PERENNIAL champion sire and linchpin of Japan’s stud and racing industry, 17-year-old Deep Impact has been forced out of action as the breeding season begins in earnest.
Shadai Stallion Station has said that a neck injury is preventing the world’s most expensive stallion from covering duties. Deep Impact was initially stood down in the middle of February for an expected lay-off of just two weeks, after covering just a small number of mares.
Further delays in recovery and the absence of a definitive diagnosis has resulted in him being ruled out of action for the 2019 season.
In 2018, Deep Impact covered 197 mares for a €315,000 covering fee, the highest-priced publicly advertised nomination fee in the world. He also covered a select group of mares on southern hemisphere time including Vegas Showgirl, the dam of Australian superstar Winx.
The timing of Deep Impact’s absence will inevitably draw nervous comparisons to that of his sire Sunday Silence. The two stallions are undoubtedly two of the greatest influences in the history of the thoroughbred industry in Japan.
At the time of his death in 2002 aged 16, the loss of Sunday Silence from the Japanese stallion ranks left a gaping void across the breeding industry which had progressively become ever more reliant on the American import.
From Sunday Silence’s penultimate crop, Deep Impact enjoyed an incredible career on the track including seven Group 1 wins.
Since being crowned champion freshman sire in 2010, Deep Impact has continued to strengthen his position in the Japanese stallion ranks to remain essentially unchallenged as the leading sire.
2018 marked the seventh consecutive year that the son of Sunday Silence was crowned the champion sire in Japan.
Deep Impact, almost single-handedly, has propelled Japanese racing and breeding into the international spotlight. His standing on the world stage continues to grow, reaching an all-time high in 2018, helped in no small part by the exploits in Europe of Saxon Warrior (2000 Guineas) and Study Of Man (Prix du Jockey Club).
An increased number of mares from both hemispheres have been shipped to Japan with the sole intention of visiting Deep Impact in 2019.
While, hopefully, it may be premature, there is the possibility that Japan will once again look to fill the niche that Sunday Silence left if Deep Impact fails to recover sufficiently.
The stark reality is that there is no established stallion currently standing in Japan that is capable of fulfilling the role that 17-year-old Deep Impact holds. Twice leading sire, King Kamehameha (19) remains in active duty albeit covering a limited private book of mares because of significant fertility difficulties.
Of the stallions in full service, Heart’s Cry (18) and Daiwa Major (18) have proven to be excellent sources of winners at all levels. However, neither stallion has ever threatened to reach remotely near the echelons of Deep Impact or Sunday Silence.
The obvious options available for breeders as a substitute for Deep Impact, at least in the short term, are Lord Kanaloa and Harbinger. The two young stallions have already generated a significant demand for their services.
Lord Kanaloa and Harbinger covered a book of 294 and 212 mares in 2018 respectively.
Lord Kanaloa, his first crop now four-year-olds, has made a sensational start to his stud career both in terms of quality and quantity, and Fillies’ Triple Crown winner and 2018 JRA Horse of the Year Almond Eye has been the main flag bearer for the son of King Kamehameha.
The second option, European-bred Harbinger, has ben represented by four individual JRA Group 1 winners across 2017 and 2018 which has propelled the 13-year-old to take a leading position at Shadai Stallion Station.
The added demand that they will inevitably receive in Deep Impact’s absence will create a trickledown effect to horses like Duramente and Maurice.
In their own right, they are fantastic racehorses and stallion prospects fully deserving of busy breeding schedules in their third year at stud in 2019.
This does in part reflect the dependence that Japan has on Deep Impact when, in his absence, the reliance quickly shifts to newly retired horses yet to have their first runners.
In recent years, Japanese owners and breeders have become an increasingly prominent force in bloodstock sales worldwide, sourcing top-class broodmares and fillies out of training to import to Japan as crosses for the Sunday Silence bloodline.
This undoubtedly puts the long term health of the industry in Japan in a strong position for the future.
However, the uncertainty of Deep Impact’s return makes the need for a more immediate solution to the lack of strength in the stallion ranks all the more apparent.