John Dance, Ed Harper and Willy Twiston-Davies on the key issues of the season
Tim Kent and Mark McStay also join the panel
Who is your pick to be this year's leading first-season sire?
John Dance, owner Alhebayeb hopefully has the numbers to support a tilt at the title. I liked the look of a lot of them at the yearling sales and those I've seen this spring haven't changed my opinion. There's unsurprisingly quite a bit of Dark Angel about them, not just physically but also in the timing of their development. I know a few trainers who seem to be quite pleased with many of theirs.
Ed Harper, stud director of Whitsbury Manor Stud I've always had big respect for War Command for his impressive Coventry-Dewhurst double, and a couple of the breeze-up guys I speak to say they really like what they have. I also have a feeling that Coach House might surprise a few people.
Tim Kent, director and auctioneer Goffs UK For me, it’s a three-way tie between Slade Power, No Nay Never and Alhebayeb. I saw some lovely yearlings by all three and I'm very excited by some of their two-year-olds coming to our Breeze-Up Sale.
Mark McStay, agent No Nay Never has every chance of being Europe’s leading first-season sire. His yearlings at the sales were very athletic types and they’ve gone to the right trainers. As a racehorse he was extremely precocious as well as being a top-class performer. The fact that he’s by Scat Daddy out of an Elusive Quality mare would give him every chance. Offspring by both of these now deceased top-tier American sires have worked extremely well on the track in Europe, especially with their two-year-olds. Of the others, I’ve a soft spot for Slade Power who I admired greatly as a racehorse and know well from my time at Darley. He got nice types and they looked like they could be sharp.
Willy Twiston-Davies, ex-jockey Kingman is my pick. The son of Invincible Spirit was a thrilling horse to watch, thanks to his fantastic turn of foot and I'm looking forward to see how his progeny perform on the track.
Which high-profile purchase from last year's yearling sales are you most looking forward to seeing race?
John Dance I don't normally do obvious but my selection here is probably the most obvious. It's a long way off yet, I expect, but I'm looking forward to seeing if Gloam, the Galileo filly out of Dank, can justify that whopping price tag and Godolphin's investment in her - at four million guineas, she needs to be special.
Ed Harper I loved the Invincible Spirit filly out of Cassandra Go from Book 1. I was a big fan of the dam when she was racing and the Invincible Spirit-Indian Ridge cross is a very successful one. I would absolutely love to race her and build a broodmare band around her.
Tim Kent The Bated Breath colt that topped our Premier Sale was a beautiful horse and could be very exciting for Clipper Logistics. He’s not named yet but the two millionaires from the Orby Sale are also on my watch list; the Frankel that was bought by Justin Casse is now with Aidan O’Brien and the Galileo filly that was bought by Godolphin.
Mark McStay The Dubawi colt out of Sky Lantern was a smashing individual who I was fortunate to see a number of times at Rockcliffe Stud last year. A colt with a great outlook, he developed extremely well through his yearling year and looked the part when he was presented in Book 1. On paper he’s bred to be a champion and having been purchased by MV Magnier, I believe he’s gone to Ballydoyle. Dubawi is a wonderful stallion, his stock are incredibly tough and improve immensely with age, I look forward to seeing a well-bred colt like him in the hands of Aidan O’Brien.
Willy Twiston-Davies I'll be looking forward to seeing the Dubawi colt out of Sky Lantern sold for two million guineas. I remember Sky Lantern from when I was at Mr Hannon's and I was lucky enough to sit on her a few times.
Can you give us another two-year-old to follow?
John Dance It’s very early days as the buttons haven’t been pressed on most of our two-year-olds yet, so there’s a risk of getting this massively wrong, but it may be worth staying on the right side of Hareem Queen, a Dark Angel filly out of Dulcian. She’s likely to be a summer-onwards filly but she certainly looks the part at the moment.
Ed Harper The Coach House colt out of Funny Enough that sold for 125,000gns to Roger Varian at Book 2. We sold him as a foal and he turned into an absolute stunner. I was delighted when Roger bought him and hope he wins the same sales race the stable won with his half-brother Laugh A Minute last year.
Tim Kent Rajwaa was a stunning filly who I saw before the Premier Sale and is one I will be following with Owen Burrows while Luxor was a beautiful colt and is now with William Haggas. The Olympic Glory colt out of River Test was a stunning yearling and was another bought by Shadwell, while Rabbah bought a Siyouni colt out of Haydn's Lass that I am excited about.
Mark McStay The best yearling I saw last year was a Sea The Stars colt out of Quad’s Melody, who I believe has gone into training in Japan. A brother to Jim Hay’s Sussex Stakes winner Here Comes When. This colt ticked all the boxes in my opinion: pedigree, sire and he was just very athletic. While Japanese racing isn’t necessarily geared towards two-year-olds, he may well be a colt you’ll hear plenty about in the future. In Europe the Frankel colt out of Belesta who topped the sale at Goffs was a lovely horse who had an abundance of quality, he’s an easy horse to pick out, he was just a standout.
