How Shamardal beat the odds early in life to become a breed-shaping sire
Martin Stevens looks at the son of Giant's Causeway's breeding achievements
Shamardal – whose death at the age of 18 was announced on Thursday – might have been a blueblooded and high achieving member of Sheikh Mohammed's racing string and stallion roster, but he had to overcome the odds early in life to get there.
Bred by Brilliant Stable in Kentucky, he hailed from the first crop of 'iron horse' Giant's Causeway and was out of Helsinki, a Listed-placed daughter of Machiavellian and Irish Oaks heroine Helen Street, making the dam a sister to Dubai World Cup winner Street Cry.
So far so good. But just months after he was bought back as a foal by his breeder for $485,000 at the 2002 Keeneland November Breeding-Stock Sale, he was diagnosed as a Grade 3 wobbler – a syndrome caused by spinal cord compression in the neck that leads to a lack of balance and co-ordination, its severity ranked from 0 to 5; the highest grade indicating an inability to stand up.
SHAMARDAL'S STUD CAREER IN NUMBERS
146 stakes winners sired
25 of those who are Group 1 winners
128 RPR of his highest rated progeny – Able Friend and Pinatubo
€70,000 highest advertised stud fee, in 2015
1,700,000gns best price achieved by one of his progeny at auction – for Chess Master as a yearling
5 Group 1 winners as broodmare sire
The seriousness of the syndrome is such that typical equine mortality insurance has an extension covering wobblers written to it, with many horses who suffer from the condition having to be put down.
Brilliant Stable had the mortality claim paid out against Shamardal but fortunately for the horse he was bought from the underwriters by loss adjuster Richard Ketch and given therapy that led to a miraculous recovery.
He was subsequently offered at the Tattersalls Houghton Yearling Sale, where he was bought by Michael Goodbody on behalf of Gainsborough Stud for 50,000gns – well below the auction average of more than 266,000gns even though neither the buyer nor the underbidder, his eventual first trainer Mark Johnston, were aware of the full extent of his medical history.
The extraordinary start to Shamardal's life was soon forgotten thanks to his exploits on the track, which included a hard-fought front-running victory over the stronger-staying Hurricane Run in the Prix du Jockey Club that certainly belied his adolescent weaknesses.
Shamardal's early problems receded even further into irrelevance during his stellar stallion career for Darley. He was a success from the start, crowned champion first-season sire by progeny earnings in 2009, a breakthrough year for Sheikh Mohammed's breeding operation as Dubawi also had debut two-year-old runners and supplied more individual winners than any of his peers.
Shamardal's growing reputation as a sire of note was sealed in 2010 when first-crop son Lope De Vega emulated his feat of winning the Poule d'Essai des Poulains and Prix du Jockey Club and second-crop son Casamento landed the Racing Post Trophy in good style at the end of the season.
Shamardal continued to deliver a steady stream of top-class performers, even though health issues in later life meant he was confined to covering smaller books of mostly only Maktoum family-owned mares.
Last year was a brilliant season for him, as he was represented by dual Royal Ascot winner Blue Point and French Classic scorer Castle Lady, while his first privately bred crop yielded an unprecedented three unbeaten Group 1-winning two-year-olds – the standout champion Pinatubo, Earthlight and Victor Ludorum.
In all, Shamardal has supplied 146 stakes winners, 25 of whom have struck at the highest level including other celebrities such as Lumiere, Mukhadram, Pakistan Star, Speedy Boarding and Tryster. Early shuttle trips to Darley's stallion base in Australia resulted in Hong Kong star Able Friend and fellow top-notchers Captain Sonador, Delectation, Faint Perfume and Maybe Discreet.
Shamardal looks set to leave a deep influence on the breed, with Lope De Vega turning out to be an outstanding sire in his own right at Ballylinch Stud. He is commanding a fee of €100,000 this year on the back of having ten Group 1 winners to his name and two sons at stud in Belardo and Phoenix Of Spain.
Shamardal's other sons Casamento and Mukhadram have proved capable of getting useful performers at a value price, while Blue Point is being strongly supported in his first season at Kildangan Stud this year. Pinatubo, Earthlight and Victor Ludorum will also surely be in demand when they eventually retire.
Shamardal is also emerging as a broodmare sire of serious consequence, with his daughters having produced Group 1 winners Awtaad, Hello Youmzain, Latrobe, Mighty High and Pretty Pollyanna as well as promising sorts such as Far Above and Premier Power.
He will be sorely missed by those at Kildangan Stud, where he spent all but one of the 15 years of his stallion career and was regarded as a totemic figure.
From the video archives . . .
Watch Kildangan Stud's former manager Gerry Duffy talk about Shamardal becoming a private stallion in 2017
Eamon Moloney on Blue Point joining Shamardal on the Kildangan Stud roster this year
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