December and early January provided a plethora of British-bred National Hunt black-type winners and, most notably, two Grade 1 winners in Ireland.

Only last month in this space we congratulated Bryan and Sandra Mayoh for the Listed victory of the young mare Lifeboat Mona but there were further celebrations to come just after Christmas via Sizing John, who landed the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown. Sold just 24 hours before Lifeboat Mona at the Tattersalls Ireland November Sale of 2010, Sizing John has earned his breeders this month’s TBA award and more can be heard of the exploits of his dam La Perrotine, who featured at last summer’s TBA National Hunt Foal Show at Bangor alongside her Black Sam Bellamy filly.

We must appreciate 21-year-old Kayf Tara and Midnight Legend while we’re still fortunate enough to have them on active duty in this country

Sizing John also became the first top-level winner for his sire Midnight Legend, a stalwart of British jumps breeding during his stud career, producing such talented runners as Midnight Chase, Holmwood Legend and Seeyouatmidnight, as well as a decent array of good mares, including My Petra, Sparky May and Easter Legend.

The exploits of Lieutenant Colonel in 2013/14 were enough to secure his dam Agnese and breeder Heather Calzini the Dudgeon Cup at the 2014 TBA Awards. Despite stiff competition from La Perrotine, Agnese has to be in the running to take the prize again after her son, who has just turned six, won back-to-back Grade 1 races in Ireland in November and December for Sandra Hughes. Another threat could come from Robert and Shirley Carter’s broodmare Gaelic Gold, the dam of gritty Grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle winner Bitofapuzzle, who has had only one horse finish in front of her in six starts.

Lieutenant Colonel has been at the vanguard of a barnstorming run for the progeny of another consistent British jumps stallion, Kayf Tara, who has notched seven black-type winners since the beginning of December and whose career at Overbury Stud is discussed here. As Overbury manager Simon Sweeting indicates, patience is key when it comes to establishing a National Hunt stallion, with the time lapse between attracting the best mares possible to the breeding shed and then seeing their runners on the racecourse often more than double that on the Flat.

Naturally, this means that by the time a stallion has earned respect and a decent following, he is usually in the twilight of his career. The last 12 months have seen the death of Mickley Stud’s Overbury and the retirement of Alflora at Shade Oak Stud. We must appreciate 21-year-old Kayf Tara and Midnight Legend, who is three years his senior, while we’re still fortunate enough to have them on active duty in this country.

Stallion choices still to be made
By the middle of this month, the first mares will be arriving at covering sheds around the country. For those breeders still to settle on a stallion for their mare, a trip to Tattersalls on February 5 would be time well spent. The TBA has gathered the largest number of stallions yet for its annual parade, and among them will be nine stallions who are new to the British ranks this year.

The parade comes hard on the heels of the ITM Stallion Trail in Ireland, which preceded France’s La Route des Etalons, on which it is based, by a week. The French initiative, in its sixth year, has grown consistently in its popularity. Its inception was brought about by a dearth of elite stallions in France at the time but the situation has improved greatly since then.

In 2010, the first year of ‘La Route’, both Kendargent and Le Havre had only just taken up residence at Haras de Colleville and Haras de la Cauvinière repsectively. The former stood initially for €1,000, while Le Havre, even after winning the Prix du Jockey Club, entered stud at a the very reasonable fee of €5,000. It’s a different story now, with a clutch of stakes winners for each horse meaning that their fees have risen to €18,000 and €20,000.

The addition of Australian champion Redoute’s Choice for two years, plus the rise of the Aga Khan’s Siyouni – who, with Le Havre, is the country’s most expensive stallion – and introduction of young sires such as Planteur, Olympic Glory and Anodin has seen a resurgence in the ranks which enables France to be on much more competitive terms with Britain and Ireland.