Trotting stallion Love You has his name plastered beside trotting results all over New Zealand, but his path to siring stardom might not be well known to the average punter.
While breeding buffs can rattle off his life story and his pedigree, those who like to have a dollar each way are less likely to have been filled in on how the sire has risen to be New Zealand’s leading trotting stallion.
Racing reporter Jonny Turner found out the full story behind the stallion’s success.
Part of the reason New Zealand racing fans have not got an up-close look at this season’s leading trotting stallion, Love You, is very simple — the horse has never set foot in the country.
The 18yr-old chestnut sire stands at stud in the Nonant-le-Pin region in France, two hours west of Paris.
Despite being on the other side of the globe, the stallion has been able to establish himself as a proven sire of champion racehorses in New Zealand and leads the siring ranks on wins and money won this season.
At his French base, the best local mares, as well as others from all over Europe, are transported to be served by him.
New Zealand breeders also get their chance to cross his sought-after genes with their mares via transported frozen semen.
The results of his genetics being spread over two hemispheres has led Love You to be ranked the world’s leading trotting sire by earnings on three occasions.
His path to achieving that success has been a case of creating success in the most competitive of environments.
That is according to Aucklander Dave Sanders, who is both a diehard fan of international trotting and is the New Zealand representative who handles Love You’s frozen semen bookings, through Australasian breeding operation Haras des Trotteurs.
Sanders rates the French trotting scene so competitive that to succeed a horse must fight to stand out in a sea of talent.
"We have no idea how really down here just how competitive it is."
Love You started poking his head above his French trotting rivals by winning 22 of his 59 French starts.
After retiring to stud, the stallion has competed in the French siring ranks and gone on to produce a multitude of winners, including many who have outdone his own racetrack record.
"In France they have a breeding programme that breeds about 12,000 foals a year.
"I think people sort of have to realise the environment that he excelled in is slightly different to what we have here."
There are more than 520 registered trotting sires in France and they are all restricted to serving 100 mares per breeding season. That is a fair way behind Sundon’s biggest book of 230 mares or pacing sire Bettor’s Delight’s whopping book of 345 mares from 2007.The mares who get served by French stallions have to be registered with the French racing authority and must be of a high standard.
"You can’t just rock up with any mare.
"If they don’t produce a qualifier in their first four foals they are deregistered."
All of these factors add up to making an extremely competitive French breeding and racing scene that produces what Sanders argues is the world’s premium trotting genetics.
Love You’s genes have now been available to New Zealand breeders for 11 seasons.
So good are his results this season, he is even bettering the late great trotting sire, Sundon.
So highly regarded is Sundon, who died in 2015 after revolutionising the trotting breed in New Zealand, that few would dare compare him with any other sire.
However, Love You’s progeny are ahead of that of the champion sire’s on both tallies of money won and race wins, despite having only half the starters of his nearest rivals.
Although rather than making Love You’s success a case of rivalling that of Sundon, it is a case of the two sires working together to create such good results.
Love You’s four best New Zealand earners are Monbet, Enghien, Habibti and Habibti Ivy and Sanders believes there are two main reasons why.
Obviously, crossing two premium sire lines will help get success, but the calm and placid nature of the Love You influence helps tame the fiery and temperamental traits from the talented Sundon breed.
"The French horses are very, very sensible which I think why Love You works so well with Sundon."
"The horses are so well mannered."
Ironically, the factors that make his impact in New Zealand so very impressive, are exactly what will stop him from establishing himself as a truly dominant New Zealand trotting sires.
Because Love You is not in Australia and he sires progeny via frozen semen, his breeding numbers will never reach numbers that could get close to his rival trotting sires.
Success rates for frozen semen are consistently less than for those stallions who are based in Australasia.
Their chilled semen is freighted to breeding farms.
That means while Love You’s statistics stand out now, he is at risk of being overtaken by a sire who can leave similarly classy horses, but more of them, by standing in Australasia.
His limited numbers is evident in the Southern trotting ranks. So few of his progeny have been trained in Otago and Southland stables that fewer than 10% of his 69 winners have been trained in the region.
Of the 34 of Love You’s progeny to scored more than three race wins, only the 10-win Father Christmas and the former Brett Gray-trained Blackguard’s Corner have been trained in Otago or Southland.
So, while the Love You progeny are rare but talented commodities, it is unlikely he will dominate southern trotting, although those that have bred one of the rare southern-based Love You foals will hope they will have a horse as rarely talented as Monbet or Enghien on their hands.
Their owners would be well advised to keep a watchful eye over such horses.
So sought after was Love You’s 13-race-winning daughter and Italian Trotting Derby champion Unicka that she was kidnapped from her stable in Tuscany in March and still has not been found.