5 Things You Should Know About Thoroughbred Nicking

If you're not completely familiar with the basic premise of sire-line nicking, here it is in a nutshell: 

Specific affinities of stallions of one male line for mares from other sire lines -- called nicks -- have made a profound impact on the development of the Thoroughbred. Today's powerful data-processing computers have now made it possible to measure and rate nicks.

But what should you really know and consider when investigating the nick rating of any potential purchase or mating?

  1. Nicks are a solid predictor to racetrack success -  The TrueNicks calculation was developed based on a study of 100,000 horses, with the calibration of the scores generated showing a very strong correlation between the highest variant scores and racetrack success. This point alone should not be underestimated. As far as we are aware, no other pedigree theory (The Rasmussen Factor of inbreeding to superior females, Bruce Lowe's Thoroughbred family studies, line-breeding to full relatives, etc.) has undergone such scrutiny and emerged with a measurable positive correlation.

  3. Nick ratings change - In general, sire lines continue to breed to the successful patterns that they have previously established.  As an example, Fappiano did well with mares by In Reality; his son Unbridled had success with mares by both In Reality and his sons; and, in turn, his son  Unbridled's Song has done well with later generations of In Reality-line mares.

    This pattern can vary over time, when a sire line alters its functionality and finds itself in an environment where commonly-found bloodlines cause it to excel or fail.

    TrueNicks ratings are recalculated every day to take into account new foals, new starters, and new stakes winners. This ensures that breeders and buyers have the latest information available when considering their mating plans and purchases.

    Despite the continual updating of information (and the resulting minor adjustment of the variant score for a particular cross), once a TrueNicks rating has been established, it generally takes several significant events for it to change rating bands (i.e., letter-grade scores).For a rating to change dramatically in a short time period, a drastic change in the quality of individuals produced on a cross would have to occur within a large group of individual horses over a small amount of time -- an unlikely occurrence.

  5. There are "ratings" and then there are "ratings" - When developing the TrueNicks system, we had already reviewed other pedigree rating products on the market. The proprietary TrueNicks algorithm sets it apart from its competitors, and offers owners, trainers, and breeders a genuine and measurable edge when it comes to making breeding and purchase decisions.

    The first major difference between TrueNicks and other programs is that because we are using a complete data set to generate the rating -- we pull from the official records of The Jockey Club Information Systems -- TrueNicks reflects the true opportunity of any hypothetical cross.

    The problem that can occur with systems that base calculations on hypothetical opportunity -- where they are using a subset of stakes winners instead of a complete database of foals -- is when specific crosses are tried either more or less often than they normally would hypothetically occur. Kingmambo (TrueNicks,SRO) when mated to Sadler's Wells mares is a perfect example. Kingmambo stands here in America, and Sadler's Wells is a broodmare sire whose daughters are primarily based in Europe. The nick initially had a couple of high-profile horses, creating a situation where that cross was subsequently tried an extraordinary amount of times. Products that are calculated on hypothetical opportunity can't adjust for this type of occurrence; their data is incomplete and therefore less meaningful. Because TrueNicks factors how many times each cross has actually been tried, our results reflect reality better in those cases.

    More simply:  it is easy to count successes alone, but considering failures as well yields a more realistic number. What is sometimes initially perceived as a downside to that is TrueNicks generates a lot of low ratings. In doing the beta testing and subsequent calibration testing, it was readily apparent that to get a B or an A on TrueNicks is quite difficult - the system doesn't just spit out A's and B's like confetti. You are going to see a lot of Ds and Cs -- and even Fs -- when using TrueNicks, but those grades realistically reflect the history of a given cross.  Remember that TrueNicks measures the strength of the cross, not the strengths of the sire's or dam's pedigrees.

  7. Nicking reports need to be interpreted - The TrueNicks rating consists of both a variant score and a letter-grade rating (similar to the academic system). It is important to understand that the variant rating scale is not linear, so while a below-opportunity rating will have a variant of 0.001 to 0.99, an above-opportunity rating can have a score from 1.01 up to numbers as high as 500.00 and beyond. Generally, extremely high scores are the result of a mating that has had considerable success with limited opportunity.

    The best guide to the potential success of the nick is the letter ranking which has been evolved through careful study of the relationship between the general population and the stakes-winning population. To allow usersto get a better grasp of the system, rather than just giving the raw variant numbers, we have banded those numbers from A++ all the way down to F. By and large, horses that are rated A and B are outperforming the rest of the population by a considerable margin. In layman's terms, a B+ or better is probably where you want to start to think, "This is a solid mating."

    One of the unique features of TrueNicks is a list of the five best horses bred on the given cross, whether they're stakes winners or not. TrueNicks is a system that is designed to encourage intelligent interpretation.  We would not wish to see breeders blindly using ratings without looking at the context in which they're formed, which includes researching the best horses bred on the cross. Ideally, TrueNicks reports are used to supplement information from additional reports and research, and breeders look at the whole pedigree and interpret the data.

  9. Nicks alone are not "THE ANSWER" - Nicks are are not the silver bullet, the magic answer, the panacea to everything to do with Thoroughbred breeding and racing. (You can quote us on that.) The reality is, no pedigree rating system in the world has all the answers. No matter which breeding theories you follow, always remember:  "Paper doesn't run very fast."

    When planning or evaluating matings, factors such as a balance of aptitudes (speed, stamina, preference for dirt, turf, or all-weather tracks), inbreeding, line-breeding, and outcrossing and -- most importantly -- conformation must be considered. TrueNicks is an important tool to be used by the Thoroughbred breeder and owner because it identifies crosses that have had above- or below-average success in previous attempts -- the tool is valuable only when given appropriate weight and considering all other factors that influence eventual racetrack performance.

What are your thoughts on Thoroughbred sire-line nicking? If you have any more questions about nick ratings, or want to make a comment on what we have posted above, please feel free to do so in the comments section below. Alan, Byron, or the rest of the TrueNicks team will be happy to respond.

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