By Frances J. Karon
Last April, I wrote about the late Scat Daddy, who had just gotten his 116th stakes winner in Jo Jo Air, a then-3yo filly from his last crop. I noted that Jo Jo Air’s black-type win had boosted Scat Daddy into the elite sire territory of 10% stakes winners to foals, and I speculated that if he were to remain true to his percentage, there would be another six or seven stakes winners yet to come from his 2016 foals. So far, there have been six more, to give his final crop a total of 17 SWs. It’s not unreasonable to expect that he’ll get that one new one, and likely more, with his 4yos this year, as he got four new SWs in 2019 from his ’15 foals.
It’s all of those new SWs, taking him to 127, that bumped Scat Daddy up from 10% to an 11% sire of SWs to foals. Ten percent or better is not unheard of in our time, but it is, as I wrote above, an elite number.
But not too many generations ago, 10% SWs would have been called simply a very good percentage rate.
If you were to make a list of the greatest stallions born in the 20-year period of 1980 and 1999, A.P. Indy, Danehill, Sadler’s Wells, Storm Cat, and Sunday Silence would be included. (I am excluding Galileo, a foal of 1998, because he remains an active stallion.) Where does Scat Daddy, who as a foal of 2004 falls outside of that date range but is close enough to the end of his career to be analyzed fairly, fit in with them? Well, Danehill, the king of dual hemisphere breeding, sired 14% SWs to foals. A.P. Indy and Sadler’s Wells are each at 13%, followed by Storm Cat at 12% and Sunday Silence at 11%. The stallion with the highest percentage* may surprise: it’s Monsun, who was based in the small and regulated German industry and got 15% SWs.
*This is not presented as a comprehensive list. I looked up 200 stallions but can’t guarantee that I didn’t miss something significant.
Let’s compare these percentages with those from another 20-year range: stallions born between 1960 and 1979. In this group are Northern Dancer (23% SWs to foals); Hoist the Flag (20%); Blushing Groom, Danzig, Minnesota Mac, and Nijinsky II (18%); Nureyev and Roberto (17%); Bold Reasoning, who sired only two crops, and Mill Reef and his sire Never Bend (16%); and In Reality, Mr. Prospector, and Vice Regent (15%).
The previous timeframe, 1940-1959, gave us Bold Ruler (22%); Round Table (21%); Birkhan and Nasrullah (20%); Ribot (15%); Native Dancer, Nearctic, and Royal Charger (14%); and Hail to Reason, Princequillo, and Sir Gaylord (13%).
Omitting American Pharoah’s sire Pioneerof the Nile, who will have his final foals in 2020 — note that other than Scat Daddy, I am not including any stallions who still have progeny on the racecourse — sires of the most recent U.S. Triple Crown winners are Bold Ruler (Secretariat in 1973; 22%), Bold Reasoning (Seattle Slew in 1977; 16%), Exclusive Native (Affirmed in 1978; 13%), and Scat Daddy (Justify in 2018; 11%). The 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation’s sire Bull Lea was a 15% sire.
So then what we’re not seeing anymore are the percentages in the high teens or 20+ that we did in the golden age of 1960-’79 stallions and before. Has the quality at the top level of Thoroughbred stallions decreased so drastically? That’s certainly not a valid conclusion. But many things have changed which, altogether, lower a stallion’s ability to achieve the same numbers that his ancestors did: bigger books; fluctuations in foal crop sizes; a shift from breeding to race to commercial breeding; a move away from the convenience of ‘farm nicking,’ such as that at Claiborne of Bold Ruler and sons with Princequillo-line mares (producing Secretariat and Seattle Slew); a change in the classification of what qualifies as a black-type race; the registration of poor foals that might have been euthanized once upon a time; shuttling; and more. Shuttling in particular has affected stallions in different ways. Danehill and Scat Daddy, for example, flourished in two hemispheres, whereas Unbridled’s Song (7%) had subpar results in three seasons in Australia.
Whatever the reason, the percentage rate that defined an elite sire back when Blandford (24%), Hyperion and Pharos (19%), Nearco (18%), and Mahmoud (17%) were around to the days of Northern Dancer and his sons is not the same as it is for stallions born in the 1980s and beyond, but that doesn’t by any means cheapen the accomplishments of modern-day phenoms like Scat Daddy who have achieved double-digit percentages. In fact, with so few stallions attaining such numbers, it seems like an even greater accomplishment now than it was 50-100 years ago.