Juvenile Speculation - by Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the March 9, 2013 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter

By Evan Hammonds Thoroughbred racing fans had a busy weekend with lots of options from which to choose: the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct heading a host of graded stakes on the undercard; the always popular, always tough Big ’Cap day card at Santa Anita Park; and handicapping to be done on the 3-year-old division with the second leg of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool closing March 3.

But others in the industry have already moved to another challenge. One of the better parlor games this time of year is handicapping the pending juvenile sales season and the 2-year-old set, gambling on which freshman sire will be the next big thing.

There is considerable speculation…with a lot at stake.

The conventional wisdom suggests the bigger a first-year stallion’s crop size, the better chance he will have. That’s true to a point, but quality and placement of youngsters are big factors. Stallion operators want to get sizable numbers of 2-year-olds scattered across the country to see where they fit best and have the greatest chance to get their initial win and, hopefully, more.

Last year six North American-based first-crop sires had 100 or more named 2-year-olds and, sure enough, all six finished in the top 10 on the freshman sire list by progeny earnings. The leader was Henrythenavigator, with more than $1.2 million in earnings from 45 runners from his 112-foal crop. The second- and third-place finishers, Spring At Last and Into Mischief, respectively, had far fewer juveniles. Spring At Last, who makes his home at WinStar Farm near Versailles, Ky., had 71 named 2-year-olds and was about $50,000 shy of the leader in progeny earnings. Into Mischief, with Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) winner Goldencents on his ledger, was about $60,000 off the pace with a scant 42 named juveniles.

A stallion’s performances at 2 may be indicative of his success at stud, but it’s not a prerequisite to juvenile sire greatness. Henrythenavigator, out of the highweighted 2-year-old filly in Ireland, was a group II winner in England during his first season on the track. Into Mischief, by four-time 2-year-old stakes winner Harlan’s Holiday, won the CashCall Futurity (gr. I) to polish off his initial campaign.
Spring At Last, on the other hand, was unraced at 2. Recent freshman sire leaders Congrats (2010), Offlee Wild (’09), and Tiznow (’05) had little or no juvenile form to speak of.

The February issue of The Blood-Horse MarketWatch offers plenty of insight into this year’s crop of up-and-comers. Fourteen freshman sires of 2013 have at least 50 named 2-year-olds, so we can figure those would have the best chances to break cleanly from the gate. The leaders by sheer numbers are Ashford Stud’s Dunkirk (by Unbridled’s Song) with  136 juveniles, followed by a duo of WinStar Farm stallions: Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker) with 100, Colonel John (Tiznow) with 86. Pin Oak Stud stallion Cowboy Cal (Giant’s Causeway) has 99 named 2-year-olds.

MarketWatch slices and dices reams of data about the crop in many different ways, including measuring the quality of the dam bred to the stallion by Comparable Index (average earnings of progeny produced from the mares) and Class Performance Index (compares a mare’s average earnings per start with the average earnings of other female runners of her age running in the same country during the same years). Based on those criteria (and 2011 racing data), commercial sires Fort Prado (El Prado), Cowboy Cal, Old Fashioned (Unbridled’s Song), and Zensational (Unbridled’s Song) rank high.

The Florida-based In Summation (Put It Back) and Yesbyjimminy (Yes It’s True) have high scores when considering the first-crop sire’s dam’s ability to sire 2-year-old winners. Old Fashioned and Zensational have among the highest percentages of dams who were 2-year-old winners themselves.

Based on looks as judged by end-users and pinhookers, foals by Colonel John made him the leading first-crop sire of sale yearlings based on average and median.

Now, let’s go to the races.

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