Falcon Seelster - his longevity was important to Southern Hemisphere breeders - with a little history lesson along the way.
Falcon Seelster could arguably be the most important stallion to have stood at Stud in New Zealand, certainly up until the current enduring tenure of Bettor's Delight with his absolute prepotency.
Whilst Bettor's Delight has unquestionably advanced the breed to yet another whole new level, the role of Falcon Seelster was different to that of Bettor's Delight and perhaps not looked at in terms of "advancing the breed" but more about "what was needed at the time", something he achieved with aplomb and beyond. This made him a "special" stallion.
To place him in context we firstly need a wider history lesson on the evolution of the breed especially as it relates to our "downunder" situation.
The Standardbred as a stand alone breed has today evolved over 170 years.
Acclaimed founding father Hambletonian 10 ( 1849 ) had five producing sons of significance to the breed; these being George Wilkes ( 1856 ), Dictator ( 1863 ), Happy Medium ( 1863 ), Strathmore ( 1866 ) and Electioneer ( 1868 ).
George Wilkes founded an exclusively trotting stirp today better recognised as the "Axworthy" clanspearheaded by Guy Axworthy's sons Guy McKinney and Truax.
Happy Medium's stirps are split 50/50 between trotting and pacing after initially he commenced as a trotting scion.
His grandson Peter The Great had two important sons; Peter Scott ( 1909 ) and Peter Volo ( 1911 ).
Whilst Peter Scott founded the stirp tracing through Scotland ( probably the most dominant trotting stirp today ), Peter Volo's famous son Volomite ( 1926 ) founded two of his own trotting stirps via Worthy Boy ( 1940 ) and Victory Song ( 1943 ).
But Volomite had an extra trick up his sleeve in that he could leave dual gaited horses, some that trotted only and some that paced only and some that could do both.
Worthy Boy sired predominantly trotters but was the sire of Harold Jay ( 1959 ), King's Counsel sired trotters and pacers being the grandsire of Overtrick ( 1960 ) whilst two other sons of Volomite significant to our genepool were Poplar Byrd ( 1944 ), sire of Bye Bye Byrd, and Sampson Hanover ( 1947 ) the last-mentioned giving rise to Direct Scooter ( 1976 )and ultimately the In The Pocket / Christian Cullen dominance to be followed by the rise of the Matt's Scooter / Mach Three / Somebeachsomewhere / Captaintreacherous infiltration we see today.
Strathmore could also mix trotting and pacing gaits but the blood which brought us through Globe Derby ( 1910 ) the likes of Harold Logan, Logan Derby, Johnny Globe and Lordship is sadly today as a sireline defunct to the best of our knowledge as is the Dictator line which brought us the likes of Billy Direct ( the first pacer to break 1:55 for a mile ) and his famed son Tar Heel ( 1948 ).
Electioneer through his son The Abbe ( 1903 ) produced two significant stirps; those of Abbedale ( 1917 ) and Bert Abbe ( 1922 ).
Rather sadly, the latter who founded the speed horse Gene Abbe ( 1944 ) and his important son Big Towner ( 1974 ) along with the latter's sons led by Walton Hanover ( sire of Totally Ruthless ) and Towner's Big Guy ( sire of Man Around Town ) are now also a seemingly distant memory as a sireline which brings us back to Abbedale and his famed son Hal Dale ( 1926 ).
Hal Dale was to sire two significant sons which were to change the landscape for the pacing breed in both Australia and New Zealand within a short period of time.
Up until the mid to late 1950's, the Standardbred as a breed was largely "homebreds" or otherwise described as being "colonial bred".
But Hal Dale was to change all this through his sons Adios ( 1940 ) and Dale Frost ( 1951 ), the latter predominantly through the achievements of his son Meadow Skipper ( 1960 ).
Adios became a breed changer injecting new levels of speed into the Southern Hemisphere breed and his sons and grandsons were proving a smash hit particularly in Australia led by the likes of Deep Adios ( who was to leave a new racetrack marvel in Paleface Adios ). Thor Hanover ( sire of Gammalite ), Toledo Hanover ( sire of Pure Steel ) and Golden Adios ( who sired Sovereign Adios, sire of Popular Alm ).
The Adios speed injection into Australia was not only revolutionising the breed but it was soring to new heights and creating crowd-pleasing new champions and idols.
New Zealand also got a taste for the influence of Adios in the late 1950's when Captain Adios showed us he could leave an open class horse of the talent of Great Adios who could compete with the best of the local heroes quickly followed by Roydon Lodge importing a son of Adios in Thurber Frost.
Not only did Thurber Frost inject speed but also added considerable precocity producing high class juveniles the likes of Bonnie Frost and Garcon Roux.
Another son of Adios in Ike Frost was also lending to the cause having left the super talented Governor Frost.
