bill oppenheim link


The Final Word

“Extract from the desk of Bill Oppenheim


Last week we alluded to having now compiled the percentage of ‘unique’ A Runners (counted only once) from foals of racing age (through 2008) for the 1143 sires which were assigned (2002-2008) APEX ratings at the end of 2008. Please note that this list refers only to A Runners; nothing here about B or C Runners, or ABC Runners.


This is an elite qualification, which by our calculations is an earnings-based equivalent of a sire’s percentage of listed and graded/group winners from foals. Practically speaking, what this accomplishes is to eliminate the high percentage of North American black-type races which have gross purses under $75,000 (my guess would be 70 percent of North American black-type races).


The anomaly arises because there are no European black-type races below listed class, so the standard for black type in North America, in quality terms, is considerably lower. If you take the view that listed races are the equivalent of theoretical Group or Grade IV, it makes a little more sense. The point of view is that ‘true’ quality black type consists of what should be called Group/Grade IV races and above, but which are called listed plus group/graded races. It is this group to which A Runners are most comparable.


The table at the top of this article depicts the top 50 sires under the age of 18, whose first foals were born in 1998 or later, so between two and nine crops of racing age at the end of 2008 (click on image to view).


It shouldn’t come as a shock by now that the top eight sires (with 200+ foals of racing age) are all from the older generation. Five of the eight are dead (leader Danzig, with 15.3 percent lifetime unique A Runners from foals; and Machiavellian, who had his last crop of three-year-olds in 2008, and hereafter disappears from the list) or retired (Storm Cat, Sadler’s Wells, Seeking the Gold). The other three are: 20-year-old A.P. Indy (13.7 percent unique A Runners from foals); 19-year-old Monsun (9.8 percent); and 19-year-old Kingmambo (9.1 percent), whose number seven placing on this list ranks him about 10 places higher than his A Runner indexes have been the last few years. Since we know instinctively he is a World Top 12 sire, it suggests these career totals may be the most accurate measurement we use, in APEX terms, of where sires really rank in breeders’ minds.


The difference in Kingmambo’s ranking is partially a result of the fact that he does so much better in Europe (3.68, with 506 runners in Europe 2002-2008) than in North America (2.40, with 438 runners) or Japan (2.63, with 152 runners). Similarly, certain state-bred or provincial- bred programs - notably Ontario, California, and New York - tend to ‘inflate’ sires’ ratings which are based on earnings (as these are). Maybe sires like Bold Executive (Ontario - 8.5 percent unique A Runners from foals), Unusual Heat (California - 8.4 percent) and possibly young City Zip (four of five crops in New York - 8.1 percent) aren’t ‘really’ quite as good as these figures make them look. On the other hand, their 2002-2008 A Indexes of 3.46, 3.86, and 2.80, respectively, do conclusively show the runners by these sires are making people money.


The ‘top 50’ sires really number 53, because of a four-way tie for 50th (6.3 percent). Of the 29 sires with 7.0 percent unique A Runners from foals, or higher, only six (21 percent) are sires which are under 18 years old and had their first foals in 1998 or later, though that group constitutes more than 50 percent of the 597 sires which qualified for this list. Two more regional sires, New York’s American Chance (died 2004, last appearance), and Maryland’s Not For Love, have each registered 7.1 percent unique A Runners from foals. But overall, almost 80 percent (23) of the 29 sires are dead or retired (12); of the other 11, six are between 24 and 27 years old.


All this serves to demonstrate the difference in the statistics for sires since the ‘big-book’ era began, in our view with the 1996 foal crop. It’s unlikely that it’s a coincidence. Logically, the dilution of quality in stallions’ books of mares, and resultant fall in the leading sires’ percentage of A Runners, and black-type winners, from foals, does suggest there’s a level of mare which started to be bred to these stallions which collectively weren’t capable of producing more than one percent stakes winners no matter what sire they were bred to.


It’s only inference - we can’t prove it - but the inference is that probably two-thirds of the new mares bred to the newer top sires fell into this category.


To some extent, it’s enough to know where sires rank. Of the 53 sires in the top 50, just 18 - one third - are under the age of 18 and had their first foals in 1998 or later. Of the 18, it’s significant that six (Smart Strike, Distorted Humor, City Zip, Lemon Drop Kid, Galileo, and Street Cry) are among the 29 sires with seven percent unique A Runners or higher, as we’ve noted; but of the 12 sires clustered between 6.7 percent and 6.9 percent, eight - two-thirds - fit into the younger category. This cluster of eight sires includes Exchange Rate, Unbridled’s Song, Awesome Again, Pivotal, Giant’s Causeway, Pulpit, and Rock of Gibraltar, as well as former Ontario (now Manitoba) sire Whiskey Wisdom. It certainly leads you to think that 6.8 percent (midway between 6.7 and 6.9) is the figure against which top young sires should be measured.


On the list of the top 50 younger sires aged under 18, with first foals 1998 or later, and 200 or more foals of racing age, you can see how much the standard for the leading sires has dropped. The top 30 sires on the younger sire list, for example, drop down to 5.7 percent, whereas the top 30 on the list for all sires, older and younger, drops down only to 6.9 percent. You could calculate that is a 21 percent decline. If we wanted to try and postulate where contemporary top sires like Smart Strike and Distorted Humor might have compared by the ‘old rules,’ I would add 25 percent to the “new” sire’s percentage. Thus, Smart Strike’s actual percentage of 8.7 percent unique A Runners from foals could be projected to equal about 11 percent by the ‘old rules.’ Distorted Humor would be 10.5 percent.


The sires in the ‘cluster’ median of 6.8 percent would, by that measurement, been the equivalent of 8.5-percent sires.


Aside from the inevitable current or former Ontario sires among the F1998 and later Top 50, you’ll also note quite a few of the same names which featured in the ‘new’ World Top 30 which we’ve been discussing for the last couple of weeks. If anything - Ontario sires excepted, for reasons we’ve explained - this list might just be the best measurement I know of who the top ‘current’ sires are, and where they rank among their contemporaries. That being the case, I’d say the three most impressive rankings among the ‘younger’ list top 15 are: Lemon Drop Kid, who ranks fourth among all younger sires (7.8 percent unique A Runners from foals), ranking him above Galileo and Street Cry by that measure; and Exchange Rate (6.9 percent) and Rock of Gibraltar (6.7 percent), whose early numbers put them in the same group as Unbridled’s Song, Awesome Again, Pivotal, Giant’s Causeway, and Pulpit. If they sustain those percentages, at $25,000 and €27,500, respectively, that would make Exchange Rate and Rock of Gibraltar outstanding buys this year. The same would also be true of Lemon Drop Kid, at $50,000, considering the crowd he’s running with.