Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cultural bias

If they both retired to stud tomorrow, which horse would command the higher stud fee, Summer Bird or Quality Road?

The correct answer is Quality Road. Why? Well it is mostly based on industry biases and seemingly permanent, almost willful misconceptions about what is important in determining the stud potential of top colts.

Remember five years ago when Smarty Jones and Birdstone retired to stud? Smarty had won a minor stakes at two, the Kentucky Derby-G1 on a bad track that blatantly favored runners near the front of the pack, and the Preakness-G1 at three. Birdstone had won a G1 (the Champagne) at two, beaten Smarty Jones in the Belmont-G1 and won the Travers-G1 at three. Smarty Jones began his stud career at a stud fee of $100,000. Birdstone started off at $10,000.

Both were rather small, unimpressive individuals, correct enough, but not physical specimens who would have brought high prices at yearling or juvenile sales, regardless of their pedigrees. Three Chimneys had a waiting list for Smarty Jones, despite his high stud fee, but Gainesway struggled to fill Birdstone's book. Eighty-five foals resulted for Smarty's first crop versus only 70 for Birdstone.

True, part of the reason for the discrepancy in stud fee and book size was Smarty Jones's popularity with the racing public. The main reason, though, was pedigree. Smarty was from Elusive Quality's first crop, and the latter was a beautifully bred horse who had made himself a salable entity, mainly because of Smarty. Birdstone was by Grindstone, a better racehorse than Elusive Quality, but a proven failure at stud, Birdstone excepted. Birdstone possessed the better female family, but breeders did not care. Though not everyone was sold on Smarty's potential, breeders were willing to take a chance, banking on his presumed commercial appeal.

The results, of course, speak for themselves. Smarty's first crop includes, to date, only two minor stakes winners. Birdstone's first crop features five stakes winners, including two of the three best 3yo colts of the year, Summer Bird and Mine That Bird. In retrospect, Birdstone had everything breeders should require--except an impressive physique--in a stallion prospect...mainly his race record. He was a Grade 1 winner at two and a classic winner and Travers winner at 3. What more should one want? (Full disclosure--the author turned down Birdstone for a client's mare, despite an excellent pedigree match because of his size and unimpressive physique. He has since come to his senses).

Since then, of course, Elusive Quality has sired Raven's Pass and other top runners, confirming his quality as a stallion. Quality Road is a big, impressive individual from a very high-class family, and he has established track records at both 6 1/2 and 9 furlongs. Summer Bird is a good-looking, medium-sized horse, unraced at two, who has won two of the four most important races for three-year-olds and is from the same family as top sires Relaunch and Tapit. Either of these colts may yet go on to secure the 3yo male championship and earn a more lucrative stud career, but right now, Quality Road would be the choice of most breeders because he is perceived as the horse with superior speed.

Life just is not fair, whether one speaks of racehorses or of men. But which horse will have the higher stud fee in 2010, Smarty Jones or Birdstone?

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