Body & Soul: Freshman Stars vs. Graduation Rates

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Where will current leading freshman sire American Pharoah rank after a few crops? | Coolmore

By Robert D. Fierro

Tingling with a bit of pride at the final rankings of the 2019 Freshman Sires, we’re crossing our fingers that things will remain steady in the future. That’s because six of the Top 10 were listed as the ones we liked best based on various biomechanical programs which DataTrack uses to project such possibilities. Our task is to lay the odds on how the sires of these youngsters are likely to compete over the long term.

We began to assemble statistics to see if there were any discernible trends in the results of a group of freshman sire rankings that could lead us to better understand why some highly touted stallion prospects–or crops–fail to make the grade, even if they have hot first- and second-crop results.

We chose to examine every freshman crop from 2000 through 2017–the latter year set as the cutoff because their oldest runners have just finished their 4-year-old careers, and there is unlikely to be any significant movement by any of those stallions in the future.

What the study revealed is somewhat akin to what happens to freshman classes after their first year in college: Some are athletic flashes in the pan, some drop out academically or financially, some muddle along on the curves, some graduate, some graduate with honors. Some become business or political leaders after earning master’s or doctoral degrees.

Our objectives were: 1) How many of the Top 10 in each crop went on to maintain their good standing among all sires after four crops? 2) Are there any biomechanical insights as to why these stallions succeeded? As you might suspect, there was no easy answer to the second question because, well, “it’s complicated.” In the end we decided to express the findings parallel to the college prototype on both the academic and athletic playing fields.

We first looked at the 180 freshmen that were ranked in the Top 10 by earnings in the years 2000 to 2017 to determine how many that did not make it into the Top 10 went on to become leading sires; we found a dozen of them and added them into the student body. We then divided those 192 stallions into four categories:

1). Doctors: Seventeen of the Top 10 stallions have gone on to dominate the general sire lists and/or have established themselves as likely to have a lasting impact on the breed through at least one more generation. One other, Smart Strike, did not place in the Top 10 in his freshman year, bringing the total to 18. Four of them were the leading freshman sires in their crops: Distorted Humor, Quality Road, Scat Daddy, and Tapit. The others in this group are Awesome Again, Candy Ride (Arg), Curlin, Elusive Quality, Empire Maker, Harlan’s Holiday, Into Mischief, Kitten’s Joy, Medaglia d’Oro, Pioneerof the Nile, Speightstown, Unbridled’s Song, and War Front.

2). Master’s: These Top 10 sires have done enough in the past to earn special notoriety–for example, sire-line rescuer Maria’s Mon and his son Super Saver; Hennessy, fellow Storm Cat son Tale of the Cat and his son Lion Heart; Indian Charlie and his son Uncle Mo. Three of these stallions–Street Cry (Ire), Tiznow, and Uncle Mo–led their freshman crops. Ghostzapper was ranked way down the list at No. 21, but blew the doors off after that. The rest of this crowd are Bernardini, Dixie Union, Lookin at Lucky, Malibu Moon, More Than Ready and Pulpit.

3). Cum Laude: These Top 10 sires have done enough so far to indicate they won’t disappear from pedigrees in the next five years. Only one, Congrats, ranked at the top of his first crop. Six others were not even ranked in the Top 10 in their first year: Blame, Declaration of War, English Channel, Flatter, Lemon Drop Kid, and Mineshaft. The remaining are City Zip, Forest Wildcat, Forestry, Kantharos, Macho Uno, Street Sense, Take Charge Indy, Twirling Candy and Yes It’s True.

4). Bachelor’s: There were 136 stallions ranked in the Top 10 of their crops who didn’t do anything special after. That means 76% of the freshman Top 10 sires in the first two decades of the 21st Century are now just photos from a yearbook.

If you add up the numbers the totals are: 42 of the 180 (23%) who ranked in the Top 10 earned high honors or advanced degrees, with another eight making the list as “free agents.” That means only 50 out of the 912 stallions which qualified for this study “made the grade”–or 5%. How’s them odds?

Lessons Learned:

1). Quality tends to reinforce quality. Five of these crops have five members in the Top 50:
• 2000–Forest Wildcat, Hennessy, Maria’s Mon, Smart Strike, Unbridled’s Song
• 2002–Awesome Again, Distorted Humor, Elusive Quality, Indian Charlie, Tale of the Cat
• 2007–Harlan’s Holiday, Empire Maker, Flatter, Macho Uno, Mineshaft
• 2008–Candy Ride (Arg), Lion Heart, Medaglia d’Oro, Speightstown, Tapit
• 2014–Blame, Kantharos, Lookin at Lucky, Quality Road, Super Saver

2). Weak crops don’t always come up empty. These crops had one or two members who rock:
• 2001–Pulpit
• 2003–Forestry, Malibu Moon
• 2005–City Zip, Tiznow
• 2006–Street Cry (Ire)
• 2009–Ghostzapper, Kitten’s Joy
• 2012–Curlin, Into Mischief
• 2013–Pioneerof the Nile
• 2015–Twirling Candy, Uncle Mo
• 2017–Declaration of War, Take Charge Indy

Are there any plausible reasons this group might have been more likely to succeed than others who started out with strong credentials? Let’s imagine these stallions are athletes who tend to socialize with their own “types.” Are these physical types (phenotypes, similar in size and scope), genetic types (genotypes, skills run in the family), or a combination of both?

What we found is this group as a whole had developed an almost generational profile–so many of them were similar in a variety of key phenotypical and genotypical matters that they tended to resemble more of each other than stallions of previous decades or generations. Indeed, they wound up settling into “clusters.”

For example, there is one cluster of average-sized stallions which resembles very few leading sires from the past other than A.P. Indy–this might be the quarterback and wide receivers cluster. On the other hand, there are two clusters which have biomechanical similarities in terms of size and scope–and therefore racing function and breeding potential–that are not only close to each other, but also to one or two key “players” from the past. One group is quite similar to the crowd of Buckpasser, Unbridled, and Capote–your basic batting champions. The other counts Deputy Minister as a cluster mate and might be considered basketball forwards.

Please cue up Pomp and Circumstance…and Gaudeamus Igitur to y’all as well.

(Bob Fierro is a partner with Jay Kilgore and Frank Mitchell in DataTrack International, biomechanical consultants and developers of BreezeFigs. He can be reached at [email protected]).

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