I received a couple questions about pedigrees, sires and dams from a couple owners who are preparing to buy yearlings at an upcoming sale. Their question was simply, are there any “proven” indicators related to buying yearlings and racetrack success.
Many educational owner programs are filled with administrative minutia and theory however, the core question of how to be successful deserves attention. Buying strategies are often ignored and when they are discussed I often found that general theory and myth pervade the discussion. In thoroughbred breeding myths abound because people rarely have the expertise to understand variation in such a “highly variable" arena. How highly variable is something like Thoroughbred breeding you might ask? The very best and most expensive thoroughbred sires in the world with greater than $50,000 stud fees may only produce stakes winners about 5% of the time! (1 out of every 20 foals they sire)
While there are proven data study distinctions related to sire line nicking, dosage, and even things like yearling height, if you have ever heard the saying “A distinction without a difference is irrelevant”, and wondered what the frick that means, it’s about understanding "meaningful" degrees of variation. In other words, you have to understand the difference between interesting data and important information.
Understanding variation means you realize that “almost anything is possible but not everything is probable”. The most predictably probable correlations I have found in breeding relate to studies of the parental racetrack speed performance. I found that the actual speed ratings of both parents produced the most consistently “probable” foal success. Large scale studies have proven this, so let me offer folks a very small scale example from racing right here in Minnesota. (You will never find this elsewhere.)
The following table illustrates the Top 5 earning Minnesota bred horses last year (2015). Pay particular attention to the top racing speed ratings of both their sires and dams. Based solely on the speed ratings, these were exceptionally well bred Minnesota horses. Based upon the parent's racetrack performance, why would anyone be surprised that their foals earned top money last year?
Today we only breed sires with strong triple digit speed ratings to mares that also had stakes level speed ratings. (Stormy Business with a 114 SR and Demiparfait with an 87 SR, Sidney's Candy with a 115 SR and BJ's Angel with a 101 SR.) Sure there are foals from sires and mares who have had not had success on the racetrack, but as I said, once you understand that “almost anything is possible but not everything is probable”, you will improve you chances of success in anything!
A correlation analysis and scatter diagram has proven the "important" nature of this relationship when determining "probability" of success. Nevertheless, I wanted to help new owners with legitimate questions by simplifying the complex. I always suggest you begin by understanding exactly how well both the sire and dam ran on the racetrack, at their best. Then concentrate your focus on these well bred horses. Of course you must then secure help from a "proven" conformation expert to make sure any potential physical flaws are well understood before bidding. Your probability of "high end" success will improve dramatically.
Dave Astar is a race horse owner, stallion owner, breeder, 40 year business executive, and 50 year handicapper.