Stallion use in Yearling Selection
By Dr Ian Moore
This being the annual stallion edition of APC, I was asked to write a column about stallions. Most things that I could write about would probably only apply to people who own a stallion. So even though it may be a bit early (yearling sales are certainly a few months away), in an effort to appeal to more readers, I am going to talk about how I use stallions when it comes to yearling selection.
Horsemen have tried for many years to come up with intuitive and intelligent ways of selecting the top yearlings, even more so in recent years with the advent of such technologies as digital radiography and all of the newest methods of selecting yearlings by breeding and pedigrees. As of yet there seems to be no perfect answer out there for a foolproof method of getting the best. Obviously selection of any yearling does not guarantee success because of the many environmental and management variables that will be applied along the way. I use many criteria in selecting yearlings, but one criterion usually starts me off in the hunt for the next world champion.
When I look through yearling books, I select the majority of the yearlings I wish to look at by certain sire lines. Of course I always try to select those stallions by what I would perceive as being affordable or within certain budgetary guidelines. I turn down the pages on many, but often many of only certain stallions. I try to look at all progeny (usually colts) of some older well established proven stallions, such as Camluck. I look at some new up-and-comers like a second crop sire that has had reasonable success in year one. And I look at some new crop stallions that I believe will hit. I always try to buy yearlings by stallions that I have had success with and conversely, I rarely will go back to a sire that has had yearlings with a bad attitude or lameness issues. To me, the right attitude is the most important thing in yearlings today, and it will go a long way toward establishing a successful racing career. The breeding is so good today that most properly selected yearlings on confirmation will have good gaits, but if they have all of those traits and no attitude to go with them, then basically you have nothing to work with—only something to try and get to the races.
In Harrisburg this year, I looked at 258 pacing yearlings in the course of five days (at the end, it looked like many had two heads); all of these were from 17 stallions. Proven stallions accounted for 11 groups of yearlings; three sets were from second crop stallions (up and coming) like Rocknroll Hanover, two were from new stallions that were both top racehorses, and one small group was from a stallion that has not hit yet but really throws great looking individuals, and maybe someday I think he may have a good one (that being Village Jolt).
There were other new stallions with offerings there but I either was not impressed by the horse’s racing career or with a passing look, was not impressed with individual yearlings that were present at the sale.
I also look at the bottom line of a pedigree and what has been produced or not, as this is very important as well, but all I am saying is that for me, the first day with a yearling book is spent turning down pages on certain stallions. I, being a scientist by nature, simply don’t buy the old adage that the brood mare is more important than the stallion. It simply cannot be this way, because an equal number of genes are supplied by both mare and stallion. Yes, there are exceptions that are seen on paper, like my long time neighbour Ralph Frizzel’s old brood mare that was bred to many and produced for them all, but by and large, I actually believe that the opposite may be true. I have seen so many times in the Atlantic region where certain stallions will actually pick up the mare a bit and produce a top colt or filly from just an average bred mare. Knightly Blue Chip was a good early example of this in our region. He was one of the first well bred top race horse stallions to come from the USA and start a breeding career here. He helped make some top brood mares in our region back many years ago.
I use statistics a lot as well as observing the results of all the two- and three-year-old races in a current year to decide which stallion’s yearlings I will look at in that particular year. For example, look at the top three finishers in each stake race because the breeding is listed right there for you with two and three-year-olds. Take note of who looks good on the track and who is producing the winners. I never go to a well bred brother to this and that, who was not a good racehorse, or had never raced himself. I want a yearling that will grow up to be a top racehorse (obviously like his/her sire), not necessarily a well bred “dud.” That being said, for every stallion’s progeny that I look at, that stallion was a top horse that raced top horses in top classes and made lots of money (class and money is oh so important). Cheap claimers on big tracks go in the 1:50 to 1:51 range now, so time is not nearly as important as it used to be. More importantly, it is who they beat, how they did it and how much money they made. I believe this to be especially important when looking at first crop sires, which I do like, as well as a first foal or first colt. The buying price of these types of yearlings is often a whole lot cheaper than a well proven sire like Camluck for example. Breeders will have less money in a first crop sire yearling as a general rule, because of lower stallion fees, and may be more willing to let their babies go for less money in the auction ring.
