The result of Saturday's St Leger was, from one point of view at least, pleasingly old-fashioned and a definite nod to the tradition and history without which this sport is nothing. The Thoroughbred is the best documented of all animal species; long before man started a system of official birth certification for his own kind, proof of pedigree was demanded for the running horses he created.
More than three centuries of records have provided charts, patterns, signposts and milestones as the racehorse has evolved. And sure, the modern Thoroughbred is a beast very different from those named in the first edition of the General Stud Book, in which the earliest foaling date mentioned is 1705. But the basic premise remains the same; the racecourse identifies superior runners, who - or whose relations - provide the seed-corn for the future.
And despite advances in knowledge in veterinary and genetic fields and the computer-driven ability to analyse pedigrees to a frighteningly anorakish degree, another premise remains as valid as the day it was coined, perhaps with a degree of cynicism. "Put the best to the best - and hope for the best," was the sage advice.
In the case of Sixties Icon, it worked and in the case of the St Leger, for the first time in 185 years. The colt is by a Derby winner, Galileo, out of an Oaks heroine, Love Divine, and the only previous occasion on which that formula had been successful in the oldest Classic was when Memnon, a son of Whisker and Manuella, scored in 1922.
The 230th St Leger also provided confirmation of another phenomenon that will appeal mightily to traditionalists. Galileo is sire not only of Sixties Icon, but also the two who followed him home, The Last Drop and Red Rocks. That, too, is a feat only once recorded in the Leger, when Reveller, Ranter and The Marshall, three sons of Comus, filled the frame in 1818.
Victory in the Derby once guaranteed the best opportunities for a stallion but it has been a long wait for an Epsom hero with serious sire cred to emerge. Sinndar, still at the start of his career, is promising, Nashwan had his moments and Shirley Heights was very good. But the last of the ilk to be champion sire was Mill Reef.
The American bloodstock revolution of the late Sixties, and the emphasis on speed at the expense of stamina that it eventually brought, was one catalyst in the eschewing of the longer end of the distance spectrum by commercial breeding operations. The St Leger has long been a no-no and even a mile and a half is no longer seen as the optimum distance over which a good horse should express his talents, but the extreme distance. It is now a sine qua non for a Derby winner to be as effective at 10 furlongs.
But it may be that the tide is turning. The wisest heads in the industry are perfectly aware, commercial dictates notwithstanding, that stamina in the genetic pool is a commodity eliminated at peril. The outstanding stallion of modern times, Sadler's Wells, has, after all, delivered it, as well as class.
The 14-times champion sire is now 25 and the search has been on at his Co Tipperary base, Coolmore Stud, for his heir. And like buses, two have appeared in quick succession. Montjeu took the plaudits last year with first crop three-year-olds which included Hurricane Run; now Galileo, too, looks the real deal. Ironically, both could have stayed the Leger trip on breeding, but of course were never given that kiss-of-death opportunity.
Galileo, a real scion of the Northern Dancer tribe, would take your eye out as a high-quality individual, with movement to match. Like his best son, the little bay is an example of best-to-the-best, being out of Arc winner Urban Sea. He has, of course, been afforded every opportunity to succeed in his second career; whereas Montjeu was relatively cheaply offered to start with, Galileo was the favourite son from the start.
But he still came with no guarantees, so all credit to him. His St Leger whitewash cannot be seen as a negative, for Sixties Icon won with his sire's electric change of pace, rather than merely slogging to the line. And Galileo also has Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Nightime and most promising juvenile Teofilo on his CV. It is early days but the baton may be in safe hands.
But Galileo has a long way to go to become a legend among sires. The search for future talent is currently being staged at the Keeneland yearling auction in Kentucky, where Sheikh Mohammed yesterday added a colt from the final crop of Danzig for $9.2m to his earlier $8.2m son of Storm Cat.
Nap: Hill Billy Rock
NB: High Command
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