John Messara's Arrowfield Stud bought a majority interest in 2011 Kentucky Derby winner and 3-year-old champion Animal Kingdom from Team Valor last December, then watched the son of Leroidesanimaux make a quick return on investment by winning the $10-million Dubai World Cup a few months later. Following that victory it was announced that Sheikh Mohammed's Darley had purchased a 29% interest in Animal Kingdom and will stand the horse at its Kentucky operation beginning in 2014.
But first things first, Animal Kingdom has settled into Arrowfield's stud barn in Scone, New South Wales, Australia, standing the 2013 Southern Hemisphere breeding season for AUS$38,500 live foal. He is the seventh Kentucky Derby winner to stand in Australia, following Thunder Gulch, Real Quiet, Fusaichi Pegasus, Street Sense, Big Brown and Super Saver.
Messara is a major stallion maker, having launched the career of the great Danehill, along his champion sire son Redoute's Choice, the current star of the Arrowfield roster, among others.
Messara formed the Arrowfield Group in 1985 after a career as a stockbroker and has held numerous leadership positions in the sport, including chairmanship of Racing New South Wales.
What's been the reception from Southern Hemisphere breeders to Animal Kingdom in terms of quality of mares in his first book?
Animal Kingdom's reception in Australia has been very pleasing and he has over 100 mares booked to him. The quality of his book is very good and I would consider it as good, if not better, than those of the stallions we have launched in the last decade. His major shareholders – Arrowfield, Darley and Team Valor – are supporting him with quantity and quality. By way of example, Arrowfield's pride and joy, the champion Australian 2-year-old and 3-year-old filly, Miss Finland, is booked to him and seven stakes winners were covered in the first two weeks of the season.
Approximately how big will his first-year book be?
As a first-season sire who will be shuttling to Kentucky later this year, his first book will be kept at around 110 mares. I can advise that five of the first six mares served by Animal Kingdom have tested in foal, so fertility will not be an issue for him!
Are you recommending a certain type of mare – physically and genetically – to Animal Kingdom?
Animal Kingdom falls in the exact median in terms of size and physique, which means he can work with a wide range of mares. Genetically his sire's family has done extremely well with Danehill/Danzig blood with this cross yielding 11 stakes winners, including six Group 1 winners. Therefore Danehill/Danzig-line mares are a focus for us and there are plenty of them in our gene pool. Daughters of the Australian sire Lonhro, owned by Darley, should also nick very well with Animal Kingdom, as his damsire Straight Strike hails from the same tail-female family as Leroidesanimaux.
What first attracted you to this horse?
Animal Kingdom came across our radar when we were researching his sire Leroidesanimaux. We were intrigued by the extraordinary performance of his son, Animal Kingdom, to win the Kentucky Derby so convincingly at his first start on dirt and at only his fifth lifetime start. Additionally, he represented a great outcross for us in Australia and he was a very handsome animal. I then attended the 2012 Breeders' Cup, and Animal Kingdom's effort in the BC Mile again beguiled me, with his tremendous effort to run second to a cracking miler in Wise Dan in course-record time, and posting excellent sectional times. It was at that moment we decided to try and buy into Animal Kingdom.
Can you explain the reasoning behind having his first season at Arrowfield rather than take a more traditional path, letting him race through the end of the calendar year, stand in Northern Hemisphere, then shuttle to the Southern Hemisphere?
It was simply the chronology of events, rather than any special reason that determined where he would stand first. All his owners agreed that the Dubai World Cup or Royal Ascot would be his final race. The first breeding season, which fell after his retirement, happened to be the Southern Hemisphere…so this is where he has started. Barry Irwin (Team Valor chairman) will tell you that Animal Kingdom was quite ready for his new career. In fact our breeding barn team have said that Animal Kingdom is the “smartest” first-time stallion they have dealt with; he has taken to his new career very comfortably!
What is the best example of a horse that's raced entirely in the Northern Hemisphere to retire to Australia without first having stood in his native country?
Two that spring to mind are Scenic (73 stakes winners – 13 Group 1 winners) and Danehill Dancer (149 stakes winners – 17 Group 1 winners), who each left Group 1 winners in both hemispheres after racing in the Northern Hemisphere only, but commencing their stud careers in Australia.
Darley is a competitor in Australia, yet a deal was struck to stand the horse at Darley's Kentucky farm. How did that come about and how much support is Darley providing in the Southern Hemisphere?
Yes, Darley is a competitor in the Australian stallion market, but we have a history of using each other's stallions from time to time. They had approached us very early in the piece for an involvement in Animal Kingdom, as had a number of other Northern Hemisphere farms. The special thing about Darley is that they have a Southern Hemisphere base, with a first-class broodmare band and racing operation, which are capable of supporting Animal Kingdom here in Australia, in addition to standing him at Jonabell Farm. Darley have sent him 14 nice mares in Australia this season.
From your perspective, what are the differences and what are the similarities in what Australia/New Zealand breeders and North American breeders are looking for?
Ultimately, we all want a successful stallion. In Australia the primary requirement is for a horse that has an affinity for grass and has speed. We are also looking for a horse with classic capabilities that is an outcross for the predominant bloodlines in Australia. In our view Animal Kingdom offers all that. In North America, I think his outstanding performance in the Kentucky Derby alone fulfilled many breeders' requirements, although his tremendous versatility in being proficient on all surfaces is an added bonus in the modern world. Breeders in both hemispheres will either embrace or be puzzled by Animal Kingdom's diverse bloodlines. For us, that's his major attraction in an era where the gene pool has narrowed significantly.
How would you summarize the current health of Australia's racing and breeding industry today?
Our industry in Australia has been suffering from the economic conditions brought about by the global financial crisis of five or six years ago. The signs of recovery are with us now, especially at the upper end of the market, and industry regulators are working hard to improve returns to owners across the sport. I am therefore moderately bullish about our breeding and racing industries. The internationalization of our bloodlines of the last 20 years has also attracted a lot of interest from international players and plans to revitalize our racing should bring Australia into sharper global focus.
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