Colour prejudice has no place in racing, thank goodness. Whether a horse is bay, brown, black, chestnut or grey – or, in the case of a runner at Newton Abbot yesterday, skewbald – has no effect on its ability as an athlete. Honeypot Splenda's dramatic chestnut-and-white patched coat may have turned heads in Devon, but her performance, pulled up when tailed off before the third-last flight in the opening novices' hurdle, did not.
The three-year-old filly's appearance represented a triumph of hope over experience for her breeder Sue Kennedy, who has been trying to produce a skewbald with enough quality to pass as a racehorse for some years. Her previous effort, Honeypot Shyenne, was also pulled up, at Towcester eight years ago on her only public appearance.
The non-thoroughbred pair share their sire, Stetsen, from whom they inherit their markings and, for all his qualities as a begetter of smart everyday riding horses, their lack of talent at the sharp end of the more testing discipline of the racecourse. Honeypot Splenda is out of a thoroughbred mare, Balfour Lady, a plating-class performer who was runner-up twice in minor hurdles contests before being sold for peanuts at auction. Worse than her have produced winners, but she probably needs more help than an unraced 15/16ths-bred can give her.
Novelty acts apart, coat colour has produced a statistical anomaly at the top level this season. Of the 37 Group One races run in Europe so far, six have been taken by greys. The elite events have been contested by 439 runners, of which 38 have been grey, meaning their 8.6 per cent representation has yielded 16.2 per cent of victories.
Natagora, in the 1,000 Guineas, started the dash of the white chargers, followed by Sageburg (Prix d'Ispahan), Halfway To Heaven (Irish 1,000), Nahoodh (Falmouth Stakes), Marchand d'Or (July Cup) and Montmartre (Grand Prix de Paris). The reason for their success is not their smoky jackets, but their superior genetic endowment. It just so happens that France's best stallion Linamix, broodmare sire of Natagora, Sageburg and Montmartre and of Nahoodh's sire Clodovil, is a grey who produces only grey offspring, rather than the usual 50-50 spread.
The Arc favourite Montmartre's sire Montjeu is, like his own sire Sadler's Wells, a bay whose makeup allows him only to pass on bayness. He cannot sire a chestnut but if one of his grey mates passes on her greyness to their offspring, that legacy will be expressed and in Montmartre's case his grey dam Artistique did. Of her previous three foals, Art American (by the bay Quiet American) was grey, Artiste Of World (by the chestnut Spinning World) was bay and Artistica (by the bay Spectrum) was chestnut. All of which can be explained by that logical, if sometimes unpredictable, science, genetics.
Yesterday at Tipperary another grey colt by Montjeu laid down an early marker, as far as the bookmakers were concerned, for the top middle-distance prizes of 2009. Hail Caesar, who holds the top two-year-old entries that would be expected of a well-regarded Ballydoyle inmate, produced a most taking debut performance to win a seven-furlong maiden, a course and distance also chosen by Aidan O'Brien to introduce one Dylan Thomas three years ago.
Hail Caesar, who overcame in-running greenness to beat the more experienced odds-on shot Miss Puss a decisive three-quarters of a length, was introduced into next year's Derby betting at 25-1 and the St Patrick's day-foaled youngster certainly has the pedigree for the job. His family is one noted for both excellence and greyness, though not always combined; his grey dam Alabastrine is a half-sister to Last Second, Alleluia, Alouette (dam of Alborada) and Jude (dam of Quarter Moon and Yesterday).
Hail Caesar initiated a treble for Johnny Murtagh, completed by handicapper Pyrenees and smart filly Psalm, undisgraced in Group One company this term and who finally lost her best-maiden-in-training tag.
On the same mixed card Eric McNamara's Larkwing, gelded since disappointing in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, took the first graded contest of the jump season with a clear-cut win in the Grimes Hurdle under Barry Geraghty.Reuse content