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2017 First Season Sires – 1st Crop

Following on from my analysis of the 2016 first season sires, with an emphasis on progeny ratings in relation to mare quality, I have analysed the 2017 sire newcomers in a similar fashion. The methodology used is essentially the same using the highest rating achieved by a runner as an indication of ability although I have introduced a minimum rating of 30 for progeny who have run to avoid any exacerbated skewing of data. Mares are rated according to their racecourse performance as well with those who did not race rated at the average of those who did hit the track.  Reasonable ratings are used on a consistent basis for those who plied there trade away from the major racing countries.

The graph below maps average runner ratings versus average mare ratings for the thirteen sires followed and a trendline is shown which indicates approximately where a sire should be in terms of the ability of his runners against the quality of mares he covered (all other things being equal!). Clearly sires who produce precocious, sprinter type two-year olds will tend to show up better in the first season of a crop than the sires who did better at longer distances in their own careers on the racecourse whose offspring are likely to need more time to develop and also had less race opportunities to shine in year 1 with relatively fewer races over one mile plus. Whatever, the trendline is not a hard and fast indicator of success or failure as we will delve into in this analysis and being below the trendline does not automatically mean that the sire will not be a success.

Note that each sire's name is followed by a number series showing his:

  1. preferred distance as a racehorse

  2. height in hands

  3. % of potential runners who raced

  4. Number of potential runners

  5. Number of black type winners & placed
  6. Covering fee in 2014 in £000

All these factors are important to consider when trying to interpret the chart and evaluate performance.

These thirteen leading sires were analysed up to and including December 31st 2017 and my initial thoughts are that this is not a classic bunch on the whole although that does not preclude a leading sire emerging to stamp his mark on the future of the thoroughbred breed.

              I have selected four sires that I believe this particular analysis highlights as being the most likely to succeed from the 2017 cohort although clearly it is still early doors and “anything can happen”. The selections are Camelot, Epaulette, Havana Gold and Farhh.

Camelot - Camelot has a number of factors in his favour that point to improvement going forward. First, he showed his best form between 10 and 12 furlongs and indeed came close to winning the first British Triple Crown since Nijinsky in 1970. As we saw with Nathaniel in 2017, whose first crop improved significantly in their second year, it is highly likely that many of Camelot’s offspring will show similar improvement in 2018. Secondly, Camelot has by far the biggest crops of this group over the first four years and with mares of very good quality as well as a good fertility rate he is likely to get a few headline makers that will ensure his name stays in the lights. Thirdly, despite his penchant for middle distances, he had a remarkable 55% of his potential runners make their debuts in 2017 which is a high rate when compared to for example Nathaniel and Frankel who were both around the 40% mark last year. This points to his ability to inject enough speed into his progeny to compete as two-year olds as well as suggest a high level of robustness and good conformation that enabled his progeny to compete. Fourthly he has the support of breeding giants Coolmore who will be looking for the eventual successor to Galileo and I would imagine will give Camelot every chance.

              French Group 2 winner Fighting Irish gave him a headline stakes winner and overall, I believe that Camelot will improve his position with regard to the trendline significantly in 2018 and would be surprised if he did not turn out to be one of the top two or three sires of this cohort if not the best.

Farhh - Farhh is an interesting one in that he has shown a great deal of promise in his first season from a relatively small crop due to fertility issues. Wells Farhh Go won the Group 3 Acomb Stakes and Fa Ul Sciur was a listed winner in Italy from only 19 runners. Whilst being by Pivotal, Farhh reserved his best performances on the track for races between one mile and 10 furlongs and so his appearance well above the trendline is a big positive at this stage of his stallion career. Indeed from the fifth best quality of broodmares he has produced the best average rating of offspring to date and 50% of his potential runners have made the track whereas he himself made only one appearance at two and one at three. However, we need to be careful in getting carried away with this as, in contrast to Camelot, we are dealing with a relatively low number of offspring in the analysis. Also he has vastly lower crop numbers to come with his second crop being roughly the same size as his modest first one before a couple of years where he is likely to have twenty odd runners representing him. This will make it hard for him to shine although he has already proved that he can get quality runners and that, together with an improved fertility performance, can help him both stay in the minds of breeders and get the numbers he needs to be successful in the long run.

              I feel that Farhh will become a kind of niche sire capable of producing a top one at a very reasonable cover fee but whether that is enough to sustain him over time is very much open to question. Nevertheless it will be interesting to see how he builds on this promising start in 2018.

Havana Gold – Being slightly north of the trendline indicates that Havana Gold made a very good start to his second career from an average quality of mare, highlighted by the performances of three stakes horses in Havana Grey, Treasuring and Headway. 63% of his potential runners ran in 2017 indicating his ability to pass on solid physical attributes to his progeny and, whilst he will have lower crop numbers for the next three years, he has made the initial breakthrough in terms of his cover fee being increased to £15,000 in 2018 and the likelihood of an uptick in both quantity and quality of mares that will ensue. Whilst a 16.1 hands high horse, he does not come over as too big and seems to be passing on decent conformational traits to his sons and daughters. This will stand him in good stead as he relies upon the smaller crops in the next few years and if he can produce the odd top stakes horse he will look like good value in 2021.

