Monday, June 29, 2009

Premature emasculation: Passing judgment too soon on the stud career of Ten Most Wanted

A friend pointed me toward an interesting 2009 analysis of stallions prepared by Jason Hall for his site The American Thoroughbred Review. Included were "best values" and "worst values" at various price points in the stallion market.

Hall and I actually have a few things in common. He's self-described as "a lifelong student of bloodstock topics," as an "active owner and breeder," and he has a degree in journalism from Boise State University. Certainly our lives have parallels.

And I agree with his assessment of several stallions on the list. Slew City Slew isn't just among the best values at $5,000 or below; I think he's one of the better values even when considering stallions two or three times his price. Macho Uno deserves all the kudos Hall gives him and more at $25,000. And I share both his fondness for Rahy at a price I'll likely never be able to pay ($50,000) and disdain for Golden Missile at $7,500. (Read my take on Golden Missile in this blog post on the sale of the stallion Badge.)

But Hall was just unfortunately, unfairly and prematurely cruel in his assessment of one horse on the list: Ten Most Wanted.

It's clear the Grade 1-winning son of Deputy Commander is rapidly falling out of favor, whether or not Hall likes him. Ten Most Wanted (pedigree) started out at Gainesway in Kentucky (2005-06), was shuffled off to Buffalo (or the same state anyway) and stood at Sequel Stallions in New York for 2007-08, and now has been cast off to the West, where he's in residence at Magali Farms in Santa Ynez, Calif., priced at $5,000 for 2009.

A stallion doesn't make the KY-NY-CA circuit so quickly if there isn't some sort of trouble with him, though there could be any number of reasons -- including but not limited to owner finances, finicky partners, crooked foals, he's a bad actor in the shed, or he's simply not appearing very "commercial," particularly by committing the cardinal sin of modern thoroughbred breeding by siring foals that aren't precocious.

I fear, and Hall's assessment suggests, that it's the latter.

I don't know when Hall wrote his piece. It must have been quite early this season; probably a preview. His numbers regarding Ten Most Wanted -- who was only working on his first crop to race in 2008 -- merit some updating.

Hall knocks Ten Most Wanted as having: "Possibly the worst start we've ever seen in a young sire. Just 2 winners from 41 starters with median earnings of $1,200. Progeny are winning at an unheard of pace: 1%. Gelding this guy would be a great start at curbing overproduction."

Since that time, much has happened for Ten Most Wanted and his get. As of this writing, there are now 25 winners by Ten Most Wanted -- still just 42 percent of his 59 raced foals, but clearly and rapidly climbing. Their wins per start are still not overwhelming, but at 8 percent, are eight times what they were when Hall tore into their sophomore sire.

Of 118 foals of racing age, just 59 have raced, for exactly 50 percent. His progeny average earnings are just $10,598 for an Average Earnings Index of 0.73 vs. a Comparable Index for his mares of 1.31. There have been two stakes-placers, but no stakes winners.

But we are talking about a sophomore sire here, and one whose own career and pedigree merits much more in-depth consideration before dangling his chestnuts in front of a veterinarian's scalpel.

Ten Most Wanted did not race at all until he was 3. He had a splendid season, winning the "summer derby," the Travers S.-G1 at Saratoga, plus the Illinois Derby-G2 and Super Derby-G2. Two of those wins, the Travers and Super Derby, were encores of races won by his sire, Deputy Commander, who likewise did not race at 2, though his own sire, Deputy Minister, won eight of nine as a juvenile to become Canada's horse of the year.

Ten Most Wanted won a Grade 3 race at 4, but he made just two starts.

On the bottom half of his pedigree, Ten Most Wanted is out of the mare Wanted Again, who was a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Cutlass Reality. Her sire was Criminal Type, who was a winner at 2 and eventually champion older horse at 5, but who had never so much as placed in a stakes race until his championship season. In fact, her outstanding half-brother Cutlass Reality also won at 2 but did not win a stakes race until he was 4, and was not a Grade 1 winner until taking both the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Californian Stakes when he was 6. Her half-brother Land At War raced and won until he was 8; half-brother Pistoleer didn't start until he was 3, then posted seasons of 24, 25, 22 and 21 starts, eventually retiring with 96 calls to post.

