Established Sires: Where’s The Value?

|

Chris McGrath states the case for Raven’s Pass | Darley

By Chris McGrath

If it’s true that unproven sires are typically overpriced–and, judging by what happens to the fees of most after a couple of years, it has to be true–then you’d like to think that this, right here, is the area where the real value can be found. Sires with runs on the board, solid achievers at sensible money.

Very often, however, you instead end up with rather an abyss–one of plunging books and fees–between the countless young thrusters and the small group of untouchables (not to say unaffordables) who have made it to the other side. Even over there, true, you can make a case for some of the heavy hitters as themselves still “value”, relative to the odds of reaping a profit on or off the track.

Dansili (GB) (Danehill) (Banstead Manor, £65,000), for instance, is on a tempting slide just three years after hitting six figures. Yes, he’s 22 now, and people have views about that–views that may be more legitimate, in this era of immoderate books. But Danzig was 24 when he conceived the foal we know as War Front, to name just one of countless examples. So I’ll leave others to describe as an aberration, in an ageing sire, what they consider a glimpse of the future, in a young one. Last year, after all, only four European stallions–Galileo, Dubawi, Frankel and Dark Angel–surpassed Dansili’s nine individual group winners. With a growing reputation as a sire of sires, he now looks a very fair price if you fancy another Bated Breath or Zoffany, another Harbinger or Flintshire.

And if he’s value, how about his studmate Oasis Dream (GB) (Green Desert) (Banstead Manor, £30,000)? Now don’t get me wrong. Showcasing (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) (Whitsbury Manor, €35,000) is clearly a young sire on his way, producing the Haydock Sprint Cup winner in 2016 and the runner-up last year, and, moreover, with much better books now in the offing; and we’ve already acknowledged in this series how Muhaarar (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) (Nunnery, £30,000) is passing the only tests so far available in a fashion that makes him seem very fairly priced. But if nobody can get enough of his sons–and these two are just the most glamorous among around a score to have gone to stud–then how is it you can now use Oasis Dream himself for the same money or less?

He’s four years younger than Dansili, and it’s not as though there are many other stallions standing at any price with as many as 15 individual Group 1 winners. Yet Oasis Dream has had his fee more than halved from £75,000 just two years ago, and £85,000 only a couple of years before that.

Perhaps he is suffering from the rivalry of rising young bucks on his own farm. But perhaps he is simply paying a price for an evident lack of affinity with the different model of mare he earned with his rise to stardom. Midday (GB) may have a good deal to answer for, in that respect, having changed perceptions about the kind of Classic profile that might work with her sire. We should maybe sooner remember the sire’s half-sister Zenda (GB) (Zamindar), a Classic winner at a mile and responsible for another such in Kingman (GB) (Invincible Spirit {Ire}).

Another sire of sires who looks soberly priced, even at a new career high aged 19, is Acclamation (GB) (Royal Applause {GB}) (Rathbarry, €40,000). Dark Angel (Ire) (Acclamation {GB}) (Yeomanstown, €85,000) now commands more than double that, but the reputation of his sire has never been higher than over the past couple of years, thanks to the likes of Aclaim (Ire), Marsha (Ire) and Mehmas (Ire).

Among the younger horses to have broken into the established elite, a couple who look capable of consolidating still further are Lope De Vega (Ire) (Shamardal) (Ballylinch, €60,000) and Le Havre (Fr) (Noverre) (Montfort & Preaux, €60,000). Both these Prix du Jockey Club winners have had to tread water a little after the industry absorbed their superb starts at stud, but their mare upgrades will start rolling through now. As in, like an onrushing train. It’s not hard to see either ending up at six figures some day.

At the other end of the pay scale, however, let’s try to beat the paradox and browse one or two angles for finding sires that are “proven” while yet remaining “value”. Here are a whole bunch, none standing for more than £15,000:

YOUMZAIN (Ire) (Sinndar {Ire}) (Haras du Quesnay, €4,000)

A cavalry of shiny new sires in France can’t be good news for some of the more yeoman types, but one or two still look perfectly serviceable at the resulting price. Look at Silver Frost (Ire) (Verglas {Ire}) (Haras de la Hetraie, €3,000), who beat Le Havre (Ire) (Noverre) in the Poulains but has just had his fee halved despite another super campaign from his flagship Group 1 winner Silverwave (Fr). Or another Poulains winner, Falco (Pivotal {GB}) (Haras du Grand Chesnaie, €2,500), out of an Unbridled mare, no less, and sire of dual Group 1 winner Odeliz (Ire); his 25 winners from a small footprint in 2017 included half a dozen black-type operators. And what a travesty to see an Arc winner standing for this kind of money, too, in Rail Link (GB) (Dansili {GB}) (Haras de Cercy, €2,800). His legacy numbers from his Juddmonte days are a sad reflection on the impatience of breeders: just 45 starters in 2017, but 25 of them won, three at black-type level.

