End of line for Harbinger's racing career
The curtain came down officially yesterday on a career that was, at the top level, as brief as it was brilliant when it was confirmed that Harbinger, last month's runaway King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner, currently recovering from a fractured left foreleg in a Newmarket veterinary hospital, would not be risked on a racecourse again.
The injury he sustained during a routine gallop last Saturday morning, a crack at the base of the long bone above the ankle, is neither uncommon nor life-threatening. However, given the son of Dansili's value as a potential stallion, any other news about his future would have been in the man-bites-dog category.
The damage to the four-year-old's leg has been repaired with screws and the prognosis is good. His trainer, Michael Stoute, has always stressed that one of Harbinger's best qualities is his calm, sensible mind, which will stand to him in the coming weeks of restricted immobility.
"The surgery was very successful," reported Harry Herbert, manager of the Highclere Thoroughbred Racing syndicate in whose colours the colt ran. "Thankfully Harbinger is recovering well. The decision to retire him is based on his welfare, which is paramount to us all."
Herbert and John Warren, the group's bloodstock advisor, will now set about the business of marketing their potential stallion and selling him. Much of the promotional work has already been done and there has been no individual as active in this sphere as Harbinger himself.
His stunning 11-length demolition of a high-class field in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes in a record time last month was one of the best individual performances seen in a Group One at Ascot in the past 50 years -- and also a priceless piece of marketing. The colt also holds the desirable tag of 'highest-rated horse in the world'.
His sale as a potential stallion comes nine months after Sea The Stars was valued at around £60m before securing a place at one of the Aga Khan's studs in Ireland. He wasn't sold, but retained by his owner Christopher Tsui.
Harbinger is a very different stud proposition and will be valued much lower. One respected bloodstock figure pointed out that Harbinger's race record had features that many commercial breeders would not like, saying: "The fact that he didn't run at two, and that five of his six wins were over a mile and a half or more, may be viewed as negatives by breeders, who prefer a stallion which has the speed to at least win over a mile as a three-year-old. Five years ago, they would have been queuing up in Japan to buy him."
One inexplicable blip was the tapering off of his form at the end of his three-year-old career. But at four he was brilliant, winning all four outings, the last in sensational style.
If he does as well as three other high-profile performers injured in training but saved for stud -- Mill Reef, Singspiel and the short-lived Dubai Millennium -- he will again be judged a success.
He is already a 10/1 shot with one firm to sire a Classic winner in his first crop, which would be three-year-olds in 2015.
Meanwhile, in the United States last weekend, the magnificent mare Zenyatta took her 100pc run to 18, something of a magic number for Turf anoraks, matching as it does the unbeaten record of the 18th-century English giant Eclipse.
That horse, bred in 1764 by William, Duke of Cumberland, has long since galloped out of the pages of history and into those of legend. After he retired, he became a hugely successful stallion, to the degree that 90pc of today's thoroughbreds are descended from him in the direct male line.
They include Zenyatta, whose 20-greats paternal grandsire he is (and is, incidentally, one of 4,194,304 names in that particular centuries-distant generation), and Harbinger, 18-greats.
Eclipse retired unbeaten, as did another on 18, the Turkish champion of the 1970s, Karayel. The recent 19 for 19 of Peppers Pride is now very much within Zenyatta's reach. (© Independent News Service)