Numbers up but breeders unfazed

Tougher than ever to make a profit selling yearlings

The figures from the ever-informative Dr Statz (page 128) make for interesting, if depressing, reading. Simply put, only around half of the yearlings purchased at public auction in Europe this season sold in profit.

With many breeders in this country effectively subsidising the racing industry with no hope of any return through breeders’ prizes, as our colleagues in France still enjoy, it begs questions over why people continue to breed from mares with little hope of producing a foal that will eventually cover his or her costs. And yet, the foal crops in Britain and Ireland are continuing to rise – up 3% in Ireland in 2017 to 9,044, having risen 7% the previous year, while Weatherbys has also announced another 2% rise in Britain to 4,674 on top of a 2% increase in 2016.

To increase the number of domestic owners who might help boost the lower ends of the yearling market, there needs to be a dramatic upturn in the current levels of purses on offer for maidens and handicaps

This time last year breeders muttered darkly at the foal sales, which offered bumper catalogues, that we were back in the danger zone of overproduction, but it would appear that few heeded these warning signs when it came to covering their mares earlier this year.

There’s no question that for a vibrant racing industry to persist in this country we need breeders to continue to take annual leaps of faith that this will be the year that a significant update, or shrewd choice of unproven stallion that becomes the darling of the pinhookers, can make the difference between red and black in the books. Further hope can perhaps be drawn from the fact that from next year we should start to see significant boosts in the grassroots level of prize-money. This development may not be palatable to all – and critics warn of the dangers of rewarding mediocrity – but there can be no doubt that to increase the number of domestic owners who might help boost the lower ends of the yearling market, and to encourage more breeders to place horses in training, there needs to be a dramatic upturn in the current levels of purses on offer for maidens and handicaps.

So what else is new, you may well be thinking. Well, once again there’s a plethora of new stallions. Last year saw more than 40 new recruits to the sire ranks in Britain and Ireland and, as announcements for 2018 draw to a close, it’s likely to be a similar story. The National Stud alone has four new boys, with Martyn Meade’s first Group 1 winner Aclaim and the former Roger Charlton-trained Time Test having joined the line-up since our feature in October’s issue announcing the arrival of southern hemisphere stallions Spill The Beans and Tivaci.

From Weatherbys’ Return of Mares for 2017 we learn that 19 Flat stallions in Britain and Ireland covered 150 mares or more, with Dark Angel topping the list at 223. The Yeomanstown Stud resident, who turns 13 in 2018, also tops Dr Statz’s stallion profitability table for sires who stood from £20,000 to £49,999 in 2015. His fee that year was €27,500, and that figure rose to €60,000 the following year and to €65,000 for 2017. Even at those levels his yearlings would still have sold at a profit, with Dark Angel’s average price this year being £154,601.

The table for stallions who stood for more than £50,000 is unsurprisingly dominated by the established names of Dubawi, Galileo and Invincible Spirit, and the semi-established Frankel, while Invincible Spirit’s son and Frankel’s stud mate Kingman is a new name, his 37 yearlings sold returning an average of £242,485, more than four times his fee.

Other new names in the more affordable table bracket of £10,000 to £19,999 are No Nay Never at the top on a £115,342 average which was almost eight times his introductory fee and Sea The Moon, who returned a decent £77,950 average from a stud fee of £15,000, which remains the same for 2018.

France’s leading first-season sire Dabirsim heads the table of stallions who stood for up to £9,999, with a yearling average of £92,546 thanks to the exploits of his first bunch of runners. This has led to an increase to €30,000 for next year from his starting fee of €9,000.

In our accompanying table, only four of the busiest stallions stood in Britain, and another four were covering their first book of mares – Tally-Ho Stud’s Mehmas and Vadamos and Coolmore’s The Gurkha and Pride Of Dubai.

Incidentally, two stallions whose departure last year from British Flat studs to the Irish jumping ranks caused consternation for some, have been among the busiest of the National Hunt stallions this year. Champs Elysees, who left Juddmonte to join Castle Hyde Stud, was the fourth busiest behind Soldier Of Fortune (341), Getaway (276) and Mahler (279) when covering 241 mares compared to 54 in 2016. The former Newsells Park Stud stallion Mount Nelson, who recorded a new Group 1 winner in October via the QIPCO British Champions Sprint hero Librisa Breeze, covered 210 mares at his new base at Boardsmill Stud, having been sent only 22 the previous year in Britain.

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