NO SPORT OBSESSES about the ‘next big thing’ quite like horse racing.
The 2015 flat turf season concludes this month but attentions have already turned to what will be most eagerly awaited race of next year.
However, it won’t be the Epsom Derby, the Dubai World Cup or the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe. In fact, it will revolve around a horse that has never run before.
Next spring, Frankel’s first crop of twoyear- olds will make their debuts. The first one to step foot on a racecourse will attract an unprecedented level of attention with millions potentially riding on the outcome.
Frankel was often described as ‘the horse of a lifetime’. He had a longer stride than other thoroughbreds, beat his opponents and took racing out of the sports section and into the news pages. His talent will hopefully live on through his offspring.
The fee for Frankel to cover a mare is currently £125,000 – the sort of fee you might associate with a proven champion sire – and he made his owners, Juddmonte Farms, £13.625m in his first year at stud. To put that into context, his 14 wins – including 10 Group One successes – earned less than £3m. Breeding is big business.
Among those bidding at auction for Frankel’s colts and fillies is Charlie Gordon-Watson, one of Europe’s leading bloodstock agents.
“There has been a lot of excitement. A lot more so than usual and it has been fun to be a part of that,” he says. Earlier this year Gordon- Watson purchased a Frankel filly for €1.15m on the behalf of an anonymous owner. “Although I didn’t think she would cost quite that much.
“Remember we’ve only seen a small percentage of the crop. Imagine all the home breds that Juddmonte will have, the private purchases that people like (stud owner) Aga Khan might have along with the big breeding operations with the top mares.
“Should these horses start winning next year then prices will take off. The fervour will gather.”
That fervour could be matched on the other side of Atlantic, as American Pharoah has only just been retired to stud after the becoming the first horse in 37 years to win the Triple Crown.
“There is a high degree of expectancy that he will breed champions. It is fair to point out Triple Crown winners have done well at stud.” added Terence Collier, the director of marketing and senior announcer at Fasig-Tipton – America’s oldest thoroughbred auction house.
However, Collier stresses that: “It is important that a horse is given time. In the US it can become a numbers game. Unless you have a high percentage of winners in the first few years people start to say ‘what have you done for me lately?’”
The horse in the America currently commanding the biggest stud fees could only finish ninth in the 2004 Kentucky Derby. Tapit earns his owners $300,000 every time he successfully covers a mare – the only stallion to surpass that figure in the past 20 years was Storm Cat at $500,000.
Tapit’s original stud fee was just $15,000 and at one point his fee dipped to £12,500. It took four years to realise his potential and become a champion sire.
Furthermore, he also goes to show that breeding and purchasing future champions is not an exact science.
Back in 2006 a bidding war broke out between the sport’s most powerful stud operations.
Collier recalls: “I was sitting in the auction stand and I had John Ferguson (representing Darley Racing, a thoroughbred horse racing operations controlled by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) on my left on the phone and Demi O’Byrne (representing Coolmore Stud) on the right. They’re both personal friends and to see those two and their strategies fighting out over a horse that set the world record at auction is a moment I’ll never forget.”
That horse was The Green Monkey. He cost $16m and what did Coolmore get in return for that investment? Three races, no wins and $10,000 in prize money.