First Season Sires,Keynes and a little poetry

In this month’s international thoroughbred magazine I examined the profitability of first season compared to subsequent crops. The full text is shown below:

First season sire-watch the bidding go higher
Second season sire- will find a buyer,
Third season sire- results will be dire
Fourth season sire- playing with fire.

One of the mysteries of the bloodstock markets has to be the infatuation with first season sires. Inevitably 90% of new sires disappoint, yet buyers still covet to the next big thing. I analysed the commercial returns on the main UK and Irish stallions who retired to stud in 2006 and plotted the profitability of their first four crops. The results are shown in the table below and summarised in my above piece of doggerel. It may not appear in too many poetry anthologies but I think it gives some useful guidance to commercial breeders, when deciding on a mating.

Methodology and findings

My analysis was based on stallions who retired to stud in 2006 and who remained standing at stud in the UK and Ireland for the next four years. The averages for their yearlings sold at public auction were then plotted from 2008-2011. Stud fees and sales averages were converted to a common unit (in this cases UK guineas) and an amount of 7000 guineas was allowed for upkeep. The average sales price of each crop of yearlings was then divided by the production cost of those yearlings (stud fee+annual upkeep). The results show that the first crop of foals were the most profitable with an average sales price that was 1.42 times the productions cost and the third crop was the worse achieving only 1.07 times the production cost. The year three and four results are of course influenced by racecourse performance by the first two and three year olds for those stallions. In that respect it is no surprise to see Dubawi and Shamardal show positive results, as amongst the selected stallions they best fit into the 10% category of successful stallions.

Average vs production cost
Sire    1st crop    2nd crop    3rd crop    4th crop
Antonius pius    1.16    0.53    0.27    0.76
Arakan    0.93    0.63    0.55    0.27
Avonbridge    1.26    0.92    0.99    1.15
Azamour    1.85    2.17    2.11    1.60
Camacho    1.52    1.30    1.15    1.27
Chineur    0.70    0.81    0.83    0.63
Dubawi    2.03    1.72    2.67    4.52
Firebreak    0.94    2.89    0.71    1.77
Footstepsinthesand    1.38    1.42    1.16    1.03
Motivator    2.18    2.27    0.99    0.89
Oratorio    2.01    1.27    0.70    0.89
Pastoral pursuits    1.22    1.32    1.93    1.35
Rakti    1.17    0.53    0.48    0.23
Shamardal    2.15    2.03    1.77    2.99
trade fair    0.98    0.61    0.71    0.55
Whipper    1.66    0.92    0.35    0.65
Zafeen    0.95    1.36    0.75    0.30

Average    1.42    1.33    1.07    1.23

Weaknesses in Methodology
It is acknowledged that there are a number of weaknesses in the above analysis.
The sample size is quite small, but reflects the fact that some sires who started covering in 2006 either died, were sold or did not have enough sales representatives to provide four years results. In addition there was considerable movement in the euro/sterling exchange rate over the period and this had a significant impact on the results. Ideally an adjustment would also be made for the trend in the overall yearling markets in those particular years. The chosen upkeep cost of 7000 gns is also quite arbitrary and does not allow for the depreciation in the value of the mare. Finally it would perhaps be better to look at medians rather than averages to negate the possibility of associated parties paying very high prices for stallion offspring to achieve headline grabbing top prices that also increase averages.

Making sense of it all-Keynesian wisdom

As far as I know the economist John Maynard Keynes, never wrote about horse racing but had he done so he would surely have recognised some of his theories in operation in the bloodstock market. One of his concepts became known as the Keynesian beauty contest.  This described a fictional newspaper contest, in which entrants are asked to choose from a set of six photographs of women that are the “most beautiful”. Those who picked the most popular face are then eligible for a prize.
In terms of a winning strategy, Keynes wrote  “It is not a case of choosing those [faces] that, to the best of one’s judgment, are really the prettiest, nor even those that average opinion genuinely thinks the prettiest. We have reached the third degree where we devote our intelligences to anticipating what average opinion expects the average opinion to be”.

