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Reader Q&A: Can TrueNicks Be Used in Thoroughbred Handicapping?

Question from Tony: I realize that TrueNicks is primarily a tool for breeders but does your group envision developing any tools for handicappers as way to measure the potential of lightly raced horses? 

Byron's reply:  Tony, thanks for the email. The short answer is "yes," the long answer is that it is going to take time to develop and certainly be rigorously tested before any release.

Anecdotally, Alan and I have seen a number of occasions where horses that are highly rated by TrueNicks end up winning first time out, and ultimately develop into stakes horses. A while ago we posted about a horse named Sebring after he had broken his maiden in Australia at first time asking. He was an A+ TrueNicks rated horse prior to his maiden victory and went on to win the Golden Slipper Stakes (Aus-I) and be named champion 2-year-old colt in Australia. More recently we made comment about Candy Ride's son Capt. Candyman Can after his debut at Saratoga. He was an A++ rated horse prior to his first stakes win also.

We see this a lot with first-season sires in particular where their best horse ends up being highly rated by TrueNicks. One project we are going to run shortly is to rate complete 2-year-old crops of a couple of select stallions and track their performances over their 2- and 3-year-old seasons, looking at their TrueNicks rating before they raced, their rating at the end of their 2-year-old campaign, and their rating at the end of their 3-year-old year. This project will sort of have a dual purpose: prove that highly rated horses end up as stakes winners more often than their lower-rated counterparts, and also show how ratings change over time, but probably not as much as you would think. At the moment I am thinking of using Giant's Causeway, Roman Ruler, Johannesburg, and Maria's Mon. They have about 600 live foals between them that are rising 2-year-olds now so I would think that they should prove an interesting study.  

This, I believe, is slightly different to your intention though. From what I read you want to know if horses rated highly by TrueNicks win races first time out when compared to other horses in the field that they are racing against and then go on to stakes success. This is an angle that we hope to investigate over the summer of 2009.  What we have planned to do is run TrueNicks ratings on Maiden Special Weight races in North America prior to their running and track the performance of the horses within the race themselves, and their subsequent performance on the racetrack over the year. If we feel that a product can be developed to assist handicappers, and an easy explanation on how to use the data for a handicapping edge, then we would look to develop this in the final quarter of 2009. Obviously, given our partners in TrueNicks (Blood Horse Publications) and our data providers (The Jockey Club Information Systems) any product that we do develop has to be thoroughly tested (TrueNicks itself was developed off 100,000 horses) so whatever comes out you know it is going to withstand scrutiny!

Thanks again for the email. If you have anything else that you want to suggest we would be glad to hear from you.

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We all wish breeding and  handicapping was as easy as picking the A++, racing just doesn't work like that.

  • Byron's Reply: I wish it was that easy also! Just as TrueNicks is an aid (not the answer) to breeding a superior racehorse, any handicapping product that we are able to develop would also be an aid. It would require interpretation and judgement to use.
Kent D. Hersman 07 Dec 2008 2:38 AM

I have just paged through the new stallion register...It is really emabarrassing for true nicks that they don't include ratings for horses like Barbaro (a "C" true Nick rating) on the stallion page....Is it better for business to include only good "Nick" ratings...even though it seems that good nick ratings...mostly occur when a small number of horses are bred on a cross ...and that cross happens to produce a stakes winner...Large numbers in a cross tend to dilute your ratings....so it apppears that True Nicks is a "smoke and mirrors" nicking system based on dubious and statistically non-significant data...really now...

chris 07 Dec 2008 7:38 AM

I've used it several times, especially with first outs.

And its worked well for me

LarryK 07 Dec 2008 6:12 PM

HI Alan,

A son of Arazi named Zwick. His Dam is Madeleine's Dream/Theatrical Cross on Northern Dancer/Habitat is a good nick. Dear is a Stakes Winners G1Winners on The Cross Also.

trevor 08 Dec 2008 5:35 AM

Thank you for your comments Chris.

TrueNicks is based on sound mathematical principals. As we say elsewhere on the site, it compares the percentage of stakes winners sire by the sire (or sire line) out of mares by the broodmare sire (or broodmare sire line), to the percentage of stakes winners sired by the sire (or sire line) out of all other mares, and the percentage of stakes winners out of mares that have visited the subject sire (or sire line) when bred to all other stallions.

This enables it to work over wide ranges of commercial quality.

With regard to Barbaro, the fact that the system does not rate a good horse highly does not indicate a flaw. As we say in our explanation there will always be a percentage of stakes winners that will be rated C or D, but it will always be a lower percentage than those rated A or B.

Dynaformer has outperformed opportunity with mares by Mr. Prospector himself. With mares by Mr. Prospector AND his sons, the strike rate has been less good, even though some good horses have appeared (notably Barbaro and Riskaverse). We have actually written about this before, but what it suggests is that, while Dynaformer/Mr. Prospector is a good pedigree combination, Dynaformer's somewhat unusual bio-mechanics require a particular type of mare to fit him. Study of the best horses bred on the cross (on the TrueNicks page) might be rewarding in this light. By the way, Dynaformers % of stakes winners/starters out of mares by sons of Mr. Prospector is significantly LOWER that with all other mares. So it is quite correct not to reflect this as an outstanding cross.

As regards a cross being good because of one stakes winners, this is not possible as it takes at least two stakes winners out of different mares (unlike some other nicking programs) to get a rating.

It is quite possible for a cross that has been extensively tried to get a good rating. For example, I tried A.P. Indy over a mare by Sahm (by Mr. Prospector) to get an A.P. Indy/Mr. Prospector cross, and this gets an A+, even though there are over 150 starters by A.P. Indy out of mares by Mr. Prospector and his sons (and that doesn't even include grandsons). Bear in mind too that in this case, the cross is having to improve on what has otherwise been produced by some very good mares.

Alan Porter 10 Dec 2008 10:18 PM

Any rating system in the horse racing game is only going to work 20% to 50% of the time if the sample is large enough....And we all know that FREAKS can come out of nowhere.  The breeder (or handicapper) has to pick his spots when there is VALUE, or use his/her data to go against conventional wisdom when the odds are right, or if you have a hunch.

Tony Kelso 17 Dec 2008 1:06 AM

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