The bloodstock market is notoriously fickle, falling over itself for one horse one minute and going cold the next.

It is one reason as to why breeders feel safe in the use of first-year stallions, particularly if producing to sell. But the end result is that some of these horses, especially those in the lower price brackets, will fall in popularity during their second, third and fourth seasons. It might be frustrating to watch with outside eyes but is perfectly understandable given that the first-crop sire hasn’t yet had a chance to offend anybody with market repercussions.

A look at the 2022 covering numbers of stallions recorded in the printed edition of Weatherbys Return of Mares (figures are subject to change as further returns filter in) illustrates yet again the popularity behind first-year sires, with 11 new Flat-based names in Britain and Ireland the recipient of 80 mares or more last season.

Of the 87 older stallions to cover more than 60 mares in 2022, 50 (57 per cent) attracted a larger book than the year before, with several horses, notably Gleneagles, Galileo Gold, Sioux Nation and Golden Horn, the subject of a significant increase in numbers.

In some cases, the identification of stallions on the ascent is at play. For instance, those breeders who supported Night Of Thunder when he stood for £15,000 at Dalham Hall Stud in 2019 and for €25,000 at Kildangan Stud in 2020 were rewarded when a highly receptive market towards the horse went on to yield yearling averages of 99,556gns (in 2021) and 196,758gns (in 2022). In return, Night Of Thunder consistently now covers books north of 150.

The 2022 returns again underline the strength of momentum behind young sons of Dubawi, to which Night Of Thunder and also New Bay have been driving elements. No fewer than five of his sons covered 125 mares or more in 2022 while Dubawi himself had a book of 165. Now 21-yearsold and in the twilight of his stud career, Dubawi has had his fee raised by 40 per cent to £350,000 for 2023.

While Night Of Thunder covered 180 mares last season and is likely to be again extremely popular at his new fee of €100,000, Ballylinch Stud’s New Bay stands at a career high of €75,000 following a season capped by the Group 1 winning double of Bay Bridge and Bayside Boy on Champions day at Ascot in October, all of which is good news for the breeders who sent 193 mares to him at €37,500 last year.

Both Night Of Thunder and New Bay received an uptick in popularity in 2022, as did the other Dubawi horses Ghaiyyath, Time Test and Too Darn Hot. Champion Ghaiyyath bucked the trend of losing support in his second year, with his book increasing by 25 per cent to 161 mares at €25,000. In this instance, such a rise is most likely the result of breeders consistently liking the first foals, something that was borne out at the winter sales where Ghaiyyath’s first crop returned an average of just over 100,000gns.

In Newmarket, Too Darn Hot has held his popularity at Dalham Hall Stud, deservedly so for a multiple Group 1 winner from the family of Darshaan, while Time Test was one of the most sought after British-based stallions of 2022 as the recipient of over 180 mares following a first crop of two-year-olds highlighted by the Group 1-placed Sunset Shiraz and Group 3 winner Romantic Time.

Of the 39 Flat-orientated stallions who covered 125 mares or more in 2022, only nine covered a smaller book than in 2021 – and even then in some  cases the drop was marginal. Of course, these are the horses who are either well established or perceived to be breaking through, so it stands to reason that their popularity should stabilise.

Results from the 2021 Flat season came into play as far as Gleneagles and Galileo Gold were concerned. 2021 featured six European Pattern winners for Coolmore’s Gleneagles; that combined with a drop in fee to a career low of €15,000 resulted in a book of 155, up from 31 the previous year. As for Galileo Gold, he covered only 34 mares in 2021 as breeders awaited his first runners, and when his debut crop came to include Group 1 winner Ebro River and the tough Group 3-winning filly Oscula, he went on to cover 163 mares at Tally-Ho Stud. The 2,000 Guineas winner switches to Haras de Bouquetot in France for 2023.

In a busy season for Tally-Ho Stud, Cotai Glory (another sire at the same stage of his career as Galileo Gold) covered close to 180 mares, up from 116. The stud’s July Cup winner Starman was also the busiest first-year sire in Europe as the recipient of 254 mares, although the ever-popular Mehmas wasn’t far behind on 249, despite standing for a career-high of €50,000.

Another horse to break the 200-figure mark was Starspangledbanner. He sired four Group or Grade 1 winners during an excellent season in 2022 so expect to see another large book head his way this season, even at his new fee of €50,000.

At the lower end of the price bracket, Coulsty and Elzaam, both of whom are established friends of the smaller breeder, will have also plenty of ammunition going for them in the future judging on their recent popularity.

Just as the arrival of smart-looking first foals can boost popularity, so can early results on the track. For those looking for an even earlier sign of a sire’s potential, it is worth remembering that the breeze-up community often have a fair insight; for instance, they were early supporters of Showcasing, Ardad and Night Of Thunder.

Ardad’s swift start with his first runners in the spring of 2021 played out in a book of 146 mares for 2022, up from just 26 in 2021, and that again rose in 2022 to 205 to make him the busiest British-based Flat stallion of the year. Similarly, last year’s champion first-crop sire Havana Grey covered a career-high of 166 mares as early word filtered through on the potential of his first two-year-olds. Sioux Nation – so far the sire of almost 50 first-crop winners – was even busier as his book rose by a whopping 390 per cent to 255.

It was also interesting to note the popularity of U S Navy Flag, whose book increased by 133 per cent to 144 mares. Buyers had liked his first yearlings, three of whom had realised €200,000 or more, while it might be that breeders also felt that a well-bred champion two-year-old priced at €12,500 was too good to miss. Fast forward to the end of 2022 and he had been represented by two Listed first-crop winners with his fee reduced to €10,000.

Predictably, fewer of those to cover between 60 and 124 mares received a boost in popularity. Even so, several of the younger names stand out. Ballylinch Stud’s Waldgeist, for instance, covered a bigger book in his third year than his second, presumably because people liked his first foals, which had sold for up to €180,000 at the 2021 winter breeding stock sales.

There was also a deserved uptick in attention towards Nunnery Stud’s Tasleet. The presence of first-crop breezers who sold for £230,000 and 200,000gns last spring certainly didn’t harm his profile but when that translated into a flurry of early season winners, momentum unsurprisingly began to build. Those early winners included Bradsell, a nine-length debut winner at York who later won the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot, meaning that those breeders who sent 99 mares at an inexpensive fee last season would appear to be in a good position.

The presence of 1,000 Guineas heroine Cachet in the first crop of Aclaim is also reflected in a sizeable increase in numbers for that stallion.

It was also good to see a warm welcome towards Dream Ahead, who switched from France to Bearstone Stud for 2022. A proven Group 1 sire, he also represents an outcross pedigree as a blend of the Warning and Cadeaux Genereux sire lines. 

On the other side of the coin, there are a number of stallions whose book fell. For some, however, it must be remembered that the numbers are the result of a less than straightforward season of covering – Kodiac was one such horse – and age rather than a drop in popularity.

Of the year’s first-year Flat-orientated horses, the aforementioned Starman certainly wasn’t short of admirers. However, particular mention should go to Coolmore’s champion St Mark’s Basilica, whose first book of 178 included over 30 Group/Grade 1 winners and/or producers, Middle Park Stakes winner Supremacy, who covered close to 190 mares, and the Darley pair of Palace Pier (154) and Space Blues (160).