Al Kazeem hits top gear in time for his second crop coming on the market
Martin Stevens catches up with Oakgrove Stud manager David Hilton
It is an astonishing statistic for a horse whose stallion career has taken several astonishing turns: from May 25 up to Wednesday, Al Kazeem had been represented by 17 runners in Britain from a first three-year-old crop depleted by subfertility and only once have they finished out of the first four. The exception was Why We Dream, who was not disgraced when 11th in the Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot and has since won a Carlisle novice race to atone for marring the perfect record.
During that period, the sire's plucky daughter Golden Spell has competed four times in Ireland, including when beaten just a head and a neck into third in the Listed Yeomanstown Stud Irish EBF Stakes at Naas on Wednesday evening.
It was Aspetar's victory in the Listed Cocked Hat Stakes at Goodwood in May that instigated Al Kazeem's fine run of form, while among the stallion's more recent winners are Al Kherb, a colleague of Aspetar at Roger Charlton's Beckhampton Stables who scored on debut in a ten-furlong novice stakes at Newbury, and Alexana, a half-sister to high-class stayers Duncan and Samuel who obliged on her first run for William Haggas over an extended 11 furlongs at Lingfield last Saturday.
Those results have been welcomed enthusiastically at John Deer's Oakgrove Stud in Chepstow, where Al Kazeem covers carefully managed books. Not just because they vindicate Deer's decision to buy back the homebred colt who carried his silks to victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup, Prince of Wales's Stakes and Eclipse when he was found to be getting an insufficient ratio of mares in foal in his first incarnation as a stallion at the Royal Studs in 2014; but also because Oakgrove is presenting some of the yearlings conceived after the son of Dubawi's second Tattersalls Gold Cup win and subsequent homecoming to Wales at auction in the coming months.
David Hilton, who manages Oakgrove Stud on behalf of Deer, suggests the summer of his sophomore season was always going to be Al Kazeem's time to thrive.
“He was an autumn two-year-old who just got better and better with age, and in his first season he received a lot of mares with Classic types of pedigrees,” he says. “So he bred some nice, big horses who were probably a little backwards at two but showed a bit, and their trainers likely thought they were worth putting away and looking after. Now they're coming out and winning.
“The Normandie Stud filly [Alexana] who won on Saturday was very impressive, even though there weren't many runners, as neither the ground nor the way the race was run would have suited her massively. But she really battled, which a lot by the sire seem to do.
“Alexana looks the absolute spitting image of Al Kazeem and they've all got his temperament. Some of those nice winners he's had have been out of very good mares with strong pedigrees, so we've just got to keep our fingers crossed he keeps getting a few of those each year.”
Although progeny of Al Kazeem are indeed coming into their own over distances further than a mile, as their father did, Golden Spell proves he is far from one-dimensional. The Johnny Murtagh-trained filly broke her maiden over the minimum trip at Bellewstown last July and has notched four placings in Listed sprints.
“She's incredibly tough and I think if you breed some speed to him you could get that type again,” says Hilton. “We have some yearlings at home this year who are out of speedier mares and they look as though they'll make two-year-old runners.
“Al Kazeem himself probably could've stayed a mile-six, but I think he can get those six and seven-furlong horses out of a faster mare. He's quite versatile in that sense, although it's probably through those mile, mile and a quarter mares with a page that he will be a force.
“There's no reason he couldn't get a Classic or at least a Group 1 winner. Those good results he's getting this summer show that.”
Perhaps that Classic or Group 1 winner could be the filly out of Pennard, a daughter of High Chaparral and Listed winner Lady Grace who is one of two lots who will make up Oakgrove Stud's draft at next month's Arqana August Yearling Sale, its first in Deauville since 2011.
She hails from the family of Falmouth Stakes heroine Giofra, whose Dubawi colt topped last year's renewal at €1.55 million.
Oakgrove's other Arqana entrant is a first-crop daughter of Golden Horn who is a half-sister to Group 3 Prix de Psyche winner Be Me Gal out of the Listed-placed Danehill Dancer mare Longing To Dance.
“We've a lovely crop of Al Kazeem yearlings from his first year at Oakgrove, so wanted to spread them around the sales to show them off,” says Hilton. “The filly out of Pennard is a very smart sort with a lovely page. It's a proper filly's family and consequently the fillies don't come on the market that often, so we're looking forward to her.
“The Golden Horn is a very rangy filly – that comes from her dam – and she's athletic with a great walk. She's going to take a bit of time but you'd expect that from Golden Horn anyway. She's definitely a good advert for the sire.
“We'd gladly keep all our Al Kazeems but we want people to see what he can produce, especially as this is his first crop since returning to Oakgrove. It's good to let people see them, let them have a go at them. It's beneficial taking attractive horses to these sales, to advertise what we can produce at home.”
Al Kazeem's third season at Oakgrove this year yielded some of his best results in terms of fertility, helped by the team learning more about his condition and how best to manage it.
“The majority of mares were covered on the point of ovulation,” says Hilton. “We didn't cover a massive book, around 26 and the majority were ours, though he still has his owner-breeders who support him.
“Eighty per cent are in foal, and of the six mares who aren't, all had a good reason. Two were taken away after two covers early in the season when his fertility isn't as strong, while a couple were mares who hadn't had foals for a few years so you can't really blame him. Another couple were right at the end of the year and had just one cover.”
With Al Kazeem's fertility seemingly improving later in the breeding season, a plan is being hatched before next year to improve on the laudable 80 per cent in-foal rate.
“We'll carry on doing a bit of tinkering and we're going to use the Equilux lighting system,” reveals Hilton. “Their list of clients is very impressive – a lot of leading stallion studs around the world use it. He'll be under that from the autumn.
“The idea is that by mimicking the longer days in spring we can bring his internal clock forward around 42 days, so in February and March we might get the sort of fertility he shows in April and May. If we can get a few extra mares in foal to him earlier that way, we'll be bringing ourself closer to 90 per cent.
“He's never going to cover a massive book anyway, we'll mind him. We'll be looking to cover the same level of mares but attract more outside clients and hopefully encourage some of the big names who've used him in the past back on board.”
Everything's coming up roses for Al Kazeem at the moment, as his three-parts brother Makzeem – by Dubawi's son Makfi and also owned by Deer – is set to line up as one of the favourites for the valuable Gigaset International Handicap at Ascot on Saturday after finishing a close fifth in the Bunbury Cup last time out.
“He should go very well,” notes Hilton. “There could be a bit of rain around on Friday which would help to take the sting out of the ground for him.
"Ryan [Moore] rode him in the Bunbury Cup and was very positive about partnering him again, and he probably makes seven pounds difference even if there is a horse lurking on a lower weight. This is probably Makzeem's Derby.”
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