Shuttlers vs. Colonials

8 min read
For much of the current century, locally bred stallions have been dominating sire premiership tables, however a number of new imports are mounting a challenge for breeder preferences in Australia. John Berry takes a look at the history of shuttling stallions to Australia and their subsequent impacts on the breeding landscape.

In ‘the old days’ (ie the pre-shuttle era when it was an either/or as regards which hemisphere a stallion would inhabit) the pendulum of the Australasian sires’ barometer used to swing between the ‘imported’ and the ‘colonial’ sires.

Nowadays it generally swings between the locally-bred stallions and the shuttlers. For much of the current century, the locally-bred sires have been holding sway, but the trans-equatorial travellers will be launching a spirited challenge for breeders’ patronage during the 2019 breeding season when, remarkably, the reigning Horse of the Year in both the USA and Europe will be among the stars of the antipodean stallion ranks.

Northern Hemisphere stars

The addition of Justify (USA) (Scat Daddy {USA}) to the Coolmore roster in New South Wales was relatively easy to predict, bearing in mind that the other Triple Crown winner in the Ashford Stud stallions’ barn in Kentucky, ie American Pharoah (USA) (Pioneerof The Nile {USA}), has also been sent on the shuttling route.

The announcement, though, that Europe’s Cartier Horse of the Year Roaring Lion (USA) (Kitten’s Joy {USA}) will head to Cambridge Stud in New Zealand is a wonderful boon which represents a terrific coup for the great nursery, which had previously secured the southern hemisphere breeding rights to the 2016 Cartier Horse of the Year Almanzor (Fr) (Wootton Bassett {GB}}.

Roaring Lion will be joining the roster at Cambridge Stud for the 2019 Season

As Europe in general (and Great Britain in particular) was the cradle of the thoroughbred, it was only natural that in the early days the racing nations of the ‘new world’ would look to Europe for their breeding stock. Gradually, though, the best sons of the imported stallions began to make their mark.

Imports making their mark

Valais (GB) (Cicero {GB}), who had finished fourth in the 1916 Derby, provided a classic example. Imported from England to the Hunter Valley, he was Australia’s champion sire five years running in the 1920s, largely thanks to his top-class sons Heroic and Manfred, two champions who won 21 races between them and who both won both the AJC Derby and the Cox Plate. Both became very good stallions, particularly the former who set a new benchmark for the eminence that a colonial-bred stallion could achieve by winning seven consecutive General Sires’ Premierships in 1930s from his base at Tarwyn Park in New South Wales.

A similar pattern followed once the 1933 Derby winner Hyperion (GB) (Gainsborough {GB}) had shown himself to be as outstanding a stallion as he had been a racehorse. With the racing programme in Britain having been severely curtailed, many sons of Hyperion were dispatched around the world during the Second World War including Helios (GB), who became Australian’s champion sire in 1949.

"With the racing programme in Britain having been severely curtailed, many sons of Hyperion were dispatched around the world during the Second World War." - John Berry

Even better was to follow when several sons of the Hyperion stallion Stardust (GB) were exported to the antipodes. Smokey Eyes (Ire) became an outstanding stallion in Queensland after having started out in Victoria, and Stunning (GB) sired some top-class horses in New Zealand; but the pick of them proved to be Star Kingdom (Ire) whom Stanley Wootton sent out from England to stand at Baramul Stud (NSW) and who went on to do arguably more to bolster the ranks of the colonial-bred sires than any other horse in history.

Star Kingdom himself headed the General Sires’ Premiership in five of the seven seasons from 1958/’59 to 1964/’65. He was also leading sire of two-year-olds seven times and champion broodmare sire three times. He established a sire-line of outstanding Aus-bred stallions. Two of these (both sons of Hyperion’s brilliant sprinting son Biscay) topped the General Sires’ Premiership: Bletchingly and Marscay. Biscay himself was twice leading sire of two-year-olds, as was another brilliantly fast son of Hyperion, the wide-margin 1957 Golden Slipper S. winner Todman. Todman was also twice champion broodmare sire, a title which another son of Star Kingdom, Kaoru Star, won in 1989/’90.

