Oppenheim: An In-Depth Look at APEX Ratings

In My Opinion

Rating sires objectively is a tricky business.

There are three methods which have historically been used: progeny earnings; average-earnings indexes; and percentage of black-type winners from named foals of racing age. The limitations of progeny earnings are easy to understand: sires with the most foals and runners have the best chance of topping these lists, and possibly better sires with limited runners are penalized. Percentage of black-type winners went out the window when sire crop sizes doubled and virtually no sires could reach the 10% BTW/foals threshold which identified the top sires.

Now there is a variation in vogue, especially among advertisers, which is BTW/runners. The trouble with this is, the statistic actually favors sires with lower percentages of winners to runners, and thus potentially rewards unsoundness.

The average-earnings index is a simple concept: dividing a sire’s total earnings by his number of runners that year, and comparing that figure to the average earnings that year for all sires. It can be done for any jurisdiction (i.e. North America), and consecutive years can be added together to create a ‘cumulative’ average-earnings index. The trouble with the average-earnings index is this: let’s say one horse by the sire earns $8 million, and 99 other runners by the same sire earn $10,000 each. The sire’s average earnings per runner would be $89,900 (about a 2.25 AEI), whereas, really, only one out of 100 runners by that sire was actually any good.

For this reason a group of us at Racing Update in the late 1980’s devised what we called APEX ratings—Annual Progeny Earnings IndeX. It is a variation, or we would say, an enhancement of the average earnings index, because APEX ratings measure the frequency with which sires get runners which achieve certain earnings thresholds. So, like the average earnings index, we start with the population of all runners in a year in a racing jurisdiction, for example North America.

We then calculate (well, The Jockey Club Information Services does the calculations for us) three earnings thresholds which represent class gradations. The top 2% earners from runners are designated as ‘A Runners,’ the next 2% are ‘B Runners,’ the next 4% are ‘C Runners,’ and the top 8% are then designated ‘ABC Runners.’ You’ll find the specific thresholds in a table accompanying this article: in North America, in 2017, A Runners earned a little over $135,000; B Runners $94,000; and C Runners $64,000. One sobering fact is that only the top 8% of runners in North America in 2017 earned $64,025 or more.

APEX ratings are then created by adding together the calculations each year for a seven-year period in five racing jurisdictions including seven countries, and divided into three regions: North America, including the U.S. and Canada (earnings calculated together); ‘Europe,’ which for these purposes includes the U.K. and Ireland (earnings calculated together), France, and Germany; and Japan. If it didn’t happen in those countries we don’t count it, with the exception of the group 1 races run on Dubai World Cup night.

We restrict the time period to seven years (the ratings always cover the previous seven years), so the current ratings cover 2011-2017. This does tell us when once-great sires are not the forces they once were, and there have been some notably demonstrable historical cases where this has happened. Restricting the data to seven years keeps it more current.

We only rate sires once they have 3-year-olds, meaning the youngest group now rated had their first foals in 2014: Frankel and Union Rags ‘ sire crop, which in 2018 have their first 4-year-olds racing. And we only rate sires who had 10 or more 3-year-olds in the last year rated. So older sires who have died off go off the list, and also it eliminates any super small-crop freaks.

The average-earnings index, for example, uses all runners by all sires, which is mathematically ‘pure.’ APEX ratings are not mathematically pure in that sense; we restrict the sires, but our argument (by ‘we’ and ‘our’ I mean myself and our APEX team) is that we are trying to create statistics which are of practical use to participants in the $1.5 billion auction marketplace. It’s our observation that a sire with a 1.00 average-earnings index is actually below average commercially. By knocking out sires with fewer than 10 foals, we believe a sire with a 1.00 APEX A Runner Index really is an average sire.

There are actually 17 different APEX ratings: A, B, and C Indexes for North America, Europe, Japan, and Total (12), plus Total ABC Index; and ABC Age Ratings (these are really interesting) for 2-year-olds; 3-year-olds; 4-year-olds; and 5-year-olds and up. Current APEX ratings for 735 sires and further explanation of APEX, as well as other articles detailing leading APEX sires, can be found in the APEX section of my website, www.billoppenheim.com.

