New Year’s Day, or April Fool’s?


Something about the millions of dollars and man-hours regarding pedigree and breeding has always rubbed me the wrong way. Possibly, my irritation has something to do with the absence of any importance ascribed to conditioning. ‘Training’ or horsemanship gets some play, but no attention is paid to actual exercise, other than the published breeze times, which are often flat-out lies at the lesser tracks/training centers. The entire industry seems full of genetics experts, but is the racing game really that dependent upon millions of chromosomes? Obviously you need to breed a winning female to a winning male, but past that – how much does it matter?

Kitten’s Joy stands for 100k and had 257 runners earn 10,936,504 ranking 1 in 2013
Alphabet Soup stands for 5k and had 98 runners earn 2,059,226 ranking 150 in the same year

So, on average you invest 100k and send your mare to #1, you earn $42,554 in purses.
Or you go with #150, invest 5k, and your typical offspring earns $21,012 on the track.

An admittedly very elementary ROI analysis:

Joy produces $425 in earnings for every $1 in stud fees.
While Soup gets $4,202 in earnings for every $1 in stud fees (10X the value).

Perhaps I am discounting the desire to breed/race a champ and future stallion money machine, economics be damned:

Top earners:

Joy – Big Blue Kitten $902k + 2 Grade 1 wins and 1 Grade 2
Soup – Egg Drop $448k + 1 Grade 1 win and 2 Grade 2’s (not a hell of a lot of difference, black type is black type)

Nevermind, I figured it out:

Average yearling sales price:

Joy – $60,480
Soup- $17,871

Or just another foolish comparison?

Remember the stud fees:
20x higher for Joy, yet only brings 3x more of a hammer price in the ring.

Breeding/Pedigree industry experts, what am I missing?

P.S. If I remember, next post I will document a set of characteristics that EVERY top racehorse throughout history has shared, or so I claim. And it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with genetics.

Source: Bloodhorse (


About bpressey

Equine Exercise Physiologist

Posted on January 1, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 19 Comments.

  1. Somewhere lay the numbers on Grades Stakes winners by Stallion, but I can’t find it. Help anyone? That will be another argument; let’s say a top stud gets 8% GSW while the #150 gets just 3% – I posit that the top stud will eventually return down to average, and his current sterling numbers are merely an anomaly – and at least one top farm manager agrees with me. And, no expert can predict when these statistical aberrations will come up ahead of time by looking at bloodlines.

    It’s luck, pure and simple.

  2. Twitter buddy Sid states; “Joy is standing for $100k in 2014 for 1st time. His past foals conceived on lower “fees,” not commercial & mostly for Ramsey.”

    Very good point indeed. So we move to #2 on the list, Malibu Moon – and that stats are roughly the same: Earned just under $11mil from 280 runners and stands for $95k.

  3. I am getting riled up – later today I may analyze that Top 150 list a bit further to discount the ‘outliers’ like Joy and Ramsey Farm. Eyeballing it backs up my point so far. We can compare the Top 10 to #140-150 and find little to no difference.

  4. My New Year’s Resolution is becoming to expose these breeding charlatans. Or, perhaps a few months of data will prove i am wrong – and I will apologize.

    I bought my wife a $1600 Gucci purse for Xmas, the equivalent of a $100k stud fee in 2014. Does it really perform better than the $30 Sears version (Alphabet Soup)? Both carry her crap equally as well – what I paid for was the marketing message that sucked her in.

  5. You raise interesting points, have a re-read on the Estes book, he will really get you fired up!

    • Found it, Ralph:

      “An average breeder will produce one stakes winner for every 48 matings. But if you know how to do it, you can, on average, produce one stakes winner from every eight matings. This is the book that tells you how it is done. Estes’ formula for breeding a stakes winner is based on sound genetic principles and is statistically reliable. He debunks the myths of horse breeding and explains in simple language the precise method of dramatically improving the odds of breeding (or buying) a stakes winner.”

      Anyone have the paperback? No ebook option…

      • Ralph Livingston

        Dear Mr. Pressey.:

        This book brings science to the art of breeding TB’s. Joe Estes, long time editor of the Bloodhorse, INVENTED the “AEI” and used the scientific method to de-bunk all kinds of myths surrounding the breeding of these magnificent animals. You must get a copy of this book.- Ralph Liivngston, Kelowna, BC

      • I found it Ralph, thanks for the tip – called The Estes Formula for Breeding Stakes Winners. Glad to see he was from the industry, the BH no less. I gather he exposes the truth that the broodmare is MUCH more important to the process rather than the choice of stud.

