Tougher Than Ever to Market a New Stallion

(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.]


Leave a Comment:


And even when a stallion is proven, old prejudices blind the good ole boy horsemen - case in point: Holy Bull.

25 Sep 2011 4:39 PM

Yes, Ms. Hunter, your take is held by many, but I tend not to agree. The top tier new stallions of the past few years have received substantial support in quality, numbers, and in the sale's ring-similar to those of recent years before WITH SIMILAR CREDENTIALS. And there lies the point- of late these new stallions have less to recommend than in past years.

25 Sep 2011 5:22 PM
Pedigree Ann

So long as breeders are looking to breed a 'home-run' sales yearling rather than a top-class runner, many good stallion prospects, including top runners who remained sound during their careers, will be ignored because they are not fashionably bred. IMHO, the performance proves the pedigree, not the other way around. I remember when people were wanting to write off Tiznow before he had any runners because his sales numbers weren't that good. Who got more and better mares - Bernardini or the horse who was Horse of the Year that year, Invasor?

The retirement of blue-collar sires Slew City Slew and Prized this year points out the folly of ignoring racing form. These were both multiple G1 winners - Prized won a Breeders' Cup race! - but their 'off-beat pedigrees' (SCS was out of a regional mare), meant they didn't capture the fancy of 'serious' commercial breeders. All they did was turn out gobs of professional racehorses, including a few G1 winners, from mares who were the leavings, not 'worthy' of 'better' stallions; imagine what they could have done with just a few high end mares?

26 Sep 2011 9:10 AM
Karen in Indiana

To follow up with what Pedigree Ann has written, the horse that fits what she pointed out is Cetewayo. With his race record & pedigree, it baffles me why he hasn't been able to do more as a stud. The only reason I can think of that he isn't bred to more and better mares is that so much of breeding today is breed for the sales ring, not breed to race.

26 Sep 2011 5:14 PM

let's get rid of all those small race tracks and contract the sport. that will help!!!

26 Sep 2011 6:04 PM

I agree that many stallions aren't afforded reasonable opportunity, but strongly disagree with Pedigree Ann's reasoning and examples, and what is implied in Karen In Indiana's post as well. "Peformance (DOES NOT) prove pedigree" and to believe otherwise is to ignore some basic fundamentals of genetics, not to mention the long history of thoroughbred racing/breeding. There are countless examples in racing/breeding to counter their annedotes-just three recent to quickly mention are Spectacular Bid, Silver Charm, Skip Away...It makes for a long, tedious discussion with what seems no conclusive result as to how to identify which unprovens will later become most successful at stud. But, clearly race record alone offers only partial evidence of true genotype...It does make for an interesting and, perhaps, educational discussion, though, and Scot may just be the one to tackle it.  

26 Sep 2011 11:12 PM

What that means to the smaller breeders, however, is that there is some good value out there if you look for it.  Undefeated, multiple G1 winner Bustin Stones is a perfect example: only 37 reported 1st crop

yearlings, with a $ 5000 stud fee.  He had a weanling sell last year at Timonium for $ 37,000, the 3rd highest price, and the 2 yearlings that sold at NY Select in August brought 57k and 83k.  While these are not the 6 and 7 figure "home runs", 16 times the stud fee is certainly respectable, and at that price, with the right mare, worth the risk. If he was standing in Ky instead of NY, I wonder if this would be the case.  While we won't know til 2012, I think this stallion is totally under the radar.

27 Sep 2011 5:53 AM
Pedigree Ann

Silver Charm and Skip Away were/are professional racehorse sires who, like Spectacular Bid and Affirmed, will become very useful broodmare sires in the future, just as the latter two did. All four of the above horses sired later maturing and longer distance stock, for the most part, so they didn't make big news in the first two years their foals ran, which is death in today's market. The prophecy of failure becomes self-fulfilling.

I was very disappointed in the Lewises, normally two of the 'good guys' in the sport, when they sold Silver Charm to Japan, when his first foals were only 4(?). He could have taken the place of Slew City Slew for breed-to-race breeders in Kentucky.

