Posts Tagged ‘Greg Hope’

In a recent blog following the yearling sales, I made this comment about the mixed/cool reception Rock N Roll Heaven received this year as a sire:

Rock N Roll Heaven was in favour at first, but now there is word around that some of his foals can be hard to gait. He was dropped in a big way at these NZ sales.

A couple of trainers mentioned that Mark Purdon had some that didn’t gait well, and so he wasn’t buying them/didn’t like them. That may be true, and it is his prerogative. I haven’t spoken to him yet. And there may well have been other trainers experiencing a similar thing.

What intrigues me is that a possibly off-hand remark by one person or a few people can become so influential in a sire’s early career, whereas it may be valid personal experience of a small number of his progeny, and in a context that is quickly lost in the retelling. It’s been the same for many a sire – Sundons are mad, Art Majors don’t want to be there, Mach Threes don’t have heart, Somebeachsomewheres are highly strung and hard to gait, Rocknroll Hanovers bash their knees, and so on. With luck and time, the “pudding” is eaten and a reputation is made based on more solid ground and more foals and racehorses and winners. Sometimes there is an element of truth – that sires can leave certain traits in a percentage of their foals. You want the good traits like conformation and speed to be in a higher percentage of foals, i.e. that a sire “stamps” his progeny with some traits that are consistent and favourable, and these make up for other traits that are perhaps less endearing in some of his foals!

All wasn’t doom and gloom for the “Heaven” yearlings at the New Zealand yearling sales – a total of 9 were offered, 7 were sold and 2 passed in for the same reserve of $20,000. So the average of ones sold by auction was $17,500. The highest price was $25,000 for my own filly from Zenterfold, bought by Merv and Meg Butterworth (strictly speaking this one was bought by Merv Butterworth when his wife wasn’t looking!). The Butterworths also bought a “Heaven” filly in the Christchurch sale for $17,000.

I can only speak for my one, but she’s been left in the care of Tony Herlihy, who reports she broke in well, gaits well and is bowling around nicely.

Benecio, the Australian bred Rock N Roll Heaven x Miss Brazillian, trained by Purdon/Rasmussen in New Zealand.

Benecio, the Australian bred Rock N Roll Heaven x Miss Brazillian, trained by Purdon/Rasmussen in New Zealand.

And at the race meeting on Easter Saturday at Addington, I noted the Purdon/Rasmussen team had two starters in race 2 by Rock N Roll Heaven – the winner Mackenzie, a 3yo filly, (formline now 8 starts, 3 wins, 3 places) and the third placegetter 3yo gelding Benicio (formline now 7 starts, 3 wins, 3 places). A couple of races later,  they got another win with Rock N Roll Heaven 3yo gelding Heaven Rocks, which gives him a 2 starts, 2 wins record. Today at Motukarara on the grass track, Cran Dalgety lined up his very talented Rock N Roll Heaven gelding Alpha Rock for another win (so far 6 starts, 5 wins, 1 place) off a very awkward draw, but what a talented young horse from a lovely family (dam Sparks A Flyin).

And here’s a comment from trainer Greg Hope about talented filly Emily Blunt (breeder Pat Laboyrie):

She is a lovely gaited filly but is also one of those fillies that lifts bigtime off the place on raceday. The other thing that has really pleased me all the way through with her is she has never stopped improving the whole time.

In New Zealand, “Heaven” has 60 registered foals of racing age showing on the HRNZ database, for 28 qualifiers (fractionally under 50%), 22 starters and 14 winners (23%), and 7 of those winners have had 3 or more wins. For small numbers and an oldest crop of just 3yos, Rock N Roll Heaven is tracking well.

His Australian stats seem to be proportionately about the same so far, with 88 starters and 44 winners. He was rated 2015 Australian leading first crop sire & 2nd Aust. 2yo sire. But although he can leave precocious types, those startlingly natural 2yos that show up in the top babies’ races, it is as 3yos and older that his foals will shine – as is the case with almost every sire.

In America he is a star sire.

So the “disappointment gap” and perhaps the rumours and perception about him currently, are probably more due to high expectations rather than to his actual performance as a sire.

The expectations were that

  • a really fast sire
  • of smaller size
  • and with a renown great gait

(all of which he had himself) would bring those things to his progeny in spades i.e. fast early types that were easy to gait. If only breeding was that simple!

Look at his own record – he was an outstanding 2yo, but the improvement in him from 2 to 3 years old was astounding! He developed into not just a fast horse, but a really tough one as proven by his Little Brown Jug heat wins. At 2 he won 4 of his 9 starts and a record of 1:50.4. But at 3 he won 16 of 21 starts and a record of 1:47.6. He retired to stud before racing as a 4yo but his gelding half-brother Clear Vision is showing just that sort of top level consistency as he ages. His dam Artistic Vision raced from 2 through to 7, and got her record of 1:50.2 as a 4yo.

North American top filly Sassa Hanover

North American top filly Sassa Hanover

It is a family that can run at 2 but gets better. And in the end, isn’t that what you want in a horse? Their gait early on is less important in the context of their potential to improve.

It’s timely to remember, as a couple of people have told me lately, Christian Cullen was really hard to gait and took about 3 months to get it right.

People want a sire that leaves fast, early types, and yet I’ve heard that in Australia some are viewing Sportswriter as a sire whose progeny “show speed early but don’t go on with it”. Boy it is hard to please some people!

Early reports can be skewed by the natural traits so many yearlings or 2yos show before they mature mentally and physically. And if they are pushed to be early 2yos, then some of those traits (like being overly keen/headstrong, or difficult to gait, or even hitting itself) may show up more strongly, or may take the will to race out of the horse. That’s why good trainers read their horses and know how to adapt their training to get the best out of a horse.

Several things will help Rock N Roll Heaven – his fillies appear as good as his colts, and as his current 2yos move into their 3yo season his reputation will right itself. Also his own pedigree is rock solid and is matchable with many mares.

The ideal thing would be to bring his service fee down from around $9000 to say $7500 with the same sort of discounts already offered. This would bring him closer to more proven sires like American Ideal and new kids with big support like A Rocknroll Dance and He’s Watching, both of whom will now be strong competition for him over the next couple of years. He needs a fee that still holds him as a top sire, but gives breeders an incentive to stick with him. Perhaps the new partnership between Pepper Tree Farm and Alabar will see some movement there. I hope he will remain available to New Zealand breeders, but I doubt we have earned it!

I went to Rock N Roll Heaven when he was $11,000 (but got a standard payment date discount to $9,500). I like him a lot, but until the rumours change, I could not contemplate going back to him for a foal bound for the sales at his current price of $9000 ($8,300), when I could pay two thousand dollars more and get Art Major – and possibly get twice the sales price for a yearling, certainly much less risk in terms of reputation.

Having said that, “Heaven” still strikes me as one of the classiest sires we have. The 2018 yearling sales are a long way off, and so much will happen on the racetrack and at the rumour mill by then!

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