2005 APEX RATINGS
by Bill Oppenheim
DIVIDING THE SPOILS
Mid-year APEX figures run by TJCIS (The Jockey Club Information Systems), through last weekend's racing, tend to confirm some interesting trends among the population of major sires. There is still a super-exclusive club, now numbering five, of the world's top sires. These five all have 1999-2005 APEX A Runner Indices of 4.00+ (see box on pg. 2 for explanation). But both the number of 'breakaway' top-class sires has declined (10 sires had 4.00+ A Runner indices at the end of 2001, just five now), and the margin by which they are better than the rest of the sire population has narrowed: four sires had A Runner Indices above 5.00 in 2001, only Storm Cat has today.
Sires are only eligible to be assigned APEX ratings in years where they have 10+ three-year-olds, so 2004 marked perennial top-five sire Nureyev's last appearance on these lists. As you can see from the accompanying table, his place was all set to be taken by Danehill, who continued his relentless climb to the statistical top by appearing in the top five (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is) for the first time this year. All the more pity, then, that he died at 17 two years ago. The five sires with A Runner Indices over 4.00 are Storm Cat, age 22; A.P. Indy, age 16; Danzig, retired at 28; Danehill, dead; and Sadler’s Wells at 24. So four of the world top five are dead, retired, or over 21. Pretty soon, A.P. Indy will be the only sire to score in the 4.00's (I should add, with 200+ year-starters; young sires routinely start with astronomical ratings, but invariably drop as they get more crops and runners).
The objective of 'A Runners' is to find the horses who earn in the top two percent of runners, wherever they are running. In North America, that usually means about $110,000 or more in the calendar year. In Britain/Ireland, it's about £40,000. If two percent of a sire's runners reach the appropriate threshold, the sire will have an A Runner Index of 1.00. What's significant about the difference between top sires having an index of 5.00, as opposed, say, to 3.00, is the difference between 10 percent of his runners earning that much, and six percent. So it parallels the trend which sees top sires' percentages of stakes winners/foals dropping from 10 percent to six percent, for example. It all suggests compression at the top level: more sires are getting a few top runners, as opposed to a very few sires really dominating.
Given that perspective, it's certainly significant that seven of the 16 sires with mid-year APEX A Indices of 3.00-3.99 are aged 11-13. You'll not be surprised to hear, either, that there are three each from two 'sire classes,' about which I've written extensively (some would say exhaustively) over the past couple of years. In fact, you should just about be able to recite them by now. From the class (first foals) of 1998, come the sires rated sixth, seventh, and equal ninth: Smart Strike (3.96), Unbridled's Song (3.67), and Pivotal (3.56). From the sire class of 2000 come: equal ninth, Distorted Humor (3.56); number 12, Awesome Again (3.43); and number 16, Wild Rush (3.25). The seventh sire in this age range is Cape Cross (3.23, rated 19th), but there are two other horses from his sire class (first foals 2001, four-year-olds of 2005) who actually have higher A Runner indices, but don't make this list because they have fewer than 200 year-starters. Those two, who certainly deserve to be rated 'on deck' to make the list as soon as they have the required number of runners, are, not surprisingly, Forestry (157 year-starters, 4.78), and, quite surprisingly (I thought), Menifee, who sports a 3.93 A Runner Index, with 11 A Runners among 140 year-starters.
Sophomore Sires: Lots of Promise
Though everybody in the breeding and sales sector of this business knows that Giant's Causeway and Montjeu are the top sophomore sires, Coolmore's super-big-book policy (I'm going to call them 'hyperbooks') means they won't look as good by any measurement which takes all their foals or runners into account. Giant's Causeway has already had 182 year-starters, over a third more than this sire class's number two, Dansili (135). Montjeu (125) is in a cluster among eight European sophomore sires who have had 110 or more year-starters (remember, a horse is counted as a year-starter each year it runs, so these sires will have quite a few runners who count as two year-starters, if they ran both in 2004 and 2005).
The 2003 Kentucky crop was decimated by MRLS (30 percent?), and the American leaders among this class, in number of year-starters, are Fusaichi Pegasus (105), and two Florida stallions, Straight Man and Yes It's True (both 103).
Giant's Causeway's figures, in fact, are quite interesting. He is the leading sophomore sire in number of ABC Runners (22), though just barely over Yes It's True (21), who has one fewer ABC runner, but 79 fewer year-starters. Giant's Causeway's A Runner Index is only a respectable 2.20, and he ranks 14th in ABC Runner Index, at just 1.51. Moreover, Giant's Causeway's ABC runners have been far more effective at three (2.34 ABC 3yo index) than at two (0.48 ABC 2yo index), even including last year's European two-year-old champion, Shamardal.
In contrast, Montjeu's two-year-olds last year were so good that he ranks higher, so far, for two-year-olds (2.13) than even for all his three-year-olds (1.69), including all of them who are winning and placing in Derbies. But that is one of the double-edge sword effects of the big-book policies: it creates more opportunities for the sire to have those all-important 'household names,' but it also creates more 'moderate' (I'm being charitable) horses which clutter up the statistics.
So, in an era where all successful sires have significantly bigger books than they used to, we have to both lower our expectations overall ("Six percent is the new 10 percent"), and even then we still have to make allowances for horses like Giant's Causeway, who have 'hyper-books.' One statistic which I do think makes sense, when looking at this sire class, is what we call the 'ABC Index.' Since A Runners, B Runners, and C Runners are measured against the top two percent, two percent, and four percent of runners, respectively, this statistic measures the three combined, or top eight percent. If you look at that accompanying 'top 15' box, I think we can single out some sires who are showing significant promise. Leader Successful Appeal (only 55 year-starters) and number three Yes It's True (almost twice as many year-starters, 103), are, of course, well known to us all, as the top two Freshman Sires of 2004.
Precise End, who was snapped up for Japan (he's by End Sweep) before anybody knew how good he was going to be, looks a tremendous loss, even if the restricted money in the New York-bred program does flatter an earnings-based sire.
The next two look to be two sires who are doing a lot of things right: Dixie Union (14 ABC Runners, 2.43 ABC Index) and More Than Ready (18 ABC Runners, 2.32 ABC Index), along with Bernstein (2.27, with an amazing six A Runners but just two B-C's among just 44 year-starters) the only other sophomore sires with 40+ year-starters to register an ABC Index of 2.00+. Another very interesting thing, with sires of this age, is those who show significant improvement from their two-year-old to three-year-old indices. The figures for young sires can change pretty dramatically, and are very much not set in stone, nonetheless those whose runners do show big improvement from two to three often continue to improve. So, again looking at the top 15 on the ABC Index list, you'd be very struck by the improvement of several on the bottom half of that list: Stephen Got Even (1.48 to 2.36), Chester House (0.60 to 2.58), Royal Anthem (0.00 to 2.06), Giant's Causeway, as mentioned (0.48 to 2.34), and Vicar (0.53 to 2.21). They're just a few of what I reckon is a very broad, and promising, class of sophomore sires. Their first wave of APEX ratings tend to suggest that as well.
Bill Oppenheim may be contacted at email@example.com.
Please cc TDN management at firstname.lastname@example.org.