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Is the Guineas under siege?

7 min read
TDN AusNZ looks into the changing face of the Melbourne spring for 3YO colts, as the Coolmore Stud Stakes mounts a legitimate challenge to the Caulfield Guineas for the #1 spring stallion-making race.

The Caulfield Guineas' status as THE stallion-making race for 3-year-olds has come under threat from the emergence of the Golden Rose S. and the Coolmore Stud S. in the past decade.

The Coolmore Stud S. in particular - elevated to Group 1 status and moved to Victoria Derby day 11 years ago - is the race which has thrown down the gauntlet to the Guineas when it comes to shaping the next generation of stars at stud.

With winners on the honour roll such as Northern Meteor, Star Witness, Zoustar and Brazen Beau, it has fed an industry enamoured with speed and precocity.

The Caulfield Guineas' honour role in the past decade is nothing to shirk at either with Starspangledbanner, All Too Hard and now Shooting To Win, Press Statement and Divine Prophet all going on to careers at the major studs.

"Maybe it's our obsessions with two-year-olds and speed but I think Guineas across the board have probably slipped in their pecking order." - Bloodstock agent, Sheamus Mills

But leading bloodstock agent Sheamus Mills admits that things have changed and the respect with which any Guineas, not just Caulfield, are held on a pedigree page or in a sales booklet has diminished.

"I do think that the Guineas, no matter if you are talking Caulfield, Australian or Randwick Guineas have gone off the boil a bit. Maybe it's our obsessions with two-year-olds and speed but I think Guineas across the board have probably slipped in their pecking order," Mills said.

Press Statement, now standing at Vinery, winning the 2015 Caulfield Guineas

"The Golden Rose and Coolmore have climbed the ranks and I think all 3-year-old Guineas have suffered a lot as a result."

Having won both races in that period and having stood stallions which have made their names in both the Caulfield Guineas and the Coolmore Stud, Darley is in a unique position to assess the trend.

Darley's Head of Sales, Alastair Pulford, admits that there are so many more options for 3-year-old colts through the spring compared to ten years ago.

"While the Guineas is still extremely important, there are other options now. With 2-year-olds, it's all about the Golden Slipper, for 3-year-old's there is a bit of a choice," he said.

"While the Guineas is still extremely important, there are other options now. With 2-year-olds, it's all about the Golden Slipper, for 3-year-old's there is a bit of a choice." - Darley's Alastair Pulford

The last decade of Coolmore Stud Stakes & Caulfield Guineas winners

Guineas boasts quality

Peter Orton, Vinery Stud's General Manager, backs the quality of the Caulfield Guineas when it comes to the depth of the field, but recognises the change industry wide.

"The Guineas remains a high-quality Classic race which everyone aims their horses towards," he said.

"Quite a few horses that are good stallions have come out of the race and they are genuine sprinter milers. I think they have won other good races and they have won the Caulfield Guineas. The telling fact is it attracts the best horses."

Vinery currently stands Caulfield Guineas winners All Too Hard and Press Statement.

Caulfield Guineas winner, All Too Hard now stands at Vinery

Orton's perspective is that a Guineas win, combined with strong performances in other key races, give a strong indication of the characteristics of a potential stallion.

"The good horses that have been great sprinters leading up to a mile are your best-balanced horses," he said.

"Sometimes you need to be a bit cautious of the horses that are just pure sprinters. They have to have a bit of depth to them. Sprinting can produce volatile results, you don’t necessarily get consistent horses winning the big races."

"A horse who wins good races and then wins a Guineas, it is an ideal way of getting that balance as a sprinter miler."

"The good horses that have been great sprinters leading up to a mile are your best-balanced horses." - Vinery's Peter Orton

Compare the pair

Pulford is in the position where he can directly compare a Guineas winner and a Coolmore Stud S. winner from the same year.

Darley stands 2014 Caulfield Guineas victor Shooting To Win as well as Brazen Beau, who won the 2014 Coolmore Stud S. Both stallions have their first progeny hitting the track this year.

"Shooting To Win has been tremendously popular all his first three seasons at stud. Certainly, the Caulfield Guineas was the reason we went after Shooting To Win, that was his principal win and it was his telling moment," Pulford said.

Caulfield Guineas winner, Shooting To Win has been tremendously popular his first three seasons at stud

"If anyone had to value them at the end of that spring, Shooting To Win would have been higher. Brazen Beau came back in the autumn and won a Newmarket H. against older horses and that raised his value significantly and meant that he retired at a marginally higher fee than Shooting To Win."

"Both proved equally popular in their first years at stud. Wherever they'd stood they would have had outstanding books."

When it came to the yearling sales earlier this year, Brazen Beau's 52 lots averaged over $155,000 while Shooting To Win had 68 at an average of $113,000.

Of course, it is on the track where the true value of their progeny will be measured.

Pulford also points out that in a market with so many sprinters, including Snitzel, I Am Invincible and now their sons, having some versatility can represent an opportunity.

"We are hoping for Shooting to Win to be similar to (2001 Guineas winner) Lonhro. He's got a lot of speed in his pedigree. He'll get the 1200m horses that are so popular, but there is so much competition in that space now, with horses like I am Invincible and Snitzel you just want to open up your options a little further," he said.

"Both proved equally popular in their first years at stud. Wherever they'd stood they would have had outstanding books." - Alastair Pulford on Brazen Beau and Shooting To Win

"A Guineas winner will provide that. Redoute's Choice is another prime example. Not just one dimensional."

Those two stallions, Redoute's Choice and Lonhro, are the poster boys for the Caulfield Guineas' stallion-making properties.

Who should take on the Guineas?

Mills believes that the horses who are the dominant colts of their generation, like The Autumn Sun (Redoute's Choice) this year, are still best served going via a Caulfield Guineas path.

"In the years whereby they can be dominant through their preparation and win the lot, I don’t think the Guineas would take the lustre off what it has also done at the shorter trip," he said.

The Autumn Sun winning the 2018 Golden Rose

Orton agrees that the Caulfield Guineas is still a superior test of a horse's qualities as a potential stallion.

"We have to be a little bit careful we don’t run our business too narrow, with just pure sprinters. It is the commercial side of our business that drives it to a fair degree, but we are the best producers of sprinter-milers in the world and that's what we should concentrate on," he said.

"The sooner you do it in your career and over the shortest distance possible, the reality is that's where the breeders are sending their mares." - Sheamus Mills

"We've enough depth of pedigree now that we've got horses that can run well at a mile and be a good sprinter and be a good mile-and-a-quarter horse. We need to get a bit of variety and not just be focussed on a quick short-term fix."

However, dealing with potential buyers and sellers every day, Mills is not confident that the trend towards quick, fast-maturing horses will change any time soon.

"The market here rewards precocity. They are talking about races like the Breeders' Plate being stallion-making races now. It's a Group 3 and it’s the first 2-year-old race of the year and they are talking about it being a stallion-making race, which goes to show how the market is trending," he said.

"The sooner you do it in your career and over the shortest distance possible, the reality is that's where the breeders are sending their mares."