It may sound like an odd comment to make about a book that essentially consists of lists but the arrival of Weatherbys’ annual Return Of Mares always makes for fascinating reading.

Topping the Flat charts for the number of mares covered in 2011 is the champion sire Galileo on 214, the only one to break the 200-barrier, but his stud mate Duke Of Marmalade was not far behind on 184. The eight-year-old son of Danehill faces his supposedly ‘difficult’ fourth season at stud this year, when his fee of €20,000 will be half the amount at which he retired in 2009, but his first yearlings, offered last season, proved popular with buyers, with 63 selling for an average of 68,185gns and he’s bound to have plenty of ammunition with which to make his mark when his first runners take to the track later this year.

Third in the list is another stallion whose name featured prominently at the most recent yearling and foal sales, Acclamation, who covered 174 mares at Rathbarry Stud. The 19 busiest stallions all stood in Ireland, and just sneaking into the top 20 was Dubawi, who covered the biggest book in England. Breeders may bemoan large books but a problem faced by a number of studs is not how to fill a stallion but how to turn down mare owners wishing to use over-subscribed sires without causing offence.

Stowaway in demand
If Flat breeders think certain stallions are covering too many mares, a glance at the number covered by their National Hunt counterparts would doubtless warrant a stiff G&T and retreat to a darkened room. The most in-demand jumps sire was Whytemount Stud resident Stowaway, sire of Grade 2 winners Western Leader and Hidden Cyclone, who stood for €1,000 in 2010 but whose fee for 2011 was listed as private. Such mystery didn’t stop him attracting 312 mates and giving a thumping in the table to perennial favourites Oscar (268) and Flemensfirth (202), who were also headed by the youngsters Getaway (274) and Mahler (269).

The figure for Grange Stud’s first-season sire Getaway is more than four times that of his paternal half-brother Schiaparelli, who retired to Overbury Stud at the same time. Both sons of Monsun have just turned nine, hail from outstanding German families and enjoyed similar consistent success on the racecourse, with Schiaparelli having the edge on number of Group 1 wins with five to Getaway’s two. Leaving aside the cosmetic but nevertheless significant fact that Getaway is bay, a coat colour much preferred, especially by the jumps fraternity, to Schiaparelli’s chesnut, the vast difference in their patronage at stud is for geographical reasons.

Overall, Ireland has suffered a much greater reduction in mare numbers than Britain since the recession struck, with its peak of 20,606 mares at stud in 2007 down to 13,484 by the end of September 2011. British numbers have fallen in the same period from 11,025 to 9,177 but when taking into account Weatherbys’ analysis of the intended pursuit of a sample of foals born in the two countries in 2011, the struggle faced by the National Hunt stallion owners in Britain becomes clear.

Of 4,502 foals in England, Scotland and Wales, only 648 are listed by their breeders as purpose-bred jumpers, with another 591 being denoted as dual-purpose, for a combined total of 27.4%. From the group of 6,890 foals in the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland whose breeders supplied the required information, 1,986 were bred to be jumpers and 966 dual-purpose (42.8%). British farms are not only competing for a much smaller pool, but there is still much more mare traffic from Britain to Ireland than there is in the other direction.

Brothers in competition
Another interesting comparison is that between two stallions more closely related: the full-brothers Beat Hollow and Court Cave. The comparison is not like for like – Court Cave having stood for £1,500 in 2011 and Beat Hollow, who is not actively targeted at the jumps market, for £5,000 – but with the likes of Cinders And Ashes, Hollow Tree and Battle Group among his young hurdlers, it’s not surprising that the latter is arousing increased interest in National Hunt circles.

Beat Hollow is listed as covering 23 mares in 2011, whereas his unraced Irish-based brother received 141. At the time of writing, Beat Hollow held the upper hand in the jumping table for 2011/12, with 12 winners from 27 runners to Court Cave’s nine from 23.

With Donald McCain already training two of Beat Hollow’s best jumpers, it was no surprise that he made a beeline for Overturn’s three-parts yearling brother by that sire offered at Tattersalls’ December Sale. He too will eventually run in Tim Leslie’s colours and if he is anywhere near as versatile and consistent as his sibling he’s a prospect to relish.

Unlike Coolmore, Juddmonte has no dedicated National Hunt wing and its nominations team may not be too thrilled at this highlighting of Beat Hollow’s dual-purpose merits but it’s worth remembering that in 2011 another Sadler’s Wells stallion sired his third Derby winner less than three months after his son Hurricane Fly won the Champion Hurdle. It was a year to savour for fans of the mighty Montjeu, under whichever set of Rules they may prefer.

Busiest Flat stallions in 2011
Sire/No. mares
Galileo 214
Duke Of Marmalade 184
Acclamation 174
Teofilo 167
Bushranger 164
Kodiac 164
Excellent Art 163
Iffraaj 161
Zebedee 161
Dark Angel 159
Dylan Thomas 158
Cape Cross 157
Invincible Spirit 157
Shamardal 157
Fastnet Rock 150
Rip Van Winkle 150
Thewayyouare 148
Aussie Rules 147
Lawman 147
Dubawi 144

All figures are for returns to Sept. 30, 2011