Commercial breeders are involved in such a game. They may not particularly like the first season sires they are using, but their own beliefs don’t matter, it is about trying to guess what everyone else thinks, everyone else will think. They are short term investors who exit before the fundamental value of the yearling (ie its racing merit) is known.  As Keynes also wrote “Successful investing is anticipating the anticipations of others” and when it comes to breeding it seems that people think, that people think it is worth paying more for the latest sires.
All of this irrational behaviour is possibly explained by the prejudices of trainers. As trainers handle more bad horses than good ones and one bad horse can turn them off a sire, then they are likely to dislike a lot of sires! With new sires, trainers have not had the chance to form such prejudices.

It’s not easy being a commercial breeder. Survival requires profit and that requires suitable stallion selection.  The statistics above can help in that stallion selection. If breeders are to be tempted to use third and fourth season sires then breeders should be looking for substantial discounts on the published fees before the use of such stallions becomes attractive. The use of unproven stallions will continue as long as it is profitable. I will leave the final word to the great Keynes, who had sage advice, relevant to any breeders thinking about challenging the madness of the markets preference for unproven sires when he wrote “the markets can stay irrational, longer than you can stay solvent”.

Montjeu RIP

We all know that death is inevitable, yet we are still surprised when it happens. Montjeu was only 16 when he died today from complications related to septicaemia. He leaves behind an outstanding legacy with too many big winners to name, but even looking at his classic winners gives a sense of his achievements.

Classic Winners (Northern Hemisphere):

Hurricane Run (2002 c ex Hold On by Surumu) won Irish Derby

Motivator (2002 c ex Out West by Gone West) won Epsom Derby

Scorpion (2002 c ex Ard Melody by Law Society) won St Leger

Frozen Fire (2005 c ex Flamingo Sea by Woodman) won Irish Derby

Fame & Glory (2006 c ex Gryada by Shirley Heights)- won Irish Derby

Authorized (2006 ex Funsie by Saumurez) won Epsom Derby

Pour Moi (2008 c ex Gwynn by Darshaan)

Masked Marvel (2008 ex Waldmark by Mark of Esteem) won St Leger

Additional “Classic Winners” (depending on your definition)

Montare (2002 f ex Contare by Shirley Heights ) won Prix Royal Oak (French St Leger)

Jukebox Jury (2006 c ex Mare Aux Fees by Kenmare) won Irish St Leger

That is a remarkable level of consistency for a sire who has only had 8 crops of three year olds to represent him so far. It also goes without saying that there could be plenty more names added to this list before the final total is known with Camelot (ex Tarfah by Kingmambo) a short priced favourite for this years Derby and Guineas.

In addition he did very well from his stint down under (although it took some time to recognise this) and he has also enjoyed  major national hunt success including festival winners Hurricane Fly and Noble Prince.


When Montjeu’s first crop of three year olds hit the track it was a phenomenon. He sired the first two in the Epsom Derby (Motivator and Walk in the Park) and Irish Derby (Hurricane Run and Scorpion). For good measure Scorpion added the St Leger and Hurricane Run the Arc that season. It seemed the true successor to his sire Sadler’s Wells had finally arrived. And then along came Galileo.  Now it seems that Montjeu is always to be compared to his more expensive stud mate and almost invariably unfavourably. “He doesn’t sire milers and he doesn’t sire fillies and they carry their heads a little high” so the cream of the mares go to Galileo, just like their sire Sadler’s Wells kept the best mares from Caerleon. Indeed one wag suggested to me that the cause of his death was a broken heart as he felt like a jilted lover losing so many of his mares to Galileo!

But the comparison with Sadler’s Wells and Caerleon and the conventional wisdom is unfair. Montjeu is to my mind a better sire than Caerleon and in many respects a better sire than Galileo. The most important stat is usually stakes winners to foals- Galileo has 98 from 1651 foals of racing age (6%), Montjeu is currently 100 from 1318 foals (8%). If we factor in the superior quality of Galileo’s mares then Montjeu’s comparative record is all the more laudable. He also outperformed Galileo from their shuttle crops. As for his supposed failings with fillies and milers, those perceptions could easily change and very rapidly if for instance Camelot won a Guineas and Wading a fillies classic. With further crops to come it is worth waiting to see if his record with fillies and milers will improve in time. Even if they don’t, he has done enough to be regarded as one of the ten greatest sires to ever stand in Ireland. The others probably consist of Sadler’s Wells, Danehill, Habitat, Galileo, Birdcatcher, Gallinule, Blandford, Gallinule and Desmond.

