Contains scenes of a sexual nature and moments of violence, but no bad language

Thoroughbred stud farms look forward to September: the start of the four-month mating season that is designed to ensure foals arrive in a batch in summer next year, all roughly the same age, so they can compete equitably on the track. This is contrived, of course. But the arranged, end-of-year, thoroughbred liaisons are still full of glorious uncertainty – particularly the great imponderable of which mating will work to produce a Durban July winner. Every spring there's the added intrigue of having new stallions selling their services, so to speak. This year, new vendors fresh off local racecourses include the...
Thoroughbred stud farms look forward to September: the start of the four-month mating season that is designed to ensure foals arrive in a batch in summer next year, all roughly the same age, so they can compete equitably on the track.

This is contrived, of course. But the arranged, end-of-year, thoroughbred liaisons are still full of glorious uncertainty – particularly the great imponderable of which mating will work to produce a Durban July winner.

Every spring there's the added intrigue of having new stallions selling their services, so to speak.

This year, new vendors fresh off local racecourses include the Aussie Soqrat, the Irishman Buffalo Bill Cody and the Safrican One World – winner of the 2020 Sun Met. Other newish guys on the block stimulating interest in filly ranks include Canford Cliffs (Ireland), Danon Platina (Japan) and Talk Of The Town (SA).

Unfortunately for the mares, they don't get to do the choosing from among these hunks. Unfortunately for the breeders, the mares might not get turned on by the stallions so carefully chosen for them. That could cause problems and a stallion could get a swift kick in the jewellery box.

The greatest of all racehorse stallions had just this sort of unpromising start to stud life.

Northern Dancer was a bit lacking in height – though not in that other department – when he was retired in 1964 after a brilliant career on North America's tracks. His first date was Flaming Page, a mare with plenty of size, chosen to offset his dumpiness and produce the sort of strapping foal for whom buyers shell out big bucks.

But, try as he might, Northern Dancer wasn't tall enough to mount Flaming Page. Eventually, she got fed up and let fly with both back hooves, catching him in the ribs.

This might have hurt a lesser chap – in mind, body and libido. Not the mighty Dancer. He recovered his wind and was ready for another go.

The understanding folk at Windfield stud farm in Oshawa, Canada, dug a shallow pit in the floor of the mating shed and stood Flaming Page in it to allow Northern Dancer to complete his task.

After that, Northern Dancer was provided with a ramp from which to make his moves; and from it he launched a bloodline that has dominated world racing for six decades. All the aforementioned stallions in South Africa have Northern Dancer in their pedigrees, some more than once.

He had 16 winners from his first 18 runners, 10 of them stakes winners – necessitating a move to the US, where the best broodmares were. Talk about a ramped-up stud career…

The question often gets asked: Why go through the hassle of thoroughbred coverings; why not artificial insemination, like they do with cattle?

Well, there is a worry that excessive in-breeding might lead to breed defects. But it's mainly because racing people are a bit old-fashioned, of a sporty bent, and won't hear of something so unnatural.

They're not old fashioned enough to let horses get on with it by themselves, though. Valuable thoroughbreds – thanks to their size and skittish enthusiasm – can damage each other while on the job. Precautions are required.

For example, a mare in season is first exposed to a "teaser" horse – which could be a saucy little pony or a runty old carthorse (it's hard to tell what women want). These critters of proven sex appeal flirt with the appointed mare to get her in the mood for whoopee.

If she rejects the advance, the teaser gets skopped, not the million-rand stallion. If she shows interest, the teaser is whipped away, the big guy steps up and says: "I'll take it from here."

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