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No Apologies: TrueNicks Reports the Bad with the Good

Feedback from TrueNicks users and other readers of this blog comes in various formats -- some by email, some by comments to our article posts. Most are printable, a few are not. An email just arrived from a subscriber to both TrueNicks and a rival service. We figured that while the comment was not meant to be complimentary, we would publish it and get your feedback. The email in part read:

I was fooling around with nicking mares comparing the Enick program and your TrueNicks program. I found that TrueNicks had many more negative ratings than Enicks did. I know this is self serving, but my whole rationale behind having the nicking programs available is to sell stallion seasons and I am probably not the only stallion manager with that attitude. You might need to look into what I am referring to or it could affect the success of TrueNicks.

So where do we start with this one?!?

Well, firstly, we make no apologies for TrueNicks producing a lot more "negative" results. We knew this was the case when we developed the TrueNicks system:  we not only calibrated our ratings against a population study of 100,000 horses to ensure it was reflecting trends in the population, but also ran a series of trials of up to 1,000 horses, each time comparing the results to our competitors' services.

It was readily apparent to Alan and me that we would attract comments like the one above when we found that the competition routinely awards nearly 60% of the entire population an "A" or better rating! Such a percentage is nothing less than intellectually bankrupt, and in no way reflects what is happening in the Thoroughbred population at large. There is no other way to put it.

In recent advertising, a competitor has claimed that there are more horses rating a "A" in the population at large than ever before -- a dangerous attempt to make a virtue out of a vice. Enicks are, for whatever reason, awarding close to 60% of the entire population "A" ratings, completely failing to discriminate the population effectively. It a terrible guide for breeders to use. 

The TrueNicks rating is calibrated in such a way that only 13% of the entire population scores an "A" or better.  Compare that to nearly 60% and you can see why, when a mating scores an "A" or better with TrueNicks, it's worth your attention.

Not only is scoring an "A" on TrueNicks harder to do when compared to our competitors, it is a great guide to stakes success. While "A" scores represent only 13% of the entire population, 37% of all stakes winners score a TrueNicks "A" or better. Horses rated "B" or better (B to A++) represent just 30% of the entire population, yet three out of four (77%) stakes winners rank "B" or better. Almost half of Thoroughbreds in general -- 44% -- are on the low end of the scale (rated C through F), yet only two in 25 stakes winners (8%) have these lower rankings.

Looking at it in a slightly different way, 70% of all horses rate "C+" or worse on TrueNicks, and those 70% of the population account for only 23% of stakes winners.

Given that their ratings are now disseminated in a daily industry publication, we have recently seen some strange results produced by Enicks, including examples where horses have been rated "A" on the basis of a single stakes winner -- yes, the only stakes winner bred on the cross -- or equally meritless in our opinion, rated "A" because of two stakes winners on the cross where both stakes winners are out of the same mare. It is rather like saying Fappiano was a good cross for Le Fabuleux mares solely because of full brothers Unbridled and Cahill Road. One cross cannot establish the value of a nick, and will not predict its ability to be repeated. TrueNicks has specific logic that prevents a calculation being made in either of these circumstances.

It is a rather a sad position that a pedigree rating tool -- or any other service that purports to help breeders select positive matings for their mares -- should be created with the sole intention of "selling seasons." We don't doubt that the primary motivation of many stallion managers (who, by paying a TrueNicks subscription fee, appear here and on Stallion Register Online) is to generate a selling point for season sales. But TrueNicks and the stallion subscription service were designed primarily to help breeders make informed decisions based on real results.  

While Thoroughbred nick ratings are clearly a desired and much-used product within the industry, they are actually beneficial only when they tell the full story.  It is no use to anyone if the nick ratings being generated are not based on opportunity, or how many times a cross has actually been tried. The best service that any stud farm can offer its clients is one that they have confidence in, and judging by the demand and use of TrueNicks, we know that we have a product that mare owners trust.

Our response to this email and other stallion managers using TrueNicks is to take a long-term view on the service.

While our competition may throw out "A's" like confetti at a wedding, we've got to ask:  does it really help your stallion or your farm in the long term? If a stallion manager uses TrueNicks as an aid to screening his stallions' books -- and in an era of overproduction, this may in fact be the right thing to do -- it is more likely that resulting foals, out of the better-rated matings, will prove themselves on the track and ultimately help to make the stallion a success. In the short term, the stud manager might lose the odd mare or two if a nick rating reveals the match to be a poor choice -- but the reverse is also true.  You can use TrueNicks ratings to help convince the owner of mares that rate well with your stallion to sign on the dotted line.

