Kayf Tara raises bar for British jump stallions

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The Independent Online

OK, who can name the best six of the 71 individual Group One winners sired by Sadler's Wells, and where they are now. The top three are probably easy: Montjeu, rated 137 by Timeform, is successfully ensconced alongside his wonderful sire at Coolmore. Ditto Galileo, third best with a mark of 134. In between them was Old Vic (136), currently top of the pile as a sire of jumpers in Co Kildare.

Then came Doyen (134), who is at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket, with his oldest offspring now yearlings, and Opera House (131), who has done well as a stallion in Japan.

All five shared at least one attribute; they were middle-distance horses of the highest order, with four King Georges, six Derbys and an Arc between them. So all credit to the next in the pecking order, Kayf Tara. For a stayer to achieve a rating of 130 in the modern era is a testament to his sheer quality.

The dual Gold Cup winner is alive and well and living in Gloucestershire, at Overbury Stud near Tewkesbury. And on Sunday at Naas, there occurred a significant milestone in his second career, when his first-crop son Velanmar became his first Graded winner, in the Slaney Hurdle at Naas.

Young stallions particularly jump stallions based in Britain need racecourse advertisements to maintain the quality and quantity of their mates. On both counts the domestic jump breeding industry faces a sisyphean task against its Irish counterpart. Last year, for instance, there were 6,836 foals born in Ireland designated for careers as hurdlers and chasers, compared with 1,585 in Britain. Last season Irish-bred horses won 143 Graded races, those with the (GB) suffix 22, and only three of those were by recognised specialist jump sires. Numbers turn possibility into probability.

And Kayf Tara is undoubtedly one of the brightest hopes for the future for British jump breeders. Simon Sweeting, owner of Overbury Stud, was more than relieved to see the photo-finish as Naas go Velanmar's way. "It was a huge result," he said. "Not only did it show our breeders that that we can do it in this country, and that they don't have to send their mares to Irish stallions. But we showed to those in Ireland what the horse can do."

And therein lies the bigger picture. The two industries are symbiotic; the factory floors and conveyor belts interdependent. Young horses criss-cross the Irish Sea at all ages to be traded and re-traded. "Ireland is the biggest market-place for Kayf Tara's stock," explained Sweeting, "I get calls from some of the biggest dealers there wanting me to point them at his likely colt-foals. They are very keen on him."

Which, of course, brings another set of pressures. Irish stallion masters would rob their blind grandmothers to get their hands on Kayf Tara. The 14-year-old has all the must-have attributes: he was classy, determined and competitive and he is like Old Vic and one of Coolmore's own brightest young jump sires, Oscar by the greatest patriarch.

In the recent past, the British industry has lost the likes of Alderbrook and Classic Cliche to Ireland and the spreadsheets produced by those with Kayf Tara on their hit-list might be persuasive. In Britain, he has been covering an average of 150 mares a year; in Ireland it could be nearly double that.

But happily, he is still owned by Sheikh Mohammed, one of whose favourites he was, and who does not have to take the money and run. "We have no desire to sell the horse," the Sheikh's manager, John Ferguson, said. "We're thrilled with the start he's making."

With the production line now up and running, there should be better to come. Kayf Tara, whose fee is 2,500 this year by comparison, Old Vic stands at 12,000 (8,400), the most expensive jump sire there has ever been has covered not only some high-quality British-based mares notably Dubacilla but also, significantly, increasing numbers from Ireland. A case, perhaps, of the mount-ain coming to Mohammed.