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'Success Breeds Success' for Aga Khan

By Alysen Miller, CNN
updated 6:10 AM EDT, Fri October 7, 2011
Yearlings, the name given to horses who are one-year-old, are led out at the Aga Khan stud farm. Yearlings, the name given to horses who are one-year-old, are led out at the Aga Khan stud farm.
HIDE CAPTION
Stars of the future
Serene surroundings
"Superfoal"
Proud parent
Full of promise
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aga Khan Studs is located in the Normandy region of France
  • The "Superfoal" born in February is the product of two champion horses
  • The foal is the child Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winning duo Zarkava and Sea the Stars

(CNN) -- "Success breeds success." So reads the motto of Aga Khan Studs, one of the most formidable breeding operations anywhere in the world. It is at the Aga Khan's vast stud in Normandy that one of the most eagerly-awaited births in the history of racing took place in February of this year when Zarkava, the winner of the 2008 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, gave birth to her foal by 2009 winner Sea the Stars.

"I've rarely had that quality of stock to breed with," explains Georges Rimaud, stud manager to the Aga Khan. "It's not every year you get a female winner of the Arc and a stallion that is also a champion and that you have access to. We tend not to do this type of mating with an unproven horse, with an unproven mare, but we thought this really had to be done."

Despite an undefeated racing career of seven wins over seven starts, including her magnificent Arc triumph, Zarkava is said to be "unproven" because she has not as yet produced any winners herself. Many successful racehorses fail to make an impact at stud. But Rimaud believes that the majestic thoroughbred has every chance of being a superior brood mare.

"It's all in the blood. If the foal can get all of the qualities of each of his parents then that would be marvelous. But if he does just half of what they each did individually then I think he will still be pretty good."

Birth of the 'Superfoal'

Despite his illustrious pedigree, experts are divided about the exact role that genetics plays in determining a future champion. Richard Piercy, a professor at the UK's Royal Veterinary College, believes punters shouldn't be pinning their hopes on the "superfoal" just yet.

"Estimates that have been looked at from my research perspective to see how well performance can be inherited suggest that somewhere in the order of between 10-40 per cent of inheritance can come from the parents with regards to performance," said Piercy.

"But of course many other factors can relate to whether an animal can be successful or not, such as conditions of the day, the ability of the jockey, the temperament of the horse and other environmental factors -- all of those things also play a role."

Rimaud is sanguine about his colt's chances of emulating the success of his parents: "We have some very well-bred horses that cannot run to save their lives. That happens.

"Our role is to give him all the opportunities: give him the right food, the right care. There are so many things that are going to happen between now and the day he starts racing. Lots of people are going to be involved. It's a team effort, including him, he's part of the team.

If the foal can get all of the qualities of each of his parents then that would be marvelous
Georges Rimaud

"'Success breeds success'. This is what we say. And it seems to work."

What's in a name?

The foal is, as yet, unnamed. He won't be given a formal name until he starts racing at two years old. Georges Rimaud explains the logic behind the name: "Ideally it should contain a reference to both parents.

"You would take the first three letters from the dam's name and combine that with something to make a word that had some significance. We present a list of names to His Highness the Aga Khan and he makes the final decision."

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