Many in Europe are worried about the direction of commercial bloodstock breeding, where an ever-greater focus on fast-maturing stock puts the future of the staying horse at risk. And they are right to be concerned. They can cite Australia as a clear example of what happens if the quality of staying horses is neglected in favour of two-year-old and sprint racing.
Cup races dominated by horses bred overseas and ever stronger international raids on the big weight-for-age middle-distance contests. There are, however, fundamental differences to the dynamics of racing in Australia and elsewhere in the world.
And these key differences have brought huge benefits to Australian racing, which incidentally must be considered the healthiest and therefore the best economic model in the world.
There are many racing nations that would gladly have what Australia’s already got – great prize-money, racecourse attendance and racehorse ownership participation – even if it did come to some extent at the cost of protecting the diversity of the breed. After all, racing must first survive if there is to be a breed.
Owners at all levels
There is no doubt that the big owner-breeders in the northern hemisphere have done wonders for the thoroughbred in all its manifestations, particularly the staying horse.
But conversely, it is the absence of global superpower participation at European levels that gives Australian racing its unique status, where thousands of Australian owners have every opportunity to own top-class racehorses. Just look at the example of Winx, who was offered for sale at the Magic Millions Yearling Sale.
The democracy of Australian ownership also underpins the success of the yearling sales. Unlike Europe, where many of the very best racing prospects never come up for sale, most of Australia’s best do. Using the foal crops born in Australia from 2010 to 2015, 57% of all black-type winners were sold as yearlings.
"The higher up the class scale you go in Australia, the proportion of Stakes winners offered for sale as yearling climbs ever higher. " - John Boyce
That’s a remarkably high proportion, which climbs even higher to 68% if we include all Stakes winners offered for sale at some point before racing. Compare this to the 39% in North America in the same period or the 46% in Europe.
Moreover, the higher up the class scale you go in Australia, the proportion of Stakes winners offered for sale as yearling climbs ever higher.
Stakes winners for sale
Champion sire Snitzel is a good case in point: 64 (75%) of his 85 Stakes winners were sourced at a yearling sale. In fact, all his winners at the highest level – except Trapeze Artist – came from a yearling sale.
80% of the 108 Stakes winners by former Champion sire Fastnet Rock were sales graduates.
Even the great Redoute’s Choice, who could quite easily have been the preserve of the big owner-breeders had he stood his entire life in Europe, has built his considerable reputation through the sales ring – with 25 (74%) of his major winners coming from the yearling sales.
"It is the reverse in Europe. It seems the better the sire the more likely the major owner-breeders will be in control of most of his progeny." - John Boyce
But it is the reverse in Europe. It seems the better the sire the more likely the major owner-breeders will be in control of most of his progeny.
The outstanding Coolmore sire Galileo typifies this. From his northern hemisphere crops only 22 (31%) of his 70 G1 winners were purchased at auction as yearlings.
And the same is true of Darley’s brilliant sire Dubawi, with only 28% of his G1 winners sold at public auction. There is, of course, a huge dividend derived from the investment made by owner-breeders, not least that the quality of bloodlines is nurtured and maintained for the benefit of all.
This free access for all Australia’s owners – big and small – to the very best racing prospects is a key driver in the success of the Australian model. And Winx is its current poster girl. It also helps that she was a relatively modest $230,000 Magic Millions yearling.
Magic Millions Graduates (since 2011) rated 120+ by Timeform
|134||G1w||WINX||2011||F||Street Cry||Vegas Showgirl||$230,000|
|128||G1w||PIERRO||2009||C||Lonhro||Miss Right Note||$230,000|
|125||G1w||SHOOTING TO WIN||2011||C||Northern Meteor||Listen Here||$160,000|
|125||G1w||LUCKY HUSSLER||2009||G||Husson||Talaq Dancer||$100,000|
|124||G2wG1p||STAR TURN||2013||C||Star Witness||Golden Delicious||$400,000|
|123||G1w||STRATUM STAR||2011||C||Stratum||Purely Spectacular||$165,000|
|123||G1w||SUPER COOL||2009||G||Fastnet Rock||Queen Mother||$150,000|
|122||G1w||AWESOME ROCK||2011||C||Fastnet Rock||Awesome Planet||$575,000|
|122||G1w||ACE HIGH||2014||C||High Chaparral||Come Sunday||$130,000|
|122||G2w||RUBICK||2011||C||Encosta de Lago||Sliding Cube||$460,000|
|121||G2w||ILLUSTRIOUS LAD||2011||G||I Am Invincible||Industrious||$40,000|
|121||G2wG1p||EUROZONE||2010||C||Northern Meteor||Miss Vandal||$110,000|
|120||G1w||D'ARGENTO||2014||C||So You Think||Fullazz||$135,000|
|120||G2w||KISS AND MAKE UP||2013||C||More Than Ready||Fashions Afield||$150,000|
Given the long list of impressive winners in recent times at the Gold Coast, it’s no surprise that the sale is going from strength to strength.
Our list of Magic Million graduates since 2011 – those rated 120 or higher by Timeform – features some of the nation’s very best racehorses, including the best to come out of any yearling sale in the period. And the best news of all is that this select group of racehorses cost an average of just $192,500 and only one of the 26 more than $500,000.
As long as yearling sales continue to fulfil the role as the predominate source for top-class horses, the vitality and diversity of Australian racing looks assured.