From new boys to golden oldies: where the value lies in the 2020 stallion fees
Martin Stevens picks out some temptingly priced sires for next season
My pick of the best value Flat sires in Britain and Ireland comes with an important note of caution this year: that is, that the true financial edge available to breeders likely lies in their own bargaining powers.
After a bruising round of sales in 2018, especially in the lower tiers of trade, many breeders said they would be downsizing their broodmare bands or getting out of the game altogether. That meant that in 2019 stallion farms had to work harder to attract custom to maintain their income and protect the book sizes of their younger charges with future racecourse representation in mind.
Consequently, there have been tales of some pretty hair-raising deals doing the rounds, with one stallion manager reporting that many of their clients thought all of their Christmases had come at once because of particularly generous fee agreements.
The fact that covering numbers in Britain and Ireland fell by only around two per cent this season, despite there being such discontent among mare owners at the start of the year, suggests stallion operations did a good job of tempting people into making bookings.
For all that, breeders should not be encouraged to breed from poor mares for the sake of a bargain. Furthermore, certain studs are known for not dealing and therefore requests for a discount will be met with short shrift, while common sense should prevail over attempting to open negotiations for obviously popular names who need no help filling their books.
It could also be argued that this year's sales season does not seem to have triggered quite the same sense of doom as that of 2018, so perhaps stallion masters will be emboldened to stand their ground – for now, anyway. It is also wise to remember that fools rush in, and deals may be more forthcoming as the breeding season approaches.
With all that in mind, here is the selection of stallions who look a fair bet at their advertised prices, with options from each end of the market per category.
New to stud in 2020
For a horse who showed flashes of brilliance on occasion, not least when he scored by daylight in the July Cup, an introductory fee of €25,000 for Ten Sovereigns at Coolmore appears fair.
An unbeaten Group 1 winner at two, he is by the increasingly important No Nay Never out of a Listed-placed daughter of the influential Exceed And Excel, and a 200,000gns price-tag as a yearling pays compliment to his looks.
Ballyhane Stud recruit Soldier's Call has echoes of the operation's much admired stalwart Dandy Man, both being Group 1-placed five-furlong specialists from the Danzig sire-line.
The newcomer, by the popular Showcasing and out of the Listed winner Dijarvo, had the pace and precocity to win the Windsor Castle and Flying Childers Stakes at two but was no flash in the pan as he came back at three to finish placed in the King's Stand Stakes and Nunthorpe. A €10,000 starting fee looks reasonable.
First foals in 2020
It might seem odd to highlight a stallion who has had his fee increased in only his second season, but then Tweenhills-based shuttler Zoustar – up £5,000 to £30,000 for 2020 – is in a unique position having already succeeded at stud.
The Group 1-winning son of Northern Meteor was champion first and second-season sire in Australia and his first European-conceived book will give him a solid foundation, containing as it did 149 mares including classy racemares Ainippe, Festoso, Karen's Caper and La Collina plus the dams of Blaine, Golden Horde, Maarek and Tropbeau.
Mickley Stud young gun Massaat offers plenty for a rock bottom fee of £5,000. He is by Teofilo – source of a former leading first-season sire in Havana Gold – and is a half-brother to Eqtidaar out of a well-bred winning daughter of Acclamation. He was no slouch on the track himself, winning the Hungerford Stakes and taking second in the Dewhurst and 2,000 Guineas.
Massaat seems to have caught the imagination of budget breeders, with 87 mares in his debut book this year including the dam of flying filly Liberty Beach.
First yearlings in 2020
Coolmore colour bearer Churchill fielded the highest average price of any first-crop foal sire at this year's sales in Britain and Ireland, with 12 sold at a mean of 108,000gns. Noted judges Camas Park Stud, Mags O'Toole and Peter and Ross Doyle were among the purchasers.
The champion two-year-old and dual Guineas winner covered 211 mares in his first season and 214 in his second, with 19 Group winners in each, and he has received a small price cut from €35,000 to €30,000.
The best return on stud fee among the first-crop foal sires this year belonged to another multiple Group 1-winning son of Galileo in Decorated Knight, whose auction average of 58,714gns was around five times his initial price of €15,000.
The Irish National Stud resident's stock have received plenty of positive comments and his owners Blue Diamond Stud mean serious business in supporting him. Having started out at €15,000 he is down to €9,000 for 2020, which seems a snip.
