Batting for Average

"A measure which cuts across the years, and increased number of foals, is percentage of stakes winners sired during a career.

"In different eras, the average of the breed in percentage of stakes winners has remained about the same, nearly 3% stakes winners. A good stallion long ago, as now, sired 10% stakes winners. A really good stallion sires as high as 15% stakes winners.

"And then there are the great ones...those stallions which have sired 20% stakes winners."

The late editor of The Blood-Horse, Kent Hollingsworth, penned those words in the July 2, 1983, edition of this magazine. They are beginning to ring hollow not even 20 years later.

By increased number of foals, Hollingsworth referred to how in 1983, the 65 leading active sires in North America averaged 29 foals a crop (today that number is 58).

Today's increased stallion books--and double-season use of stallions--are making those types of numbers obsolete. In the process they make the always reliable statistic of percentage of stakes winners virtually meaningless.

One part of Hollingsworth's premise continues to hold true: 10% stakes winners from foals is still considered a threshold.

When Nureyev died, it was important to note that he had sired 729 foals of racing age and 130 stakes winners, thus nearly 18% stakes winners. This ranks him among the elite stallions of all time.

But how is Thunder Gulch, the leading sire by progeny earnings in 2001, going to achieve 10% stakes winners when he is covering over 200 mares in a single Northern Hemisphere season?

Thunder Gulch is the sire of 405 named foals of racing age (including Southern Hemisphere) and 22 stakes winners. That works out to 5.4% stakes winners.

Percentage of stakes winners allows you to see that Broad Brush and Wild Again have both sired 70 stakes winners, but Broad Brush from 490 foals (14.2%) and Wild Again from 771 foals (9%).

Similarly, young stallions Forest Wildcat and Honour and Glory have both sired nine stakes winners, but Forest Wildcat from 122 foals (7.4%) and Honour and Glory from 232 foals (3.9%).

Hennessy is off to a fantastic start, with nine stakes winners in 2001, capped off by Johannesburg's victory in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). But as for percentage of stakes winners: 11 from 299 foals is just 3.6%.

Unbridled's Song is going to stand in 2002 for $75,000. He has sired six stakes winners from 212 foals (2.8%).

The leading active sire by percentage of stakes winners is Danzig. The son of Northern Dancer has 16 crops of racing age comprising 886 foals, an average of 55 foals per crop. His 165 stakes winners represent 18.6% of his foals.

Storm Cat will stand for the highest fee of any stallion in the world this year, at $500,000. To date, he has sired 696 foals and 92 stakes winners, 13.2%. The leading stallion in Europe, Sadler's Wells, has sired 194 stakes winners from 1,185 foals, 16.4%.

Mr. Prospector, generally considered one of the best stallions ever, sired 177 stakes winners from 1,225 foals, 14.4%.

In modern history, only seven North American stallions have ever averaged 20% or more stakes winners. They are:

  • Broomstick (1901-31), 280 foals, 69 stakes winners, 25% (by the way, he sired an average of 11 foals a year);
  • Bold Ruler (1954-71), 356 foals, 82 stakes winners, 23%;
  • Northern Dancer (1961-90), 635 foals, 146 stakes winners, 23%;
  • Nasrullah (1940-59), 425 foals, 98 stakes winners, 23%;
  • Hoist the Flag (1968-80), 246 foals, 51 stakes winners, 21%;
  • Round Table (1954-87), 401 foals, 83 stakes winners, 21%; and
  • Peter Pan (1904-33), 245 foals, 49 stakes winners, 20%.

With today's emphasis on the commercial market, large books of mares, and shuttling, it is highly unlikely we shall ever see another stallion sire 20% stakes winners.

Then again, at this rate, it is a stat that in just a few more years won't mean much anyway.

DAN LIEBMAN is executive editor of The Blood-Horse.