By Ray Paulick
How good is Rachel Alexandra? There are several ways to marvel at her extraordinary ability. To the naked eye, she is an impressive combination of grace and power that is seldom seem, her long, smooth strides simply too much for her overmatched competitors to keep up with.
To followers of speed figures, she is a monster. Her Beyer Speed Figure from Sunday's Haskell Invitational was 116, a huge number. I would think her Ragozin and Thorograph numbers will also reflect superiority over her contemporaries.
What she has done in racking up seven consecutive victories in 2009 by Aug. 2 is equally amazing. In some ways, this daughter of Medaglia d'Oro is a throwback to yesteryear, when horses weren't treated with kid gloves. In compiling this formidable record, Rachel Alexandra has won six American Graded Stakes—twice as many as any other horse in the country so far this year—and four of the graded races were Grade 1 events (Kentucky Oaks, Preakness, Mother Goose, and Haskell Invitational). Two of them, as any racing fan knows, were outside of her division against colts.
Let's put those numbers in perspective. There will be something like 50,000 races run this year in the U.S., about 2,600 of them stakes races, or about 5% of all races. Of the 2,600 stakes, only about 500 are graded (1%), and of those 500, there are just 115 Grade 1. So, one-fifth of 1% of all U.S. races have Grade 1 status.
Taken a bit farther, for those 50,000 races there are about 410,000 horses in the starting gate. No more than 115 of those 410,000 starters will be able to claim a Grade 1 victory, or about three horses from every 10,000 starters (three-hundredths of 1%).
What are the odds of one of those horses winning four Grade 1 races in the first eight months of the year? Astronomical!
So, Rachel Alexandra is not quite a one in a million superstar Thoroughbred, but she's pretty darned close.
THESE NUMBERS AND PERCENTAGES merely serve to illustrate how difficult it is for a Thoroughbred to become a graded stakes winner. The chances of breeding, buying, selling or training one can be equally challenging.
Of course, there is strength in numbers to improve your chances of being associated with a graded stakes winner, whether you are a sire, owner, breeder, trainer, consignor or sales company. But big numbers do not guarantee success.
We'll look this week at the leading sires of 2009 American Graded Stakes winners so far this year. Three stallions—A.P. Indy, Giant's Causeway and Unbridled's Song—each have sired five AGS winners. But Giant's Causeway has by far had the most starters—265 at this writing—so his percentage of AGS winners to year starters is just 1.9%. A.P. Indy with 126 starters, has sired 4.0% AGS winners, and Unbridled's Song with 162 starters, has sired 3.1% AGS winners. (Note: the number of starters is worldwide.)
A.P. Indy stood for $250,000 this year. A success rate of 4.0% AGS winners means 1 in 25 runners wins an AGS, so it has taken on average $6,250,000 in stud fees (25 X $250,000) to produce each graded stakes winner among his runners. (Not all foals get to the races, so the number to produce an AGS would be even higher considering all foals.)
Giant's Causeway and Unbridled's Song stood for $125,000 each, and their average stud fee price per graded stakes winner using that same formula is $6,579,000 for Giant's Causeway and $4,032,000 for Unbridled's Song.
It's the next group of three sires, Mizzen Mast, Candy Ride and Tapit, with four AGS winners each, where the value is greater. Mizzen Mast has had 126 starters and has a AGS winner percentage of 3.2%; Candy Ride has had 80 starters for a 5.0% AGS strike rate; Tapit has had 84 starters for 4.8%.
Candy Ride, who was recently moved from Hill 'n' Dale to Lane's End, offered the greatest value when considering his $12,500 stud fee. His average stud fee cost per AGS winner was only $250,000. Of course, there is little question that Candy Ride's fee will be going up in 2010, though no announcement has yet been made.
Of the other two sires with four AGS winners, Mizzen Mast with a $17,500 fee produced each 2009 AGS winner at an average stud fee cost of $547,000; Tapit, with a fee of $35,000 produced each 2009 AGS winner at an average stud fee cost of $729,000—still a bargain compared with the higher-priced stallions.
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