Elite Mare Matings
John Boyce investigates the strength of stallion fees and covering numbers either side of the Irish Sea
Words: John Boyce
Whilst yearling prices returned to something like normal levels in 2021, following a Covid bump in the road a year earlier, it seems there was no such pause in the market for stallion nominations in Britain and Ireland. Ten years ago the 30th most expensive stallion in Britain and Ireland was advertised at a fee of just €15,000. By 2019 – the year relating to the latest round of yearling sales – the 30th most expensive stallion stood for €30,000. Moreover, the average listed nomination cost for all mares visiting a top-30 stallion in 2011 was only 44K compared to the 81K for the class of 2019. Even more startling is the fact that there were only 3,624 mares covered in 2011 by the top 30 stallions, compared to 4,202 in 2019. So, we can say that investment in nominations in the 30 most sought-after stallions has actually doubled between 2011 and 2019.
Inevitably, a yearling market faltering slightly because of Covid cannot contain a booming nominations market. The net result is excessive pressure of profitability. And that has been the case at the 2021 yearling sales. Despite the 33% increase in average price at the five main sales since 2013, the profitability score of 64% – those making more than their conception fee, plus £20,000 upkeep – has not increased since then. Bringing the comparison up to date, 64% of profitable yearlings at the big five sales this year comfortably exceeded the 58% of last year, but it is marginally behind the 65% recorded in 2019, before the effects of Covid intervened. So, it seems, we need more consistent growth in the yearling market just to maintain any prospect of preserving profit margins for commercial breeders. That pressure will be maintained, given that we already know what is in the pipeline for future yearling sales of 2022 and 2023.
RETURN OF MARES
The big mover among the latest return of mares was Mehmas. The Tally-Ho stallion, with his 290 mares covered in 2021, has set a new record for the number of mares covered in a single season by a European stallion. No real surprise there as he provided all the right answers for commercial breeders with his first crop of two-year-olds last season. A record haul of winning youngsters – 56 in all – was supplemented with plenty of classy two-year-olds, including G1 Middle Park hero Supremacy, and four more juvenile Group winners from his second crop will do absolutely nothing to dampen breeders’ enthusiasm for the son of Acclamation in 2022.
Two other stallions topped the 200-mare mark. One, Kodiac, was expected as he has covered more than 200 mares on five previous occasions. But Coolmore’s Wootton Bassett, standing at €100,000, was more of a surprise with his 242 mares. That is in stark contrast to the 153 he was bred to during his final season at Haras d’Etreham. Moreover, the quality of his mares has also gone through the roof in 2021 with as many as 126 that can be classed as an elite mare – one judged by the quality of her progeny or pedigree for younger mares to be among the top 15% of the population.
On that same metric, Dubawi was runner up with 120, followed by Lope de Vega (118), Kingman (117) and Frankel (99). First-season sires Pinatubo (66) and Ghaiyyath (43) were the best newcomers, followed by Sottsass (40) and Earthlight (29), giving Darley a particularly strong hand for 2024 and beyond. In our polarized bloodstock world where second-season sires are all but neglected, it speaks volumes when breeders come back in both numbers and quality for a year-two stallion. That is precisely what has happened to Too Darn Hot, who attracted a handsome tally of 74 elite mares among his book of 162 this year. In fact, this number is good enough to be second only to the 97 elite mares covered by Frankel in his second year back in 2014. Kildangan’s Blue Point made a one-two for Darley stallions with his 49 elite mares from a book of 182. The second book covered by Lanwades Stud’s Deep Impact stallion Study Of Man also held up well, increasing on year one despite a fall in fee.
The prize for the best quality book overall goes to Dubawi for the seventh straight year. Not since Dansili in 2014 and Frankel in 2013 has the Darley stallion failed to attract the best book of mares in Europe.