This issue of The Blood-Horse examines the leading sires of 2003 in several different categories. Ashford stallions led the first-crop (Stravinsky), second-crop (Grand Slam), and juvenile (Tale of the Cat) sire lists, a major accomplishment in a very competitive business. Right now it appears Ashford has the competitive edge.
The Irish have changed the business of breeding Thoroughbreds, of that there is no doubt. John Magnier's Ashford Stud, the Kentucky division of Coolmore, the massive worldwide bloodstock operation that has a dominating presence in Australia and its home base of Ireland, has transformed the stallion business, here and throughout the world, in a major way. Critics, many of them competitors of Magnier's, say some of the changes are not for the better. Ashford's policy of booking young stallions to more than 150 mares does not sit well with those who feel the breed deteriorates when one of those stallions is a complete bust but has upwards of 500 foals before his failure is known. Others feel the large books can hurt a breeder's chance of making a profit at public auction if there are too many yearlings by one sire to choose from. There have been no firm statistics to support that theory. When a racehorse is on the market as a stallion prospect, it's difficult to compete with Coolmore. Not only does the operation use large books of mares to maximize revenue opportunities, it shuttles many of its stallions to Australia, something that has not caught on with other North American stallion stations, Vinery being the principal exception. The combination of large books and second breeding seasons (admittedly one that, because of lower stud fees and a weak Australian dollar, will not match Northern Hemisphere revenue) gives Magnier more financial firepower to pursue stallion prospects in play. Fusaichi Pegasus is the best example of that. When the deal was made to stand the son of Mr. Prospector at Ashford, it was for more than $60 million, winning out over several other major farms in the highest-priced stallion acquisition in history. Even with large books and dual hemisphere seasons it will be tough for Coolmore to "get out" on the 2000 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winner in three years, something Magnier and company have been able to do with many of the stallions they have acquired. In other words, Coolmore's investment is often recouped before a stallion's first crop has even raced. Other operations typically have to wait until a stallion's fourth or fifth year to break even on their investment. That kind of success makes others envious, to put it mildly. But it is due to the brilliance of Magnier, and the work done by the team he has put together. Not all of the farm's moves have been brilliant, even though they are quite innovative in a business prone to make changes at a glacier's pace. Everyone knows how difficult it can be to sell seasons after a horse's first year at stud, so Magnier countered by leasing a number of Coolmore stallions to Japanese farms after they stood from one to three years at Ashford or Coolmore in Ireland. From a marketing standpoint, that horse is new to Japanese breeders, and he will be met with the same kind of enthusiasm that embraces so many North American first-year stallions. But there can be a downside to this program. Witness Thunder Gulch, whose second-crop foal Point Given won the Preakness (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and was voted Horse of the Year for 2001. A big horse in the spring usually spikes a sire's yearling average in the summer and fall, but when Point Given was hot there were no Thunder Gulch yearlings on the market in 2001. His 2000 foals were born in Japan.