Those involved in European Flat sales can take a breather for a few months – in the northern hemisphere at least – until spring comes around and we start to see some of last season’s yearling crop reappear at the breeze-up sales.

As Philip Freedman highlights in his economic overview column in our January issue, the continued rise in the strength of the foal sales was in sharp contrast to a relatively sedate market for mares in 2014, which lacked a major dispersal.

An oft-heard lament from breeders is the rising cost of stallion nominations. Some steep price hikes this season, however, have not stopped those stallions’ books filling quickly.
The number of high-priced foals by freshman stallions will continue to embolden breeders to take a chance on the next big thing. Our guide to this season’s new boys highlights the fact that there’s still value to be found in the European stallion market.

Successful examples such as Kodiac, who recently broke the record for the number of two-year-old winners in a European season, show that for those on a smaller budget, using stallions in their early seasons can be beneficial. From a humble first two seasons at €5,000, Kodiac’s fee dipped to €4,000 but is now at a career-high of €25,000 for 2015.

The difficulty is that it’s anyone’s guess as to which of this year’s intake will be considered a hit or a miss in a few seasons’ time but when foals arrive at the sales by stallions who are yet to be perceived to have done anything wrong – and often out of young mares for whom the same could be said – then buyers are frequently prepared to gamble.

Of course, there’s plenty more to foal-buying than what’s there on the page. A strong physique, correct limbs and an ability to walk well are essential, especially for those looking to reoffer their purchases in a little less than a year’s time.

As a breeder, it’s generally a case of having to accept whatever nature provides. While attempting to avoid conformation faults should be an essential part of mare and stallion selection, there are plenty of times we’ve seen less-than-perfect physical specimens, or indeed those with very little pedigree to recommend them, rise to the top to become champions.

The Duke of Roxburghe’s Attraction springs to mind. Her peculiar gait didn’t stop her galloping to five Group 1 victories, including two Classics, and her four runners to date are all winners, with two having earned black type.

Lifeboat to the rescue
While the Flat foal market is thriving, its National Hunt counterpart has improved at a steadier rate. Despite recently introduced initiatives, it remains a thankless task trying to sell a filly foal. Only a small portion of those to have changed hands last year avoided being sold at a loss.

However, there appears to be a greater number of jumps mares making it to the track, notably from some of the bigger stables, too. The increased demand for fillies at store sales will hopefully trickle down eventually to the foals.

Lifeboat Mona, who led home a British-bred trifecta in the Listed mares’ bumper at Huntingdon on December 7, represented champion trainer Paul Nicholls, who also trains the promising Grade 2-placed and winning hurdler Tara Point. Both are daughters of Kayf Tara.

Lifeboat Mona’s black-type victory was particularly fitting as she was co-bred by TBA board member and National Hunt Committee member Bryan Mayoh, who has been at the forefront of the campaign to improve the programme for National Hunt racemares and to retain broodmares in the UK by offering stallion-fee concessions to elite performers or producers.

Though Bryan will no doubt have found it choking to have sold Lifeboat Mona as a foal for a mere €600, he has at least been rewarded by the fact that she is now unbeaten in her three starts in a point-to-point and two bumpers.