07/28/2006 12:00AM

For yearlings, it's thin to win, study says


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Thinking of feeding that small yearling to help him grow? Thinking of buying a 2-year-old that's carrying a little too much fat? You might want to think again, according to results of a long weight study by Cecil Seaman, founder of the Thoroughbred consulting firm Cecil Seaman and Company.

Seaman is best known as "the horse-measurer" who for 30 years has meticulously cataloged horses' physical measurements in a database. Starting with a standard equation that translates key measurements such as barrel length and girth size into weight estimates, Seaman has compared the weights of 44,310 yearlings and 2-year-olds to their ultimate racing performance. He said the study showed that horses who are overweight tend to have shorter and less profitable racing careers.

Seaman's weight study involved horses he has measured from 1970 to 2001, mostly at public yearling and juvenile sales. He divided horses into six groups with weight designations ranging from "underweight" to "obese." Forty-six percent of the horses in the study fell into overweight categories, while 54 percent were underweight to ideal weight.

According to Seaman's data, the 11,142 young horses who measured as "ideal weight" earned an average of $64,339 from 16.32 average lifetime starts. The 4,441 horses who measured as "obese" earned an average of $29,345 from 14.4 starts, while 8,465 horses who measured as "moderately overweight" youngsters earned $49,062, on average, from 15.67 starts. A group of 3,128 "underweight" young horses outperformed the fat group, too, earning an average of $60,205 from 16.06 starts.

To decide on an ideal weight, Seaman started by using the measurements of over 70 Grade 1 winners he had measured within 15 days of their Grade 1 wins. Using a growth-projection formula devised by Ohio State University, he projected the yearlings' and juveniles' likely adult weights, based on their youthful measurements. The percentage of deviation from the Grade 1 winners' optimum racing weights represented the amount the young stock was overweight or underweight. The "ideal weight" designation is 2 percent under or over the optimum weight; "obese" is 13 to 20 percent over; "moderately overweight" is 6 to 8 percent over; and "underweight" is 3 to 10 percent under.

Seaman contends that the fewer starts among heavier horses suggest extra weight contributes to unsoundness.

Interestingly, the average auction price for the ideal-weight young horses was $97,026, whereas the average price for the obese horses was $109,413. Seaman, who also buys horses on behalf of clients, says he believes bigger horses sometimes appear more impressive to buyers.

"People are under the impression that size is speed in horses, but the larger and heavier they are doesn't make them faster," Seaman said. "And if they are too heavy, it just makes them unsound.

"It doesn't mean they can't win," he said. "But if they are overweight as yearlings and 2-year-olds, obese horses only earn 46 percent of what the ideal-weight horses earn. It's not like cattle! The cattle payday comes at the scale per pound, our payday comes on the racetrack in the winner's circle."

Seaman's comparisons also showed that the 9,610 young horses he tabbed as "acceptable weight" - 3 to 5 percent over the ideal for body type - had 7.2 percent stakes winners, the highest percentage of any of the weight groups. The lowest percentage was among the obese horses, which had 5.9 percent stakes winners from 4,441 horses.

Underweight and ideal-weight groups each had 2.2 percent graded stakes winners. That dropped to 2 percent with "acceptable weight" horses and fell below 2 percent for horses ranging from moderately overweight to obese.

After reviewing his data, Seaman's advice to breeder and buyer - don't fall for fat.

"The most important part a breeder can do is to protect that factory, the mare," he said. "In the long run, they'll be better off if they raise horses at the optimum weight, because it will help increase the value of the mares.

"For buyers, the bottom line is, if you're buying a racehorse prospect as a yearling or a 2-year-old, you want to buy a horse that's thinner and keep him that way on the racetrack."

Sekiguchi: No North American sales

Fusao Sekiguchi, an avid bidder for Thoroughbreds at auctions around the world, has told England's Racing Post newspaper Friday that he isn't planning to attend the major North American yearling sales this season. He said his reasons for sitting out this season are financial.

At Keeneland's 2004 September yearling auction, Sekiguchi paid $8 million, then a sale record, for a Storm Cat-Welcome Surprise colt now named Mr. Sekiguchi.

The Post reported that Sekiguchi bought 14 yearlings earlier this month at the Japan Racing Horse Association's summer yearling sale. Exactly which 14 wasn't clear, as Sekiguchi also used an unidentified agent to bid for him. The JRHA reports him as having purchased eight lots in his own name for about $4.3 million.

* Good and Tough, New York's seventh-leading sire, has relocated to Elite Thoroughbreds in Folsom, La., where he will stand in 2007 for $3,000.

Elite, owned by Michele Rodriguez and Lee Thomas, purchased the 11-year-old Carson City horse from Lakland North and will stand him as the property of a syndicate.