10/20/2005 12:00AM

Do top racemares drop top foals? Not so often


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The $14 million up for grabs in next Saturday's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships could very well be surpassed by the prestige at stake. With the eyes of the racing world upon the Breeders' Cup, a victory in any one of the eight stakes will send the residual value of a stud or broodmare prospect soaring.

But when it comes to breeding, do earnings and accomplishments matter as much as many people believe? That was one of the questions I asked Duane Burke, my colleague at Daily Racing Form who handles database research, to analyze in a computer query a few months ago.

Specifically, I was interested in broodmares. So Duane listed for me the Daily Racing Form database records of North American-born female horses born in 1992, and the subsequent records of their first offspring that were in the database.

The year 1992 was chosen as the reference point because we had Beyer Speed Figure data on these runners, and because it accounted for enough time for the overwhelming majority of mares to have had their first foal make it to the races.

Here are some of the findings, based on an analysis of nearly 6,000 producing dams:

* Of the mares born in 1992 that raced, the top 20 percent - those that earned $69,845 or more - had their first offspring earn an average of $53,410. By contrast, unraced mares generated average earnings of $32,935 with their first progeny.

It is almost unimaginable for me to think that the first foals from North America's best racemares would outperform those from unraced mares by only an average of just over $20,000. Granted, many of these unraced mares had pedigree - otherwise they might not have been bred at all - but clearly these returns suggest that the success of the dam in little way guarantees earnings success for the foal.

* A better indicator of an offspring's success is not gross earnings from the dam, but earnings per start. Of the studied mares that ranked in the top 20 percent in this area, their offspring earned an average of $68,410 - $15,000 higher than the top 20 percent based on gross earnings

Surprisingly, there is little focus within the industry on earnings per start. Sales catalogs typically list the earnings of the mare without informing the potential purchaser about how many times it took a horse to get to X amount of dollars.

I found earnings per start to be a better predictor of offspring success than top Beyer Speed Figures or even black type.

* Of the mare's offspring that were sold as weanlings, yearlings, or 2-year-olds, the dam's race record was typically overvalued relative to the foal's earning potential.

One prime example from the study was the first foal out of Grade 1 winner Chaposa Springs - a son of Unbridled that would be named Absolute Magic. He never started after selling in July of 2000 for $1.8 million to Padua Stable.

In defense of that purchase - and others like it - to look solely at earnings is overlooking a larger picture, at least at the high end. If Absolute Magic had won a graded stakes race, his value as a stud prospect would have grown much more than a colt with a less commercial pedigree.

* For horseplayers, there does not appear to be much upside to playing horses that are out of big-name mares. If a pedigree is noticeable, it is noticeable to more than just you and value is likely gone on that angle. Expectations run high; return on investment runs low.

There will always be cases of well-bred runners becoming big hits. In an example that leaped out to me - Flanders, a 1992-born mare who was a champion in 1994, produced Surfside, the champion 3-year-old filly of 2000, as her first foal.

She was an exception to the norm. Based on this data, horseplayers appear better off favoring performance over pedigree. If a modestly bred juvenile shows a promising debut, he should be strongly favored over a first-time starter out of an accomplished mare.

* Although much of the data supports that a mare's race record is given too much weight by gamblers and horse owners, in some areas a mare's achievements take on importance.

I found that mares that won at some stage as juveniles had a 17 percent chance of producing a juvenile winner with their first foal, compared to 11 percent for those mares that did not win at age 2.

Putting this in other words, juvenile-winning dams were approximately 50 percent more likely to have a 2-year-old winner.

The correlation was even stronger with regard to turf mares producing turf horses. Mares that won on turf had a little more than a 13 percent chance of having their first foal win on the turf. Those that did not win on grass had only a 6 percent chance.

Based on the numbers, it is one of the few areas in which a horseplayer stands a strong chance of benefiting from knowing a mare's history.