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Kentucky Stud Farm60-40 Kentucky
(Photo : Science Reflections)

“Europe is still under-populated in terms of, let’s say,
the 100 highest-priced stallions, and Kentucky is overpopulated.”

Bill OppenheimBill Oppenheim
Thoroughbred Daily News
Ten or 15 years ago the normal way to summarize the relationship between North America and Europe in the breeding community was to say the size of the foal crop, or the number of runners in a season, was twice as many in North America as in Britain, Ireland, and France combined; in other words, North America was two-thirds of the pie, the three major European racing countries one-third. And by that time - the period around the turn of the 21st century - Sadler’s Wells had already led the re-establishment of Europe as standing major stallions, so the pendulum had already swung a little bit away from the complete dominance in sire power Kentucky (and Maryland, with Northern Dancer) enjoyed during the 1980’s.

In one year, between 2011 and 2012, there was a shift of 5% in numbers and 8% in money spent for A$200,000 yearlings from North America to Europe. In a similar vein, using a different criterion - the number of stallions standing for $17,500 or more - we can estimate there has been at least a further 20% swing in sire power over the last decade, and from 2/3 - 1/3 in one reliable measurement 10 years ago, the number of stallions in a different, but equally reliable estimate, shows the ratio is now down to 60-40; in fact, it is actually 59-41. There are 93 stallions scheduled to stand for $17,500+ (or equivalent in GBP sterling or Euros) in North America and the three European countries in 2013; 55 of them (59%) will be standing in North America, and 38 will be standing in Europe (41%). The ratio of $750,000+ yearlings sold in 2012 was 2-to-1 in favor of Europe (33 to 16), yet the ratio of sires standing for $17,500 or more is still 60-40 in favor of America, and specifically, Kentucky. Even the transfer of Henrythenavigator from Kentucky to Ireland doesn’t go very far to evening that out.

North American vs European Stallions 2012

The conclusion you have to draw from looking at these ratios is that Europe is still under-populated in terms of, let’s say, the 100 highest-priced stallions, and that Kentucky is overpopulated. And, as you can see from the accompanying table and graph, there are a few other points to consider when you break the figures down just a little further:

First, it is striking that the approximate 60-40 ratio prevails in all three categories we’ve listed: 45,000+ (18 NA, 12 EU); $17,500-40,000 proven (19 NA, 13 EU); and $17,500-40,000 unproven (18-13) (F2010 freshman sires of 2012 are included in this category}; total 55-38 (59%-41%). So, even though $750,000+ yearlings are selling 2-to-1 in Europe, the top 30 sires on stud fee are still 60-40 Kentucky (of course, this is considering only the North American and European markets, not Japan, Australia, etc).

Second, within Europe, Ireland dominates proceedings, with 23 (60%) of the 38 European sires standing for $17,500 or more; Britain has 14 (37%); France has just one (3%) - Redoute’s Choice, imported to the Aga Khan’s Haras de Bonneval for the 2013 season, with a ticket of €70,000 to breed to. However, Ireland is actually stronger at the ‘second-tier’ level of $17,500-40,000, with 69% (18 of 26) of those stallions; at the top tier, Britain has 50% (6), Ireland 42% (5), and France, of course, has one of the 12 (8%).

Third, with the retirement of Frankel (£125,000) and the ascension of New Approach to a top-tier (£50,000) from a second-tier (£22,500) stallion, there is now a marked imbalance among British stallions. The overall ratio of top-tier to second-tier stallions for the whole sample is roughly 1 to 2 (32.3% to 67.7%, which is very nearly one-third, two-thirds) among the 93. Yet there are only four proven sires in Great Britain standing for $17,500-40,000, and four unproven sires, for a total of eight of the 14 stallions (57%), whereas it should be 10% higher.

In short, if there are six stallions standing for 45,000+, there should be 12 standing for $17,500- 40,000, and there are only eight. To the extent that the British TBA’s thus-far incomprehensible BOBIS scheme depends on stallions standing in Britain, they’re barking up the wrong tree. Especially for breeders using second-tier stallions - which would be at least twice as many as use top-tier stallions - Ireland has far more stallions in this price range to choose from, 18 to eight.

Fourth, France. They may have the best racing system of the three countries (probably thanks largely to the PMU and a dedicated revenue stream from it to purses), but for stallions, forget it. More often than not these days they don’t even have a stallion standing for as much as 15,000. There would be a lot of British and especially Irish boarding farms that would no doubt be very unhappy if France suddenly developed its own group of what we’re classifying as ‘second-tier’ stallions. Still, you’d think there’d be room for one or two more.

Fifth, Kentucky. As such non-native, but current residents of Kentucky like Mike Levy and Labhras Draper like to remind me, “don’t write Kentucky off too soon.” Yes, as we have seen, there have been measurable shifts away from Kentucky towards Europe in both yearling sales and stallions standing; and yes, there have also been significant movements in what we could call ‘third-tier’ (let’s say $7,500-$15,000) stallions - or maybe we could also refer to them as the ‘lower commercial tier,’ and call the ‘second-tier’ $17,500-40,000 stallions the ‘upper commercial tier.’

In any case, there are definite shifts of third-tier stallions out of Kentucky, such as the promising F2012 Darley sire Desert Party (Street Cry), whose first foals are selling this year, from Kentucky to New York. So, yes, even though there are these shifts away from Kentucky, still 59% of all the stallions in North America and Europe that stand for $17,500 or more - and 60% of the top 30 sires, which stand for 45,000 or more - stand in Kentucky. It’s true: it isn’t really safe or credible to leave them out of calculations, to dismiss them, entirely, as some Euros now seem to want to do.

Extract from Thoroughbred Daily News

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