Horse running through field

Quantity and Quality

My last post emphasized the importance of the class of runners representing a given breeding method, as opposed to a high strike rate from opportunity. A conflict between the two arises, for example, in the case of foals that are by Malibu Moon and inbred to Mr. Prospector, which has yielded some few runners of very high class representing a very low strike rate from opportunity. My purpose in bringing up that case was to suggest that class trumps strike rate, but what I didn’t say in that post and must add here, is that such cases, while not particularly rare, certainly are not the norm. Generally, high class and a high strike rate go hand in hand.

Insofar as Zenyatta’s celebrity has transcended her beeding, it’s something of a sacrilege to cite her as a case in point of pedigree, but I’m going to do it anyway because her pedigree context is instructive and, in fact, not entirely unique.

Her sire, Street Cry, has sired foals (through his 2007 crop) out of seven mares with both Hail to Reason and Hoist the Flag in their ancestries, to which in both instances Zenyatta is inbred 5×4. Among those seven foals are Zenyatta herself, Tomcito (Street Cry-Inside or Outside, by Eastern Echo), winner of the Classico Ricardo Ortiz de Zevallos (PER-G1) and the Classico Derby Nacional (PER-G1), and dual-listed SW Alice Belle (Street Cry-Camporese, by Sadler’s Wells). That’s a strike rate of 3/7, including two multiple-G1 winners.

Hail to Reason happens to be one of Street Cry’s favorite ancestors, assured only in part by his strike rate of 5/17 with Seattle Slew. His overall strike rate with Hail to Reason is 16/90, but the gross numbers, as good as they are, actually understate the effect of Hail to Reason. Among those 16 superior runners are five G1 winners, a G2 winner, and four G3 winners–a total of 10 graded/group SWs. Also included in my unofficial tally of probable superior runners is Temple Street (Street Cry-Northside Star by Pulpit), which ran second in the 2009 Humana Distaff H. (G1).

Street Cry’s record with Hoist the Flag stands at 3/18. That’s not a great strike rate, but it’s a good one as far as it has gone, and it’s buoyed by two G1 winners–Zenyatta and Tomcito.

There can be no doubt that Street Cry has a very special relation to Hail to Reason and probably, to a lesser degree, Hoist the Flag. Consider, though, how dubious those strike rates would seem if the class of the runners involved were below overall expectations of Street Cry, rather than above them.

The Class Distribution

by Roger Lyons

Of the well over 15,000 winners of unrestricted North American stakes and blacktype-qualifying foreign stakes from 2001 through 2009, about 45% won a graded/group stakes during their careers. G1 stakes were won by about 13% of those stakes winners, and about 26% were G1 or G2 winners. Those three numbers–13%, 26%, and 45%–should be kept in mind when assessing breeding methods. That’s why the online eCompuSire facility, which is available by subscription at (after you sign in to eNicks), allows users to select lists of G1 winners, G1-2 winners, G1-3 winners, or all stakes winners when researching breeding methods. I don’t mind promoting mentioning that program because I designed it and benefit from subscriptions, just so you know.

Any stallion whose record of graded/group stakes production corresponds with those percentages is going to be very busy come breeding season. Stallions whose stakes production exceeds those numbers will bring in a lot more revenue for the effort while stallions that fall short will bring in less.

That’s obvious, but, just as these percentages indirectly determine the value of a stallion, they can and should be used directly in the assessment of breeding methods. I’ll go so far as to say that knowing how much opportunity a given breeding method has had pales by comparison with the importance of knowing the proportion of graded/group production among total stakes winners resulting from that method.

For example, the stallion Malibu Moon has had three-year-olds and older from 149 mares with Mr. Prospector in their ancestries, and only six of those mares produced SWs for him. It happens, though, that those SWs include three G1 winners–Declan’s Moon, Malibu Prayer, and Devil May Care–along with G3 winner Odysseus. That’s 50% G1 winners, 50% G1-2 winners, and 75% G1-3 winners. Class trumps opportunity every time.

Contrary to prevailing impressions, most methods of relatively close inbreeding yield graded/group distributions that fall well below the population norms of class. According to eCompuSire, 42 stakes winners to date have been inbred to Seattle Slew, including two G1 winners (Hollywood Starlet S. winner Turbulent Descent, by Congrats, the most recent), six G1-2 winners, and 12 G1-3 winners. That’s 4.8%, 14.0%, 28.6%–far below the 13%, 26%, 45% distribution in the stakes population as a whole. Does that mean inbreeding to Seattle Slew is a bad thing?

There are no absolutes. If you sort the list by “Pedigree” and look at individual sires, you’ll see that Tiznow accounts for four SWs inbred to Seattle Slew, two of them out of the same mare, including a G1 winner and two G2 winners. Hence, Tiznow’s class distribution is 25%, 75%, 75%. That’s very competitive with the 21%, 55%, 66% proportions for his overall stakes record, and Tiznow’s overall class distribution happens to be very close to that of Unbridled (29%, 46%, 61%), remembered as the consummate big-horse sire. That Tiznow can make a method of inbreeding look good doesn’t mean any stallion can.

Frankly, almost any breeding method you can think of will appear not very effective when assessed with indifference to the variety of pedigree contexts in which it has been applied; but, for almost all plausible breeding methods, conditions of possible effectiveness can be found. The norms of class I have described here provide a measure you can use, along with eCompuSire, to discover those conditions.