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BRINGING ASIAN RACING TO THE WORLD
Coolmore’s champion sprinter and Group 1 sire’s return to Australia is timely in the wake of another Hong Kong favourite Deep Field’s retirement due to infertility, and his own limited foal numbers mean demand could be hot.
The news from Coolmore last week that Starspangledbanner is to shuttle from Castlehyde Stud in Ireland to its Australian farm in the Hunter Valley for the next Southern Hemisphere season has been met with an ‘extraordinary’ response from ‘local breeders’ eager to pair him with their mares, but the announcement has also gone down well in Hong Kong.
“I’m definitely pleased to see him coming back,” said Hong Kong’s former champion trainer John Moore, who nowadays buys horses with his son, George Moore, under the George Moore Bloodstock banner. The Australian has had success previously with Starspangledbanner’s offspring and he is hoping for more yet.
“We bought one of his at the Magic Millions Gold Coast sale earlier this year and he was one of only three catalogued there because, evidently, he’s not that fertile, there’s not a lot of them around.”
Starspangledbanner’s fertility issues have long been a talking point, so it is interesting that the chestnut, rolling off a well-documented stellar 2022 for his limited number of offspring, looks set to slide into some of the space that another Hong Kong favourite Deep Field has ceded altogether, given the former Newgate Stud stallion’s recent retirement due to infertility.
As Asian Racing Report has explored previously, Deep Field covered only 69 mares in 2022, having produced just 79 live foals from 165 coverings in 2021. Starspangledbanner, on the other hand, suffered the worst of his fertility issues in his first two seasons at Coolmore in 2011 and 2012: his 2011 Northern Hemisphere coverings produced only 33 foals and his Southern Hemisphere exertions resulted in only 31. That prompted an unsuccessful return to racing.
Then came his 2013 move to shareholder Anthony Mithen’s Rosemont Stud in Victoria where he found his libido and produced quality gallopers out of what were still relatively small crops.
Deep Field has been retired from stud. (Photo: Newgate Stud Farm)
Starspangledbanner will once again stand in Australia. (Photo by Coolmore)
His Rosemont success led to a return to Coolmore Ireland in 2016, shuttling back and forth until it was decided to keep him in Ireland full-time for 2022. But even with his Irish-bred offspring continuing to succeed, the performances of his Australian-bred progeny on the track and in the auction ring, and those racing in Hong Kong, underpinned his considerable Southern Hemisphere appeal: the Coolmore masters could not ignore the requests for his return, nor the smart business sense it seemed to make.
“The great interest in Starspangledbanner’s progeny at the sales, particularly from a Hong Kong angle, was certainly one of the factors that influenced the decision to bring him back down. The Hong Kong market is an important segment of the market in Australia,” Coolmore’s Tom Moore told Asian Racing Report, adding, “but it’s certainly not the only reason that we brought him down here.”
John Moore purchased his latest Starspangledbanner colt at the Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling Sale in January of this year, one of only two offered at the sale. The Moores went to AU$425,000 for a colt out of an unraced half-sister to the smart sprinter Secret Flyer; their long-standing Hong Kong client Gary Ling paid AU$300,000 for the other, a colt out of a half-sister to the Group 1 winner Perfectly Ready.
“There’s definitely an interest among Hong Kong buyers,” the former trainer said. “We’ve got owners coming back to us once we’ve put forward a Starspanglendbanner: like a Deep Field, the owners pick up on it very quickly, as long as they’re the right type and fit the criteria. They’re popular if you can find the right one.”
Starspangledbanner has had 21 of his offspring race in Hong Kong and 14 of those have won 44 races between them; the stallion’s winning percentage is a solid 13 percent there, but what is really impressive is that he has produced a Group 1 winner in the 10-time scorer California Spangle, plus a potential star in the Hong Kong Derby third Beauty Eternal. Both have blossomed this season.
Rising Hong Kong star Beauty Eternal is a son of Starspangledbanner. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)
California Spangle and Zac Purton stave off a gallant Golden Sixty in the G1 Hong Kong Mile. (Photo by HKJC)
Coolmore’s Moore noted: “We feel that there’s a gap in the market in Australia at the moment for high-class proven sires at a value fee, and at the fee of AU$30,000 + GST we feel like there is a need for a horse like him and there certainly has been great demand for him since we announced him last week.”
