The entering group of stallion prospects for 2017 is not large, nor should it be. There are nine new boys for the upper tier of the stallion market, and by stud fee, these are Frosted (by Tapit; $50,000), California Chrome (Lucky Pulpit; $40,000), Nyquist (Uncle Mo; $40,000), Exaggerator (Curlin; $30,000), Air Force Blue (War Front; $25,000), Lord Nelson (Pulpit; $25,000), Runhappy (Super Saver; $25,000), Flintshire (Dansili; $20,000), and Mshawish (Medaglia d'Oro; $20,000).
One reason for the small number of stallions at the top – and this is not a new situation – is the number of mares each of these horses will cover in his first season at stud. Expecting good fertility and good fortune for each, this group will likely average 125 to 150 mares apiece. That translates to about 1,200 to 1,400 mares that will be bred to this elite set of young, unproven sires in 2017.
Those stats indicate that, second only to the upper-level proven sires, the largest segment of mares bred in Kentucky will go to the entering first-year stallions. The competition for mares at this level of the supercharged stallion environment is intense beyond reason. That has been the case for at least a quarter-century because the first-year stallions are the most popular subset of the commercial market, especially when sales prices are compared to stud fees.
Why are breeders so excited about the new boys as stallions of today and potential supersires of tomorrow?
It's simple. Buyers love them.
Year after year, the most popular segment of the foal market, of the yearling market, and of the 2-year-old market is for prospects by new sires. And the driving force behind the commercial popularity of new sires and the demand for their first-crop colts and fillies is the in-training sales market.
The sales of 2-year-olds drive the yearling sales. Period.
Without a resale market, the commercial marketplace today could not supply an outlet for the volume of yearlings produced, and the bloodstock industry as a commercial marketplace would not have recovered from the Great Bloodstock Depression of the late 1980s. The tax law changes from the Reagan administration were so adversarial to horse owners and horse ownership that the regulations literally burned out the core and structure of the breeding business.
Not surprisingly, it collapsed, and it would not have risen from the ashes – certainly not in the strength and volume that it did through the 1990s – if the 2-year-old sales market had not been there to inject cash and create demand for certain types of young horses.
The type most in demand, and I'm talking broadly across the market for yearlings and weanlings, was the good-sized, thick-bodied, progressive-looking yearling from the first crop by higher-profile sires. That is the prototype for the “2-year-old sales horse.”
Which of the stallion prospects for 2017 will most appeal to the commercial market? Surely, the best juveniles in the group – Eclipse Award winner Nyquist, top European 2-year-old Air Force Blue, and good 2-year-old performers Frosted and California Chrome – will be very popular.
Likewise, top sprinters Runhappy and Lord Nelson will be odds-on selections to draw interest both from breeders looking to add speed to their programs, as well as from breeders wanting to sell young horses that are very likely to be popular in the sales ring.
In addition to speed and early maturity, the next most-popular qualification for a higher-end sire is classic success. For that, this group includes two Kentucky Derby winners: 2016 winner Nyquist and 2014 winner California Chrome. The latter also won the 2014 Preakness, and 2016 Preakness winner Exaggerator also will be entering stud for next year.
Soundness and toughness are factors of significance to breeders, and California Chrome will be one to take high marks in this category. Also important for these factors and for pushing the market to accept “turf horses” are hickory tough performers Flintshire and Mshawish.
Each of these horses has shown the ability to perform at an exceptional level, and those who can pass along those most desirable of traits with some consistency will have caught lightning in a bottle for lucky breeders and buyers, and those young stallions will take their place in lighting the way for future racing generations.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is chief of biomechanics for DataTrack International and is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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