Jerry Adios was less ensconced but left the top class filly Ripper's Delight.
Rather ironically, all of these sons of Adios were not even his best racetrack performed sons.
Numero uno belonged to the great Bret Hanover but these were well and truly pre-shuttle times and he was never going to make Southern Hemisphere shores such was his austere.
At best, Australia finally managed to land one or two of his sons, the likes of Bretland and Bret's Knight and a few others but certainly no horse to set the world on fire.
Indeed, it was New Zealand and the work of two wily wizzards from Nevele R Stud in Wayne Francis and Bob McArdle who were to steal a march here but not with a son of Bret Hanover but rather a grandson of Bret Hanover.
Whilst Australia dabbled with sons of Storm Damage and Strike Out, Nevele R Stud were to strike gold with a son of Warm Breeze named Falcon Seelster.
And what a jackpot he was to become!
With a sire ( Warm Breeze ) and a damsire ( Overtrick ) tracing to each stirp of the famed Thomrson Sisters ( Tillie Thompson and Eva Thompson ), the former ancestress of the highly influential mare Spinster, and a dam ( Fashion Trick ) that traced tail female to another highly influential mare in Jessie Pepper ( Family U4 aka 187 in Australia and 558 in New Zealand ) and also a mare by the large heart thoroughbred progenitor Diomed, Falcon Seelster was always well-equipped genetically to prove a roaring success over the New Zealand broodmare genepool in particular.
An interesting aside or observation here is that Falcon Seelster's grandsire Adios also formed a famed "golden cross" over Tar Heel mares.
It just so happens that Tar Heel is also tail female to the Jessie Pepper family just like Falcon Seelster.
Tar Heel has always been considered as a large heart progenitor passing the "X-Factor" large heart gene through his daughters. Could Diomed have had something to do with the initiation of this?
We are not saying this is the case but it is an observation worth pondering.
Current stallions that are tail female to Jessie Pepper include Rock N Roll Heaven and Mel Mara in the pacing ranks and Father Patrick, Pastor Stephen and Lucky Chucky in the trotting ranks.
Falcon Seelster was foaled in 1982 at Seelster Farms in Lucan, Ontario.
Not a natural precocious two year old , he had just the two juvenile starts for a win and a runner-up placing in of all places, Nova Scotia, a province not notable in Canada for it's standardbred racing.
As a three year old, things were to change dramatically, winning 24 of his 31 starts and being named Canadian 3YO Pacer of the Year in the same year ( 1985 ) that Nihilator took the corresponding USA 3YO Pacer of the Year title.
During Falcon Seelster's three year old season, he set the first of his two World Record's at the Delaware County Fairgrounds winning an Invitational Pace in 1:51.0 on a half-mile track. It would take another 17 years for this record to be eclipsed.
By comparison, Nihilator won the Little Brown Jug Final at the same venue on the same day in 1:52.2 ( Falcon Seelster not being staked for this race as a young horse by his inaugural owners ).
As a four year old and in his final season on the racetrack Falcon Seelster would face the starter 18 times for 11 wins and 6 runner-up spots during which he was to establish the second of his World Records in clocking 1:51.3 on a 5/8ths of a mile track.
By the end of his race career in 1986 Falcon Seelster had amassed US$1,121,045 in lifetime earnings, registering 36 wins from his 51 starts.
From the late 1950's a groundswell of the speed blood of Adioshad begun to infiltrate the Australian breeding scene and was to continue seemingly unabated with little serious threat from other sirelines but the early Adios flourish in New Zealand was about to come to an abrupt halt.
The "Meadow Skipper invasion" was about to occur lead by his two best sons the complementary influences Albatross ( speed and gait ) and Most Happy Fella ( stamina and toughness ).
Undoubtedly, Albatross was to leave the biggest imprint as a plethora of his sons invaded the land, amongst them three shining stars.
Vance Hanover ( 1975 ) became the next breed changer in New Zealand with his ability to upgrade even the lowest of mares, something he scored plenty of off the back of a meagre Stud Fee of just $500+gst ( and sometimes less than this in a crusade to get numbers on the ground ), his first foal cop arriving in 1980.
Vance Hanover's resounding success laid the platform for Soky's Atom ( 1979 ) and Holmes Hanover ( 1981 ) to follow with their own wonderful contributions to the advance of the New Zealand breed, their first foal crops landing "on the ground" in 1985 and 1987 respectively.
Their influence even spread into Australia with champions such as Our Sir Vancelot ( Vance Hanover ) and Sokyola ( Soky's Atom ).
