Some welcome news to usher in the New Year is that Levy Board approval has finally been given to the TBA’s National Hunt Mare Owners’ Prize Scheme (MOPS). The scheme aims to encourage more jumps owners to buy and race fillies and mares by awarding lucrative bonuses to the winners of bumpers, Class 1-2 open races and Class 1-4 novice chases and hurdles.

Though the disparity in the sales prices for National Hunt colts or geldings compared to fillies has shrunk a little in recent years thanks to initiatives by both the TBA and ITBA, largely in improving the race programme for mares, recent results show that there’s still a long way to go.

Many breeders don’t bother to consign, or even register, filly foals knowing that they have little chance of making a decent return on their production costs

At the Tattersalls Ireland November National Hunt Sale, 765 colt foals were catalogued and only 311 fillies. It’s inconceivable that the imbalance in numbers between the sexes reflects the division of foals on the ground. Simply – and sadly – many breeders don’t bother to consign, or even register, filly foals knowing that they have little chance of making a decent return on their production costs.

Of the 765 colt foals in the book at Fairyhouse, 525 (69%) sold for an average of €16,107, median of €13,000 and top price of €110,000. For the 311 fillies catalogued, only 171 sold (55%), bringing an average of €6,235 and median of €3,500. The most expensive female weanling at the sale – a daughter of the redoubtable Flemensfirth out of a full-sister to the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle winner Glens Melody – had everything going for her on the page and fetched €40,000.

While there are so many good fillies on the Flat, the scarcity of jumping distaffers makes them all the more endearing. Dawn Run remains the only horse ever to have won both the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Champion Hurdle – a feat made all the more extraordinary given her gender. Who wouldn’t have been proud to own her or, say, Like-A-Butterfly, Lady Cricket, Voler La Vedette, Quevega, Annie Power, or the latest star in the ascendant, Vroum Vroum Mag?

Oddly, there’s been plenty of muttered opposition to the increase of mares-only races. While it’s understandable for people to feel that mares should be tested in open company, where they have a weight advantage in concession to their sex, the races confined solely to mares provide an important springboard to this next step. As it stands, plenty of fillies and mares aren’t even being given the chance to be tested on the racecourse by not being put into training in the first place. The odds of finding the next Dawn Run, if there ever could be another, are stacked against us.

With Grade 1 and Grade 2 races for mares at the Cheltenham Festival from this year, there’s plenty of reason to aim high when going in search of a young jumping filly at the sales, knowing that the path towards glory at the top level is more clearly marked than ever – and now offers the chance to pick up the odd pot of gold along the way.

A Great British success story
There’s plenty on the agenda for the enthusiastic members of the TBA National Hunt Committee, not least how to halt the decline in the number of jumps breeders in Britain. Heartening news for them and for anyone who follows the stallion standings closely, however, is the continuing success of this country’s flagship National Hunt sire, Kayf Tara.

At the time of writing, the Overbury Stud stalwart was second only to Presenting for all active jumps sires in Britain and Ireland. He is also well on his way to passing the £1 million-mark in progeny earnings for the third year in a row, with his seasonal stars including the Grade 1 winners Identity Thief and Thistlecrack.

In the winter game, it often takes so long for a stallion to earn his stripes that he is either in his dotage or has left us before his worth is truly appreciated. Kayf Tara’s no spring chicken but he has only just turned 22 and his strike-rate for the 2015 breeding season – during which he covered exactly 200 mares – showed that his fertility remains high. His success has been hard-earned and gives hope to other stallion farms that, with the right horse and the right management, a National Hunt sire can thrive in Britain.