Finding an edge in the hyper-competitive Australian stallion market is never easy, especially when it comes to focussing on speed and precocity.
With colonial-bred Group 1 winning sprinting stallions being snapped up for massive prices in recent years, Cornerstone Stud's Sam Hayes needed to find a way to breed the fast and early-maturing horses that the market craved without the huge pricetag.
Operating outside of the bloodstock mecca of the Hunter Valley meant Hayes and his team had to think outside the square for a solution, and specifically, outside of Australia.
An agreement to shuttle Zebedee (GB), the 2014 European champion first-season sire, from Tally Ho in Ireland to Cornerstone in South Australia in 2015 was the first significant step in solving that problem.
Three years later and Zebedee's first Australian crop are hitting the track. The son of Invincible Spirit is now a permanent fixture at Cornerstone alongside another prolific sire of European 2-year-old winners in Sir Prancealot (Ire).
"It was a gap we saw in the market but it was also borne through necessity," Hayes told TDN AusNZ.
"The Australian Group 1 winning 3-year-olds by Fastnet (Rock) and Redoute's (Choice) were making anything from $12-$30 million. That for us was not economically sound."
"It was a gap we saw in the market but it was also borne through necessity." - Sam Hayes
"It was borne from a niche opportunity, but also the economic reality of saying, 'standing those horses for $30,000 first-season, it becomes a risky business for us and the breeder."
While we've only seen one of Zebedee's first Australian crop hit the track, overseas he continues to produce the goods. Barbill (GB) became his seventh stakes winner when successful in a Listed race at Chantilly in France earlier this week, while last week Charline Royale (Ire) was a six-length winner in a Group 3 race in Italy.
Bringing success to Australia
Hayes is a firm believer that Zebedee's success in Europe can translate to Australia, where the demand for the Invincible Spirit line is as strong as ever.
"We see no reason why not. What we have in our favour is that Invincible Spirit works in Australia. We've got really nice reports from trainers, the guess work is starting to come out of it now that they are broken in and are with trainers around the country," he said.
Cornerstone knew that in order to make an impression in the competitive Australian market, it was crucial for Zebedee's progeny to be pushed out from South Australia and have a national presence.
"We made a point of selling them as weanlings and yearlings to as many different trainers as we could," Hayes said.
"We made sure that we selected a whole variety of trainers to ensure he was well-represented." - Sam Hayes
"There are probably a higher percentage in SA, but there is certainly a good number elsewhere. We have a lot of Victorian trainers come to our SA sale and a lot of them were targeting the Zebedees as well."
"We've also helped place them. Troy Corstens bought one and we helped him sell half. We made sure that we selected a whole variety of trainers to ensure he was well-represented."
That variety is already evident with jumpout/trial winners for the likes of Gai Waterhouse/Adrian Bott, Shea Eden, Ryan Balfour, Leon McDonald and Tony McEvoy as well as upcoming runners for Lindsay Park, headed-up by Hayes' uncle, David.
Defying the numbers
In terms of numbers of 2-year-olds at the track, Hayes admits it will be a battle for Zebedee to compete against the big-name first-season sires.
"It will be a case of his winners to runners which is what we'll be looking at most closely. There's no doubt there's a couple of those stallions in the Hunter, Deep Field and Rubick, that will have twice the numbers he will," he said.
"He might have covered 90 mares that first year and they have covered 180. You'd be a fool to think you can match them on numbers of runners."
However, despite being at a numerical disadvantage, Hayes still holds hope that Zebedee can complete a rare double and give the leading first season sire title a shake.
"It only takes ten or 12 winners in a season and maybe a stakes winner and you can go close to winning the first-season sires' title. He's a horse who gets an average of 30 2-year-old winners every year in Europe, so you only have to do a third of that here and he's right in the hunt," he said.
"He's a horse who gets an average of 30 2-year-old winners every year in Europe." - Sam Hayes
Hayes certainly feels that in his fourth-season, Zebedee is very much on the up, with a broader range and better quality of clients sending their mares to him this season.
"A lot of breeders and trainers are noticing him and are aware of him, which for a stallion that is not standing in the heart of the Hunter, is a compliment," he said.
Following in Zebedee's footsteps
Sir Prancealot's path is mirroring that of his fellow Cornerstone resident. In 2016, he had the most winners of any first-season stallion in Europe, more than even Frankel, and his first lot of Australian-bred foals are hitting the ground this spring.
"We met Tally Ho through Zebedee and as it happened lightning struck twice for them as they had another stallion two or three years' later who produced 30 two-year-old winners in Sir Prancealot," Hayes said.
"While he wasn't by Invincible Spirit, he was by an outcross, Tamayuz-Nayef line, which nicked incredibly well with Danehill."
"For different reasons, we thought he might suit Australia. And he's probably just beating Zebedee on Group winners at the moment."
Having secured a controlling interest in Sir Prancealot, Cornerstone now has two proven producers of 2-year-olds, a strategy which Hayes said is very much working for them and their clients.
"We often, depending on the pedigree compatibility, toss a coin between the two of them when we are mating our own mares." - Sam Hayes
"We often, depending on the pedigree compatibility, toss a coin between the two of them when we are mating our own mares. We've ended up with two similarly profiled stallions, but the relationship was there with Tally Ho. They are both going to cover over 100 mares this year, so they sit well alongside each other," he said.
Gallery: Sir Prancealot's first Australian foals
Hayes said the first Sir Prancealot foals have impressed and the strategy for the first crop will be very similar to that employed for Zebedee.
"We couldn't be happier." he said about the foals. "Every studmaster in Australia says that about their stallion, but genuinely we are very happy."
"We'll let the results do the talking. We'll take them to the weanling sales and we'll be very confident on a multiple of his fee, he'll perform very well. "