Back at his birthplace, a second chance for Al Kazeem as a stallion
Martin Stevens speaks to John Deer about his subfertile superstar
This article was first published in December 2015
Seeing Al Kazeem swagger out of his box at his birthplace of Oakgrove Stud in Chepstow, his coat gleaming in the harsh winter sunshine on a crisp November day as he is stood up by his handler to show off his stunning looks, it is hard to believe this was not the intended denouement of his transformation from brilliant racehorse to stallion.
But however right it feels, it is very much plan B. After winning three Group 1s for trainer Roger Charlton and owner-breeder John Deer, the son of Dubawi was bought by the Queen and retired to the Royal Studs at Sandringham. He was syndicated, with Sheikh Joaan Al Thani taking a significant share and lining up some of his best mares for him, but was found to be subfertile and was the subject of an insurance claim, with Deer buying the horse back from the insurers.
What happened next surprised everyone. Several subfertile stallions have returned to the track in recent years and showed good form – Caspar Netscher, George Washington and Kingsgate Native for three – but none managed to regain their old sparkle as Al Kazeem did.
On his second start after reprising his racing career in August 2014 he broke the track record when winning the Winter Hill Stakes at Windsor. After creditable performances in the Irish Champion Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe he signed off for the season by finishing second to Noble Mission in a battle royal for the Champion Stakes.
This year Al Kazeem bagged the Prix d’Harcourt, finished second to Cirrus Des Aigles in the Prix Ganay and added a fourth Group 1 to his tally with a second victory in the Tattersalls Gold Cup. He was retired from racing for the second time in August after suffering a suspensory branch injury.
Although Al Kazeem was unable to run again his talent was advertised by the horses he beat in the Tattersalls Gold Cup. The form could not have worked out much better, with runner-up Fascinating Rock going on to win the Champion Stakes, third Postponed taking the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and fourth The Grey Gatsby just touched of in the Prince of Wales’s Stakes.
Deer, a mechanical engineer by trade who is deputy chairman of Renishaw, a company that manufactures industrial machine tools, remembers when Al Kazeem first revealed his enormous ability.
“When he won the Tattersalls Gold Cup the first time and beat Camelot – it should have been much tougher to defeat a three-time Classic winner but he did it easily. That was the first sign we had a seriously good horse on our hands,” he says.
And to what extent did Al Kazeem surpass expectations in his second incarnation as a racehorse?
“It was a big surprise,” says Deer. “It’s a tough ask for a stallion and he’s actually the second stallion I’ve owned who had fertility issues and returned to the track, after Averti. He ran very well after returning to the track but didn’t quite recapture his old form. So we were thrilled with Al Kazeem – it’s been a hell of a journey.”
It could be interpreted as a good omen that in his aborted first season at stud Averti conceived Deer’s Prix de l’Abbaye winner Avonbridge, whom Al Kazeem has joined in the stallion boxes at Oakgrove Stud.
Deer swung into action as soon as he ascertained Al Kazeem was not getting mares in foal with sufficient regularity at the Royal Studs.
“As soon as I heard he was subfertile and the insurance company would pay out I got on to Weatherbys Hamilton insurance and they kindly agreed to let me know when he would be for sale,” he says.
“I met Charles Hamilton about buying him here in Chepstow and before I left the house my wife wished me good luck and told me I wasn’t to come home without Al Kazeem. That was incentive enough!”
Deer will support his returning hero with between ten to 15 mares of his own. He had sent several mares to be covered at the Royal Studs – all with no success – but bought the Tiger Hill mare Antica Medusa in foal to the stallion for 85,000gns at the 2014 breeding-stock sales and now has a filly by him.
“It would be incredible to produce another horse with Al Kazeem’s ability from him,” says Deer. “When I look at the horse it’s obvious he’s different – he oozes power and class, and the pleasing thing is he’s settled in so well since coming back from Roger. He was very alert at first and was keen to know everything that was going on, but he’s settled down now. He really has a wonderful temperament.”
Al Kazeem is also being advertised to outside breeders, which created the puzzle of setting a second fee for a stallion who lacks full fertility but has enhanced his racing record and has 19 foals on the ground – ten colts and nine fillies – many of whom have been reported to have inherited their sire’s good looks.
Deer arrived at £12,000 on a special live foal basis and explains: “His previous fee of £18,000 was on the assumption he was fertile, so we have to take money ofto compensate for the fact he isn’t, and we took advice from Juddmonte who have a similar situation with Cacique.”
Inspiration is also being drawn from the example of the late Zilzal, the brilliant miler who also encountered fertility problems but continued his stallion career at Lanwades Stud.
“When he died this year [Lanwades Stud owner] Kirsten Rausing commented that with careful management he was able to cover around 50 or 60 mares and got most of those in foal, and that has to be our target as well,” Deer says.
The team at Oakgrove who will be charged with the responsibility of getting those mares in foal is led by stud manager Tim Lane, who says: “The situation will be manageable as long as the mare is fairly fertile and the stallion isn’t overfaced – he was working to four covers a day at Sandringham, but here he will likely cover one mare in the morning and another in the afternoon.
“We’ll cross-cover every mare, as they do with Cacique – Simon Mockridge at Juddmonte has been really good with advice – and just not be overly hard on him. Luckily he has amazing libido and that’s half the battle, getting a horse to cover.”
So Al Kazeem finds himself back where he was born in 2008, an unexpected ending to his racing career but a happy one nonetheless.
“Even if the worst happened, that he proved to be more subfertile here at Oakgrove, I’d be be disappointed – but still delighted he’s home,” says Deer.