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Night Of Thunder Surprises again whilst Golden Horn will blow his Trumpet in 2020

Posted 20/2/2020

            Richard Hughes opted for 15/2 shot Toormore for the 2014 2,000 Guineas but it was 40/1 shot Night Of Thunder (NoT), ridden by Kieren Fallon, who literally swung home to beat Kingman by half a length. Current fellow sires Charm Spirit, War Command. Kingston Hill, Australia, Outstrip and The Grey Gatsby were behind him that day and, judging by his first season at stud they, could very well remain behind him in their new careers. With seven black type winners and over 50% of his first season 2yo runners being winners the son of Dubawi has surprised us again and in my book is by far the best first season sire from the 2019 brigade. Not a surprising conclusion many will say, but look at the chart below where progeny performance is measured relative to mare quality and you can see how much clear of the field he was. eg from a book of mares on average 10lbs below Muharaar his progeny were on average 7lbs better. That is significant.

            The wonderful thing about this game is that there are no certainties and one look at Night of Thunder's crooked front legs would probably result in you scratching out his name even if he cost you next to nothing to contract a cover for your superstar mare. However, as wonder mare Attraction, who had similar limb issues, pointed out to us in her excursions on the flat, theory and fact often do not coincide and clearly Night Of Thunder is passing on an abundance of ability to his offspring. Not only that but he is still, if not within the Racing Post Breeding on a Budget guidelines, at a relatively accessible nomination fee at €25,000. Accessible that is if you spoke to Darley about four months ago as for sure he is well and truly full for the 2020 covering season. Why is he such great value? Well I have already espoused the attractiveness of No Nay Never (NNN) as a sire so how does NoT stack up against him in these early days? Their 1st crops were both conceived from mares averaging around the 85 mark and NNN's progeny is a 1lb or so ahead after it's 1st year. NNN's 2nd crop was conceived from a mare quality 3lbs lower than NoT and the latter's 1st crop progeny are about 2lbs better. That, together with their relatively similar positions north of the trend-line in these analyses, says to me that we are talking about a couple of young sires performing not a million miles differently from each other and much better than their colleagues in their respective first season sire cohorts. Taking into account that NNN started out at €20,000 but has now risen to €175,000, NoT looks like the bargain of the century. Early days but you get the gist.

Night Of Thunder is the outstanding first season sire of 2019 but watch out for Golden HornNight Of Thunder is the outstanding first season sire of 2019 but watch out for Golden Horn

            Comparing black type winners for these two stallions, NoT has achieved 7 winners and four placed horses from his Northern Hemisphere offspring whereas NNN had 6 winners in the 1st year of his first two crops with 4 and 8 placed respectively which is again broadly at the same level of achievement. One could argue that NoT has not produced outstanding offspring with his sole Group 2 winner , Night Colours, having done that in Italy, which with all due respect is probably a lower level than say France, UK or Ireland. Another slightly concerning factor is that the number of his potential runners that reached the track is a bit low at 46% for a horse who showed his best form at a mile and is of average height (16.05 hands). Maybe some of that poor conformation did get passed on and resulted in some 2yo's missing the track in 2019 but perhaps I am just searching for a negative for a young sire that looks exceptional judging on first season progeny performance. 

            Who else looks promising from the 2019 first season sires? Golden Horn looks to me to be the one who will emerge from the pack in 2020. Whilst one would have expected 2019 to be a quiet year for him given that he is a horse who showed his best form at 10 to 12 furlongs, I think it was even quieter than one would expect! His best horse was West End Girl who won the Group 3 Sweet Solera but then disappointed later in the season as did his other black type winner Festive Star who won a listed event in Italy before running down the field in France. However, it was never going to be about their 2yo careers and what is noticeable is that Golden Horn has thrown a high percentage of horses who have performed very adequately in the 70 to 85 rating range with very few below average horses. You will not get rich producing horses with those types of ratings but, given the likelihood that his produce will improve significantly at three, there may be a few stars about to burst through of those who did run as 2yos as well as from the 54% who did not run. 