  6. Found a free sample of the book: “when the (racing) performance of both parents is known, there is little to be gained by considering the performance of remote relatives. In other words, pedigree doesn’t matter.”

    • Ralph Livingston

      This is heresy to the breeding establishment, Estes was right at the heart of the industry and spoke with candid clarity. Science is all about discovering the truth.

  7. Too many gems in there to quote; book ordered – review to follow. Thanks a ton to Ralph in Canada for the great tip: a Bloodhorse editor refuting much commonly held ‘wisdom’ of our breeding industry.

  8. Bill,

    What I think you are primarily missing is the chances of the sire getting a top-class horse, especially based on their recent form.

    From his first five crops Northern Hemisphere crops Kitten’s Joy has 45 stakes winners, 17 graded winners, and five grade one winners from 539 foals of racing age (8.3% stakes winners)

    Alphabet Soup has less grade one winners (3) and less graded winners (16) and just two more stakes winners from 14 crops of 824 foals. More to the point has only six stakes winners, three graded, and one grade one, from his last four Northern Hemisphere crops of 203 foals (3% stakes winners). Only two of his grade one winners were in the U.S., and Egg Drop is arguably the best. In addition, Alphabet Soup is now 23-years-old, and well past the point where most stallions’ performance begins to decline.

    So Kitten’s Joy – who started with some very modest mares – has far more likelihood of getting you a top-class horse. In fact, he is among the North American (and for that matter, international) stallions that are perceived to have one of the best shots of getting a top-class runner, or at least a graded stakes winner. Stud fees for that sort of horse have long been a multiple of those commanded by even the next echelon down.

    Malibu Moon is in some respects an even worse comparison, given that he is a mainstream dirt horse, where Kitten’s Joys tend to prefer the turf. He has a Kentucky Derby winner, a Champion Two-Year-Old Male, and seven other grade one winners, so is a horse, who on the basis of past performance would be one of those who is most likely to get what is most prized at the highest level, a top-class dirt horse. Historically, Alphabet Soup has very little chance of doing that, and those chances aren’t improving with age.

    It is correct to state. as you do, that there is a point where a stallion’s performance will start to decline and to regress towards the norm, but our studies show that it is not a random and unpredictable event, but relates to age and numbers of mares covered. Even the mighty Sadler’s Wells had only one grade one winner in his last five years at stud. So the top stud may close out performing nearer the average, but that doesn’t detract from his value at his peak.

    Estes may have been a pioneer at the time, but that was a long time ago. The AEI figure is a considerably flawed one; the contention that all you need to know about the breeding potential of an individual is its performance is clearly incorrect (else Skip Away, Smarty Jones and Silver Charm would have become wonderful stallions, far better than the likes of Tapit, War Front and Distorted Humor); and of course the the mapping of the equine genome (and for that matter the human one too) were too far in the future .

    I’m also not sure why you hold conditioning and genetics to be antagonistic. Having competed in track and x-country in national championships from age 15 to 56 and several points in between, I need no convincing of the value of conditioning.

    However, I’m also aware that there is ample evidence that the ability to respond to, and to recover from, conditioning is to a considerable degree genetically determined.

    • Thanks for the info Alan. I only chose these two studs because they were 1 and 150 on the Top 150 list, nothing more. I should average the stats on #1-10 and compare to #140-150 for a better picture. But, too lazy.

      I don’t see the 2 concepts to be antagonistic, but I feel the pedigree industry is over-represented by specialists, and the conditioning is relatively ignored, by comparison. Absolutely, the ‘conditionability’ is highly genetically determined, but since the conditioning angle is ‘one size fits all’ – hundreds of potentially fantastic genetic responders to the conditioning stimulus are wasted every year due to never galloping over 2 miles and never breezing more than 5f with a gallop out weekly.

  9. Hi Bill,

    I think it is because the pedigree analyst side of the equation has been around for a long, long time: Bruce Lowe is now around 120 years distant, and there were plenty of people with theories before that. In contrast, exercise physiology, when applied to the thoroughbred is a more recent field.

