(By Avalyn Hunter)
In perusing this year's sales results and The Jockey Club's 2011 Live Foal Report (free download), one thing stands out: it's tougher than ever to market a new stallion. In contrast to previous years in which youngsters from the first crops of "hot" new stallions were in high demand, only one first-year stallion, Raven's Pass, has cracked the top 20 among this year's auction sires by sale average for yearlings. Likewise, only two stallions without foals of racing age--Dunkirk and Henrythenavigator--are represented among the list of this year's stallions with 100 or more live foals reported for 2011; rather predictably, both stand at Ashford Stud.
For the owners and managers of proven sires with good track records, times aren't so bad. The current bias tends towards conservatism among mare owners, and that means that given a choice between an attractive newcomer off the track who might sire a "home run" sale yearling if he catches on and a solid older sire who has a good batting average without any spectacular results, the proven sire is likely to get the nod. But this does make it hard for a young sire to get enough mares to prove himself. Even in regional markets, first-year sires are a tougher sell than ever, and a stallion that does not get a notable runner in his first crop may well be a has-been before he really gets a fair trial.
Most observers would agree that we probably don't need to go back to the days when a first-year stallion who looked likely to produce flashy juveniles might serve 200 or more mares at the expense of good but not particularly fashionable sires. But the current contraction has its drawbacks, too. New sires have to come from somewhere, and they do not always emerge where expected. Would horses like Relaunch, Pleasant Colony, Clever Trick, Mr. Leader, or It's Freezing--none of which had an "ideal" combination of performance, looks, and pedigree--have gotten enough opportunity to succeed in the current market? It's a good question.
[Editor's note: The September issue of MarketWatch includes a list of prospective stallions of 2012.]