The making of Exceed And Excel north and south of the Equator
James Thomas talks to Sam Bullard about the shuttle sire sensation
The successful shuttle stallion is a rare and intriguing breed. Many try, but few have the pedigree, physique and racing performance that will appeal in both hemispheres and then produce successful progeny both north and south.
Even for a stallion who succeeds in one hemisphere – no mean feat in itself – the journey to the other can see the goalposts shift significantly, with qualities he imparts that are considered desirable in one hemisphere having the potential to be met with ambivalence or worse in the other.
You need only look as far as the likes of Galileo and Dubawi, who shuttled down under for five seasons and three seasons respectively without reaching the heights they did on their native continent, for an illustration of how tough it is for a stallion to thrive on both sides of the globe.
One shuttle stallion who has proved potent both at home and away is Exceed And Excel. He picked up the baton from his own sire, the ne plus ultra of shuttle stallions Danehill, when first making the 10,600-mile trip from Darley’s Kelvinside stud in New South Wales to Kildangan in County Kildare in late-2004. Although he has not always commanded such a big reputation.
“I would say there was huge scepticism around him when he first arrived in the northern hemisphere,” says Sam Bullard, Darley’s director of stallions. “But he’s done a huge amount to promote Australian stallions to the northern hemisphere market. He wasn’t the reason we took Lonhro to America, but the success he’d given breeders in Europe gave Americans confidence to have a go.”
At the age of 17 and in the middle of his 13th northern hemisphere covering season, Exceed And Excel has now made the journey between hemispheres 25 times, covering somewhere in the region of 262,500 miles during his stallion career alone.
“Exceed And Excel really is quite remarkable,” says Bullard. “To have done so many seasons back to back really isn’t the norm. As with any equine discipline, you have to treat each horse as an individual, but all of us are amazed at how he comes back for more every time. There’s never been a question of him needing a year off, and that’s extraordinary.”
A good temperament is a must when it comes to shuttlers, as the rigours of traversing the hemispheres can take its toll on even the most hardy of travellers. Exceed And Excel, along with Darley’s other shuttlers, departs for the southern hemisphere in mid-July, but before heading overseas there is a strict pre-export quarantine period, which requires each horse to spend 14 days in a stable within a 50-metre exclusion zone.
From there, Exceed And Excel and the other Darley shuttlers head to Stansted Airport to board their own private 747 bound for Australia.
Including a brief refuelling stop in Dubai, the whole journey takes approximately 21 hours. There is another 14-day period of quarantine upon arrival and, of course, the whole process is repeated in reverse shortly before Christmas to enable the stallions to have around six weeks in the northern hemisphere before the next covering season begins.
“Exceed And Excel is very laid back, he’s very trouble-free and very sound,” says Bullard. “He’s got a great temperament and goes about his job very well. He’s efficient, both in and out of the covering shed.
“I dispense of any doubts I might have had about shuttling stallions when I see the horses arrive at Christmas-time having had a season down in the southern hemisphere. When they arrive back in the northern hemisphere they look as fit as fiddles with gleaming coats
and just look in such great condition.
“The methodology of flying horses really has come on leaps and bounds in recent years.”
Despite his prowess as a shuttler, Exceed And Excel made an inauspicious first visit to Britain. As a three-year-old he travelled over with the intention of taking up an engagement in the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2004.
He arrived with a glowing reputation, having won a Group 2 at two and landed a brace of top-level races, the Newmarket Handicap and the Dubai Racing Club Cup, at three back in his native Australia. But things did not go to plan for Tim Martin, who guided Exceed And Excel throughout his 12-race career, as a blood abnormality caused the colt to miss the royal meeting.
When Martin managed to get him to the course in the July Cup, the signs were there that the ailment may have left more of a mark on Exceed And Excel than first thought, as he trailed home 19th of 20 and was subsequently retired from racing.
However, since retiring to the breeding shed Exceed And Excel has never looked back as he has gone on to earn a reputation as one of the leading stallions of his generation.
The pedigrees of the Exceed And Excel draft at the Inglis Easter Yearling Sale illustrate the high esteem in which he is held by Australasian breeders. Below is just a selection of the quality on offer
Lot 113 b/br filly out of Dream Play (by Hennessy)
Consigned by Kia Ora Stud
Dam is a US Grade 2 winner and a half-sister to Grade 1 Starlet Stakes heroine Diplomat Lady, and she has already produced VRC Sires’ Produce Stakes winner and Champagne Stakes second Zululand.
147 ch c ex Fragmentation (Snippets)
Out of a Listed winner who has excelled at stud, having produced Newmarket Handicap winner Wanted and Group 2 scorer and Group 1-placed Shrapnel – both sires.
267 b f ex Nureyev’s Girl (Nureyev)
Listed-placed dam, from a black type-packed family, has produced five winners at paddocks including New Zealand One Thousand Guineas heroine King’s Rose and Group 3-placed Hardham.
294 br f ex Prophet Jewel (Encosta De Lago)
Middlebrook Valley Lodge
A daughter of a mare who won six races and a
half-sister to Caulfield Guineas winner Divine Prophet and Group 3 scorer and Group 1 second Proisir.
334 ch c ex Secret Admirer (Dubawi)
The first living foal out of the outstanding Dubawi mare Secret Admirer, winner of the Epsom Handicap and Flight Stakes and in the frame in a further eight top-flight races.
