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First Season Sires of 2020

 

            So we are finally off and running in the 2020 flat season after a delay of over two months due to the COVID-19 pestilence which has thrown our world into confusion, and when I say "our", I mean everyone in the world whether black, white, brown or any other pigment you could imagine or a member of any nationality or tribe because viruses only recognise the similarities we all have as human beings rather than the differences which many humans seem to want to focus on. Hopefully, we learn something from this pandemic and forge a more enlightened, unified world but...............that's another story!

            It's Royal Ascot this week and it will be a pleasure to see the noble thoroughbred battling it out in some of the most famous horse races in the world although evidently in an eerie, mask filled atmosphere. Part of the Royal Ascot attraction is to see which first season sires give us a wake up call as to their potential to become influential stallions in the next twenty years or so. This year there are plenty of newcomers to choose from although I would qualify it as quantity over quality with a few notable exceptions. Whilst there have been a few two year old races in the Northern Hemisphere since May and after that in the UK & Ireland, it is early days and below I make my predictions about which sires will stay the course and make a lasting impact. 

            Before I do that, I am pretty sure that Mehmas will win the most winners in the UK and Ireland race. Whilst not the greatest racehorse ever to live, he was decent as he won two Group 2 races in his brief "two year old only" career proving he had bundles of precocity that the market craves. He also fits the market sentiment bill in that he was a sprinter and, at a compact 15.3 hands high together with his precocity, he is likely to have earlier types than the vast majority of this new sire cohort. Finally, he has almost 150 potential runners some 20 odd more than any other sire and all of this package together convinces me he will end up with the most individual winners in the UK & Ireland in 2020. Next best could be Belardo who boasts precocity, a Group 1 win at two years old (Dewhurst), a compact build and was most effective around 7 and 8 furlongs. He is also from the very successful Shamardal/Lope De Vega sire line and I only prefer Mehmas based upon the numbers game as Belardo has 50 or so less potential runners which could be conclusive. So, Mehmas it is, and whilst that may not be the most surprising selection given that he is on offer with Racebets at 2/1, I think there is a very good chance you will have tripled your money by the end of the year if you take the plunge.

            More importantly, as far as the breed is concerned, which stallions will make the biggest impact on the thoroughbred on a longer term basis? Below I lay out my thoughts on some of the first season sires that I think have the best chance to still be around in a few years time from this cohort including one of those standing in France. Overall, I looked at 25 sires in detail four of whom reside in France with the rest in the UK and Ireland.

Shalaa - Outstanding 121 rated juvenile sprinter who won two Group 1's (Middle Park & Morny) as well as two Group 2 races in the Richmond Stakes and the July Stakes. Injury curtailed his career although this son of Invincible Spirit did win a Listed race at three. A medium sized stallion who covered the best book of mares of this crop of first season sires in terms of their own race rating and attainment of black type with an average age of 8 which is slightly younger than average. With around 115 potential runners as well as a similar amount in his second year Shalaa has been well supported and, taking into account market sentiment desires, he is the most likely to succeed in my view.

Awtaad - The improvement of the breed ought to be driven by classic winners and not commercial aspects and in Awtaad we have an Irish 2,000 Guineas winner who also managed wins at Group 2 and Listed level. Whilst not as precocious or as fast as Shalaa, he did see the racecourse twice as a juvenile winning once which will support his appeal to the market. He covered the joint second best rated mares with an average age of nine years old and around a quarter of them black type winners and his fertility rate is good with around 77% of those covered producing a foal. One negative is that his second season crop was just over half of his first crop although his third crop appears likely to be higher. At 16.1 he is on the high side of medium sized and, given his own need for a bit of time to get going it may be that the market has to be a little patient with his offspring in his first crop. That, together with his smaller second crop which looks like just over fifty foals could mean that the market moves away from him relatively quickly unless his first crop can make a good impact with a star or two to stand out for him. Rated 120.

The Gurkha - This sire had the joint second best rated mares with about a third of them having gained black type and between them having produced the most black type offspring. That ties in with the fact that the average age of his mares was ten which is slightly older than average. The Gurkha did not run at two but I understand that this was due to colic issues and therefore should not be taken as an indication of lack of precocity. He certainly made up for it at three when winning two Group 1's in the French Guineas and the Sussex Stakes and being rated 122. His first crop is the same size as Shalaa's and his second crop is also over a hundred. His third crop will likely be a lot fewer as the Return of Mares indicates he only covered 60 mares. Being a son of Galileo and standing at Coolmore he is assured to have every opportunity to prove himself and I will be keeping an eye on his early runners to see if there are positive precocity signs which would keep him in the good books of those who are central to the market sentiment formulation and progression. 

