Racing Heroes: the Aga Khan
In our Racing Heroes series, Gary Sears puts forward His Highness the Aga Khan
There is one thing that, for me, made racing on the flat a delight to study in my early years of following the sport – the Owner-Breeders, with a dynasty of horses that evolved from year to year, such as Louis Freedman, the Weinstock’s, Jim Joel and Khalid Abdullah and his Juddmonte operation and in particular His Highness the Aga Khan.
His Highness the Aga Khan took over the running of the breeding and racing operation in 1960 and, in the 60 years since, the operation has continued with the objective of excellence based on the strength and quality of the band of broodmares. And what excellence he has achieved.
To be honest I have always been more of a jumps man but from early on in my days of going racing I found the strand of the Aga Khan’s horses from season to season on the flat a source of great pleasure and consistency.
Here were horses bred to be proper racehorses, trained by proper trainers, prepared to give them time to fulfil their full potential. Not at Ascot in June as a juvenile but at Epsom or Longchamp the next year over a distance of ground. Horses who would breed strength and stability and soundness for future generations.
A perfect example of this. In 1922 His Highness the Aga Khan III bought a mare called Mumtaz Mahal. She turned out to be a champion and was a foundation mare of the stud. Her list of descendants is like a who’s who of the breed. And, 86 years later she became the 9th dam of Zarkava, unbeaten winner of the Arc. Some dynasty.
The purchases of the Boussac bloodstock empire in 1978 and the Lagardere one in 2005 added new lines and ensured no standing still and it maybe that the years of the pursuit of excellence came to a pinnacle over a weekend at Longchamp in October 2009 with seven Group race wins, five of them at Group 1 level.
Improve and improve
From a more personal point of view, when it wasn’t quite so easy to follow the French form in the 1980’s, the first thing to look for on our annual trip to the Arc was: what was the Aga Khan running? You knew they that even if one of the two-year-olds couldn’t quite win, watch out next year when history told you they’d improve and improve.
I would be prepared to bet a substantial sum that there is no notable thoroughbred in the world without some example of Aga Khan breeding in its background – Tony Morris
There have been five bred and owned Derby winners – Shergar, Shahrastani, Kahyasi, Sinndar and Harzand and notice who the trainers were – Michael Stoute, Luca Cumani and John Oxx, again telling you all you need to know – patient men who would give the horses all the time they needed to fulfil their full potential.
If I may quote the legendary bloodstock writer Tony Morris from an article in European Bloodstock News in 2010. “I would be prepared to bet a substantial sum that there is no notable thoroughbred in the world without some example of Aga Khan breeding in its background”
Maybe things have quietened down a bit recently, particularly in England and Ireland, but any glance down the field for a big race in France starts by looking for a runner wearing green with red epaulettes. You know they will be good; you know they will be tough – and you know that one hundred years of planning and thought will have gone in to trying to ensure they will be a credit to the dynasty.
It is a nice thought that in years to come the Aga Khan, or Princess Zahra or whoever may have continued the pursuit of excellence will be somebody else’s hero.
Racing Heroes series
Lester Piggott http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Yo
Kieren Fallon http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Ua
The Aga Khan http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3SB
Best Mate and Kauto Star http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Rk
Persian Punch http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3Px
Sir Peter O’Sullevan http://wp.me/p8e3Dl-3NB