Barathea joins generation game RACING: Mating season increases anxiety for studs hoping new stallions will not stall. Sue Montgomery reports

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Racing may be shivering in winter's icy grip, but the pulse of the Thoroughbred continues to beat. This year's foals have already started to arrive and next month the creation of the 1996 crop, the Classic contenders of 1999, begins. And the star t of the mating season on 15 February also marks the start of a new job, that of a stallion, for many of the star performers of 1994.

Success on the track, however, is no guarantee of success in the breeding shed. It is not that good racehorses do not make good stallions, for most top sires were above-average runners. But fewer than 5 per cent of colts who retire to stud make the gradein their second careers, so obscurity is likely to beckon for all bar one of the 20-odd new recruits to the stallion ranks in Britain and Ireland.

And relative merit on the racecourse is no indication of future prowess as a stallion. The likes of Barathea, Bigstone, Grand Lodge, Turtle Island and Mister Baileys, rivals in the competitive mile division, start again with a clean slate.

For the horses, the delights of consorting with the choicest brides are probably a considerable improvement on the daily routine of the training yard. But for their connections, the worries are only beginning. The business of managing a stallion is desperately competitive; there are more than 900 horses touting for business at stud in these isles. And, as those in charge of poor Mister Baileys have discovered, things can go wrong before the season even starts.

One of the most exciting prospects for 1995 is undoubtedly the Breeders' Cup hero Barathea, who has retired to Liam Cashman's Rathbarry Stud in Co Cork. The horse is talented, handsome, sound of mind and body, is by Sadler's Wells and will be supported by his shareholders with the best of mares, but Cashman is counting no chickens. He says: "You'd have to say he has all the right credentials to make it, but I've been in this business long enough to know that success is impossible to predict. All you cando is give the horse every opportunity, but in the end it's up to nature."

Barathea will cover 80 mares this spring at a cost of Ir16,000 guineas each, the fee payable if the mare is safely in foal on 1 October. He is the dearest of the first-season horses (of those he scrapped with on the track, Bigstone, Grand Lodge and Turtle Island are all priced at Ir9,000 guineas, and Mister Baileys, should he recover from sickness, will be at £6,500) but there is a waiting list stretching to next season nonetheless.

Of the middle-distance horses, Carnegie, King's Theatre and Tikkanen remain in training and Balanchine (now cantering again in Dubai) is a filly. The Royal Studs captured Ezzoud and offer him at £6,000, but the likes of Bob's Return (£2,250) and Snurge (£3,000 in France) are down towards the bargain basement, having committed the unpardonable modern crime of showing staying ability.

The retirement of the Derby winner to stud used to be something of an event, but one that has not happened here since Generous hung up his racing plates. Erhaab followed Dr Devious and Commander In Chief to Japan; the breeders there used to get Europe's stud cast-offs, but the power of the yen is such that they now have first pick. In view of the success-rate statistics, perhaps European racegoers had best.

The enterprise of making a stallion has changed out of all recognition in recent decades. The idea of the true, time-honoured syndication of a horse into 40 equal shares, with a commensurate covering fee, has tended to go by the board, and hard-sell marketing measures dictate fashion in a volatile commercial business.

Thankfully, all the hype in the world cannot make a bad horse into a good one once his offspring arrive on the track, but there is one aspect of the modern breeding industry that can do real harm. There was a time when a book of 50 mares seemed over the top, and 100 outrageous, but last year the former Coronation Cup winner Be My Native covered 325. Even the very best sires get more duds than champs - 25 per cent of the peerless Northern Dancer's stock were stakes winners, which means 75 per cent were not.

Be My Native, a jump sire in Ireland, is an extreme example. But the more mares a stallion covers, the more poor specimens he will produce, and the more his reputation will suffer, and all for the sake of short-term gain.

n Nwaamis was yesterday again backed for the 2000 Guineas. John Dunlop's colt is 16-1 (from 20-1) with William Hill. Ladbrokes said Oliver Sherwood's novice hurdler Callisoe Bay had been backed for the 1995 Champion Hurdle and have cut his odds to 16-1 from 40-1.