Horse running through field

eNicks Launches the A+++!

By Roger Lyons

From the very beginning, when the Werk rating was used strictly as an aid to recommending matings for clients, we were aware that nick ratings for certain crosses were more reliable than nick ratings for other crosses. That’s why the WTC staff, as a matter of routine practice, would take into account the quality of stakes winners bred from a cross. Generally, stallions from the sire lines that had yielded the runners of highest quality, along with other factors, would be recommended over others for a given mare.

The Triple Plus nick rating is the result of an effort to incorporate that assessment into the long-standing Werk rating method. It is NOT an additional interval on the variant scale, but rather a product of altogether different evaluative criteria. First of all, only crosses that otherwise qualify for A, A+, or A++ ratings can qualify for the Triple Plus rating. It happens that around 25 percent of Triple Plus ratings are represented by formerly A-rated crosses, the rest represented by crosses that would otherwise qualify for A+ or A++. So, the Triple Plus crosses are the most elite of the elite crosses.

The criteria used for identifying Triple Plus crosses follow from the well-founded argument that, when the runners a sire-line cross has yielded are of exceptionally high class, then the cross is 1) more likely to replicate relatively high performance and, of utmost importance, 2) more likely to transfer down the sire lines involved. The Triple Plus is more than a nick rating in the sense that it’s comprised of functions relating to 1) quantity of SWs from a cross, 2) concentrations of G1 and G2 winners among those SWs, 3) continuity of stakes production along the sire and broodmare sire lines, and 4) special consideration of the relations of sire and broodmare sire to their respective sire lines.

Here is an example of the sort of pattern we are trying to capture with the Triple Plus rating. The 2008 OBS August sale contained several yearlings by Snow Ridge, by Tabasco Cat and standing for $5,000 at Regal Heir Farm in Pennsylvania, among which was hip 617, a yearling out of Anna’s Girl, by Distorted Humor. This yearling, although its variant warrants an A++ nick based on the Tabasco Cat-Forty Niner cross, gets its Triple Plus rating from the continuity of stakes production between the Storm Cat and Forty Niner sire lines, a cross that has yielded 15 qualifying stakes winners by a variety of Storm Cat descendents and out of mares by a variety of Forty Niner descendents. Among those 15 SWs are four G1 winners, one of them by Tabasco Cat, and two G2 winners. Tabasco Cat line has had a total of three SWs out of Forty Niner-line mares, including one by Snow Ridge himself.

We learned from the development process that an elite nick rating is subject to the hazard of favoring elite breeding stock. Common sense says that, if two sire lines truly nick, then the cross of those two sire lines, although initially expressed by elite sires and their daughters, will inevitably have regional expressions by descendents of that elite breeding stock. That understanding has to be built into the system.

Anyone who thinks that the essence of common sense is its simplicity has never tried to teach it to a computerized information system. The structured logic that captures the Snow Ridge-Distorted Humor cross as well as others of very different, but equally compelling pattern, is a garden of forking paths. We knew we had come out the other side ourselves when all of the variety of elite crosses, including regional expressions–and only those crosses–could find their way through it.

I’m tempted to lay out the whole system in its elegant detail, but nobody would read it except WTC’s main competitor, so, on the whole, the incentives are largely against disclosing our secrets. I don’t believe a nick rating based on restricted stakes winners, as the Blood-Horse Publications system is, can get to the garden gate from where it is, but they’ve shown they can copy. Besides, it’s the result that matters, and in that regard the Triple Plus is completely unprecedented.

The 2005 Keeneland September sale catalogue–the entire catalogue, not just the first couple of books–contains 281 yearlings with current Triple Plus ratings. Now five-year-olds, that select group consists of at least 80.8% starters, at least 61.2% winners, at least 19.6% stakes horses, 13.2% stakes winners, 10.3% graded/group stakes horses, 8.9% graded/group stakes winners, 6.4% G1-2 stakes winners, and 3.6% G1 stakes winners.

Among the runners captured by the Triple Plus rating in that sale are G1 winners Any Given Saturday, Curlin, Daaher, Great Hunter, Intangaroo, Mrs. Lindsay, Rags to Riches, Red Giant, Scat Daddy, and Street Boss.

That small group of 281 Triple Plus-rated yearlings–only 5.5% of the catalogue–included 37% of the G1 winners that came out of the sale. In fact, over 20% of the winners of G1 and G2 races run since 2004 worldwide are bred from Triple Plus crosses.

With stats like that, the Triple Plus is truly the Northern Dancer of nick ratings. An A is still an A, of course. As always, one should not strain to breed a mare to a stallion that yields a Triple Plus cross just to have one. A certain region and stud fee range may not offer a stallion that both suits the mare as an individual and yields a Triple Plus. While Triple Pluses are fairly easy to find for certain broodmare sire lines, others may not have Triple Plus crosses at all. After all, actual crosses representing the Triple Plus rating are quite rare. Roughly, 4-5% of the racing population is bred that way, and that’s a fairly select population, relative to “the general population” of foals. But, if you can identify a stallion that suits the mare in all other respects and is a Triple Plus cross, then you will have the most reliable assurance you can get anywhere that the cross is supported by a genuine affinity between the two sire lines.

As a long-time consultant to WTC, I don’t expect to be perceived as the most credible authority on the value of its nick rating system. For what it’s worth, though, I’m not kidding when I say it’s by far the better of the two major nick rating systems, as I’ve argued previously in this blog. Even so, the Triple Plus establishes an entirely new standard of effectiveness.

It has evolved in dialogue with Jack Werk, who hatched the idea, and WTC senior pedigree analyst Elaine Belval, who understands thoroughbred sire-line dynamics, as they relate to nick ratings, better than anybody I know. It’s the same team that formalized the WTC’s nick rating system back in 1993, and this new development shows that it’s still the A-team–with a Triple Plus.