Ratings Generated in 2014
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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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Hi Alan,

If one runs a TrueNicks enhanced report for Candy Ride with any given Storm Cat mare it does yield an A++, but this rating is based only on Candy Ride with mares sired by Storm Cat- the data containing mares by Storm Cat sons (grandsons, etc.) with Candy Ride is not factored in this rating. In the case of Candy Ride it appears that this additional data would factor positively for this cross, while in other instances it could factor negatively. I didn't run it, but if one ran a report for Candy Ride with a mare sired by a son of Storm Cat would this additional data be included in the report, and factored into the rating?

sceptre 15 Feb 2014 8:26 PM

Seems like, the Super Nicks are like home run hitters in baseball, who sometimes strike out a lot and their average is so-so, but are sometimes awesome. Others, though maybe don't hit quite as many, but have strong averages, hit a lot of extra base hits etc.

It would be interesting to scatter chart profiles of stallions/nicks in terms of racing class/earnings where these profiles might translate into recognizable patterns.


Joltman 16 Feb 2014 3:12 PM


A couple of interesting comments.

With regard to the Candy Ride/Storm Cat cross: when we created the TrueNicks algorithms, we made a decision to base the rating on the closest representation we could come to the actual cross, so we would minimize "interference" from positive or negative affinities that might exist via more distant representatives.

So for Candy Ride with a Storm Cat mare, only starters on that direct cross are considered. For Candy Ride with a mare by, say Giant's Causeway, Tale of the Cat or Stormy Atlantic, the rating is based on Candy Ride with mares by Storm Cat and his sons and grandsons. If we look at the TrueNicks enhanced report for Candy Ride with a mare by a son of Storm Cat, we see that he has graded winners out of mares by Storm Creek and Sea of Secrets (both out of Mr. Prospector mares) and two out of mares by Forest Wildcat (whose dam is by Bold Native, a close relative to Mr. Prospector), so we might use our old fried "intelligent interpretation" to infer that Storm Cat in combination with Raise a Native could be a positive for Candy Ride.

As Joltzman says with the "supernicks" you can get crosses with a high-frequency stakes production at a modest level, or swing and miss crosses with low success rates, but high-quality for the ones that are good, and virtually any combination in between.

We do see similar patterns with stallions in isolation too For example, Cox's Ridge sired 6% stakes winners to foals (not spectacular for a high-class sire in that era), but better than 25% of his stakes winners were grade one winners (he actually had 12 grade one winners, but only 9 at grade two or three level combined).

A more consistent sire, like Dixieland Band, had 8.3% stakes winners to foal, but only 8% of them were at grade one level (he had 9 grade one winners, but 36 grade two and grade three winners, a totally different "shape" to his record). So Cox's Ridge was your home run slugger, swinging and often missing, where Dixieland Band picked up more singles and doubles.

A study similar to the one you suggested would probably pick up some interesting trends, both regard to individual sires and broodmare sires, and with crosses.

Alan Porter 17 Feb 2014 3:07 PM

hey guys - I'm wondering if you can run some customized reports for broodmare sire nicks.  What I'm thinking about something that would simply list the greatest nicks (by score' perhaps grouped by stud fee of the broodmare sire. Such a list could be helpful identifying mares that may be lesser known (or sires active say in the SH), affordable, but also with great potential upside if bred to the right stallion.  Such mares would be interesting to see how the profile of all the sire lines performed - as to whether it was a very narrow success range for one or two sire lines, or perhaps the opposite.

Joltman 17 Feb 2014 8:43 PM

Thanks, Alan. I had noticed the same thing re-the Mr. P. connection with Candy Ride and mares by sons of Storm Cat. This Candy Ride/Storm Cat presumed affinity, that of the above, Candy Ride's affinity for Seattle Slew, etc. all lead me to suspect that what Candy Ride really wants-above all else- is a "well-bred" mate. I say this after reviewing all his runners, noting the above affinities, and concluding that Candy Ride, himself, is not (at least, superficially) a well-bred horse. Also, while Candy Ride did receive, in numbers, relatively large books in his initial seasons, their quality was somewhat suspect. This, too, factored into my take that Candy Ride wants, most of all, a well bred mate. If I'm correct, the future should surely bode well for Candy Ride, now that he's established himself as a near-elite stallion-he will now receive a higher proportion of well-bred mares-and I suspect his Nicking patterns will change.  

sceptre 18 Feb 2014 6:13 PM

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