by Dick Powell
Last Saturday, the Epsom Derby (Eng-G1) was run in Great Britain and this Saturday we will have the Belmont Stakes (G1). Both have glorious histories and are run at 1 1/2 miles. The similarities end there.
Federico Tesio was one of the world’s great breeders. He bred the winners of 22 Italian Derbies, often with nondescript bloodstock. Right after he died in 1954, his RIBOT (Tenerani) burst upon the scene as a two-year-old and he went on to win all his 16 of his starts, including back-to-back runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1).
Tesio understood the importance of winning classic races to determine the best of the breed and the ultimate standard was winning the Epsom Derby.
He was quoted as saying, “The Thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended, not on experts, technicians, or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby. If you base your criteria on anything else, you will get something else, not the Thoroughbred.”
Winning a 1 1/2-mile race was the ultimate goal and those that did flash past that piece of wood at Epsom would be judged as the best and most attractive to breed to.
Last week, there was a great picture of five Epsom Derby winners posing at Ballydoyle in Ireland. All stand at stud there and the best of the best, GALILEO (Sadler’s Wells), won the Derby in 2001 and has sired Epsom Derby winners as well as the undefeated FRANKEL (Galileo).
Galileo’s stud fee is “Don’t Ask.” He sires one classic winner after another with no end in sight. The fact that he won at 1 1/2 miles is not held against him.
The Belmont Stakes is a great race but there is nowhere near the market for its winners over here than Epsom Derby winners over there. We complain about the frailty of our Thoroughbreds but continue to reject stout racehorses in favor of one-hit wonders that win a graded stakes sprint or break stopwatches going an eighth of a mile as a two-year-old.
There is a market in Europe for horses that cannot get 1 1/2 miles but the ultimate goal is to be a Derby winner going 1 1/2 miles then prove yourself against older horses in the Autumn in the Arc de Triomphe going 1 1/2 miles. If you can do that, a career of breeding success is assured since the buyers over there, unlike ours over here, appreciate the toughness and stamina it takes to win those races.
Go down the list of Belmont Stakes winners and you will see many great horses that did not make it at stud. Oh, they did alright but never prospered and their offspring were never lusted after. In the last 30 runnings of the Belmont, only A.P. INDY (Seattle Slew) has been a top sire. Maybe the brilliant AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) could join him some day but as a pathway to sire success in America, you are better off winning the King’s Bishop (G1) going seven furlongs than the Belmont Stakes.
Last Saturday’s Epsom Derby saw two powerhouse breeding operations hook up in the stretch. The Aga Khan’s HARZAND (Sea the Stars) took the lead going up the hill towards the wire and looked home free. Coolmore’s US ARMY RANGER (Galileo) was stuck at the back of the field and, every time Ryan Moore tried to get him to the outside for clear running, someone would get in his way.
With Harzand at least 10 lengths in front, Moore finally got US Army Ranger clear and he commenced an electrifying rally. He quickly caught up but just when it looked like he might pull even, he started to lug in badly.
Instead of focusing all his efforts to get him to the wire, Moore had to keep him from running up on top of Harzand and spent all his energy pulling him off. His momentum was lost and Harzand won the 237th running of “Blue Riband of the Turf.”
It was the Aga Khan’s fifth win in the Derby and first for sire SEA THE STARS (Cape Cross), who won the Derby in 2009.
For trainer Dermot Weld, even at the age of 67, he is breaking ground in the training ranks that has never been seen before. He has won major races all over the world and now adds the Epsom Derby to the Belmont Stakes, two wins in the Melbourne Cup (Aus-G1) and Group 1 stakes wins in Ireland, France, Germany, Italy and Hong Kong.