Sons at Stud

To date the record of his sons at stud is underwhelming. Motivator seemed afflicted by bad luck suffering injuries and having small resultant crops but he was disappointing. Hurricane Run has got plenty of stakes horses but quickly needs a big name to keep his name in lights. Authorized had a quiet first season last year with his two year olds so he needs them to improve considerably as three year olds. There are still plenty of sons either yet to retire or just retired so there is plenty of time for a successor to emerge and it is worth remembering that Sadler’s Wells had more failures than successes before Montjeu came along.

Broodmare Sire

It is also very early to make pronouncements Montjeu as a Broodmare sire.  However last year saw Montjeu as broodmare sire of two of the best two year olds in Europe via Dewhurst winner Parish Hall (2009 c by Teofilo ex Halla Siamsa by Montjeu) and Group 2 winner Restiadargent (Kendargent ex Restia by Montjeu). Given Montjeu’s rivalry with Galileo it is interesting to see them combine in the pedigree of Parish Hall who is by Galileo’s son Teofilo and we can expect to see there names increasingly linked in future pedigrees.

Final Word

Montjeu was an outstanding racehorse and his performance in the 2000 King George was as impressive as you could wish for. He had a great turn of foot for a horse who truly stayed 12 furlongs and would have got further. He also had courage as he demonstrated in a tough Arc when El Condor Paso got first run on him in heavy ground. He passed on many of these attributes to his offspring and he is huge loss to the European breeding industry.

Predicting Sales Returns

The Keeneland sales are critical to the US bloodstock industry. When analysing the sales, industry experts often focus on the strength of the buying bench which depends on the presence or otherwise of European, Arab, Japanese and domestic buyers. The experts debate the impact of variables such as changes to exchange rates or tax charges, the size and perceived quality of the catalogue, or tinkering with the sales structure through select sessions. The presence of the offspring of star stallions or fashionable stallions may also be invoked as a way of explaining the likely sales outcome. These factors are real and do have an impact but the best indicator currently available is much more straightforward-The Dow Jones Index. I consider the issue in detail in the September edition of International Thoroughbred magazine. To read the article click here

The importance of birth dates

Studies have shown that a horses birth date has only a marginal impact on its subsequent racing performance. It follows that it should therefore be of little relevance to the sales price achieved.  I put this assumption to the test in this month’s International Thoroughbred magazine.  To read the article follow the link and go to pages 44-46

breeze up sales- ready to run?

Breeze up sales were a logical development. One of the supposed advantages  is that the horses offered are almost ready to run.  I put this assumption to the test in this month’s International Thoroughbred magazine.  To read the article follow the link and go to pages 50-52

Coolmore-dominance in decline?

Back in April 2010 everything must have seemed rosy down in Tipperary. Eskendereya (Giant’s Causeway ex Aldebaran Light by Seattle Slew) looked set to finally provide one of their sires with a coveted Kentucky Derby victory. In Europe, St Nicholas Abbey (Montjeu ex Leaping Water by Sure Blade) was favourite for the Guineas and Derby. Galileo, Montjeu and Danehill Dancer were established members of Europes elite and the stallion roster contained plenty of unproven but exciting young stallions.

Fast forward to November and just like the Irish economy, things are looking somewhat grim despite Galileo helping them to an incredible 21st consecutive UK & Ireland sires championship. Galileo had a stellar year with Cape Blanco, Rip Van Winkle, Sans Frontiere, Lily of the Valley and three Group 1 winning 2 year olds in Play Misty for Me, Frankel and Roderic O’ Connor. It was a season comparable with any that Sadler’s Wells enjoyed in his heyday. That however is the end of the good news. After a recent stud visit one source told me that Galileo seemed to be in poor physical shape and had lost a lot of condition. If anything was to restrict his capacity to serve large books next year it would be a serious setback.


Montjeu had a disappointing year. St Nicholas Abbey failed to reappear after his Guineas fifth and Jan Vermeer was somewhat disappointing. Fame & Glory did add two Group 1’s but his season ended in disappointment in the Arc. Joshua Tree won the Canadian International but no obvious stars emerged from his two year old crop. He hasn’t suddenly become a bad sire but a Guineas win for St Nicholas Abbey would have helped fill one of the major gaps in his cv. The other gap is of course his relative lack of success with fillies, something which reduces his popularity with breeders.

