Australia’s Group 1 winners from the past five racing seasons (2006/07 – 2010/11) and what the figures (really) tell us with regards to breeding from older mares:

True or false? Broodmares generally produce their best runner in their first three or four foals. True. The progeny of older mares (produced from mares 15yrs or older) are best avoided. False!

There are many myths in the Thoroughbred industry, and just as many misconceptions. One such misconception is that the progeny of older mares seldom make it at the highest level. As a result, we see that at foal sales, and yearling sales, the a fore mentioned progeny are often avoided like the plague. