New Zealand's greatest stallion bows out
Sir Patrick Hogan proudly recalled the amazing feats that distinguished Zabeel's stud career and stoically announced that the stallion was bowing out at the top.
But when it came to patting his old mate on the shoulder at his final parade before assembled media at Cambridge Stud today, Sir Patrick had to step away.
"I'm about to cry," he said, taking himself out of the way of TV cameras to shed a tear and compose himself.
As emotional a moment as today was, Sir Patrick has long known the day would come.
New Zealand's greatest stallion served his final book of mares this spring, but not one was scanned in foal, making Sir Patrick's decision to retire the 27-year-old mere formality. His foal crop for his second-last season at stud last spring totalled five, well down from his peak of 120.
"He's had 22 years at stud and done a fantastic job. The staff here at Cambridge Stud have done an amazing job of managing him. To still have him serving at 27 was a huge achievement in itself.
"It's not a sad day that we're announcing his retirement. He's got to 27 and he's done an amazing job to get this far. At the end of the day, we're doing what's best for him and I'm pretty proud."
Zabeel's list of achievements is remarkable; his role of winners impressive.
Turf champions such as Might And Power, Octagonal, Efficient and Champagne developed their own cult following among racing fans, all the while helping embellish Zabeel's reputation as a world-class sire.
Octagonal, Savabeel, Reset, Don Eduardo and Zed are among his sons who have made their mark at stud and his winning has yet to finish, with hundreds of horses still bidding to become the next Zabeel turf star.
"I put Might And Power on top ... but Octagonal is a close second," Sir Patrick said.
"He's just been able to produce Gr I-winning horses and not only that but sires like Savabeel - and they're just following on and doing the business as well.
Zabeel's 15 Dewar Stallion Trophy titles, for the New Zealand stallion with the highest Australasian stakes earnings each season, might never be beaten.
In all, he has accumulated more than 25 stallion awards, siring 147 stakes winners, 43 at Gr I level.
Last season, he was champion broodmare sire in both New Zealand and Australia and in August he sired his 1000th individual winner.
"I'd be biased of course ... but there hasn't been a stallion in the last 60 years do what he's done. I've got to fair to both Zabeel and Sir Tristram but he's at least emulated his own sire and I've got to put him on top and Sir Tristram in a close second."
Sir Patrick yesterday reflected on his decision to buy Zabeel, revealing he had considered not standing another stallion after Zabeel's sire and Cambridge Stud stallion great Sir Tristram died because he knew the chances of any stallion achieving what he did were remote.
"For anyone to think that we would follow with a stallion such as Zabeel after standing his own sire Sir Tristram and getting the achievements and results that we did with him, to think of the result [Zabeel] has achieved internationally, you wouldn't have thought it possible.
"When Zabeel came through the gate, I was certainly rapt in him. I believed he was the right son of Sir Tristram but I did say to myself 'if he's a nice bread-and-butter commercial stallion, I'll be more than happy because I can't get one again like the one I've just had'. But as they say lightning struck twice."
Sir Patrick chuckled when he recalled Zabeel's quirk of excitedly bouncing his way to the service barn.
"When he knows he's heading to the service barn ... he takes half the distance on his hind legs every time. I think that's part of the reason he's put so much into his services to produce Gr I horses because he's got his mind on the job before he's even got there and he gives them the best he can."
Typically, Sir Patrick did Zabeel's retirement announcement with class.
He ensured he did every television and website interview separately, doted on every media representative there to make sure they had enough information and most endearingly showed the innate affection he has for his retiring stallion.
Zabeel paraded in terrific condition, his coat dappled under the bright Cambridge sun. He walked freely and was playful when his handler Keri Gore stopped him so photographers could have a standing shot.
Just as he had done right through his career, Zabeel shone.
And Sir Patrick basked in his reflected glory.