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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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