The Return of Mares can’t be many people’s idea of ideal bedtime reading, but this Weatherbys publication always contains a wealth of valuable information. It also often highlights the capriciousness of a breeding industry in which too many breeders opt for the knee-jerk reaction rather than trying to play the long game.

How else can we explain the substantial fluctuations which frequently occur? Let’s take three sons of Danehill as examples. One, Champs Elysees, is credited with 112 mares in 2012 but only 49 in 2013, before being inundated with 169 mares in 2014. Then there’s Camacho, whose figures for the last four years are 36, 9, 41 and 106. Then there’s Kodiac, whose results-driven surge to prominence has seen his book change from 53 mares as recently as 2009 to a mammoth 234 in 2014.

The Return Of Mares highlights the capriciousness of a breeding industry in which too many breeders opt for the knee-jerk reaction rather than trying to play the long game

One thing the Return of Mares doesn’t include is the various fees for the stallions, which also have to be factored in while assessing a stallion’s long term prospects. It is only fair to expect that the size of a stallion’s fee will influence the quality – or lack of it – of his progeny. This, combined with crop size, can therefore often be used as guides to a stallion’s potential a few years down the line.

Unfortunately a stallion whose fee fluctuates over the years can also be prone to a yo-yo effect in his racecourse results. Rathbarry Stud’s accomplished stallion Acclamation is a fine illustration of this. His popularity is currently at a bit of an ebb – his 2014 book of around 118 mares was his smallest by some margin since 2010 – but I will be surprised if this dependable source of speed and precocity fails to bounce back.

Let me explain. When Acclamation first retired to Rathbarry at the end of his four-year-old career, he had obvious appeal to Ireland’s commercial breeders at a fee of €10,000. As the product of a mating between winners of the Coventry Stakes and Queen Mary Stakes, he had every right to be fast and precocious, and he duly reached the first two in all five of his juvenile starts. He looked to have the makings of a fine three-year-old sprinter when he collected the £200,000 St Leger Yearling Stakes, but was then off the track for over a year. Acclamation quickly made up for lost time at four, winning the Group 2 Diadem Stakes after being placed in the King’s Stand Stakes and the Nunthorpe.

Even so, he lacked a Group 1 success and there was always a danger that he would be increasingly overlooked as the next generations of leading sprinters were recruited to Irish studs. Sure enough, his book went from 103 mares in his first year to 97 in his second and 73 in his third, even though his fee was reduced to €9,000.
Consequently it was no great surprise when Acclamation wasn’t initially able to maintain the spectacular success enjoyed by his first-crop sons Dark Angel (2007 Middle Park Stakes) and Equiano (two editions of the King’s Stand Stakes).

This bright start saw Acclamation’s fee shoot up to €30,000 in 2008 but, with no European Group winners emerging from his second, third or fourth crops, his fee was soon sliding again, down to €20,000 in 2009, then to €15,000 in 2010 and 2011.

Another stallion likely to enjoy a rewarding 2015 is Holy Roman Emperor

The whole process started again when the €30,000 crop reached the track in 2011. Although this crop didn’t add to Acclamation’s tally of Group 1 winners, it highlighted his ability to get Group-winning juveniles, with Harbour Watch, Lilbourne Lad, Alsindi, Angels Will Fall, Ponty Acclaim and Talwar all achieving Group-winner status. Harbour Watch, of course, may well have enjoyed Group 1 success had his two-year-old season not been curtailed by injury – Timeform rated him the year’s best juvenile.

This time Acclamation’s fee shot up to a new high, at €35,000 in 2012, and his fee has been kept at this level since then. As he covered 164 mares at his increased fee in 2012, I have every confidence that Acclamation’s 2015 two-year-olds will repeat the success of his 2005 and 2009 crops.

Incidentally, the smaller size of Acclamation’s 2014 book may also be a reflection of the fact that – at the age of 15 – he was facing stiff competition from several of his sons, all of whom are cheaper. The competition is led by Dark Angel (159 mares in 2014) and then there’s Equiano (134 mares before being represented by a first-crop Group winner), Harbour Watch (108 mares) and Lilbourne Lad (107 mares).
Rathbarry must be hoping that Lilbourne Lad will make as fast a start as his father. Winner of the Group 2 Railway Stakes and a close second in the Group 1 Middle Park before being retired early, Lilbourne Lad started out at €7,500. He has therefore done well to sire three first-crop yearlings which sold for 130,000gns, plus another that made 140,000gns. It surely won’t be long before precocious winners start to flow from this six-year-old stallion.

Another stallion likely to enjoy a rewarding 2015 is Holy Roman Emperor. With his fee set at €20,000, this diminutive son of Danehill ranks only equal-eighth with newcomer No Nay Never on the Coolmore pecking order. The 2015 season will be his third consecutive year at this fee, but his early career saw his fee go into freefall.

Although no fee was published when Holy Roman Emperor was retired unexpectedly to substitute for the sub-fertile George Washington in 2007, his fee fell from €35,000 to only €10,000 over the next four years. The reduction to €10,000 in 2011 didn’t appear to help, as his 2012 crop numbers only 66.

However that €10,000 season was followed by some eye-catching efforts by members of his first two crops. The end result was that Holy Roman Emperor ended 2011 as leading sire of two-year-olds and a creditable ninth on the leading sires’ table.
Even so, his fee for 2012 was set no higher than €12,500, but his profile received further boosts early in 2012 from several second-crop three-year-olds. The runaway 1,000 Guineas success of Homecoming Queen must surely have brought in extra mares. Consequently Holy Roman Emperor’s 2013 crop is twice as big as its predecessor, so there could well be more two-year-old Group winners to add to the likes of Morandi, Leitir Mor, Maureen, Princess Noor and Wilshire Boulevard.