This column has touched on the vast difference in opportunities for two-year-olds in Britain compared to Australia before but, with the Australian season having only days left to run at the time of writing, it’s worth noting that the first-season sires’ championship is about to be won by a horse who has to date had only five individual winners and no stakes winners.
Written Tycoon, a grandson of Last Tycoon who stands at Eliza Park in Victoria, heads what may turn out to be a substandard bunch of freshmen. His five winners, however, come from only 11 runners, and they top the list by prize-money, aided by the Group 1 Blue Diamond Stakes-placed Masthead and Listed runner-up Written Consent.
Shadowing him in the table is Ad Valorem, a Darley sire in the southern hemisphere following the sale of the Woodlands empire to Sheikh Mohammed, and absent from Coolmore’s Irish roster in 2011 after staying put down under. Ad Valorem has had two stakes winners in Australia – the Group winners Uate and Free Wheeling – which is half the total number of stakes winners sired by the first-season sires en masse.
Numerically, however, honours were tied between the Queensland-based All Bar One and another Darley sire, Nadeem, with eight apiece. In the British and Irish tables at only halfway through the current season, that tally has already been beaten by some way, with Dark Angel, Red Clubs and Duch Art already into double figures.
In fact, the number is low even by Australian standards, with previous first-season champions such as Encosta De Lago (2001), More Than Ready (2005) and Exceed And Excel (2008) having done considerably better, with 14, 16 and 13 winners respectively.
The Australian-bred Exceed And Excel is a rare example of a ‘reverse shuttler’ doing consistently well in Europe and, like his sire Danehill, very much holds his own in both hemispheres. Along with Acclamation, he is one of only two stallions to have sired more juvenile winners in Britain and Ireland this year than the precocious newcomer Dark Angel.
The top two by prize-money in the two-year-old sires’ table are both horses who raced only as two-year-olds themselves – the aforementioned Dark Angel and Holy Roman Emperor, whose premature retirement was more by circumstance than by design. While it must be hoped wholeheartedly that colts being retired at two does not become the norm, there’s no denying that neither has struggled for patronage at stud, and the same can be said for Approve and Zebedee, both of whom retired last year after just one season’s racing and will almost certainly have covered three-figure books of mares in 2011.
Strike rate a good barometer
For studs taking a chance on a new stallion, this is now almost a pre-requisite for a young sire to make any kind of mark when his first runners hit the track. It’s always worth studying the tables a little more closely though, as they regularly throw up examples of stallions with impressive winners-to-runners ratios, their fewer representatives exceeding all expectations.
Big Bad Bob was a notable recent example and, just now, Hard Spun is the most impressive of the freshmen in this regard, not, of course, because he covered so few mares, but because he stands in Kentucky and has had relatively few British runners. But of the six he has had run in this country, four have won, and they include the Group 2 Superlative Stakes winner Red Duke.
Cacique, whose small first crop are now three, is another example, again for a reason other than lack of patronage, with his poor fertility signalling a short-lived stud career which garnered only 33 foals. That looks to be a great shame: eight of his 14 runners have won, notably Prix Jean Prat winner Mutual Trust and the Group 3-placed Slumber. Others worth keeping an eye on are the dual winners Dominant and Census, both of whom race in the Highclere colours.
Monsieur Bond had a banner year in 2010, siring the Prix de l’Abbaye winner Gilt Edge Girl, and he continues to thrive this season with a 38% strike rate, a figure matched by Rock Of Gibraltar, who had two Group winners at Royal Ascot, but who is always in danger of being overlooked among Coolmore’s stallion riches.
With the European yearling sales kicking off this month, agents’ minds are undoubtedly already focused on predicting which stallions’ stock will take up the baton next season. In Deauville, the first yearlings by Astronomer Royal, Duke Of Marmalade, Falco, Hannouma, Henrythenavigator, Linda’s Lad, Linngari, Literato, Mount Nelson, New Approach, Raven’s Pass, Street Boss and Tamayuz will be put to the market. The guessing game will begin all over again.