As the New Year approaches, The Straight is looking at what will make headlines in each of the major areas of the thoroughbred industry in 2024. The first cab off the rank is the breeding and bloodstock industry.

The yearling sales market

As we edge closer to Magic Millions in January, there is always the seasonal question: where will the yearling market be? Perhaps more so than in previous years, this is something that vendors and sales companies will be concerned about.

No doubt the top end of Magic Millions will be strong - last year some 20 yearlings passed the seven-figure mark, with four of those reaching $2 million or more - but there will be plenty of scrutiny at the middle and lower-end offerings.

With interest rates showing no signs of dropping and consumer confidence data tracking downwards, will Australian owners be happy to keep buying into yearlings? Perhaps more pertinently, will Australian trainers and syndicators remain happy to buy horses ‘on spec’ in the hope of selling on to their clients?

The Straight understands there is more money owing to Magic Millions, Inglis and New Zealand Bloodstock from the 2023 yearling sales than at the same time in previous years, while many trainers and syndicators are still trying to sell shares from last year’s yearling sales. Will this deter those trainers and syndicators from extending their credit again?

On the flip side, with prizemoney remaining at record highs, those wanting to be positive have reasons to do so.

Yulong vision and its challenges

The Chinese-owned, Victorian-based outfit is intrinsically interesting: with more than 600 mares in Australia they are comfortably the biggest breeder in the country, while their green and white silks are becoming ever more familiar at the major meetings.

Owner Yuesheng Zhang has a vision to make Yulong a global powerhouse and his luring of Vin Cox away from Godolphin to become general manager was a statement of that intent.

Zhang has recently become one of a handful of international owners in Hong Kong and his presence overseas is likely to grow.

His original thinking has been demonstrated by his willingness to have about 50 of his Australian-domiciled mares covered on northern hemisphere time, which resulted in last year’s British stakes winner Lady Hamana. The movement of horses from here to Europe to race provides an interesting contrast to the constant flow in the other direction.

But with such size comes some challenges. At the 2023 yearling sales Yulong offered 79 horses across Magic Millions January, Inglis Classic (consigned by Middlebrook Valley Lodge), Inglis Premier and Magic Millions Adelaide.

In the upcoming Magic Millions, Classic and Premier catalogues, the farm has some 141 yearlings entered. Managing that many horses is a logistical challenge.

One significant plus is the start made by Yulong sire Alabama Express, who has already chalked up three individual winners, including the highly promising Shangri La Express, the early favourite for the Golden Slipper.

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Winx's Easter yearling to attract global interest

Rarely, if ever, does the sale of a yearling make headlines in mainstream media, but the offering of Winx’s first foal at Inglis Easter is likely to generate huge interest.

The public appreciation of Winx probably trumped that of recent super mares, Black Caviar and Makybe Diva. Her longevity - winning Group 1s in five consecutive racing seasons - combined with her come-from-behind racing style, created a wave of new racing fans.

With none of Black Caviar’s progeny having been offered for sale, the last time there was anything comparable from a publicity perspective was when Makybe Diva’s first foal fetched $1.5 million at Inglis Easter in 2009.

A huge crowd gathered to watch the Galileo colt go through the ring. He ended up winning two races - at Bendigo and Cranbourne.

Of course, it won’t just be race fans checking out Winx’s daughter come April: plenty of the world’s leading owners and breeders will be eyeing off the Pierro yearling who will be the star of Coolmore’s draft.

Australian stallion ranks brace for renewal

Whisper it quietly, but we are coming to the end of an era in the Australian stallion ranks. Four-time champion Snitzel is now 21, the same age as Yulong’s Written Tycoon, while a couple of years behind them is the mighty I Am Invincible.

Between them, this trio has taken out the title as leading stallion in the past seven years. While they are all still covering, they are coming towards the end of their careers and are serving smaller books.

Who will take up the baton and be the next to head the general sires list? The two obvious big guns are Widden Stud’s Zoustar and Coolmore’s So You Think. The former will end 2023 with more winners than any other stallion on the planet and is well regarded by breeders for his ability to produce good-looking horses, with seven yearlings selling for $1 million or more earlier this year.

So You Think, meanwhile, has demonstrated his ability to produce stars at all distances with Think About It emerging as one of the country’s best sprinters; not exactly what you’d expect from a stallion that placed in a Melbourne Cup.

Among the other contenders to make it to the top, Newgate’s Extreme Choice is siring an incredible amount of stakes winners from a comparatively small group of runners. However, barring him siring a quinella in The Everest, his chance of becoming champion sire is likely to be limited by his poor fertility.

A barnmate at Newgate showing promise is Capitalist, who will have no such issue with numbers, but needs to demonstrate he can keep producing top-liners after siring Captivant in his first crop.

At Coolmore Pride Of Dubai - sire of Pride Of Jenni and Bella Nipotina - is the youngest sire inside the current Top 10. However, his last two foal crops have been just 19 and 25 which may limit his upside in the medium-term future.

Perhaps one of this year’s first-season sires might also emerge in the coming years: already Alabama Express, Tassort, Exceedence and Pierata have sired stakes winners.

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Godolphin prepares for business after Vin Cox's departure

Vin Cox’s time at Godolphin Australia saw a regeneration of the fortunes of the global giant in Australia, both on the track and in the breeding barn.

But nearly three months after it was announced he was leaving for Yulong and three weeks after he took up his new role, there is no sign yet of a replacement.

There are a host of candidates, both external and internal, headed by long-time racing manager Jason Walsh, but whoever it is will have the challenge of piloting the Australian outfit into an all-new era.

They will have plenty to work with. On the breeding side, there is an established stallion roster of 18, including a potential breed-shaper in Anamoe, who has just started his career, an enviable broodmare band and some of the best facilities and resources in Australia.

On track, head trainer James Cummings has 40 Group 1s to his name since joining Godolphin in 2017 and is coming off his most successful season in 2022/23 in terms of stakes wins.

However, in the Yulong-era, Godolphin is quickly being left behind in terms of investment for the future. While Zhang builds a global empire, the Australian arm of Godolphin is looking much like yesterday’s story in the bloodstock space.

They purchased just three yearlings last year, all fillies.

Stallion renewal is another burning question. Street Boss was Darley’s best-performed stallion last season, finishing 10th on the Australian sires table, while Exceed And Excel (21st) was the next best of the current residents. Street Boss turns 20 next year, while Exceed And Excel is rising 24.

On the positive side, Harry Angel looks an emerging sire of influence, while first-season stallions Too Darn Hot, Microphone and Blue Point have all got early runs on the board.

Cummings hasn’t made the strongest start to the 2023/24 racing season and with 51 wins, sits 10th in Australia.

He has had only three pre-Christmas Godolphin two-year-old winners to date, while his two Group 1 winners in the spring, Tom Kitten and Zardozi, were over 2000 metres or further.