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Eleventh Dewar Trophy for Zabeel

Zabeel's record-setting eleventh consecutive Dewar Stallion Trophy is a welcome opportunity to reassess his remarkable stud career, as he enters his 16th season at Cambridge Stud.

Champion sire ZABEEL (above) and two of his stars in 2005-06,
VENGEANCE OF RAIN (top right) and BAZELLE (below right).

PHOTOS: Courtesy of Cambridge Stud
& NZ Thoroughbred Marketing
The Dewar Trophy is awarded to each year's leading New Zealand-based sire by combined Australasian progeny earnings and effectively recognises our champion sire in Australia. It was first awarded to Summertime in 1965, and other multiple winners since then have been Le Filou, Pakistan II, Oncidium (three times), and Zabeel's own sire Sir Tristram (nine times). Only three times in 42 years has it been won by a stallion other than New Zealand's leading sire on the Australian general sires' list: in 1967, when Le Filou headed off Alcimedes; in 1982, when Noble Bijou defeated Sir Tristram; and in 1994, when Sir Tristram defeated his son Grosvenor for the Dewar title.

A select group of six New Zealand-based sires have won the Australian premiership 15 times in that period: Alcimedes (1967 & 1970), Agricola (1968), Oncidium (1973 & 1975), Sir Tristram (1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989 & 1990), Zamazaan (1988) and Zabeel (1998 & 1999).

Last season Zabeel took third place on the Australian premiership, behind Redoute's Choice and Encosta De Lago, and added $A8.7 million to his lifetime Australian progeny earnings of $A73.4 million, which compares very respectably with Danehill's $A94.2 million. They hold clear first and second positions on the Australian alltime general sires' table. Zabeel's local prizemoney of $8.4 million seems modest by comparison, but gives him second place on the New Zealand alltime sires' list, about $500,000 behind five-time domestic champion sire Volksraad.

Zabeel has appeared in the top ten Australian sires (by progeny earnings) every season since 1996, heading the list twice, and has only once slipped out of the top five, in 2003. He's been alone among active New Zealand-based sires in the latter group for all but two of those eleven seasons. In 1996 he was joined by Norman Pentaquad, sire of Doriemus, and a year later by Saintly's sire Sky Chase.

Last season Zabeel was accompanied in the top 100 Australian sires by three other New Zealand-based stallions: Stravinsky (11th), Pentire (36th) and Pins (73rd). Twenty years ago, New Zealand had four stallions among Australia's top ten sires.

It's hardly surprising that competition for the Dewar award has weakened, given New Zealand's declining stallion strength over the past 15 years. At the same time Australia's resurgent breeding industry has made it difficult for all but our very best sire to figure among Australia's elite sires. These are trends that the new bloodstock depreciation regime is expected to reverse.

Zabeel's stars in 2005-06 included World Series Champion Vengeance Of Rain in Hong Kong, dual Australian G1 winner Railings, VRC MacKinnon S. G1 winner Lad of the Manor and ARC Galaxy S. G1 winner Bazelle. Vengeance of Rain helped Zabeel to second place on the Hong Kong sires' list, behind Danehill, while Zarius was his leading earner in New Zealand, where he finished ninth on the general sires' premiership.

Not surprisingly, Zabeel is also beginning to make a mark as a broodmare sire, appearing in fourth position on both the 2005-06 Australian and New Zealand broodmare sires' lists, largely thanks to AJC Derby G1 winner Headturner and dual G1 Darci Brahma. They are among the 21 stakeswinners left to date by Zabeel's daughters.

While progeny earnings are still the basis for most official Australasian stallion premierships, breeders are rightly paying attention to other analyses, such as SW-to-foals percentages, Average Earnings Indices and APEX ratings. When his performance is put through these filters, Zabeel still rates very highly.

Excluding his crop of just-turned two-year-olds, Zabeel has sired 103 stakeswinners (8.5%) from 1214 foals, a remarkable figure across 12 crops, and still better than that of Australia's new champion sire Redoute's Choice with 23 stakeswinners (7.4%) from 312 foals.

His New Zealand AEI figure for last season was better than 2.0, meaning that on average Zabeel's progeny earned more than twice the average available funds per runner. For an excellent explanation of the Average Earnings Index, read Renee Geelen's article for the NZTBA, Measuring Stallion Performance: the Case for AEI & CI. (introduction to pdf document).

Zabeel's status as a top ten sire in Australia is confirmed by the APEX ratings tables published for the first time in July's Australian Bloodhorse Review. He's fourth on the list by "A" rating with a figure of 4.45, and seventh on the "ABC" rating list, with 2.66. It's also encouraging to see three other active New Zealand sires, Pentire, O'Reilly and Kashani ranked second, third and sixth in the latter group. Byron Rogers has written a very good commentary on the Australian APEX ratings which can be accessed here in pdf format: Climbing to the Summit.

The final challenge for Zabeel, now twenty years old, is to establish his own stallion dynasty. This is taking longer than it might have, because most of his best racing sons from his early crops were geldings. (And what a line-up they were: Might And Power, Sky Heights, Zonda, Hades, Dignity Dancer, Bezeal Bay, Cronus and company).

The exceptions were Eight Carat's sons, the brilliant but infertile Mouawad, and the champion Octagonal who, despite leaving his own champion son in Lonhro, has not fulfilled his promise with 17 stakeswinners (2%) from 857 foals to date.

However, it's too soon to dismiss the possibility of a Zabeel sire-line, because he's had four Group One-winning sons begin stud careers in the past three years: Don Eduardo, Savabeel and St Reims in New Zealand, and Reset in Australia. Haunui Farm's Don Eduardo is first cab off the rank, with two-year-olds this season. His other New Zealand-based sire sons are Colombia, I Conquer and Sunray.

"A thoroughly reliable source of classic performance in Australasia" is Byron Rogers' recent verdict on Zabeel. At first reading it seems insufficient praise for a horse that has won 17 official stallion premierships in Australasia, left two Australian Horses of the Year, generated yearling sale receipts of $144 million since 1995 and has eight yearlings in the million-dollar-plus club.

The test is how many other stallions qualify for that description. The answer, fifteen years after Zabeel began stud duties at Cambridge Stud, is "hardly any."

- Susan Archer


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