So Ten Most Wanted was not a "forward" colt, waiting to race until he was 3, just like his sire. He was out of a mare who was half to a late-blooming Grade 1 talent and to brothers who ran on and on; and, she was by a horse who did not earn blacktype until he was 5. Ten Most Wanted predictably then was a classic-distance horse who never placed in a stakes race shorter than a mile and a sixteenth and who was a credible second to Empire Maker in the Belmont Stakes at a mile and a half.

Exactly what the hell sort of 2-year-old was Jason Hall -- or anyone else, for that matter -- expecting from the first crop of Ten Most Wanted?

Some of my agitation over this one stallion's treatment no doubt comes from the last line, in which Hall suggests gelding him to "curb overproduction." Considering it's the mare who has the uterus -- and who would almost certainly be presented to some other sire, anyway -- I'm not sure how gelding one stallion would in any way address "overproduction." The mares that a gelded Ten Most Wanted could no longer serve might produce better foals with some other sire (although a crop and a half for Ten Most Wanted is a poor time to make that case), but they aren't likely to produce any fewer foals.

But it's more than that.

I don't like to see a stallion written off so early. And I especially don't care to hastily push one into gradually "lesser" racing states -- or even out of the States and into some foreign market -- when he's a potential source of the stamina that American breeding sorely lacks, and comes from a female family with some history of very durable runners.

No, not all distance horses are also "backward" in their development, nor are they all tardy to show their worth as a stallion. Birdstone, a Grade 1 winner at 2, like Ten Most Wanted has two crops of racing age, and he already has a pair of classic winners from his first crop in Mine That Bird (Kentucky Derby) and Summer Bird (Belmont Stakes).

But in the time since Jason Hall wrote that Ten Most Wanted should be gelded to spare the breed his genes, the stallion's get have managed to improve their sire's progeny earnings enough that he presently stands 21st on the list of top 150 second-crop sires according to (Note: Those stats aren't as up-to-date as some of the individual numbers I'm citing.)

Now, 21st is hardly top-shelf, but he's ahead of more expensive sires not only in Champali (22nd, $7,500) and Strong Hope (24th, $15,000), both of whom Hall likewise pans, but also in Read the Footnotes (26th, $7,500), Spanish Steps (29th, $10,000), Roar of the Tiger (31st, $6,000), Tenpins (33rd, $6,500), Action This Day (36th, $10,000), Seattle Fitz (41st, $8,500), Perfect Soul (44th, $15,000) and Burning Roma (58th, $7,500), all of whom escape Hall's criticism entirely.

Class aside (though admittedly class does matter), Ten Most Wanted's 25 winners are but three fewer among sophomore sires than Smarty Jones (fee now listed as "private," but was $100,000) and the little-big-horse Birdstone ($10,000, who was missed as a "value" by Hall), they are just one fewer winner than Pleasantly Perfect ($15,000), and they amount to five more winners than the get of Johar, who stands for $10,000 and has 174 foals of racing age to Ten Most Wanted's 118.

Whatever the subject -- "used car best-bets," Top 10 quarterbacks of all time, the Top 99 women of 2009 -- rankings or lists always create controversy. Almost every nitwit (my hand is raised) can find some point with which to quarrel. By the same token, those lists often merit reconsideration in retrospect. ... Surely Hall would consider Birdstone a top value now, a few short months later, reason enough that such a list probaby shouldn't include sophomore sires.

I was just taken aback by the severity with which Hall phrased his criticisms of Ten Most Wanted, particularly considering how early in the young stallion's career that criticism was leveled.

So I figured I'd stand up for the fellow -- and his family jewels.

1 comment:

  1. Nice one! There's definitely a bias in the breeding industry in favour of early speed and precociousness at the expense of stamina and durability. Everybody wants results NOW, NOW, NOW, rather than wait for the late bloomers that might just turn out better than their early-maturing contemporaries.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.