First two-year-olds in 2020
The vote among the more expensive members of this category goes to Awtaad, who achieved the highest debut yearling average price in Britain and Ireland this year – 75,481gns – and the best profitability index, with that figure more than six times his introductory fee of €15,000.
The Classic-winning son of Cape Cross has good ammunition to go to war with in 2020, with 120 mares covered in his first season including 29 black-type performers. He stands at Derrinstown Stud at an unchanged price of €15,000.
Tara Stud resident Estidhkaar was one of the surprise packages among those sires with their first delegations to the yearling sales in 2019, with 44 lots sold in Britain and Ireland for an average of 20,366gns – more than five times the €5,000 cost of their conception. Roger Varian, Shadwell and the Doyles were among the buyers of the seven who cost 50,000gns or more.
Being a Dark Angel half-brother to champion juvenile Toormore, and a dual Group 2 winner at two himself, he has every right to make a bold start with his debut runners and is available at a negligible €5,000.
First three-year-olds in 2020
The most generous gift among next year's fee announcements was Darley raising standout freshman Night Of Thunder to just €25,000 at Kildangan Stud in the wake of him supplying 12 black-type two-year-olds and operating at a winners-to-runners strike-rate of 63 per cent. However, he is heavily oversubscribed and only owners prepared to send high-achieving mares need apply.
As an alternative, how about another Classic winner from the Dubawi line in Make Believe? The son of Makfi, available at €12,000 at Ballylinch Stud, has supplied 11 winners in Britain and Ireland among his debut juveniles including the admirably tough and classy dual Group 3-winning filly Rose Of Kildare.
The exploits of Night Of Thunder meant several of his peers' achievements flew under the radar, including Whitsbury Manor Stud sire Due Diligence.
The son of War Front has delivered 16 winners in Britain and Ireland at a decent clip of 38 per cent, including Group winners Good Vibes and Streamline (intriguingly, both out of Compton Place mares) and Listed scorer Sir Boris. There was an upswing in the average price of his second crop of yearlings, from 14,722gns to 22,083gns, and his subsequent fee increase to £8,500 shows admirable restraint.
First four-year-olds in 2020
Traditional breeders rejoice! At last, there is a commercially popular, proven middle-distance sire who does not stand at a prohibitive fee.
The industry really seems to have got behind Lanwades-based German Derby winner Sea The Moon, and no wonder why: the son of Sea The Stars has supplied 18 black-type performers from his first two crops and his progeny are no slow coaches, with Alpine Star taking the Debutante Stakes and Hamariyna scoring in a Group 3 Guineas Trial. He is available at £15,000 in 2020 and deserves to find himself fully booked for the second season in a row.
Breeders who use Bungle Inthejungle next year will produce a yearling they can sell in the season that the sire has his biggest and best-bred crop of two-year-olds on the track – the result of his 2019 book of 109 mares conceived in the afterglow of his freshman exploits.
The son of Exceed And Excel kept ticking over by supplying Lowther Stakes winner Living In The Past from his second crop, and he looks reasonably priced at €12,000 at Rathasker Stud.
More established sires
Such is the thrill of the new in the stallion market that a proven name like Mastercraftsman, with 67 stakes winners to his credit including celebrities such as Alpha Centauri and The Grey Gatsby, is available at Coolmore at a fee of €25,000 – less than many who have no progeny at all and may well turn out to be useless.
Similar comments apply to Iffraaj, who is on offer at Dalham Hall Stud at £30,000. He is responsible for 70 stakes winners including Ribchester, Rizeena and Wootton Bassett and has a potential star for 2020 in May Hill Stakes heroine Powerful Breeze. A 2021 foal by the sire would follow in the wake of crops bred at career-high fees of £40,000 and £35,000.
Breeders who get their mares onto the restricted books of Iffraaj's subfertile Dalham Hall studmate Farhh should count themselves lucky to be paying only £12,000 for the pleasure, with the son of Pivotal having delivered the likes of King Of Change, Dee Ex Bee and Move Swiftly in spite of limited representation.
Another who has distinguished himself as a solid source of winners is Bated Breath, who notched a treble at Royal Ascot this year with Biometric, Daahyeh and Space Traveller. The Banstead Manor Stud stallion's fee has been raised by just 25 per cent to £12,500 ahead of the forthcoming breeding season.
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