I had an interesting conversation with John Messara at Arrowfield Stud just a week or so ago about his Australian "super sire" Redoute's Choice and this exact management technique.

Redoute's Choice, the leading sire in that country, churns out high-end offspring at about 8% stakes winners to foals. Quite respectable in an era of 100+ books. He has, however, been nothing short of deadly when mated to mares from the Sir Ivor sire line (in particular, Sir Tristram and his sons). He has 10 stakes winners from just 72 named foals out of mares from that line (an amazing 14% stakes winners to foals).  Compare this to mares from the Biscay sire line (2 from 49, or 4%) and you can see why John now advises his clients considering Redoute's Choice this year to use mares by Zabeel (a son of Sir Tristram) and the like, and to avoid mares by Marscay (a son of Biscay). 

This is not a case of turning down opportunities for a larger book -- it is wise stud management that will ensure a strong crop, based on past performance. It has a double benefit. Not only do you concentrate your efforts to finding mares that are by sires that your stallion likes, but you eliminate mares by sire lines that underperform. It is this type of management that takes a sire from a good stallion into a very good one. (In the case of Redoute's Choice, it probably just helps him maintain his fee!). Using the service as it was intended will make your stallions stronger in a declining market, and will help you to offer honest value to your clients.

Feel free to add what you think in the comments section below.

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Purchasers have enough problems with the on going high-jinks that are commonplace at the sales ie; (sales companies catering to the large consignors and breeding farms in their catalog placement while moving smaller consignors to the back of the bus even though thier stock on many occasions is superior!).

A legitamate nicking system is a must in this day and age of excessive books it helps seperate reality from hype. Further more the breeders have shot themselves in the foot by breeding any mare whose owner will pony up the stud fee! Not unlike Wall St. greed has reigned supreme - now it's time to pay the piper. Your article is excellent as is "True Nicks" format.      

R. Lees 29 Oct 2008 8:54 PM

The philosophy of convincing as many breeders as possible to book to a particular stallion, regardless of the actual potential to produce useful offspring (ultimately causing a decline in the stud fee of the stallion), reminds me of the fallout from the present Wall Street debacle.  Toss out as many sub-prime loans as possible to those with poor or no credit history, under the guise of getting all those clamouring for houses to become "proud homeowners," usually destined to lose those homes for lack of ability to pay the mortgage.  It is self-serving at best to want short-term profit by convincing wholesale breeding to a particular stallion, regardless of whether there will be a good outcome.  All those repossessed properties.  All those devalued stallions.  All those disposable foals.

Janet 29 Oct 2008 9:24 PM

Without naming names, I bred two horses with A++ ratings...one broke her maiden (bottom claiming) at C.T., the other never broke his maiden. I was lucky to find both good homes as riding horses!

Danette Nanez 29 Oct 2008 10:03 PM

Glad to see this blog.

Contrary to ratings of True Nicks, I bred my Relaunch mare to Hard Spun for an '09 filly. I liked the cross; additionally, I liked what I had seen that came from the cross - Ad Valorem.

It seemed to me that the data used by True Nicks should have been more in line with “No Rating”, instead of the F that was published at the time. Anyway, Forever Together, an F, has settled any questions that doubters may have as to what type of turf champion can be produced from the Danzig - Relaunch cross.

Ever since last year I have determined that I will not use any of the Nicking programs in making my final decisions about a horse.  In my opinion, when contemplating a cross, if we want to evaluate the A-B-C-D's, we should focus on a lot more than just Ancestor's.

I wonder where Big-heartedness, Confirmation, and Disposition get figured in when the statisticians do the True Nicks.

It is not surprising to me that a few of the champions on day one of Breeder's Cup had less than an A Nick rating.

If my breeding decision is an A++, very well;  If it is not, very well, anyway, because it is based on the details and not some quick computation derived from data that can sway the masses or overlook major factors.

