Archive for September, 2011

The following article is a summary of a report commissioned from Ray Chaplin of equineexcellence.biz in Australia. The full report is available free of charge by emailing equineexcellence direct at contact@equineexcellence.biz

Ray’s report takes a close look at Life Sign, and why that sire struggled to make the expected big impact on the Australasian breeding scene. Ray’s analysis uses the concept of an EEA™ “Genetic Excellence Affinity©” which reflects the correct positioning between a sire and dam and hopefully is expressed at breeding. For more information about this, visit the equineexcellence.biz website.

All thirty (100%) of Life Sign’s top performers across North America and Australasia meet this Genetic Excellence Affinity © criterion. Interestingly, Ray pinpoints Holmes Hanover as a broodmare sire that offers a “Genetic Excellence Affinity©” with Life Sign – but Frank Marrion in his comments holds up this same cross as something to afford on type. Ray’s statistics certainly show that only 33% of Life Sign/Holmes Hanover cross foals bred in New Zealand were winners (27 foals for 9 winners) but the average earning per starter with that cross was NZ$66,285 compared to Life Sign’s average earnings per starter for all broodmare sires of $NZ20,634. Food for thought!

“What if?” by Ray Chaplin, equineexcellence.biz

World champion pacer, Life Sign 1990 ($US 1,912,459; 1:50.3) has proved to be one of the most outstanding stallions of the modern era in the USA. With seven millionaires, average earnings per starter of $95,694 from a total of 1394 foals, he has accrued sire winnings of over $US104 million in North America.

But what if Life Sign’s stud career had commenced in Australasia and not in North America? Would he have ever have become the “champion sire” he is?

Probably not, in the opinion of www.equineexcellence.biz

It is doubtful under this imaginary scenario that he would have received anywhere near the numbers of quality, genetically matched mares to have enabled him to put his best hoof forward as a stallion.

Life Sign provides astute breeders with a valuable “Sign” post into the world of genetics and the influence of differing gene pools that prevail from country to country and even state to state.

The Life Sign whose frozen and fresh semen has been available to Australasian breeders is exactly the same Life Sign as the sire who has established himself as one of the greatest ever North American sires. We are talking about a stallion that has left numerous elite standardbreds and in excess of 2,000 foals of racing age internationally – ample numbers to smooth out the impacts of any “type” issues. The difference in siring performance “down under” can be attributed to the size and quality of the necessary gene pool that was available to this champion son of Abercrombie in Australia and New Zealand.

The following table illustrates why Life Sign, had he originally stood down under, would have probably be shunned by breeders in North America if shipped back home thus providing little hope of him ever becoming a “Champion” sire.

LIFE SIGN (Statistics as at March 2011 – subject to change)

New Zealand
Foals 223   Starters 77   Winners 66 (30% wtf.)
Foals 1047   Starters 296  Winners 157 (15% wtf.)
Foals  1394   Starters 1092   Winners 971 (70% wtf.)

Av earnings per starter (Country of birth only) $NZ 20,634 $AU16,116 $US95,694

Why? Because the gene pool he needed to do his best work as a sire was simply too small – especially in Australia. There was little chance that Life Sign would be afforded such a potent opportunity with the limited number of genetically correct high quality mares available to him “down under”.

The five leading broodmare sires in North America for Life Sign are Tyler B mares (56) average earning per starter $US94,816; Troublemaker mares (32) $US 88,396; Jate Lobell mares (143) $US 87,405; Cam Fella mares (58) $US 86,062; and No Nukes mares (251) $US77,302.

Twenty percent (4) of the leading Life Sign earners in both New Zealand and Australia are from mares whose broodmare sires appear in his top ten earners in the USA.

This suggests that if Life Sign had access to sufficient numbers of high quality mares in Australasia by these broodmare sires his siring record down under would have been significantly enhanced.

Holmes Hanover mares are responsible for another 20% (4) of the top twenty Life Sign performers in Australasia. Holmes Hanover creates the same EEA™ “Genetic Excellence Affinity©” between Life Sign and his mares as does Troublemaker and Cam Fella. Given the affordability of Life Sign now, this could be an opportunity for Australasian breeders with quality Holmes Hanover mares.

Whilst Life Sign never had a chance to repeat his USA siring deeds, he has and still does represent good value as an Australasian sire when matched to quality mares with whom he can establish an EEA “Genetic Excellence Affinity©” The sires of these suitable matrons go beyond the Troublemaker and Holmes Hanover mares highlighted in this report.

Life Sign as a Broodmare Sire

For those breeders who have bred Life Sign fillies from quality mares opportunity still abounds Life Sign is proving to be an excellent broodmare sire in North America. In the USA Life Sign’s top ten foals as a broodmare sire all lay claim to a common EEA™ “Genetic Excellence Affinity©” between sire and dam – exactly the same EEA™ “Genetic Excellence Affinity©” that was common to all ten of his leading progeny as a sire!

Frank Marrion on Life Sign

While Ray Chaplin sees genetic affinity as vitally important, Frank Marrion emphasises the compatibility of traits and type. The following comments were taken from recent personal correspondence and from an article on Life Sign in Harness Weekly in 2006:

Broodmares in North America are more advanced in evolutionary terms and it must always be remembered that some sires will perform differently with different gene pools, or different countries. Life Sign is also suited to a particular type of mare, a type which is more prevalent in America compared to New Zealand or Australia, where they tend to be coarser and later maturing.

There is a perception out there that Life Sign has been a failure because he hasn’t sired a ‘champion’, as if all one had to do was put any old mare to him to get one…It doesn’t work that way of course, particularly when little consideration is given to our type of mare and the type of stallion we are sending her to. While speed is a trait of the Direct Scooter sire line, quite the opposite is the Abercrombie/Life Sign line. They are generally very genuine horses, but lacking speed and/or early maturity. They tend to be big horses which need time to strengthen up. Life Sign has crossed very nicely with the right kind of In the Pocket mares (e.g. Classy Filly). But you wouldn’t want to breed a mare by Holmes Hanover to Life Sign because Holmes Hanover horses (although very genuine) are often big boned horses which lack speed, so breeding to Life Sign would just double up on the ‘lack of speed’ factor.

Bee Pears on Life Sign

It was about 2000 when Life Sign was introduced to New Zealand – our interest in breeding strong staying ‘cup’ horses had been replaced by the desire for speedy juveniles who could get a quicker and bigger return on investment. Top overseas sires were seen as the way to go for speed.

Life Sign came with great credentials, and he had left some super juveniles in America such as Real Desire, Island Fantasy and I Am a Fool. But overall his siring record is much more about leaving horses that get better as they strengthen and age. Add to that, his first few crops were by frozen semen and small numbers, which made it even harder to get the noticed, regardless of percentage foal to winner success.

His first small crops were pretty well received by Yearling Sales buyers but totally outnumbered by In the Pocket and Falcon Seelster offerings and of course Christian Cullen was coming right onto the scene in significant numbers.

Commercial reality is that most new sires are given a very short timeframe to show up before buyers (and then breeders in response) drop them like hot cakes. Our commercial breeding market is dominated by Yearling Sales and the pressure of high stakes for juvenile racing. By the time his larger crops were ready to sell or race, Life Sign’s reputation as a sire of horses that need time was well established, and his best performers only confirmed that. That inevitably meant his access to quality commercial mares reduced.

Poor performance by his siring sons didn’t help at all – until Real Desire came along more recently (with a Troublemaker dam).

The fact that Life Sign still shows up well in siring statistics for Australia and New Zealand is a credit to what he has achieved in spite of small suitable gene pool and the pressure to breed early speed.

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