By Rob Whiteley
Remember to Misremember … in other words, remember to forget the old wives' tale that foals out of younger mares are somehow better or have more potential than foals out of older mares.
When the Bob Baffert-bred and trained Misremembered won the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap on March 6 (and became the No. 1 money earner in America to that point), his dam Beyond Perfection was added to an illustrious and awesome list of older mares who became Grade 1 producers late in their careers. The list of top performers out of older mares is far too lengthy to enumerate here, but to get the idea, think Secretariat, Sea the Stars, Better Than Honour, Silverbulletday, Ouija Board, Go for Wand, and 15 Breeders' Cup champions. Think also about recent Dubai Sheema Classic winner Dar Re Mi, whose dam Darara was 22 at time of foaling, and last week's Lousiana Derby winner Mission Impazible, whose dam La Paz was 19.
Beyond Perfection was being bred for the 13th year when Misremembered was conceived. Yet, despite compelling evidence that clearly shows the capabilities of older mares, the sales bias against their offspring is alive today. Numerous horsemen cling to false perceptions, sale after sale and year after year. What “Granddaddy always said” isn't always right, however, and some ideas that we carry around in our head are best misremembered. This is one of them.
What perpetuates the mistaken notion that foals out of older mares are somehow inherently inferior?
Some horsemen may become confused and draw wrong conclusions because of the fact younger mares (as a group) produce a slightly higher percentage of stakes winners from foals (about a 1% difference). This negligible difference has been documented in several studies, including a multi-year analysis by David Dink involving 137,184 foals and 4,804 stakes winners.
The trivial performance edge in favor of younger mares, however, is simply a result of opportunity which has two chief components: (1) Mares in their first five years of production are bred on a higher average stud fee; and (2) their offspring on average are sold for more money and generally are placed into upper-tier racing programs and circuits with higher percentage trainers, better exercise riders, more sophisticated veterinary “care,” and a greater probability of success.
Misunderstanding also may occur because older mares have more missing years than younger mares, and therefore produce fewer foals, fewer runners, and fewer stakes winners. Thus, because fewer offspring from older mares make their way into stakes results and featured stories, a false impression is created that older mares are somehow not performing as well as their younger counterparts. This is the same fallacy as the one perpetuated in leading sire lists that report stallion statistics by total numbers of winners and stakes performers or by average earnings per runner, not by average earnings per foal or percentage of winners and stakes performers to foals. In all instances, the true picture is revealed only when the referent is percentage to foals.
In this regard and as mentioned above, younger mares have only a 1% edge in performance over older mares (i.e., as a group they produce about one more stakes winner every 100 foals), a paltry difference considering the huge advantage younger mares enjoy with regard to opportunity. Therefore, instead of dismissing foals out of older mares, we should evaluate each of them individually, on their pedigree, athleticism, and conformational merits, while giving them the same scrutiny and value consideration as any other racing prospect.
OK, so if evidence clearly shows that the potential of any group of foals is not a function of age, per se, what does determine a foal's quality and prospects? Basically, the answer lies in three main factors: (1) The foal's gene pool (which is not affected by the age of the mare, as a mare's genes do not change over time); (2) the mare's reproductive health and fitness or “soundness;” and (3) the competency of management and care during the prenatal period and at time of foaling.
Some mares age faster than others according to their genetic predispositions and life experience. Some are done early and some can cruise along into their mid-20s. But eventually all mares reach a point when their fertility is extinguished or their ability to provide a satisfactory reproductive environment becomes compromised. And that's the beauty of the whole process. When an older mare cannot get it done anymore, she tells us (and any resulting foal tells us). Thus, if an older mare is “over the hill,” she will either go barren, spit out the pregnancy, or have a poor foal. Yet, if an older mare is healthy, physically and reproductively, she has virtually the same probability of producing a good foal and stakes winner as a younger mare.
Given this knowledge, our task at the sales, therefore, is to discard the hearsay and false bias about older mares and look clearly at each foal or yearling or 2-year-old in front of us on their own physical merits as an athlete.
For additional details on this topic and other sales myths, please read Buying Sales Yearlings: Plain and Simple which can be downloaded at www.consignorsandbreeders.com.
Rob Whiteley owns the commercial breeding operation known as Liberation Farm. He may be contacted through his website: www.liberationfarm.com.
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