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Choosing a Stallion

By Don Engel
Editor, The Showcase

     The time is drawing near for breeders to make their most important decisions: choosing stallions for their mares.
     Too many breeders make those decisions for badly flawed reasons, too numerous to list. Only two criteria deserve to be considered: The probability that the stallion will sire a runner of quality and the compatibility of that stallion and the mare to whom he'll be bred.
     The records of sires with runners on the track are available in enormous detail; there's no reason for a breeder to choose a stallion without having a clear idea of that stallion's ability to sire a desirable racehorse.
     Most sire prospects entering the stud fail; therefore, statistically they are bad bets. But of even less merit are sires who have been tried and failed. If sire statistics serve no other purpose, they are important in determining which stallions should be avoided.
     The best choices are those sires whose merit has been proved by the performance of their offspring on the race track.
     Deciding whether a stallion and a mare are compatible mates poses an entirely different question, except in the rare cases in which that mating already has produced one or more foals.
     Let's first consider the task of evaluating the sire quality of a stallion.
     The validity of sire progeny statistics increases with the number of foals that race. The performance of his foals that have raced is basically a sample from which an inference is made regarding the statistical probability that future foals will perform in the same way. The larger the sample, the more likely that inference is to be correct. The smaller the sample, the less likely.
     There's no way to know with certainty how large that sample must be to have satisfactory validity, but 100 runners is a reasonable guess. With a few sires, his quality will become clear in a smaller sample.
     In evaluating sire statistics, breeders must keep that in mind. Many sires get a handful of excellent runners from their first crop, breeders flock to book their mares, and later runners don't perform well, leaving those quick-booking breeders with inferior foals.
     Where do you find those sire statistics?
     There are five online sources for free sire statistics, as follows:
  The Blood-Horse Stallion Register at The page gives general information as well as a statistical summary. For that, click on the words "Statistical Summary" in the box at the upper right of the page. Updated every few days.
  Thoroughbred Times Stallion Directory at The page gives general information as well as a statistical summary. For that, click lines below the words "Statistical Summary" halfway down the page. Updated every few days.
  Bloodstock Research Information Systems (BRIS) Stallion Directory at The page gives a five-generation pedigree, paragraphs for the sire and broodmare sire, three and sometimes four generations of broodmare family in sale-catalog format, sire record, and an extensive list of the stallion's leading runners with details of their race records. Updated intermittently. It may be necessary for you to register with BRIS in order to have access to this feature. Registration is free. To register, click here.
  California Thoroughbred Breeders Association Online Stallion Directory. The pages duplicate stallions' entries in the printed version of the directory. It can be found by going to and clicking on "Stallions Online" in the column on the left side of the page. Unlike the above directories, it is never updated. The original page remains unchanged for the year following its posting, usually in December preceding the breeding season.
  The Thoroughbred Showcase of the West Stallion Directory. The page gives a five-generation pedigree, paragraphs for the sire and broodmare sire, three generations of broodmare family in sale-catalog format, sire record, and an extensive list of the stallion's leading runners with details of their race records. Click on the stalliion's name on the list along the left side of the Showcase home page. Updated frequently.
     None of those sources provide information on all sires, but both Equineline and BRIS do--for a price. Click here for directions on how to reach them. The best information at the best price is provided by Equineline's Product #31 ($13.00).
     If you aren't familiar with a term that you find in the sire records, click here and you probably will find an explanation of its meaning.
     You should know that only the BRIS Stallion Directory and the Thoroughbred Showcase Stallion Directories define stakes horses by "blacktype rules." The other three base their stakes horses on "stakes rules." Click here for an explanation of the difference.
     For California breeders, the Imported Sire Syndrome also must be taken into consideration.
