Lightning showcases Australia’s premier sprinters

| February 13, 2019
Choisir races away with the 2003 Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, heralding a golden era for Australian sprinters.

Australia is a rich and fertile ground for world-class sprinters. Victories in some of the premier sprint races in the world, including 4 memorable wins in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot (Choisir, Starspangledbanner, Black Caviar and Merchant Navy) shows Australia’s sprinting prowess at the top level. Australia’s reputation as a producer of elite sprinters has not come by accident. It has been developed and nurtured over many decades, through a combination of factors.

A distribution of prize money to short course sprint racing, the focus of the Australian breeding industry, has been pivotal to breeding and developing the speed influence.

From early in a racehorse’s career, the emphasis is on speed. For instance, one of the richest races in the country, the Golden Slipper, is worth this year a total of $3 million, including $2 million to the winner. This year’s race is to be run on March 23rd at Rosehill Gardens in Sydney.

The second richest 2YO race in the country, the Blue Diamond Stakes, is run at Caulfield in Melbourne on 23rd February and carries total prizemoney of $1.5 million.

The riches associated with sprint racing over 1000-1200m have seen many owners seeking a piece of the action. They spend large sums on yearlings predominantly bred for speed. This has a flow on effect to stud farms and stallion operators which by consequence offer stallions bred on speed lines.

In Australia, speed is often and mostly imparted by the presence of Star Kingdom in the pedigree. An abundance of Star Kingdom has dominated Australian sprinting pedigrees for decades. It’s rare to find sprint horses devoid of Star Kingdom in their pedigrees, so much so that some stud farms have been known to actively advertise Star Kingdom-free stallions as a potential outcross, in fear, probably incorrectly, that Australian stock has become overly inbred to the horse.

Now, owners from across the globe, recognizing the sustained success of Australian sprinters on the world stage, travel to Australian yearling sales to purchase stock with this speed to burn. Prominent owners from Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Japan are active at the Australian premier yearling sales, spending big money on the purchase of high quality youngsters bred for speed.

Perhaps not as widely appreciated is the benefit to the more classic type of thoroughbred. Racing in the UK and Europe has been focused more on stamina and middle-distance horses, with most prestige and kudos going to the winners of Oaks, Derbies, and other premier races in Europe such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

While there is nothing more thrilling, aside from visiting an online casino for real money, than watching premier stayers battle it out over a long distance, racing across the globe has required a new type of thoroughbred that possesses not only vast quantities of stamina but also the ability to unleash a devastating turn of foot at the required stage.

Breeding this into a classic thoroughbred requires careful and strategic pedigree planning but one of the key factors is to introduce a high-class speed influence. This may be an opportunity for Australian breeders to capitalize on this world-wide need for speed bloodlines. Matched with the changing focus on thoroughbred qualities, from stamina to speed, the well established Australian gene pool represents a valuable resource to continually improve the thoroughbred.

However, it’s not merely a matter of introducing speed into a pedigree over-endowed with stout bloodlines. Astute pedigree analysts bring speed into the pedigree through careful line-breeding strategies that concentrate, reinforce and reinvigorate, particular genetic elements. This is no job for the amateur and good analysts with clear but sophisticated breeding strategies are worth their weight in gold. Perhaps a topic for a new article!

Sprint racing in Australia is celebrated by the running of a number of marquee events on the Australian racing calendar. One of those, arguably the most thrilling and entertaining, is the Group One Lightning Stakes to be run this Saturday over the 1000m straight course at Flemington. This is a race like no other. To say that horses travel at breakneck speed is understating the sheer brilliance, quality and class of the horses involved.

Each year the race brings another epic moment for true racing fans to savour. Who would ever forget the race in 2011 where Black Caviar announced herself as the legend she was to become. Her chief opponent, Hay List, crack sprinter and champion in his own right, drew up to Black Caviar at the 200m, however a simple release of her reins put 4 lengths on the hapless gelding, the mare easing down to a canter to win in astonishing fashion. The great mare went on to win a hat-trick of Lightning Stakes and was rated premier sprinter in the world for 4 consecutive years. The race is indelibly etched in the Black Caviar story and fittingly, was re-named the Black Caviar Lightning Stakes.

Another year worth re-living is the 2016 renewal where race commentator Greg Miles famously called at the 200m mark, “Chautauqua’s struggling to get near them at the moment”. Yes, he got there in a photo finish, the champion that he was.

The race is littered with champion sprinters; Schillaci, Maybe Mahal, Shaftesbury Avenue and Takeover Target, to name several. While this year’s renewal doesn’t appear on paper to contain horses of the same caliber as these previous champions, the race is intriguing nonetheless. As usual, an open race leads to many opinions and this year is no different. A look at our expert members racing forum is testament to the variety of opinion among the racing fraternity.

Category: Racing

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