But perhaps the most egregious neglect of all is that of Youmzain, who famously finished second in three consecutive Arcs: by a head to Dylan Thomas (Ire) (Danehill), and then to a couple of ordinary animals named Zarkava (Ire) (Zamindar) and Sea The Stars (Ire) (Cape Cross {Ire}). His dam also produced the very tough Creachadoir (Ire) (King’s Best) to win the Lockinge and finish second in two Guineas; and she is in turn out of a half-sister to champion Pilsudski (Ire) (Polish Precedent).

Evidently commercial breeders prefer to remember his quirks than his class and toughness. As such, he has predictably had to make do with fairly small crops of budget mares. But his 26 winners in 2017 included four at black-type level, notably Sea Calisi (Fr), a graduate of his debut crop who added a Grade 2 prize at Belmont to her G1 Beverly D success the previous year; and Royal Youmzain (Fr), winner of a juvenile Group 2 in Italy at the backend. You’d love to see what he might get from a few really classy mares. So if there’s a sportsman or two out there, do let us find out.

NAYEF (Gulch) (Nunnery Stud, £5,000)

If Tamayuz (GB) (Nayef) (Derrinstown, €12,500) is still value at his new fee–and he absolutely is, deservedly hiked from €8,000 after a breakthrough year both on the track (nine black-type winners from just 95 starters in 2017) and in the ring–then what can be said of his sire?

True, Tamayuz brings a top-class family of his own to the equation; but nobody can tell Nayef anything about that kind of thing, as a son of Height Of Fashion (Fr) (Bustino {GB}). Though he is now 20, he has just come up with another Group 1 winner in Ice Breeze (GB) and was also on the mark at Royal Ascot.

For such a handsome, superbly-bred individual, and such an accomplished runner–six-length stakes winner at two, Group 1 winner at three, four and five–it seems incredible to reflect that he was already down to 48 mares in just his third book. And though the Group 1 exploits of Tamayuz himself, Lady Marian (Ger) and Spacious (GB)–all graduates of his first crop–helped concentrate the mind of breeders for a while, demand was soon slackening again. He was reduced to three dozen mares in 2016, and two dozen last year.

But if his track record, genes and physiology all remain unchanged, then Sir Prancealot (Ire) (Tamayuz {GB}) has lately afforded him a foothold as a sire of sires. Nayef has an incredibly strong counterweighting pedigree, entirely free of Northern Dancer and stoking some venerable embers relatively close up. Not too many, nowadays, offer a fourth dam by Hyperion. Similarly evocative names seam the same generation and, while a lot of people dismiss those kind of foundations, it is not as though the genetic architecture had crumbled before his emergence as an exemplary Thoroughbred.

All this makes Tamayuz of ever more interest, of course, given his own maternal background. With such momentum now, and in his prime at 13, at the price he arguably represents the best sire wager in all Europe for 2018–but please don’t forget his old man.

CHAMPS ELYSEES (GB) (Danehill) (Castle Hyde Stud, €6,500) and DYLAN THOMAS (IRE) (Danehill) (Castle Hyde Stud, €5,000)

As in browsing under-rated French sires, with regard to Youmzain above, we might easily meander across a whole division here. After all, we have just seen a Derby winner with a brilliant turn of foot sired by Pour Moi (Ire) (Montjeu {Ire}) (Grange Stud, €5,000) shortly after his arrival at a National Hunt farm; and, indeed, another such in Germany by Shirocco (Ger) (Monsun {Ger}) (Glenview, €5,000).

Commercial Flat breeders may feel they can’t afford the risk–but anyone actually trying to breed a racehorse should certainly persevere with stallions like these, who don’t change their chromosomes one jot, whatever kind of flag is hoisted over their farms.

As such, you’d be mad to renounce these two sons of a great Flat sire, now standing on the same jumps farm together.