Some of the best bred (and most expensive) yearlings I have ever had have just been fair racehorses that were usually sold sometime during or after their two-year-old season.
Something not to do when selecting yearlings is to go by emotion, because inevitably you will get stung. For example, don’t buy a yearling by say Camluck again, just so you can have a Camluck. Use the rest of the pedigree and the individual’s looks and conformation over his stallion line that you so desperately may want; and of course, use price as a determining factor for value. Don’t buy a full or half brother/sister to a good horse you used to have unless all your other criteria (some just listed) are fulfilled as well. For example, and not to insult the breeder or the buyer, but I obviously I looked at the full sister to Malicious in Harrisburg this year, and as much as I may like to have her, I walked away, because as an individual, she just did not fit my preferences. She did bring $140,000 USD, and the breeder was probably wondering why we didn’t buy her when in essence, he should be thanking us for getting that price thanks to his yearling’s full brother’s performance. The emotional element of buying a yearling will be even more important for me to be careful of within the next few years, as some first crops of stallions I used to race are being offered for sale at yearling sales. (It started this year with Astronomical). You can look at every one out there, but must still use all your other values in determining which one you need to have.
A couple of the best yearlings I have had were from first crop stallions who, prior to their stallion careers, made over a million dollars in earnings, but were not the best in their class. Typically with the top colts of any given year that go on to be breeding stallions, their off spring sell for way more money. From Camluck’s first crop in 1995, Tom Clark and I purchased Cam Country (in Charlottetown for $10,000). Cam Country went on to be a $300,000 winner. Astronomical (also a $10,000 Charlottetown yearling) in 2003, came from the first crop of previous Little Brown Jug winner, Astreos. Counting three year olds and up, every Camluck horse I ever had (over 20 of them) did nothing but win races and make money, and every one of them had terrific and competitive attitudes. That’s why at every yearling sale, I look at every Camluck colt available, regardless of any bottom line, and then apply all my other selection criteria.
It is very rare that stallions that were not top racehorses will ever throw yearlings that will go on to be top of their class racehorses or champions. It is common that top racehorses produce top racehorses. It is also not uncommon that top racehorses are “dud studs”; a classic example being Niatross; but for me, the odds are certainly better with the aforementioned top racehorse scenario. Many dud stallions often have a lot of inbreeding present. One thing that is good today which has advanced the standardbred breed is that most stallions are basically given one chance, and if they are not doing it on the track, then their breeding days soon become numbered.
I certainly am not saying here in this article that stallions are the most important thing to look at when selecting yearlings. What I am saying is that for me, this seems to work with our small selections each year. Think about it—if you like a certain mare or certain line, there is only going to be a limited number of yearlings to choose from each year, and maybe many others will like that line and inflate the prices. With a certain stallion, you will often have many choices to look at, and hence many more chances to get what you really want. Poor quality yearlings cost as much to keep, train and stake as good ones do.
Buying yearlings from a top racehorse stallion, may give you a better chance of having a top racehorse two- or three-year-old. Yes, there always are exceptions, but by and large, doing your homework at a yearling sale should yield you the best results long-term, and using stallions as a prime criterion to start with, is one method that has helped me along the way.
Editor’s Note: Dr. Moore has had several yearlings go on to be top racehorses in the past decade including Cam Country, Astronomical, Impeccable, Shadow Play, Malicious and Wellthereyougo. The purchase prices were not high on the first four listed, $10 - $20,000, while the last two were bought for $45,000, and this group has collectively earned over $4 million in lifetime earnings and won many top races in North America.