            Apart from the fact that Golden Horn was at his best over middle/longer distances why else should his offspring do better in 2020? First, he only ran once as a 2yo winning a late October maiden over an extended mile (rated 86) before being put away until his Feilden, Dante, Derby, Eclipse four timer as a three year old followed later in the year with wins in the Irish Champion Stakes and the Arc as well as two other close up Group 1 second places. Secondly, he is a sizable unit at 16.2 hands and if he passes that on his offspring may just need a bit more time. Thirdly, he had 46% of his potential runners turn up on the racetrack at two years old which is relatively high given his size and his need for a distance. This suggests that his progeny have good conformation in general and we can expect to see plenty of them as three year olds. Finally, whilst the 2019 group as a whole in their second season covered around 72% of the mares they covered in their first season, Golden Horn covered 91% and indeed covered around 100 mares in each of his third and fourth crops which means that he is likely to remain in focus for the next few years. Note also that he is demonstrating a higher than average ability to convert those coverings into live foals which points to a very good fertility rate. 

            Gleneagles has done ok and in Royal Dornoch and Royal Lytham one could argue has produced better horses than both NoT and Golden Horn. Royal Dornoch beat the subsequent Group 1 Futurity winner Kameko in the Group 2 Royal Lodge Stakes whilst Royal Lytham won the Group 2 July Stakes before finishing a close up third to Siskin in the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes. However you would have expected his progeny to score much higher than Golden Horn's in their 1st year considering that both stallions visited mares of roughly the same quality given that he was a 7 to 8f horse and more compact at just under 16 hands high.

            Muharaar was disappointing as from a high class book of mares he finished well behind both Gleneagles and Golden Horn. On a positive note he covered in excess of 120 mares in each of his first four seasons as a stallion and has the best conversion rate of covers to foals on the ground. 2020 will be key for him to show that 2019 was not the best of him. Whilst it is still early days for this cohort of stallions it is hard to enthuse about the rest after the 1st year and the graph above does not support certain hefty hikes in stallion fees for the likes of Cable Bay, up to £15,000 from £6,500, and Due Diligence up to £8,500 from £4,000 in 2019. In both cases it is probably down to the usual market sentiment caused by excellent performer Liberty Beach for Cable Bay and three black type winners for Due Diligence as well as both getting over twenty winners in 2019. Whilst Cable Bay covered well over 100 mares in his 2nd year, that dropped off rapidly to some 30 mares in 2019 whilst Due Diligence fell away sharply in his 2nd year to less than half the mares covered in 2016 and also only covered around 30 mares in 2019. This means that things are going to go very quiet for them a year or two down the track.  Strangely Ivawood, who has been sent off to France by Coolmore and standing at about a third of his 2016 fee, comes out as having progeny on average 2lbs better than Due Diligence from a similar mare quality! Ivawood did manage a couple of French black type winners but perhaps that mercurial market sentiment isn't impacted so much by what goes on outside the British and Irish isles. Parochial, us?? Mais non. Whilst one might be tempted to punt on Ivawood as a cheap cover my worry is that he has the lowest rate of actual foals per mare covered of this lot and I wonder whether part of the fact he has been dismissed to foreign lands is down to a lower than average fertility rate.

             So, in summary, Night Of Thunder is the obvious top dog from this 2019 band of aspiring sires and that is hardly a surprise to anyone as it coincides with headline stakes performances and market sentiment. What is more, at €25,000 he is tremendous value and hopefully you managed to get in at that price because if his offspring performs as well in 2020 as they did in 2019 we are likely to see a significant hike in his covering fee for 2021. The one under the radar for me is Golden Horn and it would not surprise me at all to see him have a great 2020 for the reasons outlined above. Having said that, being under the radar at £60,000 (now £40,000) is not something in the price range of most breeders and my optimism for him this year still has to be realised. A punt on new sire and fellow Derby winner and Darley inmate Masar at £15,000 could be a better bet(This begins to sound like a Darley advert!!). Nevertheless, Golden Horn is my second best pick from the 2019 class followed by Gleneagles who incidentally covered 182 mares in 2019 and being the only one who covered more than he did in his 1st year as a stallion in 2016. 

Jim Atkinson

James Ortega Bloodstock Ltd

20th February 2020