The battle that rages now on five continents for supremacy in the world stallion stakes has finally driven the price of stallion prospects beyond the reach of almost anyone but the richest of the rich.
Against a background of falling stallion service fees at the very top end of the American market (where the likes of Storm Cat has had his fee slashed from US$500,000 to US$300,000), the value of the best new prospects, which in the real world of the past was determined against a multiple of the stud fee, has catapulted in the opposite direction.
The impact has been to put these horses right out of reach of almost every stallion operation (yes, including arch-rival and mega stallion operator, Coolmore), and it signals the extent to which Darley’s high priest, Sheikh Mohammed, is willing to go to in what, whichever way you choose to look at it, amounts to unequivocal notice of his intention to put an end to the decades-long dominance of Coolmore’s founder, John Magnier.
Stated in its most brutal form, it’s a matter of what one of the richest men on earth is prepared to pay to beat another very rich man.
The estimated price paid by Sheikh Mohammed for just three of his newest recruits for his American farm, (three of 2007’s top four, three year olds, Street Sense, Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday) is US$90 million, and measured by their combined starting stud fees (US$165,000) this figure equates to about 545 times that amount, according to our old pal and stallion sage, Bill Oppenheim.
In a world in which, till quite recently, a stallion’s potential value (even that of a “shuttler”, which has the ability to earn “two” incomes annually, one in the Northern hemisphere, the other in the South), was measured at 100 times the fee. Then, somehow it got to 250 to 300 times (and only intense competition, and some might say, avarice, could’ve got it there), yet now the Sheikh has shown his willingness to double the odds.
And he’s doing it in numbers, retiring eight new prospects in two seasons, against just one (ordinary one) by Coolmore in America.
Magnier’s failure to return the fire (hardly a single shot outside the purchase of significant numbers of yearlings at the American sales this year), either signals an intent to concentrate on and shore up his dominance in Europe from his home base in Ireland (which is very un-Magnier), or is a statement that at these numbers, he’s just not a player because, after all, he’s just mortal, like the rest of us.
You have to give credit though, for Magnier’s strategic astuteness and his consistency, because he came to the realization quite quickly that it was senseless, at these numbers, to try and compete, and he has stuck to his original plan where it started out long ago, and that is in the yearling market. His rationale is that you can prove your own stallions on the racetrack, having bought them at figures that at least have some connectivity with reality, provided you’re good enough at picking them, an area where Coolmore have been distinctly more successful than Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin team in the past four or five years. Of course, there’s greater risk attached to this approach, but such is the genius of John Magnier, that he’s succeeded with the policy for almost three decades now.
Sheikh Mohammed’s foray into the market is bound to be met with derision from the other major stallion stations in the USA, who must now acknowledge that to compete, they’ll have to accept relegation to a new, second tier of prospects (which isn’t where they’re used to shopping), in the hope that recent history, which has thrown up some of the USA’s best young sires from this second tier, repeats itself.
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