Willy Twiston-Davies It will be interesting to see how Elarqam fares this year in the Classics and for that reason I've selected the Dubawi colt out of Attraction, Elarqam's half-brother Maydanny.
Do you think the WH Stayers’ Million series is going to encourage breeders to produce more long-distance horses?
John Dance It has the potential to, but we probably need to be patient as it will take time for the benefits to be realised and for breeders to buy into the opportunity. There are also a lot of staying Flat horses being sold for good money to National Hunt at the moment, and that potentially provides another incentive for buyers to buy and breeders to breed more long-distance types.
Ed Harper I hope not - it will only help accelerate the demise of the small British breeders who fall into the trap. There's little point breeding long distance from commercially valued mares. You are far more likely to breed a stakes-winning sprinter from those mares, it takes elite breeding to compete in the top-level staying races. Leave that for the wealthy owners to create the spectacle, they’ll breed them anyway.
Tim Kent I hope so because we need to ensure that we continue to breed the very best thoroughbreds over a full range of distances and we can’t win the Ascot Gold Cup with a sprinter! Having said that, nothing changes overnight and this initiative needs to be given enough time to prove itself and ensure that breeders have the chance to change their mating plans and see the results in the sales ring and on the racecourse – which could take some time.
Mark McStay First of all any enhanced prize-money is great and must be welcomed with open arms! But to answer the question being asked, no not at all. It’s unrealistic to think that you can try and change people’s breeding programme with a scheme that is based on a million pound bonus available to only one horse who wins four consecutive top-class races in a relatively short period of time. If there is money on offer from the sponsors, I’d love to see it evenly distributed amongst staying races at all levels in order to encourage people to both breed and purchase staying horses. A bonus such as the one being offered isn’t going to influence breeders in my opinion.
Willy Twiston-Davies I think it's a great initiative but personally I don't think it will change the thought process of the majority of breeders when it comes to finalising their mating plans.
How much significance will you be attaching to wind-op data when making breeding plans / purchases in the future?
John Dance You are often advised to steer clear of buying or breeding to certain stallions based upon rumour or perception, so it will be useful to have some facts to back up the anecdotal evidence. If there is a statistical chance a horse might have a wind issue, it might not put me off but would definitely adversely affect how much I was willing to risk or invest.
Ed Harper We know it’s far more complicated than the digital way in which it’s reported for betting. Personally, I’m more interested in how it will affect the decision making of those with a potential stallion on their hands that could possibly benefit from a wind-op.
Tim Kent I don’t own any mares so I’m probably not the right person to comment!
Mark McStay Everyone wants to breed or buy a clean winded horse, nobody goes looking for problems. Now that the data is out there it can’t be ignored. When breeding or purchasing you take everything into account. Wind issues are genetic without doubt, so you do need to be very careful. Although having said all of that, class and ability will often shine through. I’ve known some very good horses who have had issues or surgeries that have proven to be top class afterwards; so from my perspective I’ll address every case individually before making any decision.
Willy Twiston-Davies It's something that will obviously come into consideration. The more data on offer for breeders the better and this will be a big help. As we increase the amount of data available over the next few years, we will be able to tell which sires are more likely to breed horses with wind issues. When I was riding on the Flat, this sort of thing was a great help as you became accustomed to the traits of a certain sire's offspring, one of which could be their wind.
Which Group 1 race would you downgrade and which Group race would you upgrade to Group 1 status?
John Dance I wouldn't want to see a current British race downgraded but there are all sorts of race types, rather than specific races, I would like to see as Group 1s. As far as I know, there's no 7f Group 1 in the UK and, despite the welcome introduction of the Commonwealth Cup, I'm sure another Group 1 three-year-old sprint later in the year would also be well supported.
Ed Harper I’m delighted the Flying Five has been upgraded in Ireland. I’d like to see the first 7f Group 1 in England, with the Hungerford as my preference. With regard a downgrade… perhaps the Ascot Gold Cup (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).
Tim Kent On the subject of stayers, I’ve always wondered why the British Champions Long Distance Cup on Champions Day is ‘only’ a Group 2 so I would love that to be upgraded, while I’d also love to see a 7f Group 1 for three-year-olds in the UK so could we upgrade the Hungerford Stakes? Group race victories are the best advert for a sales company so I would hate to lose any of them!
Mark McStay That’s a hard one. Definitely not my specialist subject. The fairest way to assess these races is probably on ratings and rather than a straw poll such as this! For my two cents, I would possibly downgrade the Prix Jean Prat as I think it can be a softer mile option, the race can often lack depth. Why not make the Coventry Stakes a Group 1 for juveniles. In recent years some extremely high-class performers have won it... the winner often goes on to be champion two-year-old or to win a Group 1 at a later date in their career. Probably a controversial suggestion but maybe worth discussion?
Willy Twiston-Davies A race I would like to see upgraded is the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot. It's a fantastic race that has produced some some great winners and I don't see why there shouldn't be a Group 1 two-year-old race at Royal Ascot. Apart from that, I think the programme is about right at the minute and I wouldn't want to downgrade any of the Group 1 races.