Danehill Dancer

Danehill Dancer had two Group 1 winning fillies in Lilly Langtry (ex Hoity Toity by Darshaan) and Ave (ex Anna Amalia by In The Wings). However his results did not do enough to justify his private fee and to my mind he ranks behind Dansili, Pivotal, Dubawi and Oasis Dream amongst the top miler sires in Europe. Although they still refer to him as the best sire son of Danehill in Europe, Coolmore are aware of his limitations. This is evidenced through their use of Dansili rather than Danehill Dancer for many of their elite mares .

The Young Guns

Oratorio and Footstepsinthesand both had their first crop of three year olds. Both could have been expected to see their offspring improve with age. Both disappointed and they now seem pricey at €15000 and €12500 respectively. It would be no surprise to see either or both sold abroad.

Amongst the first season sires there were no fireworks and no Group 1 winners. Holy Roman Emperor (Danehill ex L’On Vite by Secretariat) came second to Iffraaj but there was a distinct lack of quality amongst the quantity. Aussie Rules (Danehill ex Last Second by Alzao) probably did best of the newcomers with a few Group horses included amongst his winners. Hurricane Run (Montjeu ex Hold On by Surumu) did ok considering no one really expected him to get precocious types. Ad Valorem (Danzig ex Classy Women by Relaunch) produced nothing of note and a similar comment applies to Ivan Denosovich (Danehill ex Hollywood Wildcat by Kris S) who will probably be moved on quickly.

middle of the road sires

There is nothing wrong with Peintre Celebre (fee €15,000), Rock of Gibraltar (fee 22,500) or High Chaparral (€15,000) as stallions but their limitations are evident at this stage. High Chaparral should be moved permanently to Coolmore Australia where he is so much more successful and highly regarded.

Next Year

2011 sees the first runners for Strategic Prince (Dansili ex Ausherra by Diesis) and Dylan Thomas (Danehill ex Lagrion by Diesis). It has been a number of years since Coolmore have unearthed a promising new sire and the odds are against Strategic Prince making the breakthrough. Dylan Thomas has the advantage of plenty of well credentialled mares but there is a bias against the staying sons of Danehill.

The end comes quickly

Coolmore has dominated the European scene for so long that it is unsurprising that we start to raise eyebrows at any erosion of its dominance. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 they had 5 of the top 6 stallions in the UK and Irish rankings. In 2009 they had 3 of the top 6 and in 2010 this was down to 2 of the top 6. Their stranglehold has ended.

Reasons for decline.

1.It was inevitable that the massive Arab investment in bloodstock would eventually unearth some top class stallions. This year was a very good year for Darley. Amongst their young stallions Dubawi emerged as a superstar and Shamardal had a fine year. Iffraaj took first season sire honours. King’s Best had two Derby winners in Workforce and Eishin Flash. Cape Cross produced another top class colt in Behkabad. In addition Sheikh Mohammed owns significant stakes in “independent stallions” Invincible Spirit and Pivotal who were 6th and 11th respectively in this years Irish/UK sire table. Juddmonte are sitting pretty with two outstanding young stallions in Dansili and Oasis Dream.

2. You can’t just go out a find a replacement for either Sadlers Wells or Danehill:)

3.Too many eggs in one basket. The Coolmore roster was incredibly top heavy with sons of Danehill, and except for Danehill Dancer they have failed to strike gold with them. The assertion that he is an outstanding sire of sires is open to debate in a European context. Their faith in Danehill Dancer to found a sireline via Mastercraftsman, Choisir and Choisir’s son Starspangledbanner may also prove misguided.

4. Competitors have upped their game in terms of PR, marketing and deal making. Coolmore PR is also becoming a little jaded and it is starting to invite cynicism everytime we hear AP O’Brien describe his latest winner as showing”incredible natural speed but he is so relaxed and settles so well that you could run him in either the July Cup or the Ascot Gold Cup!”

5. The Maktoum boycott didn’t help and would have influenced some breeders decisions

6. The euro sterling exchange rate rose considerably over the noughties with a particularly sharp spike in 2008. This made using Coolmore stallions more expensive for UK breeders.

7. Lack of outcross options. All of the current stallions are Northern Dancer line stallions and breeders will want more options in time

The future

A world leader like Coolmore doesn’t just suddenly disappear into oblivion. Galileo is still only 12 and is poised for a period of dominance. However apart from Montjeu the supporting cast appears weak and similarly their American roster is unexceptional apart from Giants Causeway. However they still have the financial resources to buy the best yearlings and the best trainer in the world to manage them. The ending of the partnership with Johnny Murtagh indicates the pressure that is on everyone to produce results- 14 Group 1 wins this year was still deemed a disappointing year. Their dominance might be in relative decline but they are still the best in the game.

