Want to breed a Classic winner without breaking the bank?


Read below why Aisling Crowe in the Racing Post Good Morning Bloodstock email today recommends Nathaniel…

If there was one Flat race I would love to breed the winner of, it’s the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. If allowed to be greedy, then the Irish Champion Stakes too please. Not asking for much, is it?

Those are the types of races that inflate my enthusiasm, as well as races like the Derby, Oaks and King George that have a storied history and have produced some of the most celebrated stars of the sport.

There is a perception that breeding winners of these races, the middle-distance Classics especially, are beyond the reach of smaller breeders and those on limited budgets, who feel that catering to a commercial market which prizes precocity above all else is their best shot of surviving as breeders and that the best middle-distance stallions are priced beyond their reach.

There are only four living stallions who have sired a Derby and an Oaks winner. New Approach returned from Darley to Jim Bolger last year as the horse’s fertility waned and covered one mare, according to Weatherbys.

Of the others, Frankel stands at £350,000 and Sea The Stars commands a fee of €200,000, so both are very much out of reach to most, but the remaining stallion is not. Nathaniel, who stands for £17,500 at Newsells Park Stud, is an underappreciated and value sire.

Nathaniel’s fee has never been exorbitant, particularly for a Group 1 winner with an excellent pedigree; his initial price on retirement was £20,000 and the highest it has been is £25,000 in 2019 and 2020, when his brilliant Oaks winner Enable was rewriting history. His star-crossed Derby winner, Desert Crown, was bred when Nathaniel’s advertised fee was £20,000.

Therefore, it is possible to breed a Classic winner on a fraction of the budget than it might initially appear, and Nathaniel’s record is exemplary.

For good measure, he is also the sire of Prix de Diane winner Channel and Deutsches Derby runner-up Enjoy Vijay.

Nathaniel is the sire of eight individual Group 1 winners, with two of them decorating last season – Quickthorn triumphed in the Goodwood Cup, while Poptronic earned her Group 1 stripes in the British Champions Fillies & Mares Stakes.

So far from eight crops to have raced, Nathaniel has sired 20 Group winners and 34 black-type winners at a stakes winners-to-runners rate of six per cent, which is a very healthy return.

Much like himself, they come into their own at three and older. Nathaniel was a top-class performer at ten and 12 furlongs but ran twice at two, finishing second on both occasions, won the King George and the King Edward VII Stakes at three, and the Eclipse at four. That year he was second in the Irish Champion Stakes and King George, and third in the Champion Stakes.

Although Poptronic was four and Quickthorn six, the majority of his stakes winners last season were three-year-olds, with five black-type winners headed by Sumo Sam, who won the Group 2 Park Hill and Lillie Langtry Stakes. The others were the Listed Glasgow Stakes winner, Gordon Stakes and Queen’s Vase-placed Chesspiece, Moyglare Stud’s Harbour Wind, who won the Vinnie Roe Stakes and was second in the Group 2 Prix de Chaudenay, and the Listed winners Understated and Zeeyara.

The fascinating aspect to the pedigrees of some of Nathaniel’s best performers is the inbreeding to Sadler’s Wells. Enable is the most famous example, but Channel’s second dam is by Barathea, as is that of Enjoy Vijay.

Nathaniel’s 2023 Group 1 winners also feature inbreeding to Sadler’s Wells through their female line. Quickthorn’s third dam is by Sadler’s Wells, while Poptronic has three lines of the great sire as she is out of a Dream Ahead mare and her third dam Evangeline is by Sadler’s Wells.

Group 2 winner Dashing Willoughby is out of a daughter of Dylan Thomas but has Dream Ahead’s sire Diktat as the sire of his second dam. Sumo Sam’s dam Seaduced is by Lope De Vega out of Starfala, by Galileo.

They are just a few examples, but it is an interesting element and perhaps one worth bearing in mind when considering mares for him.

As he’s free of Danehill and Danzig blood, Nathaniel has sired Group 1 winners out of mares by Danehill, Dansili, Green Desert and Oasis Dream.

At the risk of repeating myself, I am writing about stallions I believe to be talented and to offer value, so there are likely to be a number of similarities in their attributes. With that acknowledged, I would like to emphasise that Nathaniel sires tough, sound and durable racehorses.

Strong female lines are important to me in a stallion and Nathaniel’s dam, the Group 3 Musidora Stakes winner Magnificient Style, foaled three Group 1 winners. As well as Nathaniel, there is his Irish Oaks-winning full-sister Great Heavens, while Fillies’ Mile winner and Irish Oaks second Playful Act is a three-parts sister to the pair, being by Sadler’s Wells. Yorkshire Cup winner Percussionist and Grade 3 winner and Grade 1-placed Changing Skies are also Sadler’s Wells three-parts siblings to Nathaniel.

Magnificient Style is also the dam of Sun Chariot and Park Hill Stakes winner Echoes In Eternity and Listed winner Petara Bay, both by sons of Nureyev, and her Storm Cat daughter Stylistick was a Listed winner.

Nathaniel has 105 two-year-olds registered and almost the same number of yearlings – 101. He covered 171 mares in 2023, which was an increase on both 2021 and 2022.

His yearling sale average in 2023 was £59,498 for 27 sold from 34 offered and they were bred from a fee of £15,000. His 2022 yearling crop, the three-year-olds of this season, averaged £66,846 for 30 sold, and his 2021 yearlings averaged £46,804 for 36 sold. The latter two groups were bred on a fee of £25,000.

Trade is better for his yearlings – at the 2023 foal sales he averaged £24,784 for 17 sold, which was down from the 2022 average of £33,519 for 14 sold, with both crops bred at £15,000, while in 2021 his foal sale average was £25,530 for 14 sold.

Of course, in recent seasons Nathaniel has covered a significant number of National Hunt mares, or ones that could be considered dual purpose. Now, with my National Hunt bias, I think that is an enormous positive for him in many ways as it shows the best aspects of his progeny are appreciated, and if a stallion is capable of siring top-class horses in both spheres then that can be only a good thing.

However, it is a sign of the times beyond racing even that these middle-distance stars are jettisoned because of the obsession with precocity. Attention spans are shortening and people don’t seem to be able to see the value in waiting, in savouring the anticipation of something. Increasingly, ‘now’ isn’t quick enough.

There are of course financial considerations for owners too; the cost of having a horse in training but potentially not seeing them race or receive any financial return until they are three is a problem.

In the case of Nathaniel, he has sired eight juveniles to have earned black type, so crossing him with mares who have speedier pedigrees or, more accurately, come from more early maturing families could produce horses who will run at two and keep progressing as they develop.

Look at Lady Bowthorpe, who is out of a Verglas mare. She ran over six furlongs at two, won over a furlong further at three and was a Group 3 winner and Group 1-placed over a mile, in addition to her Nassau Stakes success.

With that in mind, and not just for Nathaniel, two news stories this week are hopefully the start of a real and concerted effort to bolster middle-distance breeding in Ireland and Britain.

The amendment to the conditions of the Chesham Stakes sees the Royal Ascot contest revert to its previous form and runners must be by a sire who has won over a minimum of ten furlongs. That is a positive development.

In Ireland, the Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders’ Fund Spring Series of median sires’ races for middle-distance three-year-olds was launched. It culminates in a €200,000 final at Gowran Park on the June bank holiday Monday, with the winner earning a place in the Irish Derby.

These initiatives are to be applauded, but it cannot end there. More races, more series, more smart ideas are required.

As are stallions like Nathaniel. A Classic sire for £17,500? It rates excellent value.