Why does Quality Road stand for $35,000 and a horse that proved to be his superior, Eclipse champion and classic winner Summer Bird stands for $15,000? Two major reasons - Elusive Quality is 'sexier' than Birdstone, and Quality Road had speed all could see while Summer Bird generally came from out of the pack. A third possible reason - Quality Road is advertized at 16.3h while Summer Bird's size is not mentioned, so one assumes, like his sire, he is no giant. The fashion for size (and the resultant increase in the likeliness of unsoundness) is the bane of the breed. In the past, horses who looked like they would approach 17h were gelded to keep them from putting all that stallion weight on their front end while racing, eg Forego. No more; they are raced until they break down (5, 6 starts?) then sent to stud to breed more fragile giants. Oh, but they look so impressive in the sales ring.

27 Sep 2011 11:11 AM

Pedigree Ann: Northern Dancer: 15.3

No one wanted to buy him at $25k

After all, he was JUST a little horse.

(Never mind being as agile as a cat or having heart or being able to stand up to training or not breaking down because you are too big to carry your weight or anything else....)

27 Sep 2011 3:29 PM

Lets not confuse quality with quantity.  I cringe when I see the 120+ mare books.  The Keeneland Sept sale looked more like an "Unbridled Song and a few other sires" sale.  

Quality Road demands a higher fee because he showed quality past his 3 year old year, and there is more history behind sons of Elusive Quality than Birdstone.  The latter is a young sire and his fee has increased due to the success of his offspring.  Face it, the early books of Birdstone are mares a notch or two below those of Elusive Quality at the time.

It is common for a new sire's fee to drop after the first year, before his offspring appear on the track.  Quality Road's connections priced him at what the market would bear.

27 Sep 2011 4:35 PM
Karen in Indiana

sceptre, you are right in that performance isn't the only thing, but performance with pedigree should be rewarded. In the beginning, Tiznow's value as a stud was minimized because his sire wasn't a popular sire, especially in the east. But the nick that produced Tiznow was proven because his full brother had won or placed in multiple G1 & G2's, as I'm sure you know. What gets me about Cetewayo is that he's a product from the program of a master, John Chandler. He's durable (37 races in 8 years), he has the race record of graded stakes wins, and he has the bloodlines - just one removed from Ribot & Diesis. His big black marks - he was a late developer and his success was on grass. And he liked to run long. But what a shame for the breed if bloodlines that took decades, like his, disappear.

27 Sep 2011 10:59 PM

Karen in Indiana:

It's impossible to predict with any surety whether a new stallion will succeed or fail, but Cetewayo was an unlikely candidate for success from the get go. Yes, I'd consider him well bred-by a very good and well-bred sire, and out of a very strong producing dam-but he was a late maturing, long-winded purely turf-type, and displayed little speed. Historically, over the past 30 or so years, such types are rareties to succeed at stud in the US. Our admiration for them as racehorses, and of their pedigrees, shouldn't blind us to historical realities, not to mention their records once at stud (these last words could also apply to the likes of Silver Charm, Spectacular Bid, Skip Away, etc.). As re-Cetewayo, I am very, very, familiar with him (moreso than I'm prepared to divulge), and must say that he received relatively decent opportunity with regards to mares during his initial years at stud-the results of which should be considered as less than mediocre at best. Also, Tiznow is not an apt comparison for many reasons too numerous to mention. All that said, any prospect is capable of surprise, but some more likely than others. I do believe that many are afforded more opportunity (at the expense of others) than deserved-but clearly a Spectacular Bid, Silver Charm, Skip Away, etc. received every chance, and in hindsight wasted the production potentialities of numerous quality mares.      

27 Sep 2011 11:59 PM


Things might not be that bad. The leading sire of Juveniles is first-crop sire Scat Daddy. He leads in races won and in earnings. I imagine lots of people are smiling.

His latest advertised fee is $10,000.

Capitalism has a way of filling vacuums.

28 Sep 2011 7:16 AM

Speaking of regional sires, RIP Bold Executive.

28 Sep 2011 10:24 AM

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