Dylan Thomas has made a bleak descent since starting out at €50,000, as a six-time Group 1-winning half-brother to a top-class sprinting juvenile. Maybe nobody will now be interested by the achievements of horses he sired during more optimistic times: by the fact that they are still thriving, still progressing in maturity. Two Hong Kong veterans, for instance, were denied the chance of each adding to his Group 1 record in 2017–and he already has seven winners at the highest level on his CV–by an aggregate of barely half a length; while the 8-year-old Caspian Prince (Ire) beat Marsha (Ire) (Acclamation {GB}) for a Group 2 over the bare five furlongs at The Curragh in the summer.

In fact, the dozen black-type operators representing Dylan Thomas last year were assembled at a ratio to starters that placed him in the top 10 sires across Europe. We won’t embarrass by name some of the very expensive sires behind.

His new stud companion, and fellow son of Danehill, is perhaps a still more depressing case. The first 3-year-olds by Champs Elysees did well enough to have his fee doubled. Just two years later–apparently cursed by the fact that his stock tended to improve with distance as well as time, not to mention a Group 1 breakthrough in a race as demanding as the Gold Cup at Ascot–he was handed over to the jumping boys.

He left behind four group winners in 2017, after 17 black-type horses the previous year, more in both cases than many far more expensive sires. Canny Flat breeders can now get cut-price access to a triple Grade I winner actively extending one of the great family trees in the modern Stud Book.

SIR PERCY (GB) (Mark Of Esteem {Ire}) (Lanwades, £7,000)

Every autumn, you see a yearling at the sales, think: ‘Gosh, that’s a nice horse,’ check your catalogue, and find that it’s by Sir Percy. And then you shake your head, and ask yourself what the world might be like if all those breeders who wash their hands of Epsom (“How am I supposed to take on Galileo?”) sent their mares, not to a Brocklesby-or-bust sire, but to one like Sir Percy.

So many good mares are nowadays sent to sires who you know already will never breed a Classic winner. But as Nathaniel showed, they don’t have to go to six-figure supersires to have a chance of doing that.

You’d like to think that Sir Percy’s status as a champion juvenile, completing an unbeaten campaign (sharp enough to win at Goodwood in May) in the Dewhurst, might tickle the commercial fancy; not least as it took the wonderful George Washington (Ire) to deny him the Guineas. But then Sir Percy made the same mistake as Galileo–and whatever happened to him?–and won the Derby.

With all those old fashioned Classic lines weighing him down, poor old Percy has always been a four-figure man. But he got his first two elite winners in 2016–Wake Forest (Ger) in the G1 Man o’ War S. and Sir John Hawkwood (Ire) in Australia–and a couple at Group 2 level last year, followed through by a couple of very promising back-end maiden winners. (The resolutely realistic Henry Candy, for instance, is apparently planning a Guineas trial for Thrave (GB), describing him “as the most gorgeous horse with an incredible temperament” after his success at Newmarket.)

There was also a G2 Park Hill winner in Alyssa (GB), while his scope as a broodmare sire is measured by the 925,000gns brought by a 5-year-old daughter who has only been placed at stakes level at the Tattersalls December Sale.

But do what you will. Sir Percy is running at 63% winners-to-runners through six crops. And, under enlightened management, he has actually consolidated pretty well from an opening book of just 50 foals, without ever quite receiving the kind of glamorous partners that might outright change the game.

But do what you will. The bottom line is that nobody could remotely be surprised if he happened to pull a Derby colt out of his hat. Nobody would say: “Hey, where did that come from?” What they might ask themselves, instead, is why they had been ignoring him at seven grand.

RAVEN’S PASS (Elusive Quality) (Kildangan Stud, €10,000)

Now here’s a real mystery. On the face of it, he’s a write-off. Six fee cuts in six years. Just 46 partners last spring, down from 88 in 2016.

Yet, if you measure his dozen black-type winners in 2017 as a percentage of starters, he is exceeded only by–ahem…Galileo (Ire), Dubawi (Ire), Frankel (GB), Sea The Stars (Ire) and (as celebrated above) Tamayuz (GB).

For once, a lack of numbers has not been exclusively the fault of the commercial breeder and his bovine herd instincts. By all accounts, Raven’s Pass tends to need a conservative book to reflect the fact that he is apparently not one of Nature’s great lechers. (Albeit hardly in the same league of celibacy as another son of a Lord At War (Arg) mare, War Emblem.)

