This is the crucial time of year when mare owners are finalising mating plans for the rapidly approaching covering season, with a multitude of stallions to choose from and some very different, special deals to consider as well.
For those who have still to make up their minds, a trip to Tattersalls in Newmarket on February 4 will be informative. The TBA’s Flat Stallion Parade, which this year takes place at the slightly earlier time of 9.30am, immediately before the February Sale, was over-subscribed but we have capped the number at a dozen, of whom seven are first-season sires and the rest second-season stallions, standing at studs around Britain.
The demand for more and more precociously sprint-bred two-year-olds has, in the end, to be shortsighted
I wish all owners of stallions and mares well for the coming season, but good wishes come with a plea.
On the evidence of the recent yearling and foal sales, where purchasers gave every appearance of being ultra-selective, it seemed more important than ever to have used a so-called fashionable stallion, especially in the business of selling foals. Yet the demand for more and more precociously sprint-bred two-year-olds has, in the end, to be shortsighted.
As I have highlighted before, the vast majority of the most prestigious races in Europe and the rest of the world are for horses who stay at least a mile, and very often ten furlongs to a mile and a half. In fact, of the 70 top-rated international races in 2014, more than 60% were over farther than a mile, and that from a smaller pool of races than the rest combined.
It is of increasing concern that not only are we adding to the stallion roster a large number of sprint-bred or raced horses who failed to achieve Group I status, which is hardly using racing to improve the breed, but the market is also being flooded with Australian shuttle stallions who were sprinters.
Of course, we live in a world of immediacy and expect everything on demand, so that patience is now at a premium, especially when it comes with cost. It is easy to see why the dream of a quick return and a Royal Ascot two-year old runner is so attractive, when the slower maturing horse is back in the stable eating its head off. But that example is part of the problem. There are only six two-year-old races at Royal Ascot, and one, the Chesham, is restricted to runners by a sire who won at ten furlongs or more, so only the very best go forward to compete at five and six furlongs that early in the season.
Moving into July, later maturing two-year-olds get their chance over longer distances and it gets even tougher for the sprint-bred to succeed in races oversubscribed with runners bred to compete over the same distance.
There is no magic wand and no special formula that will persuade breeders and owners to think more of milers and middle-distance horses as stallions, but the industry – trainers, agents, owners, etc. – should take on board the basic facts about opportunities and where the short-term return will lead.
Golden Horn, Frankel, Sea The Stars – these are the horses that excite us. And somehow we have to encourage yearling buyers about their attractiveness, and not leave their production just to owner/breeders.
Remember, Golden Horn won four Group 1s worth nearly £4 million, almost four times as much as Muhaarar did in winning the same number of Group 1 races, in 2015.
While everyone would be thrilled to own either of these fine animals, the chances of success for those who trade lower down the scale favour the middle-distance runner over the plethora of horses bred to win over shorter distances. In addition, the resale value of the middle-distance horse is, in most cases, much greater than the sprinter.
Breeding takes time and patience, but I suggest every mare owner looks at stallions across the spectrum and spreads their selection of coverings, so that they are not all chasing the same market.