Todman winning the 1957 Golden Slipper

The Star Kingdom line continued to dominate into the ‘90s, with Widden-based Marscay winning the General Sires’ Premiership in both 1990/’91 and 1992/’92. The situation may well have persisted indefinitely despite the fact that the habit of shuttling good stallions from the northern hemisphere had begun gaining popularity through the ‘80s, but for the fact that Danehill (USA) (Danzig {USA}) arrived at Arrowfield in 1990 for the first of his many southern hemisphere seasons. Danehill couldn’t quite match Star Kingdom’s feat of siring five consecutive Golden Slipper winners, but he came up with the Slipper winner in each of his first three crops and secured the first of his nine General Sires’ Premierships when his oldest runners were aged only three.

The influence of Danehill

During the subsequent years, Danehill did exactly what Star Kingdom (and Valais before him) had done. Initially he emphasised the merit of importing stallions (which in Danehill’s era meant the merit of shuttlers) but subsequently he hugely reinforced the ranks of the locally-bred horses, to the extent that during the current century local horses have firmly held the upper hand. To date, nine individual horses (excluding Danehill) have won Australia’s General Sires’ Premiership since Danehill landed his first title in 1994/’95.

The great Danehill

Five of these have been Aus-bred horses from the Danehill sire-line: Redoute’s Choice, Flying Spur, Fastnet Rock, Exceed And Excel and Snitzel. (The first four named are sons of Danehill; the last is a grandson). Additionally the title has been won by Zabeel (NZ) (Sir Tristram {USA}) and Zabeel’s grandson Lonhro (Octagonal {NZ}) and also by Encosta De Lago, a son of the shuttler Fairy King (USA) (Northern Dancer {Can}). Only one of the nine, the 2015/’16 champion sire Street Cry (Ire) (Machiavellian {USA}), has come from the northern hemisphere.

"To date, nine individual horses (excluding Danehill) have won Australia’s General Sires’ Premiership since Danehill landed his first title in 1994/’95." - John Berry

Understandably, given the collective strength of the locally-bred stallions, studs in Australia and New Zealand are nowadays far less quick to test the waters with imported horses than was the case, say, twenty years ago. Nowadays shuttlers need to have a special selling point to justify their being tried on the market. Few selling points for a young stallion are more special than having been a Horse of the Year, hence the arrivals of American Pharoah and Justify, of Almanzor and Roaring Lion.

Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah

Other notable horses to have embarked on a shuttling career in recent years have also had particular points of appeal to launch their careers. Notwithstanding that his own shuttling career failed to hit the heights which he has scaled north of the equator, Galileo (Ire) (Sadler’s Wells {USA}) still inspires universal respect. Consequently, his Dewhurst- and 2,000 Guineas-winning son Churchill (Ire) was a very interesting horse for Coolmore to bring to Australia bearing in mind that he comes from a brilliantly fast family, a fact which will surely help his chances of siring horses suited by the Australian racing programme.

Similarly, Deep Impact (Jpn) (Sunday Silence {USA}) carries such kudos nowadays (over and above the fact that the few sons of Sunday Silence to stand in Australia generally did very well from very limited opportunities) that it is understandable that a few of his sons have been recruited by local studs.

Arrowfield’s French shuttler Shalaa (Ire) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}) was a Group One-winning two-year-old over 1200m in both France and England, and was ranked the champion juvenile of both countries in 2015. He gives Australian breeders further access to the Invincible Spirit line which has only come to the fore subsequent to Invincible Spirit ceasing to shuttle and which is currently represented by the horse in second place in the General Sires’ Table, I Am Invincible. It is worth noting that another young Invincible Spirit shuttler Cable Bay (Ire), who commutes between Highclere Stud (GB) and Woodside Park Stud (Vic), recently sired his first winner when Electric Ladyland (Ire) scored at Lingfield in England on Monday.

The next few years are going to be very interesting as we see whether the upper reaches of the sires’ tables will still be dominated by locally-bred horses. Such is the strength of the local stock that there is a strong chance that they will be, but it won’t be for the want of trying by the shuttlers, who collectively represent a very appealing bunch at present.