Kent D. Hersman

  • Byron's Reply: Kent, thanks for the comment. Ad Valorem and Forever Together are the only two stakes winners bred on the cross of sons of Danzig over Relaunch mares. Forever Together is however an "A" with TrueNicks as her sire Belong to Me has done particualrly well with In Reality line mares and the calculation for this mare is based on her sire, not her grandsire. I will say that your last comment is something that we have been talking about for some time on this blog. Paper doesn't run very fast and Nicks are just one aspect of the overall pedigree and physical considerations that need to me made when mating your mares. All the best with your Hard Spun foal.
Kent D. Hersman 29 Oct 2008 11:42 PM

Excellent article.  I still remain very skeptical of the entire approach of nicking, given the relatively small sample sizes of virtually all crosses, and the fact that you don't share enough of the data for us to do our own analysis of your approach and results.  That said, everything you said in this article is true, and it appears that you are at least attempting to take a reasonable approach to determining your ratings, and not entirely catering to your highest paying customers.

Alex 30 Oct 2008 7:07 AM

Genetic intereaction is the backbone of the complete race horse and has always been throughout the history of our sport. Your index gives us a chance to be part of that history if only one portion of the equation. I commend True Nicks in your effort in helping the prospective owner on the uphill course of producing quality,

Bill B 30 Oct 2008 8:47 AM

Excellent article. It's about time people recognize the importance of breeding or not breeding to a paticular sire just because he's the next big thing. Sometimes mares just shouldn't be bred. Following a plan that includes nicks that are accurate, conformation, and overall ability to add to the breed, should be the breeders main objective. I will use continue to use Truenicks as a part of my plan.

Scott M. 30 Oct 2008 8:54 AM

All nicking accuracy is often less accurate than one would like due to the fact that the nicks are removed one or more generations from the cross one is actually making -- therefore you may get a nick rating for Holy Bull crossed with Danzig when you are actually breeding Macho Uno with Pine Bluff.  You will find over time that the sons don't always breed like their sires.  I am often offered nicks based on crosses more removed even then that.  Sometimes you just have to try new things -- this does not make these breeding attempts "bad".

Debbie S. 30 Oct 2008 11:48 AM

As a post script to this story. On the Saturday following this story being posted, Dr Doute's a son of Redoute's Choice out of a mare by Dr Grace (a son of Sir Tristram) won the Carbine Club Stakes (gr. III), his first stakes win. He became the 11th stakes winner by Redoute's Choice out of a Sir Tristram line mare.

brogers 01 Nov 2008 6:46 AM

I have been fortunate to get a couple of great looking foals and well behaved foals recently.  One of them broke her maiden first out.  A Bernstein filly named Saxxy Rose Lee.  How does your system predict the success of a new stallion. I love the pedigree of Purim but is there any statistical method to predict how he will do as a stallion?

  • Alan's response Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;} Congratulations on the success of Saxxy Rose Lee. As a product of the very successful Storm Cat/Relaunch cross, she is rated A by TrueNicks.
    With regard to the question about Purim: as far as TrueNicks is concerned, until he has sufficient starters bred on a cross, the TrueNicks rating for Purim will be calculated on the basis of how well Dynaformer and his other stallion sons have done over mares by the broodmare sire (or from the broodmare sire line) relative to opportunity. Of course each stallion is an individual in his own right, so we can also consider other factors in Purim's pedigree that might be important, such as his inbreeding to Ribot (which would indicate introducing Princequillo) and the fact that his third dam is a half-sister to Dr. Fager (a strain that has done very well with Dynaformer).
dave york 01 Nov 2008 6:57 AM

Nicks are only a small part of selecting a mating. The racing ability of the stud is number one for me. Then comes the size. A 16.1 mare should goto a 16.1, 16.2 stud. Make sure they size up together properly. Then do the pedigree work, nicks included. I'll have over 100 hours of work into each mating by the time I sine the breeding agreement... Buyers look to the conformation of the offering more than pedigree.

todd f. 02 Nov 2008 1:16 AM

I think "True Nicks" is a wonderful tool. I think it increases your odds greatly but of course you have to consider all of the other factors such as conformation and etc. Would you please explain the variant numbers. One of my mares had an A++ rating with a 44.90 variant with a son of Carson City.

Cam H.

cam h. 12 Nov 2008 12:04 PM

Comparing TrueNicks to eNicks is like trying to compare a true horseman to a used car salesman.

J.D. Osgood 01 Dec 2008 1:40 PM

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