Friday, 27 March 2009

German Racing, Part I: The Good

I’ve heard the best way to start off a delicate topic is by paying a compliment, which is why I’ll start a three-part miniseries on Thoroughbred racing in Germany by pointing to the proudest feature of the country’s sport: the tradition of quality breeding. For decades now, a handful of breeders have been able to consistently produce world-class racehorses without resorting to a Dubai-style checkbook strategy. Among them the names of Gestüt Fährhof, Gestüt Schlenderhan, Georg Baron von Ullmann and Gestüt Hof Ittlingen stand out. One might add names such as Röttgen, Auenquelle, Ammerland and Park Wiedingen.

There is a lot to like about the German breeding industry. And because I’d run into certain embarrassment evaluating it myself, I’ll let the Bloodhorse do the talking for me:

Few of the major racing nations are further removed from the United States in their approach to racing than Germany. Where miler speed is the name of the game here, Germany has a long tradition of breeding for the stamina to win top-level events at the European classic distance of 12 furlongs (...). Soundness, too, is prized; conformation inspections for prospective stallions are required, and horses that have raced on medications have not been permitted to enter stud in the country since 1997.

During the last two decades, German horses have included the likes of Lando (a seven-time Group I winner, including the 1995 Japan Cup), 2002 English Oaks and 1000 Guineas winner Kazzia, 2005 BC Turf winner Shirocco and 2007 IFHA Horse of the Year Manduro (although he was trained in France from the age of 4). There is however one tiny little problem to that strength, which is that German racing offers few top races actually accommodating its potential. A case in point is Silvano: The impressive 2001 winner of the Arlington Million had his previous starts in Singapore (winning the Singapore Cup), Hong Kong (winning the QE II Cup), Dubai and Singapore again. Probably the most prominent (although not best) German horse in training is 7-year-old gelding Quijano. His PPs coming into this Saturdays Dubai Sheema Classic show 3 starts at Woodbine, 3 at Dubai, 2 at Hong Kong, 1 at Milan and precisely 1 from Germany. The pattern repeats itself again and again, once a horse is both good enough to regularly compete on the highest levels and older than 3 years, German racing fans will hardly ever see it, even if most of those horses will continue being owned, trained and even ridden by German-based horsemen. Which brings us to Part II...

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