03/28/2013 2:30PM

Santa Anita Derby winners make the grade as sires

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A.P. Indy, the 1992 Santa Anita Derby winner, has established a thriving sire line.

The best all-around American sire of the first decade of the 21st century, especially on dirt, was 1992 Santa Anita Derby winner A.P. Indy. Seattle Slew’s best son led the North American sire list twice (2003 and 2006), sired two classic winners and nine champions, and established a thriving sire line.

Of course, A.P. Indy won an important race or two after the Santa Anita Derby, namely the Belmont Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic, but with the 2013 version of “the race place’s” premier 3-year-old event coming up April 6, his success raises an interesting question: Is A.P. Indy’s success as a sire typical of Santa Anita Derby winners or the exception?

To answer that question, it is useful to have a measuring stick or two. What constitutes success for a stallion? How do Santa Anita Derby winners compare with winners of other big races?

Traditionally, stallion success has been evaluated by measures such as number and percentage of stakes winners, earnings, and earnings index, but, in truth, by far the most important measure of stallion success in the contemporary world is “the big horse.” Stallions who sire champions and Grade 1 and Group 1 winners, particularly juvenile champions and classic winners – especially early in their careers – quickly become the darlings of commercial and private breeders and earn the opportunity to cover the best mares in the world, all but guaranteeing further success.

Previous studies by this author have shown that the two best races at predicting sire success over the past couple of decades have been the Preakness Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Somewhat surprisingly, the Kentucky Derby has not been quite as good at producing top sires.

As shown in the table on page 4, by some measures at least, Santa Anita’s race is just as good, if not slightly better, at producing sires than the Churchill Downs classic has been since 1990. The table details the number of foals ages 3 and older, number of stakes winners, percentage of stakes winners from foals, number of champions in major racing countries, and top horses sired by all the males who won each race since 1990 and who have at least 5-year-olds currently racing.

Over the time period in question, four geldings won the Santa Anita Derby, while only one, Funny Cide, won in Kentucky. So, in effect, there are 15 Kentucky Derby winners who have had legitimate chances to prove their worth at stud to date and only 11 Santa Anita Derby winners.

Each race produced one winner who can be described as “great,” plus at least one other horse who could be legitimately described as “successful.” Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled succeeded in almost exactly the same way as A.P. Indy. Unbridled never led the sire list, but he sired three classic winners, one more than A.P. Indy, four champions, and two very successful sons, Empire Maker and Unbridled’s Song, each of whom has a chance to extend Unbridled’s male line.

Unbridled’s percentage of stakes winners was never as high as A.P. Indy’s, but despite very similar credentials when they retired to stud – each was a juvenile stakes winner, classic winner, Breeders’ Cup Classic winner, and sibling to a Grade 1 winner – Unbridled did not attract anything comparable to the quality of mares A.P. Indy did until much later in his stud career.

While Indian Charlie, the second-best Santa Anita Derby-winning sire, was a statistically better sire than any of the second-best Kentucky Derby-winning sires, there are more moderately successful sires among the winners at Churchill than at Santa Anita. The late Indian Charlie could only finish third on a dicey leg at Churchill Downs, but he turned out to be a much more consistent sire than his Derby-winning stable companion of that year, Real Quiet.

Indian Charlie was a better sire overall than either Thunder Gulch or Fusaichi Pegasus, probably the next two best sires among Kentucky Derby winners in the period under review. His 8.6 percent stakes winners is more than double either of those Kentucky Derby winners, although both of them had the disadvantage from a statistical point of view of serving shuttle seasons and covering far more mares – and many, many more questionable ones – than did Indian Charlie.

Fusaichi Pegasus has sired twice as many foals as Indian Charlie, and Thunder Gulch almost three times as many. Perhaps partly as a result, both Thunder Gulch and Fusaichi Pegasus have sired as many or more genuinely good horses as Indian Charlie, though not as many champions.

Point Given, Thunder Gulch’s best son, is the third-best Santa Anita Derby-winning sire of the period. Very much like his sire, Point Given can sire very good horses, but he is not at all consistent, as witnessed by his figure of 4 percent stakes winners.

As a general rule, Kentucky Derby winners are going to get better initial opportunities than Santa Anita Derby winners, so it is no surprise that Sea Hero, Strike the Gold, Grindstone, Smarty Jones, and Giacomo, all of whom would be considered failures by commercial breeders, have much better statistics on the whole than any of the other Santa Anita Derby winners.

Horses like Mister Frisky, Brocco, Free House, and Came Home, all seen as pretty good Santa Anita Derby winners in their day, did the race no favors as a predictor of sire success.

The bottom line is that it generally takes a better horse to win the Kentucky Derby than the Santa Anita Derby. But a good horse is a good horse. Although neither A.P. Indy nor Indian Charlie won the Kentucky Derby – though each would have started as the favorite had A.P. Indy been able to run – both were talented enough to win the Derby in an average year. Among the other Santa Anita Derby winners under consideration, only Point Given, who probably would have won had he not gotten too wound up before the race, and possibly Free House, meet that criterion.

If the 2013 winner of the Santa Anita Derby is a good-enough racehorse, his chances of being a good sire are as good as the winner of any other race in the world.

Sire comparison: Kentucky Derby

Sire Foals age 3+ SWs % SWs from fls Champions
Unbridled 582 49 8.4% 4
Strike the Gold 610 25 4.1%  
Lil E. Tee 332 20 6.0%  
Sea Hero 553 30 5.4%  
Go for Gin 402 13 3.2%  
Thunder Gulch 2,252 93 4.1% 1
Grindstone 468 20 4.3%  
Silver Charm 502 15 3.0%  
Real Quiet 598 18 3.0% 1
Charismatic 383 10 2.6%  
Fusaichi Pegasus 1,662 69 4.2% 1
Monarchos 400 15 3.8% 1
War Emblem 100 8 8.0% 1
Smarty Jones 355 19 5.4%  
Giacomo 211 12 5.7%  
Totals 9,410 416 4.4%  

Santa Anita Derby

Sire Foals age 3+ SWs % SWs from fls Champions
Mister Frisky 245 2 0.8%  
A.P. Indy 1,188 148 12.5% 9
Personal Hope 521 9 1.7%  
Brocco 787 16 2.0%  
Larry the Legend 194 1 0.5%  
Free House 184 7 3.8%  
Indian Charlie 823 71 8.6% 4
The Deputy 254 4 1.6%  
Point Given 531 21 4.0% 2
Came Home 500 17 3.4%  
Castledale 183 4 2.2%  
Totals 5,410 300 5.5%