Nick of Time - by Dan Liebman

A few days after selling a yearling for the world-record price of $13.1 million in 1985, Warner Jones had no problem describing his breeding philosophy.

“I look at what worked in the past and try to repeat it,” Jones said.

Jones knew a lot about breeding horses, and a lot about selling yearlings.

So that’s it? “Yeah, that’s it,” a smiling Jones said.

If something worked, repeat it; as simple as that.

Of course, there is more to it than that, and Jones knew it—things like soil, water, horsemanship, conformation, luck, and marketing.

In essence, the late owner of Hermitage Farm was describing an important factor in breeding: nicking, the process of assessing the affinity for breeding certain sire lines to certain broodmare sire lines.

There have been many successful nicks over the years, the most recent being Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer. The obvious success of the Mr. Prospector/Northern Dancer nick is responsible for so many of today’s breeding animals being from those two dominant sire and broodmare sire lines.

Nicking services have been available to Thoroughbred breeders for years, but, unfortunately, they did not take the entire pool of foals into consideration. Until, that is, Blood-Horse Publications, in conjunction with Pedigree Consultants owners Alan Porter and Byron Rogers, brought TrueNicks to the market.

(Full disclosure: As a partner in TrueNicks, Blood-Horse Publications benefits financially from the company’s success.)

Other nicking services do not look at all foals bred on a cross, only the successful ones. So, which is of more use to a breeder: to know only how many stakes winners have been produced from a cross; or to know how many total foals have been produced from the cross, and from those foals, how many have gone on to win a stakes race?

Obviously, it is the latter.

Think of it this way. If a stallion has 100 foals, 20 starters, and five stakes winners, what is his percentage of stakes winners? Is it 25% (five stakes winners from 20 starters) or is it 5% (five stakes winners from 100 foals)? Of course, it is 5%. So, why would you look at all foals in this instance, but in terms of nicking look at only the successful foals? You wouldn’t, and TrueNicks doesn’t.

TrueNicks uses The Jockey Club Information Service’s entire database to examine every cross of a sire and broodmare sire, and then an algorithm formulates a Sire Improvement Index and Broodmare Sire Improvement Index, multiplying the two to express both the opportunity and expectation from each cross. A score of 6.0, for example, means the nick performs six times better than the average opportunity, which translates to an A+ True-Nicks rating (go to for a complete explanation).

In 1948, The Blood-Horse editor Joe Estes, always seeking statistics to aid Thoroughbred owners and breeders, developed the Average-Earnings Index and subsequent Comparable Index as ways of measuring the success of stallions. The ratings have been included in The Blood-Horse sire lists and on Stallion Register pages ever since.

Last year, all A, A+ and A++ nicks were included in The Blood-Horse Stallion Register (while 13% of the entire Thoroughbred population earn A, A+, or A++ rankings, 37% of the stakes winners are rated thusly). Now, TrueNicks ratings, regardless of letter designation, will be included for the first three finishers in stakes worth $100,000 or more that receive write-ups each week in The Blood-Horse. And, beginning with the yearling sales this summer, TrueNicks ratings will be added to Auction Edge, making that product even more of an aid to those shopping at Thoroughbred sales.

A mission of The Blood-Horse has always been to inform and educate the industry, and useful statistical information fits that mission perfectly. That nearly every major breeding farm in Central Kentucky, and many others in regional markets and internationally as well, have signed their stallions up for TrueNicks shows the company is continuing to fulfill the mission set forth nearly 100 years ago.

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