Readers who know us also know our views on matings, and that we believe that the role (and particularly the eye) of the Stockman is central to the production of a good horse. No computer ever consistently produced a quality athlete, and so it’s interesting to hear the views of Andrew Caulfield (Thoroughbred Daily News), one of the world’s top pedigree experts :
As someone whose income is largely derived from drawing up mating suggestions for stud owners, should I be feeling increasingly threatened by the proliferating number of computer generated nicking services now available?
Well, I suppose the answer depends on how much faith one has in the concept of a successful nick. Many breeders clearly find it reassuring that a particular cross has worked before, encouraging the belief that such a nick represents the surest route to success. On the other hand, Rob Whiteley - a breeder with a thorough grounding in statistics and logic - wrote to me in support of Bill Oppenheim’s contention that sample sizes are frequently too small to be reliable.
Bill had cited the Storm Bird/Secretariat nick as the perfect example of the way success rates tend to drop as the numbers bred on that cross increase. For the record, this cross got off to a magnificent start in 1985 when Storm Bird’s first crop produced Storm Cat and the highly talented English-trained Storm Star, both of them out of daughters of Secretariat. Their success inevitably resulted in more Secretariat mares heading to Storm Bird’s door and this further support was justified by the appearance of the Preakness winner Summer Squall and the fast English colt Mujadil. By now the Storm Bird/Secretariat cross was beginning to be regarded as the goose that laid golden eggs, to the extent that - by the end of Storm Bird’s career - more than 11 percent of his foals were out of Secretariat mares. Yet this escalation in the number of foals bred on this cross yielded very little, with Storm Cat, Storm Star, Summer Squall and Mujadil remaining the only graded/group winners produced by the cross.
Storm Bird’s name also crops up in another example. It was a daughter of Storm Bird who provided Gulch with his first champion, Thunder Gulch, and this resulted in Gulch siring more foals from Storm Bird mares than from daughters of any other broodmare sire. The total now stands at 56 but none of Thunder Gulch’s successors has so far hit the Grade I target.
It’s my belief that this apparent weakening of a popular cross owes plenty to conformation- or breeders’ willingness to overlook conformation in the reckless pursuit of nicks. Virtually every stallion sires a wide variety of physical types, with a portion of their offspring inevitably showing the influence of their dam or broodmare sire. So, while Storm Bird may have been suited by a particular type of Secretariat mare, it is unrealistic to think that he was suited by ALL types of Secretariat mare. Seth Hancock once made some interesting observations to the Blood-Horse regarding the importance of conformation, as opposed to nicks: “I never bred a good horse by Unbridled, and maybe the reason is he was a big horse and I tried to breed him to a smaller type of mare, many from the Northern Dancer line. I can’t say that worked. I’m not so sure it is as much a blood thing as it is a physical thing. The longer I stay in it I believe the more I’m going to be a type-to-type guy. I believe I should have bred some mares more of Unbridled’s type to him than I did.”
Another aspect which needs taking into account is a broodmare’s ability on the track. If the Storm Bird/Secretariat nick had been founded by comparatively low-achieving mares, we would really have been onto something. However, Storm Bird sired Storm Cat from the dazzling Terlingua; Summer Squall from a dual Grade III winner; Storm Star from a Grade III winner; and Mujadil from a winning mare who produced four stakes winners. It is surely also relevant that these four mares all produced graded winners to other stallions. In other words, Storm Bird’s so-called nick with Secretariat mares was based on mares which were well above average in one respect or another. So were the breeders who sent comparatively ordinary daughters of Secretariat to Storm Bird fooling themselves in believing they were improving their chances of breeding a stakes winner?
Saturday’s GII Lane’s End Stakes will have bolstered many people’s faith in nicks, as the impressive winner, Adriano, is no less than the 12th graded winner sired by A.P. Indy from daughters of Mr. Prospector. As these 12 come from a sample of 100 foals, they represent an impressive 12 percent, with the percentage rising still higher when a handful of other stakes winners are included. So here we have an example of a nick which has stood the test of time since its potential was highlighted by Pulpit, Tomisue’s Delight and Accelerator, three members of A.P. Indy’s first crop. Perhaps the nick has derived some of its staying power from the fact that A.P. Indy and Mr. Prospector have both been champion sire and Mr. Prospector has been champion broodmare sire on numerous occasions.
Click here to watch Adriano in the Lane’s End Stakes 2008.
Costume, another of the weekend’s Grade II winners, also represents a successful nick (even though she carries a Werk nick rating of B+). There are 25 foals by Danehill out of Nureyev mares - a mating which creates 3x3 inbreeding to Northern Dancer - and Costume is the fourth group winner to emerge from them. She follows Desert King (G1 Irish 2000 Guineas and Irish Derby), Danestorm (G1 Brisbane Cup) and Distinction (G2 Goodwood Cup).
While this cross was attractive, it has always been Juddmonte’s priority to try to pair mares with stallions which suit their conformation. Danehill’s progeny tended to be strong, more compact than lengthy, and he passed on his own good hind-leg and hocks. He was also a fairly reliable source of bone, the danger areas being a risk of back-at-the-knee conformation and upright pasterns. In the case of Costume’s dam, the Group 3 winner Dance Dress, Danehill was considered an excellent match for this quality individual on the score of size, bone, pasterns and hocks. The theory became reality in the form of Costume. Correct enough and sound enough to have raced 12 times already, this admirably genuine filly seems to be still on the upgrade. And while the nick which produced her now has 16 percent group winners to its credit, Juddmonte’s holistic approach to matings has done even better. Costume is one of 13 group/graded winners among Juddmonte’s 57 living foals by Danehill, which equals nearly 23 percent, and she is one of the sample’s 17 stakes winners (nearly 30 percent).
It is going to be interesting to see whether Thousand Words, a four-year-old by Danehill’s son Dansili out of a mare from Costume’s family, can emulate the filly’s success when he steps back into graded company following his impressive win at Santa Anita last month.