Territories - Staying with the milers, Territories is another son of Invincible Spirit who narrowly missed out on winning a Classic when 2nd to Gleneagles in the 2,000 Guineas but who did win a Group 1 in the form of the Prix Jean Prat. He was rated 119 and his yearlings were well received by the market when selling at high multiples of his stud fee which speaks well of their conformation and demeanour in general. He ran four times as a juvenile winning once and his dam sire is Machiavellian which is a plus. The mares he covered were 6th best rated with a fifth of them black type performers. He has 110 potential runners in his first crop which is only a few behind Shalaa and The Gurkha and his second crop will also number close to 100 whilst he covered the second highest number of mares of this sire cohort for their third crop which indicates a strong level of support has continued whilst many sires have covered far fewer mares in their third year. This may well be a reflection of their positive physical appearance which supported the yearling prices received and the willingness of breeders to use him in that risky third year. We have a first crop son of Territories who will need a little time although that is a characteristic of the mare and may not be a reliable indicator of the crop in general especially considering that Territories himself made his first two year old appearances in July winning on the second occasion.

Harzand - As we all know, 10-12f sires have an uphill battle from day one to meet the demands of the market and a world with its ever diminishing penchant for patience. However, this son of Sea The Stars and dual Classic winner bagged both the English and Irish Derbies and reached a rating of 123 after seeing the racecourse once at two. His mares were joint fourth best rated not far behind those of Awtaad and The Gurkha with about a quarter of them black type achievers. Although his book of mares dropped significantly in his 2nd crop to around one third of his 1st crop, his 3rd crop surged to around 100 which gives some hope for the future. Clearly he needs a star or two in the initial crop to keep people onside with him but he does have the backing of the Aga Khan Studs.

New Bay - Also with the joint fourth best bunch of mares is fellow Classic, and middle distance son of Dubawi, New Bay who triumphed in the French Derby reached a rating of 121. Like Harzand he ran just the once as a two year old. He has managed to attract consistently good books of mares in his first three crops and his fertility rate looks similar at around 70%. Clearly, like Harzand, he will find it tough to make an early impression but I think he has a slightly better chance due to that good sized second crop and as usual it will depend upon whether he can get enough early stars to keep the breeders patient.

Mehmas - Turning back to the stallion likely to have the most individual winners this year in the UK & Ireland, he has as good a chance as any of the commercial, sprinter sire types to do well but his mare quality was on the lower side and, whilst there is no reason why he could not get a star or two, it is hard to see him making much impact at the top table over the longer term. 

Belardo - Rated 119, Belardo not only won a Group 1 at two but he managed a Group 1 second at three and won a Lockinge at four demonstrating his ability over three years of racing at the top level. He has covered decent books in his first three years although the mare quality is only average and he has demonstrated a good level of fertility at 75%. That together with his own class, precocity, effectiveness at 7 to 8 furlongs and relatively compact size of 15.35 hands leads me to believe that he has a good chance of making it longer term as I think he will get enough smart performers to keep the market onside and enhance his chances of staying the course. I am also a fan of his stallion line.

Twilight Son - Won on his debut as a two year old in August before winning again in September in his only other run at that age with both races being at Class 4 level which would suggest to me a horse of average precocity, forward enough to win but needing more time to compete at a high level. After covering 142 mares for his first crop, this kept up well at 115 for crop two before falling off to 71 in crop 3. These numbers rather reflect what happens overall as breeders quickly move on to the next new sires in search of the dream. Personally, I think if you believe enough in a sire for some reason it can pay to go back again for this risky 3rd crop. In our case we had a very attractive 1st crop colt, who is now called Twilight Calls and is in training with Henry Candy who also trained the grand sire Kyllachy, and we went back again for crop number three resulting in a full sister foal in 2020. Hopefully it pays off! Twilight Son's mare quality is below average in terms of their own race ratings but joint 6th highest in terms of the number of black type offspring they have produced. At three years old he won the Group 1 Betfred Sprint and at four he won the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee attaining a rating of 117. Other factors in his favour are that he has the best fertility rate at around 85% of all 25 sires looked at and will have the solid backing of Cheveley Park Stud as he tries to follow in the pathway of Kyllachy and Pivotal. His progeny may need a little more time to show their best than others so I would not panic if he isn't leading the way at the end of 2020 

Summary

             Predicting is never easy of course and any one of this year's first season stallions that I have not even mentioned could turn out to be a world beater, but I think that some of the ones highlighted above are the most likely to be around for many years to come although I have to say I do not think that this year is an outstanding group. My current top five in order of preference is as follows:-

  1. Shalaa
  2. Belardo
  3. Twilight Son
  4. Territories
  5. The Gurkha

Jim Atkinson

James Ortega Bloodstock Ltd 

14th June 2020