Million Dollar Yearlings: The Data Set
By Dana Byerly
“I then thought it would be sweet to have a list of all the Million Dollar “Babies” and be able to look up how much each earned on the track. This sounded like a simple request and in any other sport this would be accomplished in about 3 minutes. Not in Horse Racing with no central organized database that you can pull data and query results.”
Not to get too far afield in the second paragraph of this post, but I would add that the central, organized database that Johnson mentions does exist, but only the people who work at places that license data from Equibase have access to it. More on that another time, but let’s get back to this project and its resulting data set.
The project, named after everyone’s favorite over-priced, under-performing sales graduate, was started as a way for Johnson to determine whether or not pricey yearlings have performed well on the track as a part of his handicapping. To make this determination he painstakingly compiled all the relevant data from various sources, noted in the methodology section in his post. You should really go to his site to check out his findings and well as his second post that takes a look at how trainers of $MM yearlings have fared. Also keep an eye open for upcoming posts on buyers and breeders of $MM yearlings.
But here’s perhaps the most interesting element of this post:
As handicappers and analysts we’re all grudgingly used to the fact that we don’t live in an open data ecosystem, or even a closed data one where we can, for a reasonable price, easily grab data in a convenient and modifiable form to use for non-commercial purposes such as handicapping or blog posts meant to share insights and information. Yes, one can download text files from various PP vendors but I wouldn’t count the prices as affordable (e.g., $700-$800 for text files of charts for the year for personal use) and I also wouldn’t count the format as easy to use, especially when comparing to file formats like the ones found at Tennis-Data.co.uk, for example.
So, when someone is willing to freely share the fruits of his or her data compilation labors we should all be thankful, and ideally add something to the conversation or data set where possible. I grabbed the data, which provides a list of yearlings that sold for $1M or more between 1991-2011 (along with a lot of relevant data), and put it in my own Google Spreadsheet so I could look at it from a few different angles. The great thing about data sets is that is that they can usually be used for multiple purposes. Here are just a few small observations I made that may or may not be useful to anyone (but they were fun to discover!).
Mares, Sires and Multiple $MM Yearlings
It probably wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that in a 20 year period plenty of sires produced multiple $MM yearlings, but it might be a surprise to some of you, as it was me, that more mares than sires produced multiple $MM yearlings. A total of 37 sires produced more than one $MM yearling while a total 54 mares produced more than one $MM yearling.
The majority of the mares, 37 in total, produced two $MM yearlings, 12 produced three and an elite five mares produced four $MM yearlings.
The “five for four”, or five mares who produced four $MM yearlings between 1991-2011 are:
Onaga, dam of $1,529,325 earner Aragorn (not a $MM yearling).
Serena’s Song, 1995 Eclipse 3-year-old champ & Hall of Famer, one her $MM female yearlings (Serena’s Tune) produced two $MM yearlings of her own
Silken Cat, dam of $MM yearling Speightstown
Strawberry Reason, dam of Vindication, a $MM yearling who also produced multiple $MM yearlings
Words of War, dam of E Dubai.
And how about those multiple $MM yearling producing sires? Storm Cat dominated the group with 90 $MM yearlings while A.P. Indy was the best of the rest with 42.
Also of note, 32 of the cover sires were also broodmare sires within the time period.
Top Earners and the Real Earnings
As Johnson pointed out, on the whole this was not a ROI recouping group, at least not on the track, but judging how $MM yearling performed on the track is only part of the story. Speaking only for myself, I think it can be easy as a handicapper with no prior experience in ownership to overlook, forget or even sometimes suppress the fact that big business of $MM yearlings is only partially about on-track performance. Or perhaps that it’s about on-track performance as it pertains to breeding value.
It’s hard to figure out how much the most the top on-track earners REALLY earned those buyers who shelled out over a million dollars as the terms of most of the sales upon retirement are private and only subject to speculation. Below are the top ten $MM yearling on-track earners from 1991-2011 with added information about their sales price at retirement where available.
Beyond the speculation on price for Fusaichi Pegasus*, we really only have two instances where the retirement sales price is a matter of public record: Mushka and Cash Run.
Mushka, number eight on the top earners list, was purchased for $1.6M as a yearling and earned $1,096,125 on the track (-503,875 + cost of maintenance from yearling purchase to retirement). She sold for $2.4M after being retired. Even without understanding the cost of ownership from yearling purchase to retirement, with those earnings and that sales prices it seems reasonable to speculate that decent money was made (at least a million? at least $800,000?). She’s also off to flying start in shed with both of her foals joining the $MM yearling club, so it appears that her $2.4M purchase price by Brushwood Stables turned out to be a good bet.