By my reckoning, Tally-Ho Stud’s Mehmas has set a new record for the number of mares covered in a single season by a mainstream Flat stallion, his figure being 290 in 2021. If ever-larger books are of concern to us, then I’m afraid to say that this year saw a continuation of that trend in Britain and Ireland. Ten years ago, the top 30 stallions by number of mares covered had an average book size of 155. Five years later it had risen to 167 and this year that average stood at 176. But that debate is for another day.

No one could be surprised at the run on Mehmas nominations this spring. After all, he provided all the right answers for commercial breeders with his first crop of two-year-olds last season. A record haul of winning youngsters – 56 in all – was supplemented with plenty of classy two-year-olds, many of whom, including Group 1 Middle Park hero Supremacy, were just reaching their peak at season’s end. And while there is still a question mark as to how well the Mehmas stock train on from two to three, four more juvenile Group winners from his second crop will do absolutely nothing to dampen breeders’ enthusiasm for the son of Acclamation in 2022.

Mehmas aside, two other stallions topped the 200-mare mark. One, Kodiac, was expected as he has covered more than 200 mares on five previous occasions. But Wootton Bassett, standing at €100,000, was more of a surprise with his 242 mares. That is in stark contrast to the 153 he was bred to during his final season at Haras d’Etreham.

Moreover, the quality of his mares has also gone through the roof in 2021 with as many as 126 that can be classed as an elite mare – one judged by the quality of her progeny or pedigree for younger mares to be among the top 15% of the population. His tally of 126 elite mares is almost as many as he served in his previous four years at his higher French fees and it is also significant in that it is the most of any British or Irish stallion this year.

On that same metric, Dubawi was runner-up with 120, followed by Lope De Vega (118), Kingman (117) and Frankel (99). On that same metric the first-season sires Pinatubo (66) and Ghaiyyath (43) did best of all, followed by Sottsass (40) and Earthlight (29), giving Darley a particularly strong hand for 2024 and beyond.

Mehmas: set a new record for a Flat sire with 290 mares covered in 2021 | Photo: Tally-Ho Stud

In our polarised bloodstock world where second-season sires are all but neglected, it speaks volumes when breeders come back in both numbers and quality for a year-two stallion. That is precisely what has happened to Too Darn Hot, who attracted a handsome tally of 74 elite mares among his book of 162 this year. In fact, this number is good enough to be second only to the 97 elite mares covered by Frankel in his second year back in 2014.

Kildangan Stud’s Blue Point made a one-two for Darley stallions with his 49 elite mares from a book of 182. The second book covered by Lanwades Stud’s Deep Impact stallion Study Of Man also held up well, increasing on year one despite a fall in fee.

Typically, breeders were even more wary of third-season sires and only three covered more than ten elite mares, Saxon Warrior counting only 16 among his 179 mares. Zoustar had 12 from 59 and Cracksman ten from his book of 84. Ironically, all three did well with their first yearlings this year, posting top prices of €540,000, 310,000gns and 410,000gns respectively.

Not surprisingly, there was little change in the battle of the studs as Coolmore and Darley continue to dominate the landscape. Coolmore edged the numbers game by 2,611 to 2,508, but Darley got the upper hand in the quality stakes, attracting 599 elite mares compared to Coolmore’s 452. Juddmonte Farms, with its boutique offering of stallions, attracted 276 elite mares, followed by Ballylinch (196) and Tally-Ho Stud (120).

Although Darley and Coolmore both stood 25 stallions in 2021, Darley accounted for the top two first-season sires and the two best second-season sires alongside proven names Dubawi and his son Night Of Thunder, who continued to be go-to stallions. Among the top 30 stallions ranked by elite mares covered, Darley had eight compared to Coolmore’s six.

Finally, the prize for the best quality book overall goes to Dubawi for the seventh straight year. Not since Dansili in 2014 and Frankel in 2013 has the Darley stallion failed to attract the best book of mares in Europe.