Early winners versus Stakes success

John Boyce analyses how successful first crop sires have fared in their subsequent careers

Get in. Make your money. Get out. That used to be the modus operandi of most of the smaller commercial stud farms. Stallion masters who could not afford to ignore the profit imperative always aimed to have a stallion bought and paid for by the time his first two-year-olds reached the racecourse. By that juncture, the stallion would have served three books of mares, enabling the stallion master to recoup its purchase price. 

Nowadays, finding a suitable stallion and paying for it is tough, so much so it has led to risk-sharing with breeders through syndication and the sale of breeding rights. But either way, the stallion studs are always forced to contemplate a short career for their charge, particularly at the lower end of the market where good mares – that oh-so-scarce commodity required to make a stallion – are in very short supply.

And, as commercial breeders continue more and more to shape the rules of the game, there is an even greater emphasis on the fast, commercial first-season sire at the expense of many others that are in fact better racehorses with better pedigrees and therefore perhaps better for the long term health and variety of our racing. 

The past three seasons have seen record numbers of new stallions retiring to stud in Britain and Ireland. An over-supply of new and unproven sires may suit the nomination buyer but it can be counterproductive for the stallion as he’ll attract fewer mares and fewer good mares.

It’s clear that the ability to sire plenty of winning youngsters from a first crop is no guide to future success.

Little wonder then that our list of the best first-crop sires since 2000 ranked by individual winners is dominated by sires with just one year in the limelight. True, part of the reason why they are there in the first place is because we bestow too much attention on this group but, given that they’ve already gained a competitive advantage over their peers from the good mares they get in year one, would it not be better all round to assess their merit by looking at the general two-year-old tables? 

SIRES RANKED BY FIRST-CROP 2YO WINNERS IN EUROPE 2000-2016
Stallion To Stud FC Rnrs FC Wnrs Career BTW %
Iffraaj 2007 71 37 36 5.8
Invincible Spirit 2003 69 35 97 8.3
Dubawi 2006 70 34 122 15.5
Canford Cliffs 2012 75 34 6 2.7
Dutch Art 2008 58 33 28 5.6
Red Clubs 2008 76 33 7 3.8
Zoffany 2012 83 32 12 4.8
Captain Rio 2004 91 32 13 2.3
Sir Prancealot 2013 77 32 2 1.6
Zebedee 2011 85 32 4 1.2
Dark Angel 2008 71 31 44 7.2
Fasliyev 2000 73 31 25 2.3
Choisir 2004 71 30 30 6.0
Orpen 2000 71 30 37 4.4
Kheleyf 2005 68 30 20 2.6
Mastercraftsman 2010 74 29 32 6.7
Showcasing 2011 55 29 11 4.8
Acclamation 2004 60 28 46 4.9
Fast Company 2011 68 28 9 3.5
Approve 2011 60 28 5 2.5
Bertolini 2002 79 28 12 1.6
Cape Cross 2000 54 27 94 7.4
Excellent Art 2008 68 27 19 3.9
Hawk Wing 2004 79 27 15 2.3
Noverre 2003 57 26 23 4.1
One Cool Cat 2005 79 26 15 2.6
Paco Boy 2011 58 25 8 3.4
Tobougg 2003 69 25 10 2.1
Lope de Vega 2011 53 24 27 10.2
King's Best 2001 57 24 57 5.1
Sakhee's Secret 2009 64 24 4 1.5
Exceed and Excel 2005 67 23 61 7.0
Holy Roman Emperor 2007 63 23 50 6.4
Footstepsinthesand 2006 74 23 41 5.8
Ali-Royal 1998 51 23 5 3.2
Daggers Drawn 2000 53 23 11 2.5
Mull of Kintyre 2002 69 23 14 2.3
Statue of Liberty 2004 64 23 6 1.3
Lilbourne Lad 2012 71 23 1 0.6
Oasis Dream 2004 61 22 109 10.9
Shamardal 2006 62 22 88 10.6
Danehill Dancer 1998 62 22 124 9.6
Kyllachy 2003 61 22 32 3.7
Titus Livius 1999 50 22 9 2.5
Dragon Pulse 2013 48 22 2 2.1
Amadeus Wolf 2008 64 22 5 1.8
Lujain 2001 59 22 4 1.6
Antonius Pius 2006 71 22 3 1.1
Royal Applause 1998 48 21 50 4.2
Excelebration 2013 61 21 3 2.1
Frozen Power 2012 69 21 1 0.7
Montjeu 2001 52 20 99 10.9
Mozart 2002 63 20 8 9.4
Rock of Gibraltar 2003 60 20 75 6.5
Sepoy 2013 51 20 6 4.8
Foxwedge 2013 51 20 2 2.0

It’s clear that the ability to sire plenty of winning youngsters from a first crop is no guide to future success. In our table of 56 stallions who sired 20 or more first-crop juvenile winners since 2000, only five can claim to have made it to the very pinnacle of success as a stallion, although others are – or were – indeed successful commercial sires standing for good fees over a number of years.

Dubawi sired 34 winning two-year-olds in his first crop but has gone on to sire 122 Stakes winners at a world-class rate of 15.5%. Lope the Vega, his sire Shamardal, Oasis Dream and Montjeu are the only other sires with at least 10% Stakes winners to runners. Those in the 10% club that failed to get past the 20-winner mark with their first crop two-year-olds feature some outstanding names: Galileo (16.5% Stakes winners; 13 first-crop juvenile winners), Frankel (15.6% Stakes winners; 19 first-crop juvenile winners), Sea The Stars (14.1%, 12 first-crop juvenile winners), Dansili (12.2% Stakes winners; 18 first-crop juvenile winners) and Pivotal (11.3% Stakes winners; 13 first-crop juvenile winners) to name a few.

Several more have been hugely successful – the types to improve their Stakes winner ratios in years to come. The ever-popular Iffraaj, who holds the current European record of for first-crop winning youngsters at 37, is set fair due to the success of, among others, Ribchester last year, plus wealthy crops in the pipeline. The Irish National Stud’s Invincible Spirit has been Europe’s finest source of speed and precocity since his first two-year-olds took the stage back in 2006. Dark Angel is another of note. Many might have expected this son of Acclamation to belong to the shooting stars, given that he was only raced at two. But he’s endured and proved to be the heir apparent to stallions like Oasis Dream and Invincible Spirit among the speed sires. Siring not one, but two world-class sprinters in the same crop – Battaash rated 136 by Timeform and Harry Angel rated 132 – underlined his immense value to breeders. Moreover, there is every chance that he’ll get a top-class miler in the years to come.

Clearly, many great sires do well with their first juveniles, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that 30 of the 56 stallions in our table sire less than 4% Stakes winners to runners and 24 less that 3%. You can be assured that many a proven sire with far better ratios will have been spurned in favour of one of these untimately failed stallions. And all in pursuit of no risk commercial appeal.

About the author

John Boyce

John Boyce grew up on a stud farm and is a bloodstock journalist and former editor of Pacemaker and of The Thoroughbred Breeder. He has been part of the Darley/Godolphin team since 2001 as Group Marketing Head and then Group Head of Research. He is currently responsible for stallion and broodmare analysis to help the organisation’s stud, sales and marketing teams.

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