Frankel, officially the best thoroughbred racehorse of all time, retired from racing in October, 2012 with career earnings of £2,998,302. However, at the time of his retirement, industry experts valued the undefeated champion at £100 million for stud purposes. He now resides at Banstead Manor Stud near Newmarket, England, where he commands a fee of £125,000 for each mare he covers. He may have won all 14 races from two to four years but, in the context of earnings, his Flat racing career seems almost incidental by comparison. Even Frankel was something of an exception, insofar as he remained in training as a four-year-old; most champions are rushed off to stud at the end of their three-year-old campaign, while at their peak, partly because of the weight-for-age allowance three-year-olds receive from older horses in Europe, but mainly because of the lucrative rewards on offer.
Horse breeding refers, of course, to reproduction in horses, but the term is typically used more specifically to describe the selective breeding of thoroughbred racehorses with desirable characteristics. Thoroughbred racehorses must meet exacting physical standards, so horse breeders typically spend hours researching pedigrees and health records, in a effort to create not only a desirable mixture of speed and endurance, but also healthy offspring, free from inherited conditions, such as haemophilia or hip dysplasia. Typically, the owner of a broodmare selects a stallion and approaches the breeding establishment, or stud, at which the stallion stands. If the broodmare is accepted, she visits the stallion at the height of her oestrus cycle, usually in the spring, for mating to take place. Pregnancy can be confirmed, by ultrasound, two weeks later and the gestation period in horses is 11 months. Of course, not even the most meticulous research and preparation guarantees success. Two of the most expensive thoroughbred racehorses ever sold at auction, The Green Monkey, who fetched $16 million, and Snaafi Dancer, who fetched $10.2 million, were both abysmal failures, despite being descendants of the legendary Northern Dancer. Snaafi Dancer was considered to slow to race and had fertility problems at stud, while The Green Monkey ran just three times, without success, and was sent to stud with a fee of just $5,000.
Aside from pedigree, physical conformation and racing ability, some breeders consider the ratio of speed to stamina in a thoroughbred pedigree, as described by the “Dosage Index”. Certain influential stallions, known as Chef-de-Race stallions, contribute points if they appear in the first four generations of the pedigree, so the end result is a mathematical figure that illustrates the distance potential of the progeny, or offspring. Of course, Dosage Index may not always be entirely accurate. Frankel, for example, had a Dosage Index of 0.94 – very low compared to most champions over a mile – which led some observers to dismiss his chance in the 2,000 Guineas on the grounds that he would improve over middle distances. Indeed, he did, later in his career, but not before winning the 2,000 Guineas, by 6 lengths, and six more races over a mile, all at the highest level.
Thoroughbred racing is one of the oldest sports, so old in fact that knowledge of the first horse race is lost in prehistory. Organised racing began in Britain, France and North America in the 17th century and the earliest races were primitive contests of speed or stamina involving two, or at most three, horses for a purse supplied by their respective owners. King Charles II (1630 – 1685) and Queen Anne (1665 – 1714) were influential in the development of racing in Britain, particularly the racecourses at Newmarket and Ascot. In fact, thoroughbred racing is still often referred to as the “Sport of Kings” but, nowadays, provides entertainment for the proletariat. BBC Radio first broadcast the Derby in 1927, televised racing began on a regular basis in the post war period and bookmaking became legal in Britain in 1961. Together with the introduction of photo finishes in 1947 and starting stalls in 1965, these advances increased the mass appeal of the sport and led to the multi-million pound industry we know today. Nevertheless, the essential feature remains the same; the horse that finishes first is the winner.
The first documented horse races were held as a result of wagers between noblemen and, ever since, horse racing and betting have gone hand in hand in the public consciousness. One of the reasons for this, perhaps, is that, unlike other sporting events, the action at a race meeting is not continuous – in fact, far from it – and the excitement of the betting market fills the gaps. Unfortunately, where there is betting, crime is never far away but, despite the sport being dogged by scandal and corruption in recent years, the Rules of Racing and the fixture list are still shaped by the needs of bookmakers and their customers as well as the needs of trainers, jockeys and owners.
- A champion thoroughbred can earn far more money at stud than it can in prize money
- Currently, there is no incentive for a European three-year-old to remain in training as a four-year-old
- Breeding thoroughbred racehorses is as much of a science as it is an art
- No amount of research and preparation can guarantee successful breeding
- Every thoroughbred racehorse in existence can be traced back to just three stallions, The Godolphin Arabian, The Byerley Turk, and The Darley Arabian, all imported from the Middle East in the 18th century
- Horse racing and horse betting are inextricably linked
Dosage: Pedigree & Performance: http://www.chef-de-race.com/dosage/review.htm