Bill OppenheimBill OppenheimAttending a recent symposium in Ireland, Bill Oppenheim of the Thoroughbred Daily News was the last to speak and perhaps for the more bloodstock-minded members of the audience, his speech was the most keenly anticipated.

Beginning by explaining that we must understand what we are looking at when we are viewing a pedigree and that realistic analysis pays off. Oppenheim warned listeners that catalogue pages and breeding statistics must be seen as they are – not as we want them to be.

Oppenheim strongly believes that there is a correlation between racing and production ability and that a stallion going to stud should ideally have achieved a Timeform rating of 126 or more – which equates approximately to a Beyer speed rating of 114 or more – in order to have a realistic chance of becoming a top stallion. A Timeform rating of 130 is just about a Beyer figure of 118. Distorted Humor, one of the best stallions currently standing in the US, didn’t win a Grade 1 but achieved a Beyer figure of 116.

“Class trumps everything,” said Oppenheim. “However, catalogue black-type can be read in different ways and what you see is not always what you get.”

The breeding or bloodstock investor must look closely to see where a race was run and how much a winner may have earned, because not all black-type is the same. Around 60 percent of US black-type winners, he believes, are no better than European handicappers.

Oppenheim also recounted the Irish invasion of the US in the 1970’s, when yearlings were bought in the US to race in Europe, but then returned to the States as sires – Nijinsky and Nureyev being two examples.

The first horse who came to Europe and stayed was Sadler’s Wells (he was in fact a Sangster home-bred out of the purchased mare Fairy Bridge) and he was the first significant horse to stop the continental drift from the US to Europe and back again.

Now Oppenheim believes that there is a “great divide” and the progeny of many top US sires are not realistic propositions to be brought to Europe to race.

Through the 1970’s and 1980’s there was a decline in the great owner-breeders in the US, involving many large dispersals of stock. This, Oppenheim feels, led to the beneficial effect of a “democratization of capital” and helped to spread out “the good blood”, but it also caused a decline in the great families. Where there once was a “recognizable matrix of pedigrees, now mares may not be owned for even two generations”. A trading economy has arisen and the strength of the bloodstock economy has meant that “everyone wants to sell and not race”.

In the absence of good pedigrees, buyers have has to rely on racing class in order to judge a breeding prospect and so prices for good racemares have rocketed skyward.

Class, Oppenheim opined, is limited and behaves much like a pyramid – there will only ever be a few talented horses. The shuttling of stallions along withincreased book sizes achieved by veterinary advancements has been detrimental to the stallion and instead of producing more good horses because he has covered more mares, the resultant effect is that his percentage of good progeny produced falls.

For example, if a stallion were capable of producing 10 percent stakes winners to foals but started covering larger book sizes, he will be visited by a greater number of lesser quality mares who perhaps have only a 1 percent chance of producing a stakes horse. His statistics cannot improve and in today’s world of large books, 6 percent is indeed the new 10 percent.

The argument for breeding to nicks does not hold sway with Oppenheim either. The samples for success are just too small and proper logic argues that other factors are involved. He reasoned : “the more times something is tried the less it works. “ He also called for the development of a global database so stallion results could be analysed more effectively.”

Extract from Pacemaker March 2008