner-up Might Bite has put over £200,000 into his prize-money pot this season, the son of Montjeu can boast of seven performers rated 140 or more.

However, the result of the £1 million Grand National could change placings as a number of top ten sires have fancied runners in the showcase event.

The 24-year-old Kayf Tara (currently in 7th) is due to be represented by the 10-1 chance Blaklion, Total Recall, another 10-1 chance, is a son of Westerner (8th), Seeyouatmidnight (16-1) is by Midnight Legend (10th), The Last Samurai (16-1) is due to run for Flemensfirth, Regal Encore (25-1) is a son of King’s Theatre (2nd), while Gold Present (20-1) and Pleasant Company (25-1) are by Presenting (3rd).

From a bloodstock perspective it is not ideal that such an unusual race as the Grand National should have such an influence on the sires’ table, which is generally viewed from a prize-money perspective.

Maybe in this era of a big-money Nationals set-up to appeal to the public, an alternative statistical mechanism should be established as the mainstream method for judging stallion performances?

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