By John Boyce
The setting of new sire records in the modern era tends more than not to be a direct consequence of ever-greater book sizes. But they must still be acknowledged as legitimate breeding benchmarks as they will inevitably feature some outstanding performances. Just look at Mehmas (Ire)'s tally of first-crop 2-year-old winners this term. Currently on 56 winners, he is already 17 clear of Iffraaj's old record and in normal circumstances we might be entitled to expect his record to stand for many years. It may well do, but his strike rate of 53% winners to runners, achieved by quite a few other freshman sires down the years, suggests that the big total of winners is just as much a function of a big crop of runners. So, we cannot rule out another Mehmas-like total in the near future.
We could say the same about black-type records. Larger numbers of runners tend to be the reason why these records fall, but it's not always so. Take the case of Frankel (GB), the sire who has posted the highest number of stakes winners (56) and group winners (41) of any European sire in the first five years of his career. Frankel has already eclipsed the previous records set by Dubawi after his first five years, which stood at 53 stakes winners and 35 group winners. Dubawi, in turn, took the record away from Galileo (Ire), who had amassed 51 stakes winners and 30 group winners after his first five years.
No one could accuse Frankel of relying on sheer numbers of runners to outpace Dubawi and Galileo. In fact, he has set the new standards with fewer runners than either of his major rivals. Hence he has posted superior strike rates–14.2% stakes and 10.4% group winners–than Dubawi and Galileo had at the same point in their careers. But Frankel really did get a head start on all his rivals by covering Europe's best mares from the outset of his career, unlike either Galileo or Dubawi. As many as 62% of the mares that have produced Frankel's runners so far can be classed as elite, which is in stark contrast to the corresponding percentages for the early runners by Dubawi (30%) and Galileo (35%). What's certain is that Frankel will need to have very long innings at his current strike rate to overhaul Dubawi's current mark of 171 stakes winners and, by my calculations, another 20-plus years to reach his sire's tally of 298. It's a sure sign of the times that Frankel not only has more group winners than Galileo after five years but also has nearly double the number of his grandsire Sadler's Wells and has over three times what the great Northern Dancer had in their first five years.
Remarkably, there is yet another sire that can boast an even higher number of group winners in his first five years. Shadai's Deep Impact (Jpn), the very definition of a big fish in a small pond, sired 47 group winners in his first five years with runners. The lack of serious competition among Japan's stallion ranks possibly casts a shadow over such an achievement, as does the fact that Deep Impact's percentage of group winners (7.4%) is not quite as good as the percentages posted by Frankel, Galileo or Dubawi all of whom average above 10% group winners to runners. To counter that argument, though, it must also be recognized that Japan has far fewer group races per head of population than Europe does. So, 47 group winners in five years is still a formidable achievement.
Not surprisingly, North America's records for stakes winners and graded winners at the end of five years have also fallen quite recently. The phenomenal Uncle Mo set new standards at the end of 2019 with his 48 stakes winners and 26 graded winners. It's hard to believe that there are now 19 sires with more stakes winners in their first five years than the great Danzig, but none will ever get close to his 21% strike rate.
Among sires who stood exclusively in America, few would have guessed that it wasn't Speightstown, nor Distorted Humor, nor Scat Daddy that held the record prior to Uncle Mo, but the one and only Kitten's Joy, a sire that perhaps still struggles for due recognition.