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The English page - A review of the 2021 season in Germany

Sisfahan, winner of the German Derby 2021. www.galoppfoto.de - Sandra Scherning


David Conolly-Smith


Ausgabe 699 vom Freitag, 17.12.2021

This is the last English page for 2021, so it seems an opportune time to look back at the events of the 2021 season in Germany, the second year of the covid-19 pandemic, which currently remains as potent as ever and shows no sign of abating in the near future. Obviously this was the overriding feature of the year, and its effect on horse racing (and most other sports as well) was extremely negative. There was a period in the summer when things appeared to be getting back to normal, but the “fourth wave” in the autumn soon put an end to optimism. Crowds were limited throughout the year, and clearly this was a major problem for racecourses, whose income from racegoers, betting, catering and other sources suffered heavily.

As result prize-money remained at an extremely low level. German prize-money is now by far the lowest of any major European racing nation. The two richest races are the Deutsches Derby at Hamburg in early July, with total prize-money of 650,000 euros, and the Preis der Diana (Oaks) at Düsseldorf in early August (500,000 euros). This is decent money by any standards, but still well below the money on offer in the equivalent races in England, France or Ireland. These races have been kept at their usual level thanks to the support of loyal and longstanding sponsors, but they both are committed for reason of personal connections, and who knows how long this will endure. There is also the series of 17 BBAG sales races, most of them with prize-money of 52,000 euros and in two cases considerably more, but of course the money basically comes from the breeders and consignors whose horses went through the ring, and from the owners who bought them.

This poor prize-money applies equally to the top races as to races at a much lower level. The two events mentioned in the previous paragraph are both Group One races, of which Germany has seven. The other five however all offer very feeble prize-money in relative terms. The Grosser Preis von Baden, arguably Germany's best-known and most prestigious race, was this year worth only 100,000 euros to the winner; the winner Torquator Tasso went on to win the Prix de l´Arc de Triomphe, worth 28 times as much. And at a much lower level, races are now being staged in Germany with only 2,000 euros to the winner (four of them last Sunday in Dortmund), which probably brings the owner after various deductions only about 1,500 euros, which is not even enough to keep a horse in training for three weeks. And we are likely to see this extremely low level maintained throughout the winter at least.

Luckily there are still owners and breeders in Germany who are in it for the love of the sport, and for whom monetary considerations are only secondary. And we saw at the recent bloodstock sales at Tattersalls, Goffs and Arqana that they are prepared to buy new stock, although we also saw at the same sales well-bred German horses in training and broodmares being sold out of the country, which is another major problem. German breeding still has a high and deserved reputation, and luckily it was further strengthened this year by the Arc victory of Torquator Tasso, but one cannot live on one´s laurels forever. And we were also lucky that Kirsten Rausing also prefers the prestige of winning Group One races to the actual financial gain, otherwise she could hardly have sent her top class filly Alpinista to Germany three times for a huge symbolic success. But the actual financial reward of 265,000 euros in total for winning three Group One races is in relative terms peanuts.

Of course other countries have their own problems, but it is noteworthy that we have hear this month that the French racing industry is to increase prize-money for 2022 by 20 million euros to 278 million. This compares to prize-money of 10.2 million euros for the whole of the German season. While in England one racecourse alone (Ascot) is raising prize-money by about 15% and will have 50% more prize-money than the whole of German racing. Of course there are other factors involved, such as the huge amounts in sponsorship by Qatar and others, but it is easy to understand why so many German trainers now have more runners in France, where even the lowest grade races at the most obscure country tracks usually have prize-money of at least 8,000 euros, than at home.

However all is not doom and gloom and there were some bright spots in 2021, notably of course the victory of Torquator Tasso in ParisLongchamp in Europe's richest race of the year. This was undoubtedly the highlight of the year from the German point of view. Torquator Tasso was not only a deserving winner and the best horse on the day, but the reflected glory also belonged to trainer Marcel Weiss, in only his second year as a trainer, his owners Gestüt Auenquelle, the German sales company BBAG, where he was bought as a yearling for only 24,000 euros, their previous trainer Jens Hirschberger, who recommended him, Jockey Rene Piechulek, who rode him so brilliantly, his breeder, Dutch butcher Paul H. Vandeberg, and perhaps above all, to his late sire Adlerflug, a son of In The Wings but also a representative of the Schlenderhan “A” family, one of the strongest in the German stud book.

Sadly Adlerflug died of a heart attack at Easter this year, having covered only about half of the mares booked to him. He was champion sire here last year, and also again in 2021, even though the Arc victory of his best son does not count  for the German statistics, and he was well on the way to establishing himself as a major international influence. It should not be forgotten that Torquator Tasso had finished runner-up in the 2020 German Derby to In Swoop, another son of Adlerflug who went on to finish second in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

The form of that Derby worked out extremely well, and indeed the 2020 German Derby was officially rated the best European Derby last year. It is unlikely that this year´s race will be able to claim that honour, but several winners have come out of the race, though none at the top level. However the winner Sisfahan (Isfahan) was certainly an above average winner and his performance in the Grosser Preis von Baden when a length runner-up to Torquator Tasso was certainly very decent, as was his third place to Alpinista in Cologne and his seventh, not beaten that far, in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He stays in training, and as he has been only lightly raced, further improvement as a 4yo is quite possible. Aff un Zo (Kallisto), fifth in the Derby, went on to take the German St. Leger, though that was not a very strong race.

The German 2,000 Guineas (Mehl-Mülhens-Rennen) was won by Stall tmb's homebred Mythico (Adlerflug), but the horse to take out of that race is probably Best Of Lips (The Gurkha) who was a very easy winner of the Union-Rennen next time out, and would have had a clear chance in the Derby on that form. Unfortunately he had to miss that race through injury, and has not run since; however trainer Andreas Suborics reports that he is back to full health and he is very optimistic regarding his prospects for 2022, when Best Of Lips will be aimed at the top middle distance events. Suborics also trained Rip van Lips (Rip Van Winkle) foe the same connections, and he could arguably be called Germany´s top stayer based on his early season form; however he also suffered an injury, more serious this time, and has now been retired.

It may well be that the two best classic winners in Germany this year were the fillies Novemba (Gleneagles) and Palmas (Lord of England), very easy winners of the 1,000 Guineas and Preis der Diana respectively. Novemba subsequently ran really well in top company at Royal Ascot and Deauville; she stays in training and should be able to hold her own in the best mile races in 2022. Palmas was aimed at the Prix de l´Opera after her classic victory, but the weather changed against her; the same rain which was in Torquator Tasso´s favour scuppered her chances and she made no show. She is also expected to stay in training and can also be expected to show top level form when the ground is on the fast side.

With many of the best 3yo's of 2021 staying in training, as well as Torquator Tasso – aiming at a second Arc victory - 2022 could be another vintage year for German racing. German-breds traditionally keep on improving at four and five (remember Arc winners Star Appeal andWaldgeist) so it would come as no surprise to see more German success at Longchamp next October. We also saw several very promising 2yo´s in action in the autumn, including Torquator Tasso's half-brother by Guiliani named Tünnes. However experience has shown that it is very difficult to predict which of the best German juveniles are going to turn out to be the best of the classic generation. Certainly one would not have picked out Sisfahan a year ago as a possible Derby winner based on his two starts in the French provinces and there have been plenty of German Derby winners who did not win at all at two, and in many cases did not even run at that age. However this year´s results have shown again that the German bloodstock industry, though relatively tiny, can still produce the goods and we look forward to further success in 2022.

The English page wishes all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Successful New Year!

David Conolly-Smith

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