Lifting the veil on the book of coverings
A roll in the hay seldom comes cheap.
Or so I'm informed by that mad punter The Merry Widow, who adds, "Certainly not when I'm involved", and cackles with mirth.
The truth of her words is evident in Sires 2012, a directory of thoroughbred stallions available in South Africa. By "available" I mean their services can be purchased by breeders for their brood mares, and by "services" I mean a roll in the hay.
Not that hay comes into it, despite the farm setting of said services rendered. It all takes place in a structure known as a mating barn and generally this is a big, empty space. No hay, no candlelight, no soft music.
It's strictly a business deal - at least for the horse owners.
The most expensive service, or covering, is R150000 - for Western Winter, an ex-champion stallion who stands at the Lammerskraal Stud of Mike Rattray, of MalaMala fame.
Western Winter's offspring include multimillion-rand winners Yard-Arm, What A Winter and Winter Solstice, so there's no shortage of takers even at R150000 a pop. He's "book full" for the current season.
The cost of a covering is usually only payable on birth of a live foal, which, at a rough guess, happens 80% of the time. With big-ticket stallions, there's a non-refundable nomination fee of 10-20%.
Reigning champion Jet Master, father of JJ The Jet Plane and Pocket Power, sadly died during the past year. His going rate was once a record R200000-plus, dropping to R175000 with the onset of economic strife.
The world's priciest advertised covering was $500000 for the US's Storm Cat, a decade ago. But it's widely believed Storm Cat's granddad, the immortal Northern Dancer, who was not marketed commercially and mated by private arrangement only, touched $1-million per covering in the 1980s.
Another former local champ, Fort Wood at Bridget Oppenheimer's Mauritzfontein Stud, goes for R130000. As Horse Chestnut's dad, you might consider him a bargain - though you can have Horse Chestnut himself for just R15000.
Captain Al, Silvano and Trippi are at R120000 each, while newly imported Philanthropist, a proven stud success in Canada, is R100000.
A top stallion covers between 100 and 140 mares a season, so you can appreciate the serious business of a stallion station.
There are more than 100 sires listed in the book, ranging in price down to R5000 - and with a few going free of charge to try to build a reputation.
You can't simply multiply R120000 by, say, 80 visiting mares to calculate what a stallion owner might rake in. Many owners are large syndicates of breeders who each must have their own mares covered, taking up chunks of the booking schedule.
Brood mare owners spend hours perusing Sires 2012's stats and pedigrees to find a bargain.
I can save them time: a superb deal at R18000 is remarkably consistent and versatile sire Announce.
TURFFONTEIN, TOMORROW: PA - 1,6 x 10 x 5 x 3,6 x 3,5,8 x 6,7 x 3,5,6,12 (R96)