The ongoing debate about speed and stamina in thoroughbred racing is always an interesting one. The perceived diminution in the value of staying bloodlines at the expense of speed has led many to speculate that we could follow the same road as Australia, where its speed horses are of a far higher quality than its 2,000 metre-plus horses. And while that fear may or may not be true, it is essential to acknowledge that we are living in different times, where the stallion ownership model has changed, bringing ever-increasing specialisation into the equation.
In truth, both speed and stamina are essential for a thriving balanced breeding industry. But today there are successful business models that rely solely on stallions that can get plenty of early two-year-old winners with hopefully a bit of class later in the year. This is why the annual first-season sires’ race has become compelling for some.
Last year, the battle for the most two-year-old winners was a close-fought affair between Coolmore’s Sioux Nation and an unexpected star of the show in Whitsbury Manor Stud’s Havana Grey, who led for most of the season only to fail by a single winner – 44 to 43 – to his Irish rival. That said, Havana Grey did win the stakes winner battle by five to three and the Group winner battle by three to two.
Both were rewarded with substantial fee increases for 2023, Havana Grey from £6,000 to £18,500 and Sioux Nation from €10,000 to €17,500. For the record, they now occupy second and third place among all freshmen sires by individual winners behind Mehmas’s staggering tally of 56 during that surreal 2020 season.
The stallions with their first runners this year are indeed an exciting bunch. There are plenty of fast, early types with the ammunition to get plenty of winners, but it remains to be seen if any stand the test of time.
Our accompanying list by winners is just as remarkable for the number of sires that failed to achieve any longevity. The early favourites to sire the most individual winners in 2023 are Ten Sovereigns, Coolmore’s Middle Park Stakes and July Cup winner, and Shamardal’s top-class sprinting son Blue Point, who possesses a fine blend of quantity and quality among his offspring.
It was Ten Sovereigns that set No Nay Never’s stallion career alight, when he put together an unbeaten juvenile season, culminating with a decisive victory in the Middle Park Stakes. Though his form was in and out at three, once it was established that he was not a miler in the 2,000 Guineas (a well-trodden path!), Ten Sovereigns gave us a glimpse of what he was really capable of in the July Cup, which he won by an authoritative two-and-three-quarter lengths from fellow first-season sire Advertise. It was a performance good enough to see him ranked as Europe’s best three-year-old sprinter.
While Ten Sovereigns looks sure to surpass his sire’s tally of 32 first-crop winners, he’ll do very well to match No Nay Never’s 14 stakes horses or six stakes winners. No Nay Never is also represented by Land Force, Highclere Stud’s Richmond winner from an outstanding family of Classic hopeful Auguste Rodin. With his number of foals, he has every prospect of being the leading British-based first- season sire by winners this year.
Blue Point is an interesting contender in that he didn’t reach his best until four and five. His progression looks like this: Timeform rated 118 at two, 124 at three, 129 at four, and 131 at five.
Given that he has an all-speed female line which has Royal Applause, Ballad Rock and Windjammer as sires of his first three dams, it will be interesting to see if this speed heritage plays out in his own runners. We can take some comfort from the fact that Blue Point is a son of Shamardal, who has already supplied the top-class sire Lope De Vega, a stallion who incidentally has a noticeable propensity towards two-year-old speed and class given he himself was a Prix du Jockey-Club winner.
Shamardal was not bad either at procuring top-class juveniles. The likes of Pinatubo, Earthlight, Victor Ludorum, Lumiere and Casamento feature among his cast of 20 two-year-old Pattern winners. Judging by Blue Point’s yearling average of £98,000, second only to Too Darn Hot among this group, there is perhaps an expectation that Blue Point should be much more than a sire of early winners.
In the betting for the most winners, Ten Sovereigns and Blue Point are followed by Tally-Ho Stud’s Inns Of Court. One of three sons of Invincible Spirit with their first runners in 2023, Inns Of Court is a serious challenger for no more reason than he’s from the stallion farm that provided us with Mehmas (56 winners) and Cotai Glory (35 winners) in recent seasons. That, and the fact he has had more live foals that any stallion in 2021, should make him competitive in the race for most individual winners. It’s also arguable that his female line contains more class than either of the two ahead of him in the betting. But, realistically, winning youngsters will be his game this season.
Soldier’s Call is another with enough quality and quantity to sire some nice two-year-olds this year. One of two sons of Showcasing with their first runners in 2023, the good-looking Ballyhane Stud sire was all about speed in its purest sense. As a winner of the five-furlong Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot, he is eminently well qualified to get early types that could themselves turn up at the Royal meeting this year.
Solder’s Call emulated his fourth dam Abeer by winning the Flying Childers and was also rated France’s top two-year-old following a victory in the Prix d’Arenberg and a third in the all-aged Prix de l’Abbaye.
The other son of Showcasing, Advertise, was a better two-year-old and a better racehorse overall than Soldier’s Call, as his Group 1 double in the Phoenix Stakes and Commonwealth Cup would suggest. And though he is available at longer odds than Soldier’s Call, ostensibly because he has fewer two-year-olds on the ground, there is more quality among the Advertise juveniles, which is also suggested by his first-crop yearling average of £64,000, twice that of his paternal half-brother.
Then we come to a prospect that in all likelihood will not sire the most winners, but, given his opportunities, is perhaps the most likely to endure in the long term. In Too Darn Hot, we have a royally-bred son of Dubawi with all the credentials in place to make a top-class sire. We know his race record; he was a very high-class two-year- old who trained on to land the Sussex Stakes. And we know about his pedigree; his first two dams, Dar Re Mi (Timeform 124) and Darara (Timeform 129), were not only Group 1 winners but also top-class producers from the immediate family of the very good sire Darshaan. Moreover, Too Darn Hot is perhaps the speediest member of the family, so he promises to impart a potent blend of class, speed and precocity, backed up with a Classic middle-distance heritage, to his progeny.
To top it all off, the Dalham Hall Stud-based son of Dubawi was entrusted with the finest mares of this whole group. We can get a very clear idea of the quality of his first by his yearling average of £118,000, and this is backed up by the number of high-class mares he covered compared to his fellow freshman. His tally of 105 far outstrips that of Ten Sovereigns (24), Inns Of Court (8), Soldier’s Call (9) and Advertise (24). Only Blue Point with 84 gets close to Too Darn Hot’s tally.
There are others, such as Calyx, in the race for most winners at much longer odds, but, make no mistake, any of them are capable of siring a nice two-year-old. Others at bigger odds have the potential to be successful sires over the longer term. Classic winners Masar, Study Of Man, Magna Grecia and Phoenix Of Spain are augmented by Arc hero Waldgeist, the highest-rated of the entire group. It will be midway through 2024 and beyond before we can properly evaluate this group of stallions. In the meantime, an exciting year beckons.