2020 Vision

It’s a new year and a new decade,
so I dusted off the crystal ball and thought about what the next decade holds for the thoroughbred world. In a European context the changes from 2000 to 2010 were incremental rather than revolutionary. It’s a largely familiar landscape in which Coolmore and Darley still dominate.  Sadler’s Wells and Danehill may be gone, but their sons are now dominant. In an American context the one truly radical change is the adoption of synthetics. However by 2020 I foresee dramatic changes worldwide.

1. AI is coming.

Artificial Insemination is inevitable and I for one would welcome this development. Economics (reduced travel costs), safety considerations (reduced injuries to stallions and mares) and critically AI’s role in disease prevention will ensure that it eventually happens. The ‘traditionalists’ chief concerns have been:

  1. the fear of huge crop sizes
  2. a reduction in stallion diversity
  3. the practical issue that foals conceived by AI are not eligible for inclusion in the stud book

If we consider these arguments they don’t stand up to close examination. Huge crop sizes are already a reality. The marketplace will find a level at which demand (finite) will equal the new level of supply (almost infinite).  After an adjustment period, I do not envisage the top stallions greatly exceeding some of the current crop sizes. Commercial breeders have always factored in scarcity value to their deliberations and they will quickly adjust to the new environment. One interesting dilemma for stallion masters is whether they will be able to continue to charge different amounts for shuttle sires in different hemispheres.

Stallion diversity it is argued will be reduced as everyone tries to use a smaller number of elite stallions. I disagree, as firstly crop sizes may not alter as much as expected (see above) but more importantly breeders can now access any stallion regardless of location.  For breeders in small regional markets this offers huge opportunities. As a mating analyst it would mean that geography was no longer a consideration and it would allow experimentation on a grand scale.

Inclusion in the stud book will be driven by other factors. In the event of a major breeding country eg the US being forced to adopt AI as a disease prevention measure, the rules will be changed.  Australia contemplated AI when they had an outbreak of Equine Flu in 2007 amongst their shuttle stallions and other court cases have challenged the ban on the grounds of restraint of trade. Whatever the catalyst, once change comes, I believe the other major countries would eventually accept the new realities. If I was to make a practical suggestion I would recommend that foals would not be registered where the stallion has been deceased for 12 months or more. This would ensure that new stallions get a chance and that for example we would not still be seeing offspring of Sadler’s Wells in 25 years time.

 2. The scientists are coming.

Genetic research is about to usher in a brave new world and one with implications for the bloodstock industry that are far more profound than the impact of AI. Take the following example( and consider the implications of this work. If scientists can identify and then test for the genetic markers that determine performance, the consequences for the industry are dramatic and traumatic. Who will buy a horse who is lacking these critical indicators of success? Currently the industry is supported by the triumph of hope over probability. Genetic tests will eliminate this hope and will make the majority of foals/yearlings effectively worthless. Other possibilities arise. What if these tests can be performed on embryos? The logical thing for a breeder to do would be to cease the pregnancy and try again, which raises ethical issues. 

 On a more positive note the scientists will help debunk many current breeding theories. We should get a proper understanding of inheritance with due regard and understanding of female influence. Looking back in 2020 I suspect us modern pedigree ‘experts’ will be viewed in the same way that we regard 19th century doctors who relied on bloodletting and leeches for many ailments!

3. The Japanese are coming

Japanese horses have already finished 2nd (El Condor Pasa) and 3rd (Deep Impact) in the Arc. They have finished first and second in the Melbourne Cup (Delta Blues and Pop Rock) and have achieved major success in America (Casino Drive and Cesario), the UK (Agnes World) and France (Seeking the Pearl).  It is a long time since Japan was a dumping ground for failed or unfashionable European stallions and the effect of their investments in recent decades mean that their horses are competitive at the highest level. The huge prizemoney at home has probably restricted travel to date but that might be about to change. If the Japanese bloodstock industry follows the example of other Japanese industries then they will be anxious to prove themselves to the world.  It might be no more than a hunch but I predict that Japanese winners will become commonplace in major events here and in the US.