There aren’t too many bookmakers’ representatives who can boast the depth of pedigree knowledge of Joseph Burke, the front man of Stan James in Ireland.

Burke took advantage of his passion for the breeding industry to create the inaugural market on the first-season sires’ championship in 2004 and, with breeders’ continued support of the freshmen, it’s a betting heat which attracts increasing interest.

With the outcome being decided by the number of individual winners a stallion records in Britain and Ireland during the Flat season, naturally those horses with big first crops are prominent in the betting, whereas a winner in a valuable sales race for a first-season stallion can skew the formal championship, which is based on prize-money.
This season, Burke has Teofilo as his 4-1 favourite. An exceptional two-year-old, whose yearlings sold well and with up to 114 two-year-olds to go into bat for him this year, it’s easy to see why the son of Galileo holds sway.

As we went to press, the first two-year-old race in Ireland had already been run and, with the outcome decided in the stewards’ room, Jim Bolger had one up on his fellow trainers in the juvenile division by the end of the first day of the Irish Flat season. His colt Whip Rule was deemed to have been hampered in the closing stages by the wayward progress of the first-past-the-post Tough As Nails, thus denying Dark Angel first blood for the first-season sires.

Bolger support significant
To see a Bolger two-year-old strike so early will be encouraging to favourite backers in this particular competition as Teofilo’s breeder and former trainer now has at least 20 of his offspring in training, a significant number of them being homebred.

Iffraaj was the resounding star among last year’s newcomers, his 30 juvenile winners in Britain and Ireland (38 in total in the northern hemisphere) giving him a 50% winners-to-runners strike rate. The son of Zafonic was one of seven sires among his peers with more than 100 first-crop foals, though at 107, his tally was significantly lower than that of last season’s early favourite Holy Roman Emperor, with 146.

We have seen often enough stallions make a blazing start, only to peter out in ensuing seasons when interest from breeders has dwindled. Some are able to rekindle that success with a second wave of better mares on the back of early success, while others drift off into obscurity.

However, in recent years we’ve been spoiled with a rash of first-season champions who have consolidated their promising starts by delivering Classic horses. Shamardal, the 2009 champion by earnings, sired dual French Classic winner Lope De Vega, while his Darley stablemate Dubawi, who had the edge numerically, gave us 2,000 Guineas winner Makfi. Elusive City, the previous year’s leading freshman, is the sire of Poule d’Essai des Pouliches winner Elusive Wave, while the Irish National Stud’s Invincible Spirit, champion in 2006, had Prix du Jockey-Club winner Lawman in his first crop.

Dubawi’s success at stud must be some consolation for his owner/breeder Sheikh Mohammed after the loss of his beloved Dubai Millennium, whose sole crop also included another stallion with debutants this season, Echo Of Light. Mozart was another to sire just one crop before dying prematurely but that sole band of runners was good enough to ensure that his name lived on, as champion first-season sire of 2005, though his contemporary, Bertolini, sired a greater number of winners. Mozart’s Group 1-winning son Amadeus Wolf has the chance to continue the line at stud and shares the second-favourite spot in the first-season sire betting this year with his regular pursuer on the racecourse, Red Clubs, and Dark Angel.

Similar story stateside
Last year’s leading freshmen in America also look to be an above-average bunch with a number of the current Triple Crown hopefuls being first-crop representatives.

Andrew Caulfield, on the ball as ever, highlighted the merits of War Front in last month’s Caulfield Files, and that was before The Factor notched a Grade 2 double and Soldat added the Fountain Of Youth Stakes to his résumé.

Bernardini, with the good colts Stay Thirsty and To Honor And Serve, plus distaffer A Z Warrior, is another promising young sire for Darley, while the champion first-season sire Congrats, like Bernardini a son of AP Indy, has two Grade 1-winning fillies already in Turbulent Descent and Wickedly Perfect.

In Australia, there is surprisingly little two-year-old racing. With the current Flat season having started there in August, the leading first-season sires’ table is topped by Written Tycoon, a grandson of Last Tycoon who has had just two winners from six runners, including the Blue Diamond third Masthead. Numerically, All Bar One leads the field with four winners from his 24 runners; small beer by European standards.

The paucity of juvenile contests in a country where so much prestige is attached to two-year-old racing may seem contradictory, but the emphasis in this most passionate of racing nations is firmly on quality over quantity. Food for thought, perhaps.