(By Avalyn Hunter)
This spring, both Distorted Humor and Giant's Causeway have reached the milestone of 100 stakes winners--once a rare event indeed in the days of 40-mare books. Even now, it is not an everyday occurrence.
For Giant's Causeway, such success was to be expected from the beginning. A son of popular sire of sires Storm Cat and a champion racehorse who had proven himself on both dirt and turf, he anchored Ashford Stud, Coolmore's Kentucky operation, after serving one season at the farm's Irish headquarters. More than any other outfit,.Coolmore has modeled the modern era of stallion management for high-end stallion prospects: huge books, along with both Northern and Southern Hemisphere duties, guaranteeing a profit even if the horse proves a complete flop and providing the advantage of numbers in the race for stakes winners and sire titles.
Such heavy use of a stallion tends to reduce consistency among the horse's progeny, and Giant's Causeway has been no exception to the rule. From 1,281 foals in his first seven crops of racing age, he has sired 631 winners (49%), and his stakes winners represent 7.8% of those foals, well below the percentages racked up by leading sires of even 10years ago. But with two sire titles in Giant's Causeway's trophy case, it would be hard to call him anything but a success.
Distorted Humor has taken a different road to success. While he was a multiple grade II winner, he was below championship caliber as a sprinter, and people tended to forget that he was effective at stretching his speed up to nine furlongs. He is also on the small side, though muscular and well-balanced, and his sire Forty Niner was exiled to Japan after what proved to be an undervalued stud career in Kentucky. Sent to stud at Prestonwood Farm (now WinStar) in 1999, he sired a relatively modest 66 foals in his first crop. Twelve of those foals, however, became stakes winners, including 2003 champion 3-year-old male Funny Cide, and Distorted Humor has never looked back. Now commanding $100,000 for his services, up from his first advertised fee of $12,500, Distorted Humor has 11.1% stakes winners from his 914 foals of 3years and older, 584 (63.9%) of which have won.
While Distorted Humor's book has been larger since the successes of his initial crop, his management at WinStar has been relatively conservative by modern standards, and this is reflected in the greater consistency of the stallion's progeny. Fewer of Distorted Humor's foals have reached the top echelons of racing --he has 38 graded/group stakes winners, against 52 for Giant's Causeway--but the majority do run and win.
Both of Giant's Causeway's sire titles came at the expense of Distorted Humor, second in both 2009 and 2010, and numbers have certainly helped to make a difference. Last year, for instance, Giant's Causeway was represented by 374 runners against 266 for Distorted Humor, and he had 10 graded stakes winners against five for Distorted Humor. Distorted Humor's runners averaged $35,089 compared to $30,283 earned by Giant's Causeway's starters.
Numbers are not all the story, however. On average, Giant's Causeway has received the better books (his mates have a Comparable Index of 3.08 for their foals by other sires, compared to 2.13 for Distorted Humor), giving his fillies better residual value, and his runners stay better, with an average winning distance of 8.16 furlongs against 6.81 furlongs for Distorted Humor. While foals that can sprint on dirt have more racing opportunities in North America, the purse structure greatly favors horses that can stay a mile or more.
Which is the better sire? The answer is a resounding "That depends." The owner of a maiden mare who wants an early winner to build her resume might well prefer Distorted Humor, who gets much higher percentages of juvenile winners and overall winners; if the mare packs Buckpasser or Seattle Slew in her pedigree (strains for which Distorted Humor has shown a marked affinity), the prospects are even better. On the other hand, an owner breeding for turf, distance, or the European market would probably prefer Giant's Causeway, who also stands at a lower price tag these days ($85,000 for the 2011 season). Each sire has his own profile of strengths and weaknesses, and stallion value, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.