There were, as noted, 735 sires assigned 2018 APEX ratings; 102 of these were in Japan, which we don’t mix in with the North American and European sires as their market is overwhelmingly domestic. For the purposes of devising leaders’ lists we use only sires with 200+ “year-starters” (in annualized figures, a horse is counted as one ‘year-starter’—and potentially one A Runner—each year it starts). There were 407 North American and European sires with 200+ year-starters 2011-2017. Here are the top ten in four key categories:

A Runner Index: The world’s top sire, Galileo (IRE), is the number one sire by 2018 A Runner Index, with a 4.60 Index. This is quite remarkable in that he had 2,119 year-starters 2011-2017—over 300 a year; he really is a class-producing machine. Uncle Mo  (4.49) ranks second, which is also very impressive as the trend for most young sires is diagonally down, so this rating means his second and third crops of 2-year-olds have not materially knocked his success rate down.

War Front  (4.20), Dubawi (IRE) (3.54), and Medaglia d’Oro (3.50) complete the top five, followed by Sea The Stars (3.28), Ghostzapper  (3.26), Dansili (GB) (3.03), Into Mischief  (2.91), and Tapit  (2.86), who rounds out the top 10 North American and European sires by A Runner Index. Frankel had 161 year-starters at the end of 2017, so doesn’t qualify for these ‘top 10’ lists; but he has a 5.59 A Runner Index, and will definitely qualify this year.

Number of A Runners: With more year-starters than any other sire and the highest A Runner Index, Galileo (195) was a certainty to lead this list, and does he ever. Tapit (112) is a distant second, ahead of Medaglia d’Oro (105), Kitten’s Joy  (100), and Dubawi (94). Golden oldie Giant’s Causeway  (93) leads the second five, ahead of War Front (85), Dansili, and Speightstown (83), and the late, great Smart Strike (79). These are the stallions which have sired the highest quantity of the highest quality.

ABC Runner Index: This metric describes the most consistent stallions for siring what we call ‘break-even or better’ runners; in North America in 2017, for instance, as we’ve noted, that figure is $64,025 or higher. War Front (2.53) tops Galileo (2.43) in this category, with Dubawi (2.42) third. Since 8.00% equals a 1.00 ABC Runner Index, this tells us that 20.24% of War Front’s year-starters become ABC Runners. You could say it’s a little scary that even the very best sires only get one out of five runners which pay their way, but that just shows what a tough game this racing horses is.

An interesting aspect of the APEX ratings is they do sometimes reval horses that are doing better than maybe the market gives them credit for, and one such case could be F2013 Twirling Candy , who is number four by ABC Runner Index (2.36), just ahead of his F2013 contemporary, Uncle Mo (2.33). Twirling Candy is a $25,000 sire who is proving to be a very consistent sire of ‘break-even or better’ runners; he’s mixing it with some sires who cost a lot more money to breed to. The second five in this category are: Curlin  (2.29), Ghostzapper  (2.21), Speightstown (2.17), and—tied for ninth—Medaglia d’Oro and the long-time leading California sire Unusual Heat (2.09), just ahead of Tapit (2.08).

Number of ABC Runners: Galileo (412) had an average of 303 runners, 28 A Runners, and 59 ABC Runners a year; he’s not as far ahead as second-placed Tapit (326) as he was by number of A Runners, but he’s still a fair way clear. Giant’s Causeway (281) is third in this category, ahead of Speightstown (275) and Dubawi (257). The second five is headed by Medaglia d’Oro (251), followed by Kitten’s Joy (246), Smart Strike (238), Malibu Moon (237), and Candy Ride (ARG) (235).

For the complete list of 735 sires with 2018 APEX ratings, and more information about APEX, please visit www.billoppenheim.com.