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Super Nicks, Super Ratings?

From time to time on this blog, we've looked at what we might call "super nicks," or crosses calculated on immediate ancestors (like, say, the sire and broodmare sire) that are particularly notable for the numbers and class of stakes winners they are providing. In the current era, none would surpass a cross we've considered in detail before, that of Galileo with Danehill mares (TrueNicks A+). The scoreboard for this particular nick shows both remarkable frequency and class, with 21 stakes winners from 120 starters (18%) and, at the highest level, eight group or grade I winners (6.7%).

Surprisingly, however, of recent crosses with 40 or more starters, we can find a couple of super nicks with even higher strike rates. One that's in the news through current champion 2-year-old male and Kentucky Derby (gr. I) hopeful Shared Belief is that of Candy Ride (TrueNicks) with mares by Storm Cat and his sons and grandsons. The nick provided Candy Ride's first-crop grade I winners Evita Argentina and Capt. Candyman Can, and with Sidney's Candy (TrueNicks) having come along in his second crop, the score now stands at four grade I winners from 50 starters for a pretty remarkable 8.0%.

The Awesome Again (TrueNicks) cross with mares by Relaunch and sons and grandsons (TrueNicks A) is only slightly behind, with three grade I winners from 40 starters (7.5%). This is a particularly "top-heavy" nick, as the grade I-winning trio—and what a trio, with Horse of the Year Ghostzapper (TrueNicks) joined by Preakness Stakes (gr. I) victor Oxbow (TrueNicks) and Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) hero Paynter (TrueNicks)—comprises three of the four stakes winners bred on the cross. Incidentally, these successes also point out the wisdom of combining the TrueNicks rating with some careful whole pedigree research (which can be facilitated through the Key Ancestors Report), as Ghostzapper, Oxbow, and Paynter (the latter two are out of full siblings) also have other important similarities on the distaff side of their pedigrees. This underlines that sometimes, while the nick is very important, what is combined with it can also be a decisive factor.

Ghostzapper, Oxbow, and Paynter will all be at stud in the U.S. in 2014, and another prolific stallion-producing cross has been that of A.P. Indy with mares by Mr. Prospector (TrueNicks A), which boasts five grade I winners from 103 starters (4.9%), including the great stallion's only Horse of the Year, Mineshaft (TrueNicks). With regard to sires, the nick has also provided Pulpit, Malibu Moon (TrueNicks), Congrats (TrueNicks), and Flatter (TrueNicks), as well as Girolamo (TrueNicks), whose first crop are yearlings of 2014. Another super nick involving the A.P. Indy line is that of his grandson Tapit (TrueNicks) with mares by Storm Cat and grandsons (TrueNicks B+), with three grade I winners from 62 starters (4.8%), including champion 2-year-old Hansen.

Also a super nick and also with a champion 2-year-old to its credit is that of More Than Ready (TrueNicks) with mares by Danehill and sons, with Australian juvenile champion (and promising young sire) Sebring (TrueNicks) among its five group I winners from 243 starters (2.1%). As the "default option" for Danehill line mares, this nick has proved remarkably resilient with an overall total of 22 stakes winners (9.1%) and a TrueNicks rating of A.

So, do these super nicks always get super ratings? The answer is, no, not always. The cross of Giant's Causeway (TrueNicks) with mares by Seeking the Gold has a D rating by TrueNicks despite producing grade I winners Swift Temper, Carriage Trail, and Internallyflawless. Is this a failure of the system, or can a bad cross really produce three grade I winners? The first thing to recall is that the TrueNicks rating is based on percentage of stakes winners to starters on the cross, relative to the percentage of stakes winners to starters sired by Giant's Causeway out of all other mares, and the percentage of stakes winners to starters produced by the Seeking the Gold mares with runners by Giant's Causeway when they were bred to all other sires. As far as stakes production is concerned, Giant's Causeway and the Seeking the Gold mares set the bar pretty high, and although there are 6.9% stakes winners on the cross, this is inferior to the 9.5% stakes winners to starters sired by Giant's Causeway out of all other mares, and approximately equal to the figure achieved by the Seeking the Gold mares in the group when bred to all other sires.

There are a few deductions we can make here. Firstly, because of the quality of the individuals involved, the raw figure of 6.9% stakes winners to starters for the cross is far from an embarrassment, however, it is also only doing about 75% as well as it should relative to opportunity, an inefficient use of raw material. We can also note that, rather like the little girl with the curl, when the cross is good it's "very good indeed" and when it's not... In fact, not untypically for crosses involving high quality material but relatively low affinity, when it does work it can work very well, but it really doesn't work that often. Here that is evidenced by the fact that while there are three grade I winners on the cross, there are only five total stakes winners and eight total stakes horses, so when the cross misses, it tends to miss by a mile (at times we do also see the reverse, a relatively high-proportion of stakes winners, but a shortage of quality, perhaps indicating a consistent, but modest, positive affinity).

All of the above can be deduced from a look at the TrueNicks Enhanced Report for a mating between Giant's Causeway and a Seeking the Gold mare (view report), and the report reveals something else of interest—a marked sex bias. Giant's Causeway is by no means just a "filly sire," but when we look at the cross with Seeking the Gold mares, we see that four of the five stakes winners on the cross are females, including all three grade I winners. For distaffers, the cross has produced four stakes winners and three grade I winners from 33 starters. Thus, while the colts bred this way are disappointing, the fillies appear well worthy of attention.

The TrueNicks rating is and remains an important guide to sire line affinities, but as the foregoing shows, not all super nicks in terms of grade I production are high-percentage plays (or have high TrueNicks ratings), and not all high-percentage stakes-producing nicks are good sources of grade I runners. This is yet another reason why we continue to stress that the key to success with regard to the pedigree aspects of breeding and buying is to combine the best available data with intelligent interpretation.

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