Costly quest for next Frankel the ultimate speculative punt
Stallion’s services cost €150,000 and are likely to generate €18m per season
Tom Queally on multiple Group One winner Midday who has given birth to a foal sired by former superstar stablemate Frankel. Photograph: Chris Ison/PA
The legendary Vincent O’Brien once got cross with me. Even now, it’s something I’m proud as hell of: that for a brief moment, little old me burrowed a way into the great man’s thoughts, like an insignificant tick, the-whole-Vincent-O’Brien-told-me-to f**k-off buzz.
Except he didn’t. Instead, he let his displeasure be known through an intermediary. The thought was the same though; and it’s the thought that counts.
This all happened a long time ago, but even then there was nothing like a touch of sex to arouse an editor’s interest. Combine it with money and we had the editorial catnip that the then emerging stallion sensation Sadlers Wells represented. Said editor decided a short horsey career spent almost entirely mucking out represented enough of a whiff of competence on the subject. He brusquely despatched yours truly to Coolmore Stud with orders to make the story “accessible.”
Even a callow youth knew what they meant. So cue lots of references to Warren Beatty and Mick Jagger teasers –look it up – plus copious puns about the stocky stallion generating millions for his owners in return for little more than hay and water. One of those owners was O’Brien who, I was informed later, believed such a sniggering, nudge-nudge article “cheapened the industry”. And he let it be known that hounds should be released if I ever went near the place again.
Shortly afterwards, Lester Piggott, O’Brien’s ally in so many legendary triumphs, really did tell me to f**k off, thereby bringing up an early career-high double that has meant everything else since has been resolutely downhill.
returned with recent news that Sadlers Wells’s grandson, Frankel, had successfully reproduced: cue widespread interest which by definition concentrated on the “accessible” parts of the story, as in Frankel’s, ahem, services, costing about €150,000 a pop – thereby generating about €18 million a breeding season since he successfully covered 126 of the finest fillies in the world in his virgin year as a stallion.
If proof were needed that technological advancement doesn’t mean the same thing as improvement, the predictably non-digitally-enhanced male response to such a story was far too many inner-Kelvin’s rising to the surface, middle-aged paunches indulging in pulsing adolescent fantasies about thrice a day sex and getting paid for it.
Clearly a couple of decades is just a blink of an eye in evolutionary terms. But amid all the pimply, hormonal, accessible stuff, the real story gets overlooked, a story beginning again round about now with the start of a new breeding season.
From mid-February until June, the country vibrates to the motion of equine rumpy pumpy. More than 10,000 mares will meet their happy fate with a couple of hundred even happier stallions, and will produce almost 8,000 potential superstar foals – a bit like Harcourt Street at two in the morning during rugby international weekend.
However, the real story isn’t the horses but the people buying into dreams they represent, a vision almost certainly doomed to end prematurely in puddles of disappointment, regret and promises never to be so stupid again. Or at least until the next dream comes along which intoxicates those who remain in thrall to the sight of a great horse.
Frankel was one of the greatest racehorses, maybe even the best. Although it’s not just jingoism that makes some of us believe he would have given Sea The Stars a perfect lead to the furlong pole only to then get a blurry view of the Irish horse’s backside as they passed the line. But rare is the great one that becomes just as great a stallion. And any notion of predictability in the process is as delusional as a betting-shop punter.
Nijinsky managed it but Secretariat couldn’t. Mill Reef was a topper at stud, his great racing rival Brigadier Gerard couldn’t inject speed into a dray.
There are no guarantees.
Sadlers Wells himself was good on the track but no superstar. Frankel’s dad, Galileo, won two Derbies but when he first retired to the breeding shed, he was widely dismissed as a plodder by supposed experts who make a living from professing to know the unknowable.
One of the oldest criteria for stallion success is breeding one better than the sire, a far-fetched objective in Frankel’s case given the heights he reached on the track. Combine that with some statistical reports that more than 50 per cent of all thoroughbreds born don’t win a race of any kind and the idea of spending €150,000 on the genetic bounce of a ball that can go anywhere seems ludicrous.
And it is. Except it’s ludicrous in a fundamentally sporting sense that has nothing to do with the big-money and business-practicality sticks with which the horse racing game is routinely beaten. Everything do with the dream of the next star, the next real deal, a dream as evocative in its own way as finding the next Pele in some favela or another Michael Jordan around the next block.
It doesn’t matter what the budget is, or the pedigree. In 2015 the results of the current feverish, how does one put it, activity, will hit the ground accompanied by the chance – mammoth odds against though it might be – that the small knock-kneed foal will develop into the next great champion.
As dreams go, it’s hardly cheap. But surely no one can fail to twig it.