“When he took a half-step outside his box,” is John Messara’s recollection of the moment in late 1989 when he knew he just had to buy the horse that would re-engineer the Australian thoroughbred and transform the international bloodstock industry.
With legendary vet Dr Percy Sykes at his side, Messara took a closer look at the horse called Danehill, a big, powerful son of Danzig and Razyana bred in the United States by Juddmonte Farms and trained by Jeremy Tree for Prince Khalid Abdullah. Described by Timeform as a “high-class colt” with “a quick, fluent action”, Danehill won four of his nine starts in England, Ireland & France, including the Haydock Sprint Cup G1 and Royal Ascot Cork and Orrery S. G2.
Inbred 3 x 3 to Natalma, the colt had a stallion’s pedigree to die for, and Messara and Sykes were quick to excuse him for his only physical fault of being back at the knee. Sykes had reminded Messara that this was also a fault in the great Australian sire Star Kingdom.
In 1989 Arrowfield Stud was a relatively new player on the Australian breeding scene, but Messara was prepared to make his own way in an environment where a head for business had become as vital as a horseman’s hands. His early stallion investments reflected a willingness to look beyond Star Kingdom, whose descendants had dominated the country’s stallion ranks since his importation by Stanley Wootton in 1951.
Arrowfield’s foundation roster was headed by champion French sire Kenmare (by Kalamoun), one of the first stallions to stand on both sides of the equator, alongside Prego (by Be My Guest) and Bellotto (by Mr. Prospector). They proved successful enough, leaving 13 Australian-bred Group 1 winners among them, but none was the game-changer Messara sought. The time was right for an infusion of fresh genetics and Arrowfield’s ambition, left-field thinking and considered risk-taking delivered it.
Messara recalls, “We identified Danzig as the Northern Dancer sire whose line was most likely to succeed in Australian conditions; he offered speed and loved grass. We then set about finding a son with high-class sprinting form on turf. Danehill filled the bill and when we saw him, we simply had to have him.”
Purchased in partnership with Coolmore Stud, Danehill was not the first dual hemisphere stallion, but the decision to shuttle him between Australia and Ireland popularised a trend that is now a standard option in stallion deals.
However, no other shuttle stallion has so far matched Danehill’s global dominance. His career tallies of 347 stakeswinners (175 SH; 172 NH) and 83 Group 1 winners (44 SH; 39 NH) are world records, and he has 149 sons and grandsons responsible for 1545 stakeswinners. Fifty-two of them have left Group One winners, notably Arrowfield’s champion sire Redoute’s Choice, Darley’s Exceed and Excel, Coolmore’s Fastnet Rock and Juddmonte’s Dansili.
Danehill’s daughters are equally valuable, with 215 stakeswinners on their collective record, most famously world champion Frankel, Danedream (Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe G1) and Shocking (Melbourne Cup G1).
Arrowfield bred several of Danehill’s best early sire sons, including Commands (57 SW), Danewin (29 SW) and former Stud residents, the Golden Slipper winners Danzero (40 SW) and Flying Spur (89 SW). Of these, Flying Spur is exerting the most powerful influence in the second remove, as damsire of 42 stakeswinners and sire of Casino Prince, whose first crop includes two Group 1 winners, the outstanding colt All Too Hard and Escado.
No sooner was Arrowfield established as the Danehill fountainhead, than John Messara began to search for stallions to complement an Australian broodmare population he knew would eventually end up in a genetic corner. Indeed, last year in Australia 22% of all mares covered, and 33% of covering stallions had Danehill in their pedigrees.
In 1994, after the closure of Trans Media Park Stud, Arrowfield acquired promising sire Snippets (by Tom Fool’s grandson Lunchtime). He proved to be immensely valuable not only for his 57 stakeswinners, nine at Group 1 level, but also as the damsire of major performers by Danehill’s sons, including Arrowfield’s sensational young sire Snitzel and this year’s Golden Slipper winner Overreach.
Arrowfield’s 2003 purchase of another outcross sire, the US-bred Hussonet (by Mr. Prospector) raised the eyebrows of breeders who wondered what a champion sire of Chile could do for Australian racing. Hussonet promptly left Australian Horse of the Year Weekend Hussler and three other Group 1 winners in his first two crops. He has since added a further 24 Australian-bred stakeswinners to his record and now has a pair of stakes-siring sons, Host and Husson, at stud in Victoria and New South Wales.
The results of Arrowfield’s stallion-making work over the past three decades are evident across the Australian thoroughbred industry. Seven of the country’s current top ten sires are sons or grandsons of Danehill, one is by former Arrowfield shuttler Royal Academy and another is Lonhro, a grandson of Arrowfield-bred champion New Zealand sire Zabeel, from the Arrowfield-bred mare Shadea.
At the 2013 Inglis Australian Easter Yearling Sale all but two of the 20 top-priced yearlings were by Danehill sons or grandsons. And more than half of this season’s Australian Group 1 races have been won by horses representing the Danehill sire-line, or from mares by stallions bred or formerly based at Arrowfield.
John Messara’s eyes are always on the future, and he rarely looks back, but then he hardly needs to. Arrowfield’s rich history is all around him.