Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mizzen Mast at stud: Underachiever? Let's run some stats up the flagpole and see

A discussion about the stallion Mizzen Mast -- prompted by the debut victory of his son Rough Sailing (a 2010 sales tip of mine) in a mile-turf maiden special weight at Arlington Park -- has spurred me to transfer those thoughts from Facebook to this blog.

And what I'm thinking -- same as I've been thinking for many years -- is that we in the U.S. horse racing industry have developed practically a two-faced way of evaluating stallions.

Mizzen Mast was described a stallion who "hasn't gotten it done" at stud, in part as indicated by his $15,000 fee, which is on the lower side for Kentucky. This caused me to take up for the fellow, because, frankly, while he's not the superstar of the stallion biz, Mizzen Mast is a solid sire and, at that $15,000, a pretty good value.

At first blush, Mizzen Mast might seem to be underachieving in the stallion ranks. His name falls (just) outside the top-100 on both the General Sires list and the Juvenile Sires list, and he's nowhere to be found on the Broodmare Sires list (though his daughters are still rather young).

But look deeper, because these lists are not a direct indicator of genetic strength passed on to a stallion's foals; rather, they're heavily influenced by sheer weight of numbers.

At this writing, No. 2 on the General Sires list is
Giant's Causeway with 303 current runners; Mizzen Mast is 105th, but only has 115 sons and daughters racing. Though there are stallions ahead of Mizzen Mast on the list who have even fewer foals than he, the majority have more foals on the ground. Thus, the general sires list and really all the gross-earnings based lists always has been as much or more a product of quantity than of quality. It's a measure of the stallion's economic success -- the number of mare-owners willing to pay for a season to that stud -- far more than an endorsement or indictment of his talent, though marketing types will likely insist it takes quality (of racing career, pedigree and proven success at stud) to get mare numbers. (It doesn't; not always.)

By a similar token, stud fee to me means little or nothing regarding the actual track-worth of a sire. If effectiveness as a stallion of racehorses mattered,
Slew City Slew -- who at present gets 79 percent runners, 58 percent winners, 6 percent stakes winners and statistically upgrades his mares -- might be $35,000 instead of $3,500 and getting mares 50 percent better than the ones he's seen.

Unfortunately, beyond "the big horse" (which the highest-priced stallions do periodically get), it's fashionability of pedigree and suitability for cashing in at a yearling or 2-year-old sale that creates the bulk of the difference in stud fees, more so than quality of runners.

A fine example of the misleading nature of fees: Mizzen Mast ($15K) presently has a higher percentage of runners from all foals (68-64) and winners from all foals (48-43), an equal percentage of stakes winners (5), and higher median earnings (about $23,550 vs. $22,501) when compared to
Elusive Quality, who stands in Kentucky for $75,000. This despite a broodmare band comprised of females who are statistically about 30 percent worse than the mares Elusive Quality sees (1.49 Comparable Index vs. Elusive Quality's 2.25).

Mizzen Mast also has an average 2-year-old sale price of around $103K and a median of $52K off that $15,000 fee. Elusive Quality, who stood for a six-digit fee until recent years, has an average 2-year-old sale of around $150K but a median of $85K on his $75,000 fee; the latter is clearly a loss for any breeder taking a baby from foal to juvenile sale.

Granted, I'm picking on Elusive Quality because I've long thought he was likely the most overpriced stallion in America, if not the world. So let's look at another on the list (and contender for overpriced), the aforementioned Giant's Causeway, he of the 303 runners.

Statistic Giant's Causeway Mizzen Mast
Percent starters: 70 68
Percent winners: 44 48
Pct. stakes winners: 7 5
Pct. stakes placers:
5 4
Starts per runner: 11.26 13.07
Pct. wins/starts: 14 15
Pct. place/starts:
24 26
Average earnings: $75,136 $58,176
Median earnings: $16,378 $23,550
Earnings/start: $6,673 $4,450
Avg. Earnings Index: 1.99 1.49
Comparable Index: 3.24 1.59
AEI vs. CI: -38.6% -6.3%

Definitely Giant's Causeway leads in several key stats. He also trails in others -- particularly, and considerably, in median earnings. From that figure alone, it can be suggested (which I am) that despite his number of brilliant horses (the Shamardals, Eskendereyas, etc.), Giant's Causeway is getting
useful horses at a lower percentage of his total get than is Mizzen Mast. This despite a stud fee of $100,000 vs. Mizzen Mast's $15,000, and a broodmare band (as measured via CI) of more than double the quality of that presented to Mizzen Mast. ... For that kind of price and opportunity difference, I would expect Giant's Causeway to crush a $15,000 stallion by every statistical measure. But in this case, he doesn't.

