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  • Writer's picturePeter McNeile

German stayers prove their worth again in the Arc

Updated: Jan 5, 2022

The success of Torquator Tasso in Sunday's Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe draws attention once again to one of racing's most understated successes: the German breeding of stamina-rich thoroughbreds.

You won't find a precocious two year old from a German mare lining up in the Brocklesby Stakes on the opening day of the Flat turf season at Doncaster. In fact, you'd be lucky to find a two-year old running in Germany before July, never mind further afield. The rangy types that run in German races are almost exclusively bred for distances of a mile and further. And for a country which is so self-deprecating about its ability to compete on the world stage, Germany has actually done rather well in recent years.

There was no fluke about Torquator Tasso's victory in the autumn racing conditions that are so frequently found at Longchamp in October. "Stayed on well" is a race descriptor you can readily find in his other Group I performances at Hoppegarten's galloping track in last year's Longines Groβer Preis von Berlin in 2020 (won) and 2021 (second) as well as his 1l beating of Sisfahan in the Groβer Preis von Baden-Baden last month.

In fact, if truth be told, German horses have been consistently overlooked when matched against the three major racing nations of Europe in a form of racing snobbery. And the fact that British and Irish runners competing in Germany are rarely successful adds to a lack of interest and spartan reporting of the sport outside Germany. Even within Germany, the quality of German breeding is a well-kept secret.

German-bred and trained winner of Europe's richest race Torquator Tasso
German-bred and trained winner of Europe's richest race, Torquator Tasso

Previous successes by German-bred and trained horses in the Arc have been well-documented. Danedream in 2011 ran a record time that is only bettered by Found in 2016 when the race was run at Chantilly whilst Longchamp was under development.

In 1975 Star Appeal won for Theo Grieper under Greville Starkey in the colours of Waldemar Zeitelhack. However, Star Appeal was an Irish-bred horse.

Although in comparison to the French, British and Irish bloodstock markets, Germany is a relatively small fish, some 850 foals are born each year, many of which are raced by their owner-breeders. The domestic bloodstock market is overshadowed by the goliaths of the bloodstock auction market in Tattersalls and Goffs, which actively pursue the export of German - bred yearlings to their sales in the UK and Ireland. Whilst this opens up the offspring to a wider market of international buyers which is good for breeders, it ensures that much of the stock is trained outside Germany and doesn't return.

Despite this, there is no doubting the ability of German trainers to compete at the highest level if given the tools to do so. In 1995, German -bred Lando won the Japan Cup for Gestüt Haus Ittlingen, one of 7 Group I victories. Lando's stud career lent itself to staying horses though to such an extent that he grew a higher reputation as a breeder of jumpers.

In 2013, Novellist won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, the highlight of Ascot's summer programme in an unbeaten 11 month spell that included Group I wins in the Gran Premio del Jockey Club Italiano, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, and the Groβer Preis von Baden. Trained by Andreas Wöhler, the Irish -bred was exported to stand in Japan.

Wöhler produced another sparkling international performance the following year when Protectionist scooped the Melbourne Cup, one among 8 victories from 22 runs that also included the Groβer Preis von Berlin. As a stallion, he's had mixed success, and his fee now reflects that.

So what next for German breeding? The tendency to concentrate on stamina has produced some fateful moments in world racing. They say that creating a niche market is a positive move. There's little doubt that when it comes to stayers, German horses are increasingly announcing their presence.

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