              The noise caused by a few top performers can sometimes exaggerate a stallion’s prospects and the analysis would tend to suggest that, whilst Havana Gold did well in 2017, he did have a relatively good quality of mare compared to the other sires in the 5-8f range (Dawn Approach apart) and perhaps the positive buzz is slightly over-played. Having said that, he is a favourite of mine and I believe he has a decent chance of being one of the long-term players in the breeding game at the mid to higher levels.

Epaulette – He is the dark horse of the year with his runners being on average about 3lbs higher than where they should be considering the quality of mare he covered. From the second worst mare quality he was eighth top in terms of his progenies’ performances. When compared to Society Rock, who was champion sire in terms of winners, his progeny were almost 1lb higher on average from an average quality of mare 3lbs lower. However, due to the fact that he took some time to build up his winners total in 2017, had no stakes winner (Northern Hemisphere) and only one runner with a rating over 100 (McMunigal) we heard relatively little about him during the year, compared to Society Rock who had top performer and Group 1 winner Unfortunately as well as Corinthia Knight and Tangled also being rated over 100. Whilst this analysis is purely in terms of Northern Hemisphere runners and their dams, Epaulette recently made the breakthrough as sire of a stakes winner when Meryl won a Group 3 in Australia and perhaps we will start to hear more about him.

              I have noticed that Epaulette’s rating in this analysis has improved markedly as we have gone through the year and it may be that his stock just need a bit more time than those of other sires in the sprinter distance range to get into top gear. This augurs well for 2018 and the ability of his first crop to maintain or improve his position versus the trendline. His challenge will be the relative low quality of mare he has been covering and one presumes continued to cover since 2014. Numbers-wise his crop dipped in the second year but has since moved up again in years three and four so it very much depends on whether he can get a headliner or two to get him through to the bigger crops and better quality mares. One wonders what he could achieve with an average mare quality 10lbs higher; I suspect a lot!

The Rest – Champion Society Rock unfortunately passed away due to a bout of laminitis and indeed he performed well in 2017. Noticeably he was the smallest in stature (15.3 hands) of the new sires and 65% of his potential runners had a race. These factors together with him being a sprinter probably helped him to get an early start and grab the lead in terms of winners, a lead that he never relinquished. He finished the year with his runners being on average just above the trendline and for sure he would have been a popular choice with breeders going forward especially having an outstanding son in Unfortunately who himself is set to start his stallion career.

              Of the other sprinter-milers Swiss Spirit did well from the worst quality mares and managed to get 58% of his potential runners on to the track which is no mean feat for a relatively bigger unit at 16.15 hands. He had no stakes horses and it will be tough for him to break out from the lower echelons although one has to say that he represents good value at a £4,000 fee. Breaking out of the lower echelons will also be tough for Red Jazz.

              Lethal Force did averagely and may be one to watch for improvement as his first crop get into their second year as he himself was best at four years old and that may be a trait he has passed on. Nevertheless 62% of his potential runners did run so that would tend to suggest that lack of precociousness did not hold them back. Cityscape and Most Improved were not too far off the trendline but their low subsequent crops do not augur well for them especially as they are in the sub 80 rated mare quality range and it is unlikely that either will succeed.

              Finally, those with the highest fees Dawn Approach, Declaration of War and Intello, whilst not far below the trendline, were all relatively disappointing considering all three had around 40 to 50 black type performing mares in their first crop. Epaulette had just three such mares yet his runners were only on average two or three pounds below these much more expensive stallions’ progeny on the track. Whilst Epaulette is more a sprint type than the others and perhaps the analysis favours him somewhat, I would think the three highlighted need to step up considerably in 2018 if they are to prove successful in the long term.

Conclusion – Early evidence would suggest that the 2017 first season sires are not a great bunch but within this group my pick for three who will be around in five years time as established stallions in order of preference is as follows:-

  1. Camelot

  2. Epaulette

  3. Havana Gold

 Add to that an honourable mention for Farhh but I think the odds are against him to break through although it would not surprise me at all to see him get a top performer. Of course, it is far too early to write the others off and this is just another opinion based upon the runner rating vs mare rating approach which I think helps to identify those sires who “improve their mares” most, tries to even out the advantage certain stallions have in the quality of partner they receive and, whilst sentiment driving factors of headline makers cannot be ignored, tries to dull the somewhat over-egged gloss that the headline making progeny transpose to their sires and focus on which sires can breed the best horses on average with what is put in front of them.

Jim Atkinson

James Ortega Bloodstock Ltd

January 4th 2018