If we choose to compare Mizzen Mast to top Kentucky stallions by purely economic measures -- stud fee particularly, number of mares booked to the stud, and even the sire lists -- then yeah, I guess Mizzen Mast doesn't measure up.

If we're trying to figure out which stallions pass muster for getting racehorses, his numbers are competitive even with stallions priced at five to seven times his fee (but not as good as the even-cheaper Slew City Slew), despite getting broodmares that are consistently and considerably lesser producers than these two mentioned star-quality stallions.

It can be argued that some sort of "mishandling" by
Juddmonte Farms, which stands Mizzen Mast, has resulted in these discrepancies in numbers and quality of mares. (It was suggested that Juddmonte erred in trying to get dirt horses from the Caro/Cozzene-line stallion, which is far better known for turf performance. I counter that Mizzen Mast ran his best races on dirt, as did another Cozzene son at stud, Alphabet Soup, and Alphabet Soup has gotten plenty of dirt runners at stud. Also, Mizzen Mast's female family includes Kentucky Oaks and Massachusetts Handicap winners on dirt among his nearest relatives, so dirt performance of his get was not an unreasonable expectation, though Mizzen Mast's best runners so far have been on grass and synthetic, most notably Hollywood Gold Cup-G1 winner Mast Track.)

I would counter that his deficits in number and quality of mares are likely heavily influenced by lacking a commercial pedigree -- Elusive Quality is by a top Mr. Prospector son in Gone West, Giant's Causeway by retired $500,000 breeding-shed megastar Storm Cat, while Mizzen Mast is by Cozzene.

Nothing Juddmonte can do could ever change the horse's family.

If one chooses to argue that Juddmonte perhaps could've done a more effective job of marketing Mizzen Mast to get more and better mares, that's a tough point to debate. It can only be quantified by the raw numbers of foals born and mares' CI -- the statistical fact that Mizzen Mast
didn't get more and better mares. (And maybe more dirt-oriented mares. That's an analysis I've yet to undertake; the pedigrees of each mare Mizzen Mast has seen.)

But saying that Mizzen Mast is "not getting results on the track" (as was suggested) sort of misses the fact that -- by almost any measure other than sheer weight of numbers -- Mizzen Mast actually
is getting some pretty good results on the track, even when measured against far more expensive stallions.


  1. Interesting analysis Glenn, it seems like we need a new sire listing, for lack of a better term, call it the "Racehorse Sire List." Kind of a "if you could only have one foal from a stallion this year, which one would be most likely to produce a winning working horse?"

    Some things I'd include in the formula;

    Winners from foals has to be the most important category.

    Median, but not average, income. Using averages gets distorted by "big" horses.

    Profitability; winning as compared to stud fee + upkeep costs (mare during pregnancy, foal until present day, "expected" unexpected costs).

    Either average starts per foal or average starts per foal per quarter; as a measure of durability.

    Comp index to correct for broodmare quality.

    Stakes winners from foals to get a perspective on chance of getting the big horse.

    What do you think?

  2. I love the sound of that, because these are my considerations when evaluating stallions, none of whom (in this discussion anyway) I can afford at this time.

    Percent runners from all foals; percent winners from all foals, I do think percentage of stakes winners and placers is important, and definitely median earnings over average. You're so right that the "big" horse -- Smarty Jones as an example regarding Elusive Quality -- inflate the average earnings and can make up for literally dozens of foals who do nothing. ... Smarty earned $7.6 million. EQ could have 99 other foals run out for bubkes and the hundred would have average earnings of $76,000; very impressive, but hardly an endorsement of any horse other than Smarty Jones.

    Comparable Index is also huge for me. If two sires each have 1.50 AEI, but one has done it with mares whose CI is 1.25 and the other mares whose CI averages 1.75, other considerations being relatively equal (nick, body type of sire and dam, etc.) I'm going with the guy who upgrades his mares.

    "Profitability" would be an interesting approach, as well. Fact is, apart from some owners choosing the cream of the crop trainers, breaking farms, etc., it costs roughly the same to get a blueblood foal to the track as it will my Dollar General breedings. In so many cases, if you're breeding to race (and aren't Jess Jackson or Jerry Moss, etc., for whom money isn't much of an object), you're better off going with a less expensive sire. Many of them get nearly equal results for a fraction of the cost of a marquee name at stud.

    I have another blog post forthcoming on this very issue -- or, at least, on stud fee not always being indicative of where you'll find your home run horse. It plays well off this piece.

    Thanks, Nicholas!


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