Numbers Don't Lie

Numbers. This business is about numbers. Big numbers... dramatic numbers...incredible numbers.

When Seattle Dancer sold as a yearling for $13.1 million...that was a big number. When Dr. Fager ran a mile in 1:32 2/5...that was a dramatic number. When breeders paid $1 million a pop to send a mare to Northern Dancer...that was an incredible number.

The wildest number of 2004, and in fact perhaps the wildest number ever in the history of this game, is the number of stakes winners sired by Danehill. With only 19 stallions having sired 100 or more stakes winners in their entire careers, Danehill, by Danzig, was represented by 51 in 2004.

Big. Dramatic. Incredible. This number is that and much, much more. This may be the greatest achievement in the history of Thoroughbred breeding.

How many stallions stand their entire careers and never get close to siring a total of 51 stakes winners?

Previous columns have stressed that the key indicator when looking at sire success is the percentage of stakes winners to foals. The trends toward big books of mares and dual hemisphere breeding seasons have given stallions a greater chance to put up haughty numbers of foals, while at the same time lowering their percentage of stakes winners. But in this case, the actual number is so staggering it is as valid as the percentage.

One can strongly argue that large books of mares mean there will be more horses by those sires that can't run. With hundreds of foals, it only makes sense that a sire's percentage of stakes winners will drop. But Danehill, with 2,070 foals in 12 crops, has sired 271 stakes winners. With 10% lifetime stakes winners still considered the mark of excellence, that Danehill has been able to sire 13% stakes winners with such a huge number of foals only further emphasizes just how good a stallion he was (Danehill, who stood at Coolmore in Ireland and Australia, died in 2003 at age 17).

In a pedigree panel discussion published last year by The Blood-Horse, a participant pointed out another factor in large books of mares. The second group of 50 mares, and the third group of 50 mares, cannot possibly be the same quality as the first group of 50 mares. Understanding this point makes it even more impressive to consider achieving 13% stakes winners with such large books of mares.

In 2004, more than 1,600 stallions worldwide sired at least one stakes winner. Of that number, nearly 900 sired only one stakes winner, while another 300 sired just two.

To take this wild number one step further--while Danehill sired 51 stakes winners, second place belongs to Sunday Silence, with 37. So, the gap from first to second is 14 stakes winners, while a total of only 10 stallions worldwide sired more than 15 stakes winners in 2004.

(After Sunday Silence was Sadler's Wells, with 31; A.P. Indy, 21; Roar, 20; Zabeel, 20; Storm Cat, 19; Royal Academy, 19; Hussonet, 17; and Roy, 17.)

If this were a horse race, Danehill would be in front by more than Secretariat's 31-length Belmont Stakes margin, his Beyer Speed Figure would be the highest ever recorded, and the racing association would have declared the contest a non-betting exhibition for fear of a huge minus pool.

To rub it in just a bit, it should be noted that of Danehill's 51 stakes winners, nine horses won at least one grade/group I race in 2004: Intercontinental and Light Jig in the U.S.; Exceed And Excel, Danestorm, and Elvstroem in Australia; Westerner, Oratorio, and Grey Lilas in France; and North Light in England. Second in this category was Sunday Silence with seven, followed by Sadler's Wells with six.

(Only a total of 40 stallions worldwide sired two or more grade/group I winners in 2004.)

There are those who argue shuttling stallions is a purely economic decision, with no thought of improving the breed. Grab the money while you can; breed a stallion to as many mares as you can; and don't worry about the animal's future health.

Clearly, there have been some stallions that have not stood up to the rigors of the travel and extensive breeding shed activity. But Danehill spread his prepotent genes throughout the globe. He is an example that under the right circumstances, it can work.

Numbers don't lie; even those that are big, dramatic, and incredible.

Dan Liebman is executive editor of The Blood-Horse.