358 ch c ex Snowdrift (Polish Precedent)
Snowdrift’s achievements are so vast this colt’s page is filled almost just by her and her offspring. The mare – a half-sister to the dam of Myboycharlie – has produced nine winners from nine runners including stakes scorers Portillo, Snippetson and Snowland, and stakes-placed Freeze and Snowden.
360 b c ex So Tempted (Jeune)
Winning dam has also produced dual South African Group 1-winning Dubawi filly Happy Archer and Listed scorer Femina Fashion, as well as three other scorers.
In a bid to encourage breeders to take a punt on the Australian import, he was introduced at Kildangan Stud at a fee of just €10,000, and stood the following year at Dalham Hall at a mere £7,500. Now he is standing at a career-high of €50,000, a clear indication of the high regard in which he is now held by British and Irish breeders.
He has supplied 128 stakes winners, including ten who have won at the highest level, and has become known as a prolific source of precocious and smart two-year-olds.
Given his reputation, it comes as little surprise that six of his Group/Grade 1 winners struck at two, with Overreach landing the prestigious Golden Slipper, both Earthquake and his first-crop son Reward For Effort landing the Blue Diamond Stakes, and Outstrip claiming the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Guelph and Helmet went even further and won twice at the top-level at two, both winning the Sires Produce Stakes and the Champagne Stakes before going on add further Group 1 success to their respective CVs at three.
However, Exceed And Excel’s other top-flight winners highlight that it is class as much as precocity he imparts.
The remainder are headed by Margot Did, who landed her Group 1 with a gutsy display in the Nunthorpe Stakes as a three-year-old, the same age at which Excelebration landed the Prix du Moulin.
Excelebration continued to progress at four to win the Prix Jacques le Marois and run away with the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, the latter performance earning him a Racing Post Rating of 131, the highest achieved by the progeny of Exceed And Excel.
Another of the stallion’s progeny to record a Group 1 win at four was Amber Sky, who scorched the Meydan turf to land the Al Quoz Sprint. Exceed And Excel’s oldest top-flight winner is Flamberge, who maintained an upward trajectory throughout his career, making his Group 1 breakthrough in the final race of his five-year-old campaign.
He continued to improve at six, winning the Oakleigh Plate at Caulfield, in which he became the first horse since 1972 to shoulder 58kg (9st 2lb), and the William Reid Stakes.
Those ten runners embody all the qualities that have made Exceed And Excel such an enduring success, showing speed, durability, and toughness in spades.
However, reducing his roll of honour to a mere ten horses would be doing the stallion a disservice, as the consistency and frequency with which he has supplied talented and hard-knocking runners on both sides of the globe is perhaps his most noteworthy achievement as a stallion.
His northern hemisphere crops have thrown up the likes of multiple stakes winners Championship, who won a pair of Group 2s aged six; Coventry Stakes winner Buratino; Fulbright, a Listed-winning juvenile and Group 2-winning three-year-old; Best Terms, who won her first four starts at two including the Queen Mary and Lowther Stakes; the
Group 1-placed Cotai Glory, who also won Group 3s at two and four; and Bungle Inthejungle – a dual Group 3-winning two-year-old.
While in the southern hemisphere there has been the likes of Sidestep, a Group 2 winner at two and three; Headwater, a Group 2 winner at two and Listed winner at three; Kuroshio, a Group 3-winning juvenile and Group 2 winner at three; Vashka, a Group 2 winner at five; Pearls, a Group 2 winner at three and Group 3 winner at four; and Aerobatics, a Listed winner at four and a dual Group 3 scorer at five. All have flown the flag for their sire with numerous stakes successes.
Exceed And Excel has sired a remarkable 30 Group-winning two-year-olds, finished on top of the leading sires’ list in Australia in 2012-13, as well as being the leading sire of two-year-olds in Britain and Ireland in 2009.
With Golden Slipper entrants Madeenaty and Jorda set to represent the sire in the coming months, along with Yalta, who broke the course record when landing the 2016 Molecomb Stakes, and of course his next crop of juveniles, it is unlikely to be long before his next star emerges.
He has also begun to make his name as a sire of sires, with seven sons standing in Britain and Ireland, and 11 in the southern hemisphere. Among them is Helmet, a fellow reverse shuttler in his fifth northern hemisphere breeding season at Dalham Hall and who is very much in his sire’s mould.
Having been a tough and talented racehorse, Helmet has made a big impact with his first northern hemisphere crop. He was the only northern hemisphere first-season sire to supply a European Group 1 winner in 2016, with Thunder Snow claiming the Criterium de Saint-Cloud by five lengths having shown a devastating turn of foot.
“As a horse who’s had ten Group/Grade 1 winners, and who has consistently paid breeders well in the sales ring and now stands at €50,000 and continues to do breeders well, it’s impossible to pick a single highlight as there are a hell of a lot of them,” says Bullard when asked for his favourite Exceed And Excel memory.
Bullard also suggests the host of promising sire sons may not be the only legacy Exceed And Excel leaves behind. Having set the bar so high, Bullard believes Exceed And Excel has changed the way the world views shuttle stallions.
“There’s no point bringing a horse who is not of the highest quality,” he says. “I think we’ll see fewer shuttlers in the coming years, but the ratio of successful ones will rise as people just bring quality, in either direction.”
Quality, in either direction. That is precisely what Exceed And Excel has delivered.