Performance plus: Researchers look at Thoroughbred racing’s top tier

Mr Prospector.
Mr Prospector, pictures at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky in 1981. Five of the 10 sires with the best offspring rating belong to Mr Prospector’s sideline. His lineage can be found in every American Triple Crown race winner from 2012 onwards. © Pawneese, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The quality of Irish Thoroughbreds among the world’s pool of elite racehorses has been highlighted in a recently published study.

Researchers in the Czech Republic set out to examine the influence of horse demographics, country of training, country of origin and race distance on the ratings of Thoroughbreds.

Eva Sobotková and her fellow researchers centered their analysis on performance ratings published by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA).

The unified ratings are internationally recognized, and every specific value accurately represents the performance quality of each horse within the global population.

The numerical ratings provide crucial comparative information on the performance of top-tier racehorses competing in elite flat races, taking into account the quality of the opposition and the achievements of each horse.

The study team, writing in the journal Archives Animal Breeding, examined the performance ratings of 6216 horses assigned by the IFRA between 2004 and 2022. It was supplemented with pedigree information, which can be accessed online.

The most common sex was found to be stallion (58.54%), and more than half of the population consisted of 3- and 4-year-old horses (54.68%).

The majority of the horses had the United States as their country of foaling (25.92%) and also as their country of training (24.87%).

The sire with the largest number of offspring in the IFHA databases was Galileo (Ireland), with 193 horses.

Four of the 10 most frequently represented sires belonged to the Sadler’s Wells (United States) paternal line.

“The analysis of the statistics in the database as a whole established a significant influence of all observed factors,” the Mendel University study team said.

The average rating of racehorses in the IFHA databases in the monitored period was 117.57 with a standard deviation of 3.0458. The minimum was 115 and the maximum was 141.

Stallions achieved a significantly higher rating (117.85) compared to geldings (117.17) and mares (117.13).

Horses originating in Ireland achieved a statistically higher rating (117.99) than horses from Argentina, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, a group of other countries designated “others”, and South Africa.

Statistically conclusive differences were found between horses trained in Ireland (118.80) and all other countries except Great Britain and France.

Five of the 10 sires with the best offspring rating belong to the Mr Prospector (United States) paternal line.

Discussing their findings, the authors noted that the greatest number of stallions was found at the beginning of the monitoring in 2004 (73.04%). Since 2007, their share has never exceeded 60.00%. and at the same time has not fallen below 54.00%.

The opposite development can be seen in geldings, which in 2004 comprised only 11.27% and since 2005 have never fallen below 20.00%.

The greatest representation in the databases for geldings was achieved in 2018 (31.08%).

Horses aged 3 to 5 made up 77.01% of the top-performing population. The results showed that the number of stallions and mares included in the IFHA database dropped rapidly between the ages of 4 and 6. The average age was 4.05 years for mares and 4.16 years for stallions.

According to the IFHA (2019), the percentage distribution of races between the continents was 40.03% in Asia, 39.21% in the Americas and 20.76% in Europe.

From the point of view of Thoroughbred breeding, the distribution between the continents was 35.90% in Asia, 37.30% in the Americas and 26.80% in Europe.

In terms of prize money, the top prizes were distributed as follows: 56.48% to Asia, 28.55% to the United States and 14.97% to Europe.

From a long-term perspective, the number of races in individual regions was unchanged, but the prize money situation was increasingly in favour of Asia.

Individual regions and countries have their own specific history of Thoroughbred breeding and the development of horse racing, and this is reflected in the different success rates of their horses on a global scale, they said.

The largest number of group races was run in the US and, according to the IFHA (2019), more than a fifth of Thoroughbred horses were born there. According to the results based on the databases of the most successful horses, the US had numerical superiority in terms of both horses born and trained there.

“From the point of view of quality, horses born and trained in Ireland were statistically proven to have achieved the best ratings.”

The exceptionality of Ireland is also underlined by the data from the IFHA (2019) and The Jockey Club Information System (2022) because in terms of the number of foals born, the number of horses trained and the number of group races, Ireland does not feature among the countries with the highest share.

“Nevertheless, based on the IFHA databases, 20% of the best-rated horses in the world were born in Ireland.”

Researchers have put this down to Ireland’s long history of breeding and training Thoroughbred horses, its excellence in managing studs and training yards, and the quality of the trainers.

There was also a high success rate for horses from Great Britain and Japan, the study team noted.

“According to our results, Great Britain was the second most prolific country in training successful racehorses, and horses born there achieved the second-highest average rating for the period under review.

“There was also a strong link with Ireland, as Irish-bred horses made up 41.70% of horses trained in Great Britain.”

It is evident, they said, that each country retained the majority of its native-born horses, but the proportion of horses imported from abroad varied widely.

An analysis showed the popularity of Irish horses in Great Britain, France and as far away as the United States.

“Japan, on the other hand, had a more closed racing system, and the largest foreign share in the country’s horses was held by the United States.”

In conclusion, the study team said that, in terms of performance, there are highly conspicuous differences between countries, and the best horses are from Ireland and Great Britain.

The best ratings were achieved by horses trained in Ireland, which are statistically significantly more successful than horses trained in all other countries except Great Britain and France.

“During the time period of our analysis, a decrease in the number of successful horses trained in the US and in France was also evident. In contrast, the number of horses trained in Australia and Japan increased.”

The authors said their findings contribute to a better understanding of the Thoroughbred horse’s racing performance, and will help breeders and riders to evaluate current trends in international racing and put these data to practical use.

“However, for an objective assessment of performance and progress in the breeding of Thoroughbreds, more studies of the total population of horses involved in racing are necessary.”

The study team comprised Sobotková, Tomáš Kopec, Vladimír Mikule and Dana Kuritková.

Influence of horse demographics, country of training and race distance on the rating of Thoroughbreds. E. Sobotková, T. Kopec, V. Mikule, D. Kuřitková
Archives Animal Breeding (October, 2023), Vol. 66, pp. 299–313

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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