Racing, by its nature, is field of competition that separates the good from the average and sifts out the very best from the “merely” good. But after passing the racecourse tests for soundness, athleticism, and courage, a racehorse's second career as breeding stock tests a horse in different ways.
Not surprisingly, fewer good racemares succeed as producers. And even fewer top colts become top sires.
It's the natural result of intense competition, and there are a limited number of spots at the top of the tree.
These considerations make the accomplishments of Storm Cat, Mr. Prospector, and Danzig even more remarkable. None of those top stallions received large books filled with top broodmares at the beginning of the stallion careers, but even without multiple mates of distinction, they produced stars from the start, begot champions right out of the starting gate, and their reward has been lasting renown.
In contrast, there are numerous champion racehorses who fizzled when put to stud. Despite big books and massive opportunity with premium racemares and producers, some stallions underperform. That is the inevitable result of intense competition.
And it doesn't get any tougher than competition at the racetrack.
There are all kinds of excuses for all kinds of failure, but the racetrack is unforgiving. Whoever gets to the wire first is the winner, and if a stallion's runners don't get there, the party is over.
Given his outstanding class, perhaps the most disappointing stallion of the past few decades was Horse of the Year, classic winner, and multiple champion Spectacular Bid. A big, strong athlete who showed speed and early maturity, classic ability of a high order, and the maturity to race unbeaten through his 4-year-old season, Spectacular Bid received books of the most elite mares, and he spun out.
Further complicating the selection of mates and development of families in breeding, things have changed since the Bid covered his first book of mares in the spring of 1981.
For one thing, they don't make books of mares that small any more. The big gray son of Bold Bidder sired about as many foals in his first five or six crops as a contemporary stallion at the top level would sire in a single crop.
The development of mega-books of mares has worked to concentrate the best mares in the books of select stallions to the detriment of “lesser” horses, but nobody knows for sure which horses will become the best sires until their stock has raced.
Therefore, more good mares go into the books of well-regarded but unproven stallions in comparison to the books of proven stallions, especially the books of those proven stallions who are just a slice under the very best.
So what's a breeder to do?
The record of one young mare in the hands of a very capable breeder gives us a method to emulate. The winning Storm Cat mare Teeming won three of her four starts, clearly had ability, but did not earn black type.
In that regard, she was different from her famed siblings Rags to Riches (by A.P. Indy) and Jazil (Seeking the Gold), both of whom won the Belmont Stakes.
Teeming was bred by Hill ‘n' Dale Farms in Kentucky, was sold for $1.5 million as a beautiful weanling, and is a broodmare for Hill ‘n' Dale Equine Holdings (John Sikura) and Edward McGhee.
From her first five foals, she produced four by proven stallions A.P. Indy, Distorted Humor, Street Cry, and Smart Strike. Two are stakes winners, the A.P. Indy mare Cascading and the Smart Strike filly Streaming, and two are stakes-placed, the Distorted Humor filly Distracting and the Street Cry filly Gifting. All five are winners, and the mare has a yearling filly by Tapit and a weanling filly by Smart Strike.
The only mating that Hill ‘n' Dale reproduced was the one to Smart Strike, and Streaming indicated one reason why with her victory on Saturday in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. Now unbeaten in two starts, she is the desired outcome of mating a top sire with a talented and highly promising young mare.
The proof is in the winner's circle.
Frank Mitchell is author of Racehorse Breeding Theories, as well as the book Great Breeders and Their Methods: The Hancocks. In addition to writing the column “Sires and Dams” in Daily Racing Form for nearly 15 years, he has contributed articles to Thoroughbred Daily News, Thoroughbred Times, Thoroughbred Record, International Thoroughbred, and other major publications. In addition, Frank is a private consultant to breeders on pedigrees, matings, and conformation. He is a hands-on caretaker of his own broodmares and foals in central Kentucky. Check out Frank's lively Bloodstock in the Bluegrass blog.
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