Unlike sons of Albatross, sons of Most Happy Fella had a more difficult path to gain a foothold in New Zealand, perhaps a legacy of the fact that Most Happy Fella, like his father Meadow Skipper, was a little indifferent in his gait, an attribute not missed by New Zealand breeders, something which could be passed down through his sons e.g.New York Motoring whose best son Master Musician also carried a "hitch" in his gait although it was generally agreed at the time that it was more his fillies that carried this trait known as the "New York Motoring hitch".
But how things can change with the effluxion of time where we now see the Albatross influence as a sireline almost fading into a distant memory whilst the Most Happy Fella stirp is the founder of two of the four contemporary sirelines of the modern era, namely that of Cam Fella and that of Western Hanover.
But for now, let us not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Falcon Seelster was displaying siring potential in North America with outstanding daughter Shady Daisy ( 1988 ) leading the charge on her way to lifetime earnings of US$1,807,755.
As a pioneer shuttle stallion into New Zealand, Falcon Seelster was well-placed genetically as an Adios-line horse to thrive over the proliferation of Meadow Skipper blood that had accumulated in the broodmare genepool ( almost to the point of saturation ).
Not surprisingly, New Zealand breeders flocked to him with their mares.
Beginning service in New Zealand in 1996 with 272 mares served that season quickly rising to a peak of 371 mares in 1998, Falcon Seelster was never going to suffer from a lack of numbers on the racetrack curtailing his support but a worldwide EIV ( Equine Influenza Virus ) scare 2000-2003 saw him remain at Peretti Farms without shuttling to New Zealand for four seasons.
Returning to New Zealand for the 2004 breeding season, Falcon Seelster was to resume popularity with breeders serving 200 mares with his son Elsu ( 1999 ) in full cry in New Zealand as was The Falcon Strike ( 1997 ) in Australia.
And growing stars in North America such as Shady Character and his best performed racetrack son McArdle ( US$2,455,609 ) kept his flag flying on the world stage.
But it was obvious that competition had to arrive. The biggest question from a breeding perspective was in what shape or form?
Matt's Scooter ( 1985 ) had been doing wonderful things on the racetracks of North America and was easily Direct Scooter's best performed racetrack son. And by the early 2000's his son Mach Three ( 1999 ) was terrorising the opposition on the racetracks just like his father.
There had been growing interest in the Direct Scooter sireline in the 1990's as a likely outcross for both the Adios line and the Meadow Skipper line with the odd stallion trickling into both Australia and New Zealand.
Whilst Stoneridge Scooter ( 1988 ) went into Australia, other sons of Direct Scooter came into New Zealand, the likes of OK Bye ( 1986 ) and his full-brother WRH ( 1987 ), In The Pocket ( 1987 ), Deal Direct ( 1988 )and Direct Flight ( 1989 ) to name a few from memory.
And fair to say it was In The Pocket who was to prove a smash hit over Meadow Skipper-line mares tidying up gait issues in revolutionary fashion and introducing new levels of speed to the downunder breed. Another breed changer had evolved.
Not since Vance Hanover had any single stallion had such an impact on the broodmare genepool, at least in New Zealand.
But against all odds Falcon Seelster was a fighter even beyond his death on 16 September 2011.
The wonders of frozen semen allowed him to continue serving mares well after his demise where he was to serve his last four mares in the 2019 breeding season, wonderful testimony to a stallion that finally succumbed at the ripe old age of 29 years and producing progeny with over $80 million earned in North America and another $30 million jointly earned in Australia and New Zealand.
Siring sons have aspired to continue his legacy through the likes of Million To One and Trump Casino plus others in Australia and Elsu, Attorney General ( now Australia ), Franco Ledger ( now deceased ) and McArdle in New Zealand with the latter his brightest hope of continuing the legacy through sons Tintin In America ( sire of World Champion mare Shartin ) and McWicked.
But the Adios branch of the Hal Dale sireline is far from done and dusted.
Whilst the Bret Hanover stirp may be battling for mere survival, another sirp through Henry T Adios is currently flourishing via son Silent Majority and grandson Abercrombie.
Abercrombie's son Life Sign ( 1980 ) was looking promising but has now aligned with a similar fate to that of Bret Hanover but such is not the case for another of Abercrombie's sons in Artsplace ( 1988 ) who now lays claim as the foundation of one of today's four great contemporary sirelines.
And why not with a son like Art Major currently at the helm and a plethora of his sons also now at Stud. Things appear to be looking healthy here for the time being at least!
There can be no denying that Falcon Seelster "flew the flag" for the Adios sireline in New Zealand at a time when he was needed and also at a time when other threats were lurking.
Whilst he may have McArdle and his sons to sustain his legacy for a few more seasons to come, one can be excused for thinking that finally perhaps the reins have been passed over to Artsplace and his sons and grandsons to keep the Adios flag flying for a few more decades to come.
Footnote: The years shown in brackets beside horses referred to above denote their birth year only.
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