A bout of colic suffered by a subfertile stallion does not sound the most promising start to a breeding enterprise but Australian breeder Anthony Mithen could capitalise on the situation at Arqana on Saturday.
Mithen bought a five per cent share in Starspangledbanner after the star sprinter’s racing career, from a syndicate member who was reluctant to breed. Thinking his share in a shuttle sire of immense potential was a valuable commodity, he had the wind taken out of his sails when the horse turned out to have poor fertility.
After two seasons at Coolmore in County Tipperary and a season at the operation’s Australian base in Jerrys Plains, New South Wales, Starspangledbanner was returned to training. Like most stallions back on the track, he lacked his old zip and he then embarked on a career as a carefully managed boutique stallion rather than a commercial one at Mithen’s Rosemont Stud in Victoria.
The depleted crop of 33 debut runners by the sire in Europe shone brightly, with The Wow Signal winning the Prix Morny and Anthem Alexander scoring in the Queen Mary Stakes in 2014, and Home Of The Brave landing the European Free Handicap and Minstrel Stakes this year.
Majority shareholders Coolmore announced Starspangledbanner would shuttle to Ireland again for the 2015 European breeding season but, in yet another twist to an already tortuous tale, the stallion developed colic and had to sit out the trip.
Starspangledbanner’s enforced stay at home meant Mithen could send mares who had failed to get in foal during the southern hemisphere season back to the stallion in northern hemisphere time.
Mithen has brought three of those mares in foal to Starspangledbanner to Deauville for the Arqana December Breeding Stock Sale, which starts its four-day run at 11am local time on Saturday.
The trio, consigned by Edwige Le Metayer’s Haras du Buff, are Scarlet (lot 23), a champion at two in Chile and a sister to the great South American mare Belle Watling; Doubleyou One (39), a Danehill Dancer mare out of a daughter of Canadian International heroine and excellent producer Infamy; and Noisy Feet (214), a daughter of US champion sire Tapit and a sister to Grade 3 winner Touching Beauty.
“Starspangledbanner got 15 mares in foal to northern hemisphere time and 11 of those are our own,” says Mithen. “We’ve picked the ones who have international appeal, as it would be useless bringing those with Australian or New Zealand pedigrees to Europe.
“The Tapit mare could be the star. We bought her in the US [for $200,000 at Keeneland in 2010] and raced her there, where she won a Listed race, before taking her to Australia.”
Of Scarlet, he says: “She’s a champion two-year-old in Chile, which might confuse European buyers but to be honest it would confuse the Australian market as well, so it’s one or the other.
“She was empty after we bought her from the Patinack dispersal [for A$40,000 (£19,440/€27,000) at Magic Millions in 2014] – we had bought a yearling out of her before and liked it – so we’re trading her quickly.”
Doubleyou One has a pedigree that will be more recognisable to European visitors to Deauville as Infamy, a top-class middle-distance performer for Luca Cumani and the late Gerald Leigh, produced Group/Graded winners Barafamy, Innuendo, Moon Queen and Rostropovich.
“We bought the dam privately when she was running around in the sticks as she was a sister to a place-getter in the Crown Oaks,” says Mithen. “We bred and sold a lovely So You Think filly out of her for A$60,000 (£29,000/€40,500) in Melbourne last year.”
Starspangledbanner’s first Australian runners have got off to a good start, with his first crop yielding Group 2 winner Of The Brave, who sadly had to be put down before reaching his full potential, and promising metropolitan winner Surfin’ Safari.
In the recent southern hemisphere breeding season the stallion has 36 out of 75 mares in foal, although Mithen reports that number could rise.
“There are still some mares we will try with again so we might just tickle a pregnancy rate of more than 50 per cent for the first time,” he says.
On the subject of the horse’s fertility, he adds: “I find mares who go in foal to him once will go in foal again. But the rule is, there are no rules. We have to give the stallion a chance to rest between matings – we want him to be really happy and healthy, so we cover the mares out in the paddock rather than in a box.”
Mithen says that after the value of his share in the stallion nosedived when he proved to be subfertile, he has nearly recouped his outlay.
“With the stock we’ve got at home who we could sell, we will be close to the point of washing our face,” he says. “But it’s not all about finance – I’m more excited about producing fast horses by him, and potentially a colt who could become a stallion.”
A horse who could push the Starspangledbanner balance sheet into the black will come under the hammer in Australia next month.
“We have a half-brother to top South African sprinter Alboran Sea by him who we’re taking to the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale – he should be a real archetypal Magic Millions horse, an early two-year-old type.
“I’m hoping he can find a buyer who’ll allow me to stay in the horse, as I think he’s the one most likely to follow in his sire’s footsteps.”