Value Sires Part I: Profitability from the Top

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Dubawi: expensive but also profitable | Amy Lanigan

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Value is relative. A homebred yearling by a lowly stallion who goes on to reap rich rewards on the track, or one by a more fashionably expensive name who brings a bonanza return in the sale ring could each be considered to have offered 'value' for their breeders.

In a slight departure from the norm for this annual series, we will be looking at the profitability of stallions in four key price brackets according to their yearling sales returns of 2022 set against their fees at the time of covering, in this case 2020.

The average profit has been determined by the stallion's fee plus a figure of £20,000 for keep fees. The profitable stallions featured must have had at least five yearlings sold in 2022 to make the list and prices have been converted to sterling from Euros according to the conversion rate on the day of the sale.

If we are to start anywhere, it may as well be at the top, with those rarefied specimens who have usually earned the right to stand for a fee of the equivalent of £50,000 or more.

Unless you've been sleeping through the last few years of sales, then it will not come as a newsflash that if you have a correct yearling by Dubawi (Ire) or Frankel (GB) then the likelihood is that you will be well paid. And you deserve to be: after all, they are the two most expensive stallions in Europe, covering only the glitterati of the equine world. At last year's Book 1 of the Tattersalls October Sale, nine of the 10 most expensive yearlings were by one or the other (the top four by Frankel), and that extended to 20 of the top 30, with sales from the stock of those two stallions (once all yearlings are paid for) amounting to almost 29% of the turnover of Book 1.

Dubawi is currently king of the hill, the newly crowned champion sire of 2022, and his sale-ring results reflect his excellence on the track with an average yearling price from the 28 sold last year of £796,481, giving him an average profit in excess of £500,000 when factoring his 2020 fee and keep for the mare and yearling. Of these elite stallions tabled here, Dubawi had the smallest number of offspring at the sales, and that will likely reduce further still in the years to come with his book being wisely limited by Darley as he enters his 18th season at stud.

For stallion watchers, one of the most interesting elements of the next few years will be to see how many times the champion sire baton is passed between Dubawi and Frankel. It has happened once so far, and with Frankel's assured ascent as both racehorse and sire, it will be hard to keep him off the top spot. Forty-three of his yearlings made him the only other stallion with an average price north of half a million at £584,192, which was 3.3 times his 2020 fee of £175,000 (which has now risen to £275,000).

Breeders who have supported Siyouni (Fr), Kingman (GB) and Lope De Vega (Ire) were generally well rewarded for yearlings sold last year. Siyouni has never shuttled but his popularity extends to both hemispheres, and the demand for his yearlings was stronger than ever last season. With a whopping 63 sold he showed an average profit of £173,792, and his 2020 fee of €100,000 has subsequently risen to €150,000.

Kingman was already at £150,000 in 2020 but he still shows a tidy return, with his average sales price of £328,787 translating to average profit of £158,787. Lope De Vega is another who has won over plenty of international buyers with a sterling reputation across the Atlantic and Down Under. That truly global appeal is of huge benefit when the elite sales of Britain, Ireland and France boast increasingly diverse buying benches, and the swaggering son of Shamardal pulled in an average yearling price of £245,561 last year, which was 2.7 times his fee and gave him an average profit figure of £134,439.

Of course it is hard to determine exact profit margins. Keep fees vary from farm to farm, as do consignors' charges, and any vet bills ensued are unknowable beyond the horse's owner at the time. The latter can change as well, with a number of horses having previously gone through foal sales, and some of the youngsters will have been bred under foal-share arrangements. The basis of this exercise, however, is on the assumption that each yearling is being sold by its breeder and was the product of a nomination sold at the advertised fee.

Sea The Stars (Ire) doesn't have quite the cachet attached to him as some of his rivals, which remains both surprising and disappointing as he is unquestionably a top-drawer stallion. Now 17, he had a sizeable number of yearlings at the sales last season. Of his 91 offered, 79 were sold, and on the face of it their £237,965 average price amounted to average profit of £81,282.

The only new boy in this list was Dubawi's son Too Darn Hot (GB), who started out at exactly £50,000 with an average price of £118,304, generally putting breeders who supported him in credit, with his average profit weighing in at £48,304.

No Nay Never had perhaps the biggest break-out year of any stallion in 2022. He topped the Orby Sale with a €2.6million filly, though as we know, she is one of the horses who remains unpaid for by her buyer. However, as a full-sister to his dual Group 1 winner Blackbeard (Ire), she is unlikely to fall much below that level, if and when she is re-evaluated by interested parties.

These yearlings were conceived in the year that No Nay Never's fee had shot up to €175,000 from as low as €17,500 three years earlier, so there was already much confidence behind him from the Coolmore team, and that certainly appears to be justified. An average price of £226,671 gave him average profit £47,207, and one of his biggest problems in the years to come could be the competition he will face from his own sons. Blackbeard has joined him at Coolmore this season, and Ten Sovereigns (Ire) will have his first juvenile runners in 2023, while Little Big Bear (Ire), Meditate (Ire) and Trillium (GB) are among No Nay Never's enticing 3-year-old prospects.

And then to the brothers. What a pair of stalwarts Invincible Spirit (Ire) and Kodiac (GB) have been for the Irish National Stud and Tally-Ho Stud respectively. Now 26, Invincible Spirit's fee is listed as private this year and he stood at €100,000 when his current 2-year-olds were conceived, with a 2022 yearling average of £124,293, while Kodiac, a proper blue-collar stallion, grafted his was up from a starting fee of €5,000 to his four-year high of €65,000 which was eased for this season. The latter is now 22, and both horses have helped plenty of breeders along the way. The number of their sons and grandsons at stud stands testament to both their popularity and their success.

With some exciting young stallions on the rise, the likes of Night Of Thunder (Ire), Baaeed (GB), New Bay (GB) St Mark's Basilica (Fr), Mehmas (Ire), Zarak (Fr) and Palace Pier (GB) will be represented in this bracket in the years to come, some having been pitched straight in at this level on the back of a stellar racing career, others gradually working their way up thanks to the results of their progeny.

They say it's tough at the top, and it is even tougher to get there, which is why my pick of this celebrated bunch is Ballylinch Stud's Lope De Vega. It is easy to be wise in hindsight, but a dual Classic winner retiring to stud at a fee of €15,000 looks very good value indeed. After a dip to €12,500 in his third and fourth seasons, he set about marching up the price list and has commanded a six-figure fee for the last four seasons. That puts the 16-year-old out of the reach of many, but for those who are able to avail themselves of his services then, as this table shows, Lope De Vega is still the breeder's friend, just as he has been throughout his career, and especially for those shrewd enough to have bought a breeding right in him at the start.

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