Annuals: Episode 6 - 1989/90, The shuttle takes flight

4 min read
TDN Australia and New Zealand’s 1989/90 trilogy concludes with an exploration of the nascent shuttle stallion business. Featuring two equine recruits to the relatively new method for covering mares, which would launch Australasian breeding onto the world stage.

As champion trainer Bart Cummings endured the pain of the ‘Night of the Stars’, a sale to recoup losses from a failed bloodstock venture, an investment of a different sort was covering his first mares in the Segenhoe Valley of New South Wales.

G1 Breeders’ Cup Mile victor Last Tycoon (Ire), by Try My Best (USA), was arguably the most accomplished racehorse ever to come to Australia.

The handsome, almost chocolate-coloured stallion had been a star sprinter in Europe, claiming a G1 King's Stand S., then a Group 2 race at the Royal Ascot meeting, before winning the third ever Breeders’ Cup Mile over Palace Music (USA). He retired to Coolmore Stud in Ireland and it wasn’t long before Tony Bott of Segenhoe Stud’s radar pinged.

Last Tycoon (Ire)

"We were looking to Europe, and Coolmore, obviously the largest game in town there,” he quipped.

“And we… formed an alliance, mainly through Robert Sangster in those days, and Coolmore. (We) came up with an agreement to… shuttle Last Tycoon.

“He was new… rather than a stallion that had been standing there for a couple of years. The race record was impeccable, certainly for our standards, and he was a magnificent-looking horse.”

“He (Last Tycoon) was new… rather than a stallion that had been standing there (in Australia) for a couple of years. The race record was impeccable, certainly for our standards, and he was a magnificent-looking horse.” - Tony Bott

Last Tycoon wasn’t the only stallion that Segenhoe collaborated with Coolmore on. Bott had also acquired the upwardly mobile Ahonoora (GB), another talented sprinter from the incredibly popular Klairon (GB) sireline. The chestnut didn’t spend much time in the Hunter Valley though.

“Arrowfield Stud owned a controlling interest in Ra Ora Stud in New Zealand,” recalled Bott.

“And John Messara approached us… when we had Ahonoora, and said he needed a stallion there, and he did a deal with us that he (Ahonoora) would stand the first couple of seasons in New Zealand”

A breed-shaper in waiting

Messara had experience with the shuttle. He was already shuttling French Champion Sire Kenmare (Fr), but he was looking less to what was already working, and more to what would work next.

“We had done a study at Arrowfield, where we had come to the conclusion… that Northern Dancer was going to be a super stallion,” he remembered.

“So we said, ‘We’ve got to get into that line somehow, we can’t afford a direct son of Northern Dancer, we might be able to afford a grandson’."

Northern Dancer (Can) was already the pre-eminent sire of sires in the world, by this stage and his sons Nijinsky (Can), Lyphard (Fr), The Minstrel (Can) and Vice Regent (Can) had the runs on the board.

Northern Dancer (Can) went on to produce the infamous Sadler's wells (USA) (pictured)

“We went through and looked at which of the sons of Northern Dancer progeny would suit Australia and were there any targets,” Messara explained.

“After analysing all these sons of Northern Dancer, we zeroed in on Danzig as being the one line that liked grass and had a lot of speed.”

The lightly raced Claiborne stallion Danzig (USA) had started with a bang. In the five years since his first crop had hit the track, he had already sired the outstanding 2- and 3-year-old Chief’s Crown (USA) and the G1 July Cup (1200 metres) winner Green Desert (USA). At the time of Messara’s search, Danzig was being represented in Europe by a blue-blooded colt named Danehill (USA) and Messara goes on to explain the process for acquiring the Juddmonte colour bearer in the podcast.

The legacy of 1989

The podcast also explores the ongoing ramifications of the bloodstock market crash, whether it could happen again, and whether prizemoney is a reliable indicator of industry health.

“The horse industry, over a number of years, has been somewhat of a boom-and-bust industry,” explained Duncan Grimley, who had stints with Arrowfield and Segenhoe at around this time.

Duncan Grimley | Image courtesy of Bronwen Healy

“The difference between now and then, back then, everything was done on finance. I would guess 80 per cent of the market was finance, and in some cases that was running out at 17 or 18 per cent (interest) and if you lease financed it through one of the finance companies, you were paying up to 23 per cent.

“Next time we get a correction in the market, which is obviously inevitable sometime, there’s nowhere near the amount of money that’s finance, most of the money people are actually paying for.”

Not all contributors agreed on the impact of prizemoney, or for that matter, on how long the current period of prosperity would last, but all agreed that lessons had been learned from the 1989 crash. The question is: how long will the industry remember those lessons?