Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Gundy, Gundy.....gone?

There's a place called Gundy, near Scone in NSW's Hunter Valley, where there's an unusual search underway, reminiscent of days gone by.  But we'll come back to that.

At Doomben last Saturday, lightly-raced 3 year old bay gelding Turnitup won the Grand Prix Stakes, which is considered THE lead-up race to the Queensland Derby.  Nothing unusual there, horses win races all the time, it's what races are for.  Also, he was more or less favourite, with good lead-up form, so again, no surprise.  But back when he was but a wee foal, he was never expected to be anything special, just like the 8 or so previous foals his dam had proudly brought forth.

But something had changed.  Sires so often get all the glory in the amateur punters' psyche, and why not - they're rock stars rocking out with their cocks out several times a day covering a book of mares not even Errol Flynn could have contemplated and naturally, with thousands of progeny, there will be standouts.  A thoroughbred brood mare of course can only have so many foals in her lifetime.  To so many amateur (and professionals who should know better) punters and wannabe breeders, they look not much further than the sire's pedigree,  thinking that the potent semen of a hotshot stallion will find comfortable purchase and flourish in the receptacle provided.  Of course, real breeders know better, and the art and science of breeding is indeed a majestic tapestry of wonders.  But when a mare has been through a few different sires, and none of the progeny is much good, well.....there are several paths retired broodmares can go on, not all happy ones.

The season prior to Turnitup's propitious birth, a colt (now gelding) oddly named Coroner was eased from his dam's loins, and turned out to be a little bit of a slow starter - a city winner in Queensland; no superstar as yet, but a 'handy type' as they say. Coroner, and the following year Turnitup, are by a sire called Dane Shadow.  Dane Shadow is not exactly a superstar stallion, but with more recent developments he's getting a good reputation as a great 'improver' of second-tier mares.

Dane Shadow

The stud operation that held our mare is near Gundy, and they also breed polo ponies.  This is not exactly a scientific operation like thoroughbred breeding, and if I were to be a kept horse, I think being one of these guys would be a good way to go.  They roam in a herd of 100 or so mares (with 4 attentive stallions) across over 1200 hectares of woodland in the Hunter, untroubled by man except for an annual roundup when foals who are ready are weaned off and assessed as polo pony material, or other fates.  And every so often, a thoroughbred mare (polo ponies tend to be thoroughbreds) who is healthy and well but not making great strides on the track with her offspring is released at the gate to the Big Paddock and finds her way - presumably - with the herd.  Sure beats becoming pet food, and this is what became of Turnitup's dam.  Freedom with the big herd.

It takes a few years to tell if a racehorse is going to be much good, you see.  Also, it can take time to discover the right genetic 'nick' (a term breeders use to describe a sort of synergistic pattern of ancestral influences in a mating) for any given mare or stallion.  Suddenly with Turnitup showing such winning ways against very good opposition and Coroner definitely not a complete dud either, well, it looked like they'd found a really good one with our mare. And her value went from pretty much zero to Rather A Lot Thanks Very Much.

But there's just one problem - they can't find her.  Teams of riders have been out, searched the whole area, all of that - nothing.  As if she's just vanished, or something.  Now a Man From Snowy River-style muster is underway, with a reward offered to the lucky person who can find the prodigal mare.

I just think that's a gorgeous story.

Oh, her name?  No Finding.

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