With the season now entering its last third, one of the season's most hotly fought contests is still wide open. Behind the shop window that is the sport, with its colour and thrills on the track, is the factory floor of the bloodstock industry. And for those who stand stallions for a living, it is vitally important that a new horse makes an immediate impact. The first-season sires' championship is fiercely prized.
Talent as a runner of course helps a stallion at the start of his second career but it does not guarantee success. If it did the whole business would collapse. That there is no foolproof formula to identify the best progenitors is part of the fascination. It has been likened to a game of chess with nature.
At the moment, Dubawi, who stands under Sheikh Mohammed's Darley banner at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket, is top of the pile in terms of races won by his progeny, 18 of whom have taken 20 races. His best is the Godolphin colourbearer Poet's Voice, who will put his top-level credentials on the line in Saturday's National Stakes at the Curragh. Dubawi was high-class at two, when he won the National Stakes, and at three, when he took the Irish 2,000 Guineas and Prix Jacques le Marois and, as the best son of Dubai Millennium, is particularly dear to his owner's heart.
He is being chased on the numerical leader board by Avonbridge (winner of a Prix de l'Abbaye; now based at Whitsbury Manor in Hampshire), Footstepsinthesand (2,000 Guineas; Coolmore, Co Tipperary), Pastoral Pursuits (July Cup; National Stud, Newmarket) and Antonius Pius (second Breeders' Cup Mile; Coolmore).
But there are many ways to compile lists. Quantity is one, quality is another. Dubawi has produced both but pressing him in the latter category is one of his Darley comrades-in-arms, Shamardal, whose four Group One wins included a Dewhurst Stakes and a French Derby. The son of Giant's Causeway has the impressive unbeaten colt Arctic flying his flag.
Another criterion for judgement of a stallion is earnings, and here we have perhaps the surprise package, a horse called Arakan. A son of Nureyev, he never won above Group Three level in four seasons on the track. He retired unheralded at a lowly fee of around £3,000 to Ballyhane Stud in Co Carlow, and would have had nothing like the opportunity, in terms of the class of his mates, as more celebrated racers.
But he is top of the money list – ahead of Shamardal, Dubawi and Footstepsinthesand – thanks to the exploits of his son Dick Turpin, whose latest haul came in one of a series of ultra-valuable races related to auction sales. Such contests can distort statistics, but their sheer value means that they are now attracting better horses and the unbeaten Dick Turpin is one of the leaders of his generation.
Tomorrow at Doncaster, the 3.10, the Weatherbys Insurance £300,000 2-y-o Stakes, is another such event. And it could have a considerable bearing on the first-season sires' earnings table; the winner will take home almost as much as the winner of next month's top domestic juvenile race, the Dewhurst Stakes. Arakan is represented tomorrow by William Morgan; Shamardal has one of the leading fancies, Lowdown, running for him.
It is not until tomorrow that this week on Town Moor, building to the St Leger on Saturday, starts to take off, with not only the huge purse for the youngest generation but also the Park Hill Stakes, a Group Two contest confined to fillies and mares over the Classic's course and distance. It has attracted 11 competitors, including diminutive Ebor Handicap heroine Sesenta, who will have the assistance of Kieren Fallon. The logic in upgrading the versatile mare, also a winner over hurdles, is sound enough; her immediate victim at York was Changingoftheguard, third favourite for the St Leger itself.
Today's fare is low-key for the first day of a festival meeting and, against the current grain of expansion, there seems a good case for compression of these proceedings to three days. The so-called feature this afternoon is a five-furlong Listed dash, in which Inxile (3.45) can carry on his stable's fine recent form in the sprint division. The six-furlong two-year-old race was won six years ago by last year's first-season champion stallion Kheleyf; this time Loveinthesand (2.35) can help with his sire Footstepsinthesand's aspirations.
Turf account: Sue Montgomery
The Scorching Wind (8.20 Kempton) Has adapted well to an all-weather surface and going for a quick-fire hat-trick at the Sunbury track in a weaker contest than the two in which he scored clear victories.
Jutland (2.00 Doncaster) Better judged on last month's maiden success, from a subsequent winner, than his last outing, when he had to run wide from a disadvantageous draw.
One to watch
Syrian (Michael Bell) wasted energy by refusing to settle at Haydock on Saturday, fading to fifth. The strapping Hawk Wing juvenile should be given another chance.
Where the money's going
Age Of Aquarius (Aidan O'Brien) is now 5-2 favourite with sponsors Ladbrokes for Saturday's St Leger, with erstwhile market leader Kite Wood (Saeed bin Suroor) at 3-1.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Adnams (9.20 Kempton).