Commentary: Substandard
by Dan Liebman
Date Posted: 9/18/2007 10:03:15 AM

Dan Liebman
Executive Editor

Photo: Lee Thomas

For baby boomers, 60 is the new 40; for airlines, 6 a.m. is the new 8 a.m.; and, according to a recent advertisement in The Blood-Horse, for the Thoroughbred industry, 6% stakes winners from foals is the new “gold standard.”

Wow!

I don’t mind getting older, nor do I mind getting to the airport earlier. But I do mind the notion that 6% stakes winners is now the goal to shoot for when standing a Thoroughbred stallion.

Let me be the first to say that if it is true that 6% stakes winners from foals is what we expect the very best of our stallions to achieve, then this breeding industry has gone to hell in a handbasket.

Who is to blame?

The breeders, that’s who.

The thing that seems to matter most these days is getting out quickly on a stallion deal. That way, if after three or four years the horse is a flop, all the money paid to stand the horse has been recouped.

This is done by breeding larger books of mares, which translates to more stud fees. In turn this translates to more foals, which is why the Keeneland September sale this year contains a record number cataloged.

Reports of mares bred submitted to The Jockey Club through mid-August, and subject to increase slightly when they are officially released, show more than 100 stallions bred to 100 or more mares. In all, nearly 14,000 mares were bred to those stallions.

I’m not going to be so foolish as to recommend we go back to books of 40 mares, but it should be obvious that if a sire has 175 foals a year rather than 75 foals a year, the odds are he will have a higher percentage of offspring that cannot run.

Because of this, pundits have suddenly declared that no longer is 10% stakes winners from foals the mark that separates the good from the really good stallions. (The truly great ones like Bold Ruler, Northern Dancer, etc., reached 20%.) No, we have dropped our sights all the way down to 6%.

At a time in which stallion managers should seriously consider holding the line on stud fees, now they have more incentive to raise them because the benchmark for which we strive is considerably less than it used to be.

Contributing to this phenomenon is that many new stallions tend to enter the marketplace overpriced, thus lending credence to the notion proven sires must surely be worthy of a fee raise if they are siring anywhere near the new “gold standard.”

Among active stallions that stood this year in North America, Storm Cat has sired 13.1% stakes winners, followed by A.P. Indy at 12.9%. Next comes Seeking the Gold (10.3%), Dixieland Band (10%), and Smart Strike   (9.5%).

Distorted Humor  , with just five crops of racing age, is at 10% and could be on the verge of becoming the next Storm Cat.

Accepting 6% as a high standard not only diminishes the accomplishments of any stallion that has sired 10%-plus, but lowers the sights for all future stallions.

Isn’t the goal to raise the bar? Apparently it is not.

Under this new thinking, because so many more mares were bred to the stallion, no one should expect the achievement of 10% stakes winners. Five percent is good enough to keep the fee the same and book another 150 mares.

But what this means is that by breeding more mares, you are getting fewer top runners by percentage of foals. If a sire is capable of getting 10% stakes winners from 75 foals a year then he should be capable of siring 10% stakes winners from 150 foals a year.

Perhaps we should go back to books of 40 mares and find out who the really good stallions are.



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