     Setting recommended levels for the various elements of sire records isn't practical, because sire quality varies so greatly from one region to another. However, sire quality is well-defined by--in no particular order--percentage of starters and winners from foals, average earnings per starter, median earnings per starter, Average Earnings Index, Sire Production Index, and percentage of stakes winners and stakes horses from foals.
     Sire statistics sometimes are favorably distorted by the a single major winner; that can be misleading. And the quality of the races won by stakes winners should be examined to identify sires with an impressive number of stakes winners without a reasonable number of graded winners.
     And what of the stallions with too few runners to permit a valid evaluation of their performance?
     The specifications for sire success for such stallions are extremely difficult to define, at least with satisfying accuracy. A few stallions become successful with no apparent credentials for such success, but they are rare.
     An examination of the pedigrees and race records of the leading 20 all-time North American leading sires based on total progeny earnings showed the following characteristics:
Race Record: 12 won graded stakes at 2 and/or 3, 3 won graded stakes at 4 or older, 2 placed in graded stakes at 2 and/or 3, 1 won an ungraded stake and placed in angraded stake at 4, 1 won an ungraded stake at 3, 1 was undefeated in three starts (no stakes). 7 were champions.
Sire: 8 by a leading sire, 10 by a major sire, 1 by an excellent sire, 1 by a moderate sire.
Race Record of Dam: 12 won stakes, 2 placed in stakes, 1 was a winner (no stakes), 2 placed, 1 unplaced, 2 unraced.
     The sire designations above are subjective judgments, except for those who were the No. 1 sire at least one year. "Major" (highly successful but never a leading sire), "excellent" (well above average), and "moderate" (somewhat above average) are the next three levels in descending order.
     Of the 20, 17 won or placed in a graded stakes race, 19 won or placed in a stakes race, 1 was undefeated (Danzig). All but one were sons of leading sires or excellent ones. The 20th was Bold Reasoning, sire of champions Seattle Slew and Super Concorde and not much else.
     Nowhere on the list of 20 was a sire who was unraced or who ran with little ability.
     In the United States, hardly any sire prospects who fit the profile detailed above will be available outside of Kentucky, and they won't come cheap. Breeders without mares in Kentucky will have to look to sire prospects with lesser credentials.
     In California, for example, the characteristics of leading sires are much less impressive.
     An examination of the most recent list of the 10 leading sires who have stood their entire careers in California and have had at least 100 starters shows these characteristics:
  Race Record: 6 won graded stakes at 2 and/or 3, 1 won graded stakes at 4 or older, 1 placed in a graded stake at 3, 1 won an ungraded stake at 3 and placed in a graded stake at 4, 1 was a winner at 3 (no stakes). 2 were champions (1 in Chile).
  Sire: 2 by a leading sire, 2 by a major sire, 3 by a moderate sire, 3 by a minor (average) sire.
  Race Record of Dam: 2 placed in graded stakes, 2 won ungraded stakes, 5 were winners, 1 was unplaced.
     All but one of the 10 at least placed in a graded stakes race at some time in his career. That's the only characteristic that could be considered a requirement for consideration, except that sons of below-average sires should be avoided. The dams' race records showed no pattern at all, other than that all but one were winners at some level.
     Now, what about matching stallions and mares?
     The popular practice of matching stallion and mare by "nicking" is of little or no merit and should never be a primary criterion. If it is to be used at all, it should be for nothing other than breaking a tie between equally desirable stallions, an unlikely situation.
     An evaluation of the nicking phenomenon can be found by clicking here. This evaluation should be read by anyone tempted to rely on nicking analyses to match stallions and mares.
     It's deservedly no longer as fashionable as it once was, but "dosage" is still considered by some breeders, who almost always misunderstand its purpose. Click here for an explanation of its purpose and its fatal defects.
     If nicking and dosage are to be disregarded, what criteria can a breeder use to determine what qualified stallion is best for his mare?
     In some cases, a stallion can be eliminated from consideration because a mating would produce undesirable inbreeding. Many breeders also avoid matings that match two sprinters or two distance horses.
     After all that, the best advice for matching stallion and mare probably comes from the experts quoted in this article.
     Breeding a good horse certainly requires a significant amount of luck, but, as a wise man once observed, the challenge is to put yourself in a position for luck to run over you. 
     That's what the foregoing is all about, helping breeders to get into that position.

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