Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake looks at which first-season sire made the biggest impact last year.

  • Wednesday 08 April
  • Blog
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What sire made the biggest impression with their first foals in 2019?

The old saying may well be “foals are for fools”, but that doesn’t stop an army of pinhookers from descending on the sale grounds of Ireland and England every November and December in pursuit of what they hope will prove to be a bargain at the foal sales.

Not only do such buyers have to assess the likely physical progress of what are very young and immature animals, they also have to speculate as to what the market will want by the time the yearling sales come around less than a year later. Despite the multiple pitfalls of the pursuit, it is a challenge that seems to engage the bloodstock industry like few others.

One segment of this market that is always a hot topic of discussion at the sales is that of the first foals by new stallions. In many ways, it is illogical to concentrate on unproven stallions over proven stallions given the statistically low success rate of new sires. However, considering the speed with which nomination fees rise after initial success of a sire’s progeny on the racecourse, attempting to get on board early with the next success story amongst the new stallions will seemingly always be a highly-popular pursuit in the bloodstock world.

That said, analysing the results of foal sales is a tricky game, primarily due to sample size issues. This is particularly true in the case of the sires with higher nomination fees, as a general rule is that the higher the fee, the less foals by that sire that will be offered at the foal sales. However, such analysis can be particularly informative in the case of sires who stand at the lower end of the nomination scale and are represented by a more significant sample of foals at the sales.

With talk of overproduction having returned to the industry of late, it is very interesting to note that the 2019 foal sales saw a reduction in representatives of first-season sires. Last year there were 12 new stallions based in Great Britain and Ireland that had 75 or more first foals on the ground compared to 16 such stallions in 2018, 17 in 2017, 14 in 2016, 10 in 2015, 13 in 2014 and eight in 2013.

As anyone that is familiar with my style of sales analysis will know, I feel that when assessing the average and median sales price statistics of a stallion’s progeny it is important to add in the sire’s nomination fee as well as fixed production costs into the equation. Using this method serves to level the playing field on which raw average/median prices are skewed in favour of stallions that stood at lower nomination fees.

Calculating a fair figure for fixed costs incurred from the birth of the foal up until they sold at the foal sales is a tricky business. While foal registration/levy and sale entries are the same for all, the keep costs involved for a hobby or small breeder will be lower compared to those of a breeder whose mare and her progeny board full-time on an outside farm. Thus, finding a one-size-fits-all figure that is a fair reflection of the industry average will never be straightforward, but the figure that will be used here is 4,000gns.

The following list is of the relevant numbers relating to every stallion based in Great Britain and Ireland that had their first live foals on the ground in 2019 based on data provided by Weatherbys. While these numbers are accurate up to the end of March, some of the mares covered by the sires in question have not had a return made by their breeder yet. There tends to be live foals amongst those that have yet to be registered, so it is reasonable to expect some of these live foal numbers to rise slightly between now and the yearling sales.

In terms of what Euro/Sterling exchange rate to use, given that some stud fees are paid as early as October 1st in the year the mare is covered while others may not be paid until the summer months after the foal is born, in an effort to find a fair mid-point an average exchange rate of 88p to €1 from October 1st 2018 and March 1st 2019 has been used.

Here is what the data tells us, with the sires being put in order of the highest-to-lowest median price expressed as a multiple of their stud fee plus fixed costs:

Please click on the image to make it larger.

Before drawing immediate conclusions from the positions on the table, I will repeat the aforementioned warning to pay close attention to the numbers of foals by each stallion that were sold. The lower that number, the less robust their stats are.

The two that led the way were the Coolmore representatives Churchill and Caravaggio. Churchill wasn’t represented as strongly in numerical terms as Caravaggio at the foal sales, but those that did sell registered a number of eye-catching results. Six of his offspring sold for six-figure sums, with Timmy Hyde’s Camus Park Stud signing for three of them. Mind, it was Peter and Ross Doyle that signed for his most expensive foal, a 220,000gns three-parts brother to the American Grade 2 winner Nancy From Nairobi.

Caravaggio had more than double the number of foals at the sales than Churchill. Thus, while he is strictly in second place on this list, his figures are more robust and he was the real star of last year’s foal sales. No less than 11 of his foals realised six-figure sums with the pick of them being a half-brother to the Group 1-placed sprinter Forever In Dreams that the Marnane family sold to Abbeylands Farm for 250,000gns.

So encouraged were Coolmore by what they saw from Caravaggio’s first foals, they made the bullish move of increasing his nomination fee from €35,000 to €40,000 for this year. Raising a sire’s fee before they have had their first runners isn’t something that Coolmore have done all that often in the past, but the recent examples of it make for fascinating reading. They raised the fees of Zoffany, Camelot and No Nay Never just before their first runners hit the track and their bullishness was very much justified in each of those cases, with both Zoffany and No Nay Never going on to be crowned Champion First-Season Sire in Europe. That said, raising a stallion’s fee solely on the strength of their first foals is an even more bullish move that will raise the already lofty expectations around Caravaggio even higher.

Of the others with bigger samples of foals that sold, Profitable (Darley) stands out from the remainder. Standing for a significantly lower fee (€12,000) than the two aforementioned Coolmore sires, he was well received by the breeders and his current tally of live foals stands at 128. He had more foals at the sales than any other sire on this list, so for his numbers to register so highly represents a very encouraging start for him. His numbers can be read even more positively when one considers that they seemed to be registered without the benefit of his owner having bought any of his offspring as foals.

Profitable had three foals that were bought for six-figure sums with the clear stand-out amongst them being a half-sister to the Group 1-placed Jash that was bought for €205,000 by Hamish Macauley at Goffs.

Of the remainder, mention has to be given to Mondialiste (Elwick Stud). The globetrotting dual Group 1 winner was one of Galileo’s lower-profile recruits to the stallion ranks and while one must always be cautious of stats based on very small sample sizes, the few foals by him that appeared at the sales did well enough for him to warrant more attention going forward.

The pick of them was the half-sister to German Group 2 winner Donnerschlag that Peter and Ross Doyle bought for 60,000 gns. Interestingly, that foals yearling half-brother by Awtaad got a mention in this space last week as being one of the most expensive yearlings in his sires first crop.

Kevin Blake
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