That said, nobody really wanted to know his yearlings last autumn–ranked 96 in the European averages–and even the least lascivious of stallions wants a little more action than this poor lad is getting. It’s all a far cry from his retirement at €40,000 after he exploited a synthetic track to add the GI Breeders’ Cup Classic to his laurels as a miler in Europe. He had laid the necessary commercial foundations as a juvenile, too, breaking the course record in winning the G3 Solario by seven lengths.

He did have a famous coup at the sales in 2015, when Kilcarn Stud’s half-sister to Echo Of Light (GB) sold for €2-million at Goffs Orby. And, named Tocco D’Amore (Ire) by Moyglare, she became a ‘TDN Rising Star’ and won both her starts for Dermot Weld impressively last year. Raven’s Pass also had Big Duke (Ire) beaten barely a length altogether for two Group 1 prizes in Australia before finishing fourth in the Melbourne Cup, and Tower Of London (Jpn) taking third in the G1 Futurity S. at Hanshin late in the year.

Raven’s Pass is out of a sister to the dam of another under-rated sire in E Dubai, and their family has a bedrock of grand old names: the second dam is inbred 3 x 4 to Princequillo and Nasrullah, and 4 x 5 to Count Fleet. Lots of people scoff at those old tendrils but it’s the kind of thing that gives some of us a comforting glow. For the rest of you, there’s still Elusive Quality revving up Quality Road, Sepoy (Aus) and company as a sire of sires anyway.

So find it in your heart to send this guy as voluptuous a date as you can this Valentine’s Day. He deserves it and, at the price, could repay you in spades.

DREAM AHEAD (Diktat {GB}) (Haras De Grandcamp, €12,000)

A collector’s item, for those who like a bit of variegation along the top, as one of the last substantial strands of the Man o’ War line in Europe (never mind the Godolphin Arabian). And while barely eligible for the category as “established”, the foundations he has laid are a good deal more substantial than might be judged from a sticky round of yearling sales last year.

For nine black-type winners in 2017, from a total of 18 operators at that level, put him in the best of company measured as a ratio of starters–in the top 10 active sires, in fact, in the European mainstream. They were led by Al Wukair (Ire), who might have had a campaign of fits and starts after his stunning reappearance in the G3 Prix Djebel, but included a Classic podium in the 2,000 Guineas and a Group 1 breakthrough for his sire in the Prix Jacques Le Marois.

And it’s hard to know what more a commercial breeder might want. Dream Ahead shared the status of champion juvenile with none other than Frankel (GB), his two Group 1 wins including a nine-length rout in the Middle Park. He then trained on to win three stallion-making races at three, beating Bated Breath (GB) (Dansili {GB}) in the July Cup and Haydock Sprint Cup, and Goldikova (Ire) (Anabaa) herself in a record time for the Prix de la Foret.

And then there’s his maternal line, his first three dams all group sprinters. His mother Land Of Dreams (GB) (Cadeaux Genereux {GB}) won two of the ultimate speed tests for a British dasher, the G2 Flying Childers at two and the G3 King George S. at three; she is out of a Green Desert mare who also won over the downhill five at Goodwood, in the G2 Molecomb S. The next dam was runner-up in the July Cup.

If you think you can get ahead quicker than that, dream on.

ADLERFLUG (GER) (In The Wings {GB}) (Gestut Schlenderhan, €15,000)

It’s not as though the numbers are hard to explain. For a start, the generic impact of German blood on the modern Thoroughbred is wildly beyond the odds implied by the perennial economic struggles of the German racing industry. And you could scarcely have a more specific snapshot of that influence than the pedigree of Alderflug: his second dam Alya (Lombard {Ger}) is a full-sister to Allegretta (GB), mother of the great Urban Sea (Miswaki).

But it’s still pretty extraordinary. Only Urban Sea’s son Galileo and grandson Frankel surpassed Adlerflug’s percentage of black-type horses to starters (eight of 48, including two Group 1 winners) among European sires in 2017. Next in that list, incidentally, is Urban Sea’s other mighty son Sea The Stars. Which means the first four sires in that most instructive table, all sharing the same bottom line, are standing this year at a private (but plainly astronomical) fee; £175,000; €15,000; and €135,000. Anything stand out to you there?