It is hard not to read between the lines and see in the Coolmore decision at least something of a response to the hole left by Deep Field’s retirement. Deep Field is an undoubted loss but when it comes to Hong Kong buyers, they are a pragmatic lot and will simply move to the next value proposition that has a proven record of delivering results.
Those are key elements to what makes ‘a Hong Kong stallion’: they emerge as a response to market forces. Hong Kong buyers, looking for colts to geld and race, are not likely to pay top whack for yearlings by a stallion with an eye-watering service fee, like Anamoe’s recently announced first season toll, for example, but then they will not be interested in such a stallion if its fee drops due to failure.
Throw in success through horses like California Spangle and Beauty Eternal, and Starspangledbanner fits the Hong Kong bill, perceived as a well-priced stallion whose progeny have thus far been affordable, with a record of achievement not just in Hong Kong but across continents.
“We were one of the first to bring a Starspangledbanner into Hong Kong, with the horse of Gary Ling’s that won the first two Griffin races of that season, Styling City,” said Moore, Hong Kong’s forcibly-retired Group 1 king.
Trainer John Moore and his son George Moore at Sha Tin in 2019. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images)
Styling City - one of the first sons of Starspangledbanner to race in Hong Kong - bolts in at Sha Tin. (Photo by Lo Chun Kit)
Styling City was the product of a 2014 covering, one of the 111 mares the stallion serviced in Australia that year – his biggest book there since his return to the breeding shed – for only 42 foals born. Moore was not only taken with the youngster as a type, but also the fact that his sire was a son of Choisir, a horse he had seen up close in his finest hours.
“When I bought Styling City, he was a big upstanding type that was in a similar mould to Aethero and Able Friend. They’re big, quality horses, that stand over a lot of ground and they’re precocious and that fit my criteria for wanting to get an early comer,” he said.
“Choisir was a top horse in his own right; and winning two races at Royal Ascot, the King’s stand on the Tuesday and then the Golden Jubilee on the Saturday, he was a tough horse, a tough competitor. I was there both days and I just thought ‘wow’, and just doing it in two hemispheres as well, that takes some horse to do what he did and he’s passed it on to Starspangledbanner who was a Group 1 winner in Australia and won at Royal Ascot like his dad.”
The Coolmore stallion has done especially well in passing on his athletic genes to quality runners despite limited crop size. Since his 2014 Southern Hemisphere coverings, his largest book was 98 in 2018 and his smallest 56 in 2017: his largest ever Southern Hemisphere crop was 53 in 2018 and his smallest since 2014 was 37 in 2017, followed by 38 in 2021; his Australian-side fertility rate in 2014 was only 51 percent, but the average for the next seven years was 69 percent, with a high of 75.5 percent in 2017.
Starspangledbanner (rail) winning the Golden Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot in 2010. (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)
Choisir sees off the challenge of Airwave to land 2003 The Golden Jubilee Stakes. (Photo by Julian Herbert/Getty Images)
But in Starspangledbanner’s case, a more meaningful measure of his problems is his foaling rate rather than his fertility percentage as listed by the Australian Stud Book. Taking all ten of his Southern Hemisphere crops, he has a foaling rate of 50 percent; his lowest rate, unsurprisingly, came from his 2011 coverings, at 26 percent; his highest, 66 percent, was achieved off his 2017 and 2020 coverings.
The word from Coolmore is that the stallion is “Treated and managed no differently to the majority of other stallions. Fertility is not an issue like it once was with this stallion.
“He had a tough start at stud but he’s only continued to enhance his credentials as a stallion as time has gone on and we feel like there is a considerable amount of upside in the stallion as a result of that.”
At 17 years old, it does seem that Starspangledbanner is only now hitting his straps. Of his six individual Group 1 winners, four struck top level wins last year, triumphing in Hong Kong, France, Britain and the United States. In that light it is easy to see why he is so appealing to breeders across hemispheres.
Shane Crosse celebrates as he rides Starspangledbanner entire State Of Rest to victory in The Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
The George Moore Bloodstock team, for one, will not be confining themselves to one or the other.
“I’d be looking to go to Tattersalls or Goffs this year,” said Moore, “and I’ll be going looking for a suitable Starspangledbanner there as well.”
At the recent Tattersalls Breeze-up Sale in Newmarket a Starspangledbanner colt sold for 320,000 guineas, and as his progeny continue to perform on the track and his crops remain small, Hong Kong owners might just find that the once affordable becomes harder to hook, wherever they go fishing.
But with the stallion’s return to Australia, at least they will have two pools in which to cast their nets.
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