Coolmore pulls unusual breeding swap

Updated: March 13, 2007, 3:38 PM ET
By Alan Shuback | Daily Racing Form

In a move that is sending shockwaves throughout the international racing and breeding communities, Coolmore Stud has retired its leading classic hope Holy Roman Emperor as a replacement for the apparently infertile George Washington, the champion European juvenile in 2005 and co-champion European 3-year-old in 2006.

With George Washington, winner of the 2000 Guineas and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes last year, experiencing fertility problems, the breeding-minded John Magnier and company made the decision to retire Holy Roman Emperor, the winner of two Group 1 races at 2, the Phoenix Stakes and the Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere. He was the second favorite for the 2000 Guineas behind Teofilo, who had narrowly beaten him in two other Group 1 contests last year.

A Coolmore statement released on Saturday read: "In the very early stages of George Washington's stud career, his fertility has been questioned. Coolmore today brought in veterinary expert Dr. Dixon Varner from the U.S.A. to consult on the matter and we are awaiting prognosis."

"George Washington has been suspended from covering and Holy Roman Emperor, another dual Group 1-winning 2-year-old by Danehill, has been retired to take his place."

The retirement of an apparently healthy horse as promising as Holy Roman Emperor in March of his 3-year-old season is virtually unprecedented in the history of racing and is emblematic of the emphasis Coolmore places on breeding. That was evident at last year's Breeders' Cup when Coolmore decided to run George Washington on dirt for the first time in his career in the Breeders' Cup Classic, even though, as Europe's best miler, he would have started a prohibitive favorite in the Breeders' Cup Mile. George Washington finished sixth in the Classic and was immediately retired.

Aidan O'Brien, who trained both Holy Roman Emperor and George Washington at his Ballydoyle yard in County Tipperary, understands that Coolmore has obligations to clients who had signed on to breed mares to George Washington, and that their interests can be served by mating with Holy Roman Emperor who, like George Washington, is by Danehill (although Holy Roman Emperor is out of a Secretariat mare while George Washington is out of a mare by Alysheba). Nonetheless, O'Brien was nonplussed by the developments.

"Holy Roman Emperor was our best horse," O'Brien told the British Press Association from his Ballydoyle yard. "He was the horse we were looking forward to for the 2000 Guineas and the St. James's Palace. Paul Shanahan [from Coolmore Stud] was here at 11:30a.m. and the box came and picked him up at 11:50 a.m. I spoke to the boss [Magnier] and the more I tried to persuade him not to retire him, the more he was convinced he had to retire him. It's a sickener."

The switch leaves open the strong possibility that George Washington will return to training, although neither O'Brien nor Magnier have announced any plans about his future.