By J. Keeler Johnson (“Keelerman”) Twitter: @J_Keelerman
With the 2019 Triple Crown in our rearview mirrors, I thought we’d kick off the second half of the racing season with a different type of post than usual.
Summer is just around the corner, and Saratoga is less than a month away, so the focus of racing fans will soon turn to juvenile racing as well-bred youngsters with high-profile connections hit the track and take aim at the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 2020 Triple Crown.
Therefore, now seems like as good a time as any to address a very old question—are foals produced by graded stakes-winning mares more or less likely to win stakes races than foals produced by less accomplished mares?
Old-time breeders used to believe high-class, heavily-raced mares were less likely to produce stakes-winning foals than mares who accomplished little or nothing on the track. And while we see no shortage of stakes winners produced by unraced or unaccomplished mares, isn’t that to be expected since they greatly outnumber graded stakes-winning mares?
The May 18, 2019 edition of BloodHorse magazine included a BloodHorse MarketWatch section that might be of interest to handicappers. An article by Nicole Stafford included several charts highlighting the produce records of “all mares that produced North American foals from 2000-07,” sorting the broodmares into categories based on their racing accomplishments and detailing the percentage of their foals that achieved stakes-caliber racing class.
The results are eye-opening. The main takeaway? Graded stakes-winning mares produce significantly higher percentages of stakes winners (8.2%), graded stakes winners (4.1%), and Grade 1 winners (1.4%) than all other categories of mares, including stakes-winning mares, which produce 6.2% stakes winners, 2.2% graded stakes winners, and 0.6% Grade 1 stakes winners.
Further down the list, unraced mares produce 3.6% stakes winners, 1.0% graded stakes winners, and 0.3% Grade 1 winners. Mares who won at least one race (but never placed at the stakes level) fare slightly worse, producing 3.2% stakes winners, 0.8% graded stakes winners, and 0.2% Grade 1 winners.
To put it another way, graded stakes-winning mares are approximately 5-7 times more likely to produce a Grade 1 winner than mares who never won or placed at the stakes level. Even stakes-winning mares are 2-3 times more likely to produce Grade 1 winners than those less accomplished mares.
Furthermore, if a graded stakes-winning mare is a half or full sibling to another graded stakes winner or a mare that produced a graded stakes winner, the stats are even more impressive. Mares that fit this category produce approximately 9.5% stakes winners, 5.2% graded stakes winners, and 1.7% Grade 1 winners.
You can argue the reasons behind these stats all day long. Superior genetics surely plays a factor, along with the fact that graded stakes-winning mares are much more likely to be bred to a top stallion than unaccomplished mares.
But if you see a two-year-old out of your favorite graded stakes-winning mare hit the track this summer, you can rest assured this well-bred youngster has a significantly better chance than most runners to become a stakes winner.
One Play for Stephen Foster Day
The Stephen Foster Handicap (G2) might be the highlight of the stakes-packed June 15 card at Churchill Downs, but the horse I’m most excited to play is running in the Regret Stakes (G3), a 1 1/8-mile turf test for three-year-old fillies.
#4 Varenka held her own against high-class company as a maiden last year, finishing second behind Newspaperofrecord in the Miss Grillo Stakes (G2) and fifth behind that same rival in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (G1), where she was beaten just 1 ½ lengths for second place.
Trained by Graham Motion, Varenka took the winter off, but returned to win a 1 1/16-mile maiden special weight on May 11 at Belmont Park with a terrific rally from off the pace. The early fractions were pedestrian (:25.04, :50.47, and 1:15.28), yet Varenka managed to pass six horses in the final five-sixteenths of a mile, blazing the distance in :27.99 per Trakus to win going away by two lengths.
This was a remarkable performance considering that the race was otherwise dominated by speed horses and was assigned a speed-favoring Closer Favorability Ratio (CFR) of 9 (on a 1-to-100 scale) by RacingFlow.com. An exceptional effort is required for late runners to win races like these, so I give Varenka a lot of credit for overcoming this unfavorable scenario.
As a daughter of Ghostzapper out of a Dynaformer mare, Varenka should relish the opportunity to stretch out to 1 1/8 miles in the Regret Stakes. I’m expecting her to unleash another powerful finish and win with ease on Saturday.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the weekend stakes races?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as “Keelerman”) is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.