Thursday, September 3, 2009

It depends on what "is" is

Every time a yearling by Tiznow came into the sales ring during the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale of selected yearlings, announcer Terrence Collier repeated that Tiznow was then the leading sire in North America.

Well, that depends on your definition of “North America.”

No, I am not being Clintonesque here.

Collier was quoting the general sire list published on the website of the Blood-Horse magazine. The question is, exactly what is that sire list based on? Which countries' race results are included in that list? The United States and Canada? Mexico? Puerto Rico? Any other countries?

The Blood-Horse website does not tell you, but unless their standards have changed in the last few years, their “North American” sire list includes money earned in the five major European racing countries (England, Ireland France, Germany, Italy), plus the United Arab Emirates....but not Japan or other major racing venues. (Presumably the standards are listed in the weekly magazine sire lists, but the author is not a subscriber, so perhaps one of our readers can enlighten us?).

In fact, there is no way that Tiznow could have been atop the North American sire list at that point without the earnings of Well Armed in the Dubai World Cup-G1. In fact, if one restricts the sire list to earnings in North America only (U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico, but not Mexico), then Tiznow currently stands in 20th place on the North American sire list, and could not possibly have been in first place the second week in August.

The Thoroughbred Times website is at least more informative. (Full disclosure—the author still works part time for Thoroughbred Times and is certainly biased in their favor). Giant's Causeway stands almost $3-million clear of Tiznow, who ranks second on that list (and indeed Giant's Causeway was well clear at the time of the Saratoga sale on the Thoroughbred Times list), which is based on earnings in North America, plus 17 other countries, including Japan. The Thoroughbred Times list includes earnings in all 18 countries (including the US) for which the Jockey Club database includes complete racing data.

At the very least, that is a far more logical approach than the Blood-Horse's inclusion of only North America, Europe and the UAE. Both magazines began including Europe in the late 1980s as the data became available. Everybody added the UAE when Cigar won the first Dubai World Cup in 1996. How could you possibly not include the complete earnings of the all-time leading American-trained money-earner?

The Blood-Horse decided, however, that they would not include Japanese earnings even when they became readily available. Supposedly the rationale at the time was that Japanese purses were so high that they would in some way “skew” the results.


I fail to see the logic of including some purses that are markedly higher than North American purses (as in Dubai) and excluding others (namely Japan). It seems to me the only argument concerning a leading North American sire list should be whether one includes only earnings in North America or one includes everything available.
One can argue either side of that question, but I have yet to see a valid argument for anything in between.

For the record (courtesy of Thoroughbred Times database...It's available, but they don't run it on their website), here are the current top ten sires by North American earnings only, as of 9/3/09:

Sire Strs Wnrs SWs Total Earnings
Giant's Causeway 142 62 11 $5,886,465
A.P. Indy 126 62 13 5,710,951
Medaglia d'Oro 95 43 7 5,647,349
Distorted Humor 217 108 11 5,500,685
Smart Strike 193 78 10 5,141,563
Stormy Atlantic 234 99 13 4,638,666
Unbridled's Song 153 61 9 4,623,808
Tale of the Cat 201 88 8 4,535,586
Birdstone 50 24 4 4,302,615
Malibu Moon 205 84 10 4,149,495
Empire Maker 100 47 4 3,985,213
Yes It's True 219 120 4 3,971,007
Northern Afleet 204 113 4 3,888,482
Dynaformer 111 45 6 3,795,177
Yonaguska 171 91 5 3,781,409
Unusual Heat 130 61 7 3,727,213
Pulpit 153 68 6 3,707,677
Lemon Drop Kid 115 66 12 3,658,110
Not For Love 196 87 8 3,657,464
Tiznow 125 54 6 3,600,042


  1. John,

    Good points. The B-H does have an online sire list which you can run by N. American earnings, which I just did to compare to your list. Some stallions match exactly to the dollar, but others are off. It could be a function of when the lists were generated. After all, they should be the same because both originate at equineline.

  2. Yes, John, the nationalistic bent that excludes Japanese earnings because they "skew" the stats is the same as a few others we could mention.

    It is silly beyond words. My own preference is for single-entity stallion listings (US, UK, etc.) but racing is so blasted international these days that those are kind of silly too.

    Certainly all earnings would be the best if we are to include any outside North America, and good work pointing out the differences such details can make.


  3. Thanks Frank.
    Now if we can just get TT to alternate NA only with worldwide, I'd be happy. One can argue either extreme (NA only or Worldwide) but anything in between is indefensible.

  4. You are quite right to point out the dishonesty of the stallion lists, as well as the disparity between the BH and TT versions. At the same time, however, there is a broader point which needs to be made: sire lists based on earnings are intrinsically distorted (and therefore misleading), and should not be used at all!

    There shouldn't be any need to go into great detail, but for the benefit of those who don't understand why I make the above assertion, consider the following. Silic (FR) currently sits at #26 on the BH sire list (by earnings). That places him very close to Pulpit, and above the likes of Tapit and Dixie Union, etc.

    Silic's offspring have earned $3,496,078 thus far in 2009, while Gladiatorus, his leading earner, has earned over $3.2m alone. So what does that mean? It means that without the earnings of ONE horse, Silic would be lucky to rank 260th on the list, rather than 26th. In practical terms, it underscores how misleading it is to rank sires by their progeny earnings.

    The only consistent and accurate way to fairly judge sires is by ranking them based on Group/Graded race winners relative to foals and runners. That provides a fair way to judge the relative class of their progeny.

    Yes, interpretation is always important where statistical tables are concerned. But how anyone can take a system seriously that once ranked Ole Bob Bowers above Nijinsky and Danzig (my personal favorite of many such examples) is beyond me.