Nor was 2017 a flash in the pan. The previous year, Adlerflug’s 26 winners included six at black-type level, at a ratio of starters virtually identical to Galileo and exceeded just by Frankel and Dubawi.

As both samples show, Adlerflug has been confined to relatively small books–typical of so many German sires that offer the breed precisely what it most needs: constitution as well as class. He has just 128 named foals from his first five crops, conceived at just €5,500.

Like Adlerflug, Soldier Hollow (Ger) (In The Wings {GB}) (Gestut Auenquelle, €25,000) is demanding a place for their sire in the mainstream of European breeding, adding a new Group 1 winner last year in Dschingis Secret (Ger) even as Ivanhowe (Ger) enhanced his own elite record by beating Hartnell (GB) (Authorized {Ire}) in Australia. If their fees are now heading towards the mainstream, that might be just what it takes for suggestible breeders elsewhere to decide it’s worth travelling with their mares. But for them to go the extra mile, and pay a little extra too, is no less than these exemplary stallions deserve.

STARSPANGLEDBANNER (AUS) (Choisir {Aus}) (Coolmore, €15,000)

It’s been a mad ride so far, but the net result is a stallion with the potential still to punch way above his present fee. His fertility issues, on starting out, were so notorious that he covered just 22 mares in 2012 before an unproductive experiment back in training. But when his maiden Irish crop of 33 foals surfaced in 2014, they seized everyone by the lapels. They included the winners of both the G2 Coventry and G2 Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, The Wow Signal (Ire) proceeding to success in the G1 Prix Morny and Alexander Anthem (Ire) to Group 1 podiums in the Cheveley Park S. and, back at Ascot the following year, in the G1 Commonwealth Cup against colts. That first crop would also yield another serial group player in Home Of The Brave (Ire).

On the face of it, that might only have made the problems of Starspangledbanner all the more poignant; especially when he suffered a twist of the knife in a bout of colic just when breeders might have given him a second chance. In the event, however, he then confounded veterinary science with an improvement in fertility as timely as it was fairly miraculous. During his comeback season in Tipperary, in 2016, he managed to get no fewer than 91 mares in foal.

Breeders getting involved now, then, will be ahead of a fascinating curve. The 15 weanlings who relaunched him last backend (of 21 offered) included four raising €100,000 or more, with several sold to some conspicuously shrewd operators.

So you’d like to think that there could be real momentum once the regeneration extends to the track itself next year. It’s not as though his explosive start was any kind of mystery: a dual Group 1 winner in his homeland, including at a mile, he beat 46 of 47 rivals in the showcase sprints of the British summer after his transfer to Ballydoyle (Golden Jubilee, July Cup, Nunthorpe).

His second dam is half-sister to the Group 1 winner Circles Of Gold (Aus) (Marscay {Aus}), aptly named dam of champions Elvstroem (Aus) (Danehill) and Haradasun (Aus) (Fusaichi Pegasus) plus Hveger (Aus) (Danehill), the dam of those wonderful siblings Highland Reel (Ire) (Galileo) and Idaho (Ire). Starspangledbanner’s own half-sister has bred a Group 1 winner, too, so everything is in place on the page; and likewise in that rippling chestnut physique.

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave? You bet it does.

And The Judges Say…

ED SACKVILLE

I saw Oliver St Lawrence’s picks on Tuesday and must say that I do agree with what he said about Muhaarar (GB) (Oasis Dream {GB}) (Nunnery, £30,000) and Mastercraftsman (Ire) (Danehill Dancer {Ire}) (Coolmore, €25,000). But here are a couple of others: one obvious, one less so.

I know he has just set a world record for individual 2-year-old winners in one year, however I think Kodiac (GB) (Danehill) (Tally Ho, €50,000) is only just getting going. I’m a massive fan of Dark Angel, who already has plenty of Group 1 horses, but when you compare their current fees I think Kodiac represents exceptional value. In a couple of years from now I’m sure he will have as many top-class horses as Dark Angel.

Pearl Secret (GB) (Compton Place {GB}) (Bucklands, £4,000) is a very good-looking horse, and he was a very fast and sound one too, which is what the commercial breeder looks for in this day and age. And he has the advantage of being a real outcross. The market is saturated with Green Desert, Danehill and Sadler’s Wells line sires, which is of course a reflection of how successful they’ve been, but they need an outcross and this horse has been well supported by some high profile breeders, including part-owner John Dance.

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.