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3 Year Old Breeding Trends

We know that the 2011 Derby Class (2008 foal crop) was one of the weakest in recent memory. Every contender was extremely flawed and not a single one seemed like they really wanted to reach out and take the brass ring. Other than Shackleford, there wasn't a single horse that was even remotely consistent. Just take Stay Thirsty. From the time he broke his maiden his finishes looked like this: 1-2-5-1-7-12-1-1-3-11. Hardly a consistent effort. And he was arguably a top 3yo last year.

But why is this? Why was the crop so poor? This year is better, certainly, but not by such a chasm that you'd assume that the 2008 foal crop was a complete anomaly. So I broke out the 2011, 2001, and 1991 Derby fields (again, I'm using the derby as a medium to examine the top 3yo horses) to take a closer look at their dams and siblings.

What I found was actually kinda creepy. Creepy in how consistent the dams were over a 20 year period. I used 1991, 2001, and 2011 in order to get three completely different generations of racers, dams, and in most cases sires just to see how the quality had changed.

Dams with Graded Stakes Win(s):

  • 2011: 2
  • 2001: 0
  • 1991: 2

Dams with Ungraded Stakes Win(s):

  • 2011: 2
  • 2001: 4
  • 1991: 1

Dams Placed in Graded Stakes (no Graded or ungraded SWs):

  • 2011: 2
  • 2001: 2
  • 1991: 1

Dams Placed in Ungraded Stakes (no stakes wins or Graded stakes places):

  • 2011: 2
  • 2001: 1
  • 1991: 1

However, there are more mares that were unraced in the 2011 derby field than previously. 2011 saw 5 unraced brood mares while 2001 saw 1 and 1991 had 3.

Similarly, siblings are remarkably consistent between the 3 test years. Admittedly, the 2011 class should have a much smaller number of high end siblings solely based on the fact that the broodmares aren't complete with their careers on the farm like the other two crops are.

Starters with siblings with Graded Stakes Win(s):

  • 2011: 4
  • 2001: 2
  • 1991: 7

Starters with siblings with Ungraded Stakes Win(s):

  • 2011: 7
  • 2001: 4
  • 1991: 4

Starters with siblings placed in Graded Stakes (no Graded or ungraded SWs):

  • 2011: 6
  • 2001: 7
  • 1991: 4

Admittedly, Kentucky Derby starters is a small sample size to be dealing with. But seeing that all of the best 3yos are essentially trying to get into one race, I think that it works for this example.

The bottom line here is that the same relative quality of mare is producing the same relative quality of foal. The difference in my opinion is in the selection of stallions. This is backed up when you compare the dosage indexes of all Sires and Broodmare Sires from all three crops of 3yos. The average Dosage indexes were:

  • 2011: 3.11*
  • 2001: 3.28
  • 1991: 2.79

*I omitted Animal Kingdom due to the fact that he is a complete outlier (sire/BM sire average DI is 1.19), and while his stats should be taken into account for quality of bloodstock, his dosage indexes are completely outside the norm. But that's why I like him so much.

So while there isn't much difference between 2011 and 2001, you see a drastic shift in dosage between 1991 and 2001. In fact, the difference between the two, in distance, is markedly different. With a DI of 3.28, the median winning distance is around 7.5 furlongs while a DI of 2.79 yields a winning distance of approximately 9.75 furlongs (distance estimates courtesy of the Chef De That's a huge difference. Admittedly, I need to dig into that further in order to see exactly when/where the trend started, but it definitely lies within the trend of the American breeding industry selecting for sprinters.

In the end, the same relative quality of mare is being bred to the high end stallions in Lexington (and worldwide). But the gene pool available at stud today is so heavily weighted towards shorter distances that the odds of getting a 3yo that is comfortable at the Classic distances is much lower than it was 20 years ago. In my opinion, this would account for the inconsistencies we see with the top ranked 3yos. As they are really pushed to run in the 10-12 furlong range, their bloodlines continue to scream to run 7-9 furlongs and they're just not comfortable going the entire Classic distance. The average DI (since approximately 1970) of horses that won either the Triple Crown or two of three legs of the Triple Crown is in the range of 2.1-2.4, which is a winning distance of right around 11 furlongs (this figure is estimated).

The lack of depth is the issue here. There will always be a horse that rises to the top, heck, somebody HAS to win. But the issue is that without a depth of bloodlines that focus on the Classic Distances, the odds of having a CONSISTENT top end 3yo are severely decreased. Without that pure talent, you lack the possibility for a super horse that can really rise up and outlast the field as a 3yo day in and day out.