INDEPENDENT HORSE RACING NEWS

COMMENT | Recency bias – How good timing can shape sire success

Bren O'Brien explores how stakes success from the progeny of four ‘off-broadway’ sires at Caulfield on Saturday may shape decision-making ahead of the upcoming breeding season.

Strong racetrack results in August can often lead to bigger and better books of mares for a stallion come September, but that relationship can be complicated in the cut-throat nature of the breeding game.

Whether a stallion ‘makes it’ or not, in a commercial sense, can be determined by so many different factors, and sometimes it can be all about timing.

In Australia, August racing is a very useful shop window for stud farms to promote and sell nominations for their resident stallions off the back of recent positive racetrack results.

The ramping up of stakes races ahead of spring offers a great opportunity for marketing of sires, utilising recency bias to shape messaging as to why one stallion should sit above another in a breeder’s preferences.

Backing that up is that it is stallion parade season, when farms throw their doors open for inspection of their best and brightest, hoping for a surge in late nominations from breeders enamoured with seeing these animals in the flesh.

It’s an extraordinarily competitive market. There will be over 500 thoroughbred stallions available to breed to in Australia in the upcoming spring, 129 of those at the ‘commercial’ end, standing at fees of $11,000 (inc GST) or more. Those stallions compete for a mare pool of fewer than 20,000.

A key stakes result or an impressive winner in August, especially for a younger stallion, can mean another 10 or so mares going his way in the spring, boosting returns not just on quantity, but quality as well.

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Former Arrowfield Stud resident Scissor Kick (Photo: Arrowfield Stud)

So studmasters and noms teams scan the results of races in August with a particularly keen eye, hoping for something they can hook a late marketing push around and get a few more mares through the breeding barn door.

On Saturday, that scan of race results may have not quite lived up to expectations for many of Australia’s biggest stud farms.

None of the four impressive winners of stakes races at Caulfield on Saturday were by stallions that stand in the Australian thoroughbred heartland of the Hunter Valley. In fact, two, Uncommon James and Giga Kick, were by stallions that are no longer available to breeders in Australia, Cable Bay and Scissor Kick.

Cable Bay, a son of Invincible Spirit, shuttled to Woodside Park in Victoria for four seasons, with his Australian book closely managed by the man behind Black Caviar and her extraordinary family, Rick Jamieson.

But Cable Bay’s success from his Northern Hemisphere base at Highclere Stud, from where he became Great Britain’s leading first season sire in 2019, created a tension in the shuttling arrangement that at one point required court intervention.

The hyper-commercially minded Australian market tends to make its mind up on a stallion quicker than anywhere else in the world. If their progeny don’t resonate through the sales ring – immediately – then it is an uphill battle to make it work.

Cable Bay (Photo: Highclere Stud)

In Cable Bay’s case, his progeny met with lukewarm commercial reception in Australia. When Woodside’s ownership changed last year, he didn’t rerun to Australia for a fifth season.

For any breeder impressed by the effortless manner of Uncommon James’ win in the Listed Regal Roller Stakes, there will be no clear sire option to channel that enthusiasm towards this spring.

It’s a similar story with Giga Kick, who remained unbeaten in three starts for Clayton Douglas with his victory in the G3 Vain Stakes. His sire Scissor Kick was a multiple stakes-winning and Group 1-placed son of Redoute’s Choice who raced in the Arrowfield colours for Paul Messara. So it wasn’t surprising to see Scissor Kick end up with a residence at the famous Hunter Valley stud.

After some initial enthusiasm for him at stud, his number of mares dropped to 29 by his fourth season. He also shuttled to Haras D’Etreham in France and in 2019, it was decided that he would be better served commercially staying in Europe.

Giga Kick is by far his best horse, and he is on the third line of betting for both the G1 Caulfield Guineas and the G1 Coolmore Stud Stakes later in the spring. But unless they favour a trip to France, it will be impossible for Australian breeders to support his sire.

Trainer Clayton Douglas with Giga Kick after his Vain Stakes win. (Photo by Vince Caligiuri/Getty Images)

Mr Brightside has also become a shining light for his sire Bullbars, with his first-up win in the G2 PB Lawrence Stakes putting the 2022 Doncaster winner high up in calculations for a host of spring features.

Bullbars initially stood at Highview Stud in New Zealand. A Group 3 winner, who was placed in a G1 Australian Guineas, he carried strong recommendations as a stallion prospect as a half-brother to Group 1 winners and Darley stallions Helmet and Epaulette.

However, he never really gained traction commercially in New Zealand and he was offered for sale online in 2020 and was picked up for just $22,000. Mark Conroy at Orange Court in South Australia took a punt on him and Bullbars has served just 18 mares in each of the last two seasons.

Mr Brightside has put Bullbars on the radar and no doubt Conroy’s phone will have been much busier ahead of this spring, but as a 15-year-old stallion with small crops coming through, standing at $4400, he’s in a career cul-de-sac which may prove hard to escape from.

Bullbars (Photo: Highview Stud)

Rubick, whose daughter Bound For Home won the G3 Quezette Stakes, is a slightly different case.

He was the busiest sire in Australia in 2018 and 2019 and his journey perhaps best embodies the fickle nature of sire selection and how quickly things can change.

A beautifully bred Group Two-winning son of Encosta De Lago from the family of Redoute’s Choice, Rubick’s stud career at Coolmore was supercharged by massive books of 262 and 263, plus the victory of his first crop son Yes Yes Yes in The Everest.

For one reason or another, likely because his progeny didn’t commercially live up to those lofty early expectations, his book dropped to 104 in 2020 and he was then moved to Swettenham Stud in Victoria in 2021.

Rubick (Photo: Lisa Grimm/Swettenham Stud)

The 42 mares Rubick attracted in his first season in Victoria was undoubtedly short of expectations and on the surface, given the dramatic drop in number, it would appear his career is at somewhat of a crossroads.

However, he had an outstanding run of results on Saturday, with Bound For Home one of six winners nationally on the day. That should prove timely for the Swettenham Stud nominations team ahead of their open day next Sunday.

For Rubick, the door to ongoing success remains slightly ajar, especially with those large foal crops now coming through as three and two year olds.

In such a competitive environment, weight of numbers can often be as influential as good timing.

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