Kevin Blake

Leading racing writer Kevin Blake gives a data-driven assessment on 2020 first-season Flat sires, whose progeny will hopefully be hitting the track sooner rather than later.

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In the bloodstock business, this time of year tends to be full of glorious uncertainty. Years of work, judgement and dreaming that has gone into every young thoroughbred, their sires and dams and the produce is now due to be put to the test on the racecourse. This is at its most pronounced in the case of the first-season sires whose first runners are approaching their debuts and about to advertise both their and their sire’s credentials.     

In this period of hiatus on the racecourses, we can take the opportunity to look back on the yearling sale results of 2019 to search for statistical hints as to what might prove to be the pick of the new sires based in Great Britain and Ireland.  

In terms of the broader picture of the list of sires with their first runners in 2020, there are 16 new stallions based in Great Britain and Ireland that have 75 or more two-year-olds to represent them. For the sake of comparison, there were 17 such stallions in 2019, 14 in 2018, 10 in 2017, 13 in 2016 and eight in 2015. 

It should also be noted that there is less depth at the upper end of the that group this year than is often the case, with just two individual stallions having covered their first crop at a published fee of €20,000 or higher. There were six such stallions in 2019, five in 2018 and five in 2017.  

The question of what method to use to assess the prospects of the first runners of various stallions is an interesting subject. As always in the bloodstock world, there will be no shortage of subjective opinion based on what observers have seen with their own eyes at the sales and on the gallops, but this piece will seek to make a data-based assessment.  

While data based on yearling sales results is far from cast iron given the potential for some of the results to not be quite as they seem, there is always plenty of interesting information to be extracted from the results.  

The chosen method of assessment in this piece is to express the average and more significantly the median price achieved by a sire’s progeny at the yearling sales in relation to their sire’s nomination fee. This can give an idea of how they performed in the context of the expectation implied by their nomination fee. However, that methodology undoubtedly favours sires with lower nomination fees, so it is fairer to all to include a set figure to account for the costs accumulated by each yearling up to the point of their sale. 

As has been discussed in previous sales analysis pieces, what this figure should be is a subject of great debate given the differing circumstances of the horses that sell at yearling sales. Based on feedback from industry figures over the years, the number I have decided to use this year to best reflect an industry-wide average is 10,000gns.  

It is also worth noting that when I converted the 2017 nomination fees of Irish-based stallions from Euro to Guineas for ease of comparison, I used the average exchange rate from October 1st 2017 to March 1st 2018 (89p to €1) in an effort to best reflect the cost to the breeder at the average time of payment.  

Statistical analysis of yearling sale results will never be fully reflective of the situation, but it can certainly help to cut through the bluster and give a good indication of how the market really received the first yearlings of these new sires.  

So, what do the numbers say?   (please click on the picture to make it bigger)

The first more general point to make is that the yearling sales of 2019 didn’t produce a stand-out performer amongst the first-season sires. Recent years have seen the first crops of the likes of Muhaarar, No Nay Never and Camelot achieve outstanding results at the yearling sales, but there wasn’t a comparable set of figures registered by any sire’s first crop last year.  

At least a portion of this reality can be attributed to the aforementioned fact that this group of stallions lacks star power compared to others years, with just two of them having stood for €20,000 or more in their first year.  

The one that took the top spot in this analysis was Awtaad (Derrinstown Stud). A Shadwell homebred, the son of Cape Cross brought his octogenarian trainer Kevin Prendergast back to the top table when winning the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Boomerang Stakes at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend.  

Retired at the conclusion of his three-year-old season, Awtaad stood for €15,000 at Derrinstown Stud in his first season. He attracted solid support, producing 93 live foals which puts him on the right side of the average of 88 live foals amongst this group.  

There were many highlights at the yearling sales for his progeny, with 15 of his 64 offspring that sold having made 100,000gns or more. What catches the eye amongst this group is how strongly Shadwell supported their own sire, with them signing for nine of those 15 most expensive lots.  

His two most expensive progeny were a half-brother to German Group 2 winner Donnerschlag that was bought by SackvilleDonald for 350,000gns at Tattersalls October Book 1 and a half-brother to Phoenix Of Spain that was bought by Shadwell for €400,000 at the Goffs Orby Sale.  

Other highlights included a half-brother to the Sydney Cup runner-up Vengeir Masque that was bought for 300,000gns by Shadwell at Tattersalls October Book 1 and a colt out of the Listed winner Majestic Jasmine that was bought for 220,000gns by Shadwell at Tattersalls October Book 2.  

Awtaad himself didn’t debut until October of his juvenile season and the vast majority of his immediate family were backend juveniles too, but with him having been sent his share of sharper mares, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his offspring appearing from the middle of the season. It will be fascinating to see whether his progeny can live up to the expectations created by their performance at the yearling sales.  

One of the more interesting performances at the upper end of the table came from the offspring of Harzand (Gilltown). A son of the top-class sire Sea The Stars from an excellent Aga Khan family, he won the Derby and the Irish equivalent. However, such a CV is far from a guarantee of commercial appeal in the modern market.  

While he stood his first season for a reasonable fee of €15,000, those commercial concerns perhaps led to him only attracting enough mares to produce a below-average number of 72 foals in his first crop.  

While that might not be considered the strongest of starts to his stallion career, the results that Harzand’s first crop achieved at the yearling sales offers plenty of encouragement. Four of his yearlings made over 100,000gns and there was good depth to their results as a whole.  

These results can perhaps be read more positively given that in contrast with other prominently-placed stallions in this analysis, Harzand’s owner the Aga Khan isn’t a regular participant at the yearling sales and didn’t appear to buy any of Harzand’s progeny at auction.  

One can only imagine that Harzand’s progeny won’t start to appear on the racecourse in any great quantity until the backend of the season, but there was more than enough encouragement from their performance at the yearling sales to warrant attention when they do make their first appearances.  

This analysis has traditionally only taken account of stallions that stood their first season in either Great Britain or Ireland, but given the lack of a real stand-out performer amongst that group, this year’s analysis will carry the details of a particularly notable stallion that stands in France.  

France hasn’t had all that many high-profile stallions starting their careers there in recent years, with Almanzor perhaps being the most notable exception. Thus, Shalaa (Haras de Bouquetot) was a notable addition to the stallion ranks in France when retiring to Sheikh Joaan’s Haras de Bouquetot at a fee of €27,500 following a racing career highlighted by a tremendous juvenile campaign that saw him do the Prix Morny/Middle Park double.  

Shalaa received strong support in his first year, resulting in a first crop consisting of 118 live foals. When one looks at the attached table, it can be seen that those offspring went on to establish results at the yearling sales that read very well compared to his British and Irish counterparts.  

Twenty-nine of his yearlings realised 100,000gns or more, with the highlight being a half-brother to the smart dual-purpose performer Penglai Pavilion that was bought for €600,000 by Narvick International at the Arqana August Sale.  

While it seems unlikely that Shalaa will have enough representatives in Britain and Ireland to make a bid for Leading First-Season Sire honours, he is very much a stallion that can be expected to make an impact with his first two-year-olds.  

Racebets have been one of the very few bookmakers to offer odds on the leading first-season sire over the years and their market can be found through the above link.

They are also offering a fascinating market on which will be the first such sire to produce a Classic winner

Kevin Blake
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