Some words of wisdom from the Aga Khan

29th April 2021

By DAVID BRASCH

I have at home a treasured and glamorous book all about the famed Aga Khan thoroughbred empire.

It documents the introduction of the original Aga Khan’s entry into racing back in the 1920s to today’s operation that dominates racing in Europe.

The book contains many, many wonderful photos of the Khan’s breeding and racing complexes in France and Ireland, but discusses much about the plans behind the success of the racing empire.

One aspect that caught my attention, among many, was this:

“The prices asked for top-of-the-line stallions have become prohibitive for the majority of breeders causing them to forgo using such stallions, except for the smallest number of uniquely qualified mares.

“The majority of traditional breeders, who generally place more importance in their pedigrees on the female rather than the male lines, will thenceforth need to scour the globe for foundation mares, or families, that are revealing themselves before they have been crossed with the top-of-the-line globetrotting sires.

“Breeding decisions which may seem to many unwise or unconventional may in fact represent the key to our survival. This policy is now showing promising results, just as the statistics are showing that sending more and more mares to leading stallions does not increase their rate of outstanding offspring.

“I AM ALWAYS SURPRISED THOUGH, WHEN PEOPLE IN THE INDUSTRY ARE AMAZED AT SUCCESSFUL RACEHORSES WITH UNCOMMERCIAL PEDIGREES.”

Another fascinating statement from the Aga Khan made reference to the legend thoroughbred stallion Nasrullah who was bred by his family. It said:

“All I ever heard about Nasrullah was that he was a quasi-mad horse. He was extremely difficult to handle. Later on, I learnt that sometimes you have families that lose their temperament, their will to race, or just the vivacity that you need in a great athlete. One of the ways to correct that is to breed to a temperamental stallion. There is no doubt Nasrullah brought this spark. That madness that had to be used intelligently.”

With the domination of Barcia Bale and Fernando Bale at stud in Australia, and now Barcia’s son Aston Dee Bee instantly appearing at Number 3 on the sires’ list, the Aga’s cautionary words about constantly using high priced sires could well be adhered to by broodbitch owners.

But, I’ve been in this industry for so long now to know the sale of pups is just as important to broodbitch owners as racetrack success.

The thoroughbred industry seems to be ruled by commercial yearling sales matings. What brings the highest price at auction (or when advertised as puppies) is the best mating … according to many.

How often is Pedigrees By Design asked for ‘commercial sires only, please’ … “I need to sell most of those pups”.

For me, it has always been about racetrack success.

The right pedigree match can do that and in the end both the breeder’s future commercial interests and certainly the bitch’s credentials will benefit.

Yes, great stud dogs are great stud dogs for a reason and few can doubt the success of Barcia and Fernando.

But, legends like Rapid Journey are testament to the fact not all greats are bred with what originally appears a ‘legend’ pedigree match.

Which brings me to a dog called War Drum Express (Zoltina’s Legacy-Tribal Faith by Heston Bale).

He recently went 42.70 winning a staying race at The Meadows and a quick look at his littermates shows all four from the litter are winners.

His pedigree is the result of a ‘home bred’ mating for sure and certain.

Sire, Zoltina’s Legacy (Sir Prize-Zoltina Jay) raced 59 times for 30 wins and 19 placings earning $75,000. He was a short courser – a Warrnambool 390m track record and making the final of the G2 Bendigo Cup.

He was in-bred 2×3 to Hallucinate, 4×5 to Light Of Fire, 4×4 to Malawi’s Prince etc. He came from a litter of three named offspring and all were prolific winners.

But, few would have declared Zoltina’s Legacy the quality of stud dog a bitch like Tribal Faith (Heston Bale-So Faithful) should be mated to.

Tribal Faith was a handy stayer making the final of the G3 Top Cat Video Cup and she was a multiple distance winner at Sandown and The Meadows.

Tribal Faith was bred on a 4×3 cross of identically bred Westmead Flight and Phantom Flash.

Prior to the Zoltina’s Legacy mating, Tribal Faith had gone to Fabregas and produced Callister (14 wins, $37,000) and One Step Forward (5 wins, $19,000) etc.

This litter introduced the highly successful Larkhill Jo/Sonic Flight ‘nick’ proven via the winners of five English Derbies.

Putting Tribal Faith to Zoltina’s Legacy brought in a 3x4x4 cross of Hallucinate and a 5x5x6 of Light Of Fire.

Hallucinate, as mentioned above in regards to the great stallion, but hyperactive Nasrullah, could be a ‘bit over the top’.

Three crosses in the pedigree of War Drum Express was ‘maybe’ throwing caution to the wind.

But, it has produced a very promising litter, just two-year-old back in December and, like their mother, showing promise as stayers.

The Aga Khan would be proud.