    In reality, though, things have changed a lot in this sphere too. Until relatively recently, it was like Monty Python’s “Stake Your Claim” sketch. You could pretty much advance almost any theory you liked, and a ton of assertion was unlikely to be rebutted by an ounce of logic.

    Now, however, although there are any number of people who still dabble, the number of people who make a full-time living through the application of pedigree research is very small (although it might be a little larger than those making a living applying exercise physiology to the racehorse).

    The bar and the requirements to do the job are much, much higher, as with the amount of data and computing power now available, any theory can be subjected to rigorous examination. We’re also seeing rapid advances in the field of performance genetics (human and equine) and any theory put forward with regard to the pedigree side of breeding now has to pass that scrutiny too.

    You would know better than I, but with training I believe that we’re generally much nearer traditional methods, augmented with aggressive veterinary work, than the kind of science that is applied to track or marathon runners. The changes in the pedigree analysis industry happened rapidly, I would say there have been more in the last five years than the previous 20 (when I started, I was pretty much doing my matings like Tesio 75 years earlier, with a split pedigree book), and I think we’ll probably come to see a point where a top level trainer will want to know what his horse’s current lactate threshold, and so on, are rather than the somewhat vague guesses to appropriate effort that are used today.

    Actually I do think performance genetics and exercise physiology will begin to come together as the most forward thinking people start to tailor training programs to suit the genotype of their horses.

    • Ralph & Pauline Livingston

      Hi Bill:


      To get Alan Porter “weighing in” is kinda neat!

      I have always admired his columns, we must be on the “right track”!!

      Wishing you a very healthy, prosperous New Year!!!

      Ralph Livingston

      • Ralph-

        I have met Alan once, and spoken to him off line many times. Few know how adept he is at running and exercise science, I wish there were more like him!


    • In designing a conditioning regimen to suit genotype Alan, what do you mean? Is it, this horse is an exercise ‘responder’ – make sure to work him often and far. Or is it, his genotype screams ‘sprinter’ therefore concentrate on shorter/faster works, etc. Likewise, would you have a genotype that shows a relative lack of response to exercise and recommend walking/jogging between races?

  10. Hi Bill,

    I’m guessing that if we could tell you what the horse is you’d be able to design a program, but going with the human analogy, if you take 5k runners, you could have three people who might run a similar time, but one might be what you’d call “the speedster”, one a more “intermediate” type, and one “the mileage monster.”

    What we’d tend to see is that the “speedster” finds shorter distance track work easy, but struggles to recovery from the longer tempo (around l/t pace) and long aerobic runs, where the “mileage monster” laps them up, and vice versa. In these cases while the optimal race distance might be the same, you have to approach the sessions that you are less adapt at with greater care, so the “mileage monster” may run 400m (quarter mile repeats) a couple of seconds slower than “the speedster,” the “speedster” might do his long runs at 30 seconds per mile slower than the “mileage monster.”

    An excellent real-life example would be the Portuguese contemporaries Fernando Mamede and Carlos Lopes, who finished a couple of yards apart when Mamede broke the world record for 10k (6 1/4 miles). Mamede was a “speedster” who was quick enough to run 800m (half mile) and the 400m relay for Portugal in the Olympics, before graduating to longer distances (he also had a huge V02 max). Lopes, who would eventually win an Olympic marathon at the age of 37, was a “mileage monster.” Lopes would do these incredible ten mile l/t sessions, that would have trashed Mamede, but Mamede could perform far more intense track session than Lopes.

    Of course that is only with athletes at the same distance, if we’re talking horses and at different distances, then the contrast would be even more marked. In particular, the sprinter would want to do his steady gallops slower than the route horse, and his fast work days faster.

    I think we will be able to mark contrasting genotypes between the more “naturally fit” and “high responders” which I sure you’ve seen in your work. It would also appear that ability to recover from exercise, which obviously is important regarding adaption, is a heritable trait, and there are some candidate genes regarding that aspect.

    I think we are going to have a lot to learn from each other in those regards going forward.

  11. Bill, when selecting matings for my mare, I pretty much ignore the top line of the sire. I agree that the female families of both the stallion and the mare are much more important, and the cross between the broodmare sire and the stallion’s dam are also considered. Olin Gentry is long quoted as saying something to the effect of “to get the best out of a stallion, return to him the best blood of his dam.” Of course, I’m just getting started in the business, so we’ll see how all of my theories play out!

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