Zabeel undisputed king of staying sires
A study of tomorrow's field for the A$6.2 million Melbourne Cup is enough to prove champion New Zealand stallion Zabeel remains the undisputed king of staying sires.
Just six of 24 starters in the Flemington 3200m showpiece were bred in the southern hemisphere, yet remarkably four of those six can claim Zabeel as their dad.
''That's something I'm very proud of,'' said Sir Patrick Hogan, who owns world-renowned studfarm Cambridge Stud.
''Especially with the lack of southern hemisphere horses in there and one stallion has four of them - and they're not without their chances either.''
Caulfield Cup-placed Lights Of Heaven and 2010 Melbourne Cup runner-up Maluckyday head Zabeel's quartet, while Zabeelionaire and Precedence, who Sir Patrick bred and part-owns, rate runner's chances, not for the least of reasons that their sire has already produced three Melbourne Cup winners - Might And Power (1997), Jezabeel (1998) and Efficient (2007).
But while Zabeel may be on the cusp of another Cup triumph, Sir Patrick has revealed the stallion has overcome a setback that had threatened to curtail his career.
Issues resulting from a lingering front hoof infection had Cambridge Stud staff fearing the worst for the 26-year-old stallion, who is into his 22nd season at stud.
He was stood down from stud duties last month as veterinarians fought to combat the infection that wouldn't go away.
Eventually they treated the infection by embedding industrial maggots into Zabeel's wound to eat away the dead flesh before finally giving the all-clear to return to stud duties late last month.
"We had a glitch. He bruised a heel and at first we thought it was nothing to serious,'' Sir Patrick said.
''It was slightly infected and we waited for it to burst. But it didn't burst - it travelled around the hoof and in the end we had to get our blacksmith Laurie Lynch to dig a hole in his heel, just behind the frog.
"He got a bit of juice and puss out of it but there was a bit of damage to it, mainly to the soft tissue around the sole of the hoof. We just had to wait it out and then we started him on antibiotics and got in industrial maggots to eat away the dead tissue. In the end we had to get a second lot of maggots in there but they cleaned it up and he got back to serving.
"I didn't want to make too much of it at the time because it could have been blown out of proportion. Every year now is a bonus with him now. The last three seasons have been bonus years for a stallion aged 24, 25 and 26. He served 90 mares last season so he's going to have about 70 foals running around for this year's crop.''
The use of industrial maggots isn't new in treating horses. Cambridge vets used them to clear up a tissue injury on 2010 Victoria Derby winner Lion Tamer.
Sir Patrick said Zabeel had lost three weeks in the breeding barn while he fought the infection and the time out would mean the son of Sir Tristram was now likely only to serve 40 mares for the breeding season.
Zabeel served 12 mares before the injury and four of the eight that had been scanned at 42 days into their pregnancy were confirmed in foal.
"We've got November and December to go and I'm probably still going to leave him serving mares up to January 20. If you get a foal by Zabeel on the 20th of December it doesn't matter so much because it's a Zabeel and typically they take a bit more time.
"It's amazing the number of breeders that have booked to him have just said they are going nowhere else. They've told me 'we'll just sit and wait because we want to give the mare the chance to go to Zabeel'.''
Zabeel, whose own sire Sir Tristram produced three Melbourne Cup winners, has fashioned a remarkable stud record with 15 Dewar Award Trophies for the New Zealand stallion with the highest Australasian earnings for a season to his credit.
He has sired 42 individual Gr I winners of 83 Gr I races.
''Breeders over here come up to me and want to talk about Zabeel. Over here [in Australia] a perception that a stallion is past there best years once they get to 20 or 21 and the demand drops off. But the breeders are still hot on Zabeel and that's only because of what he's achieved.''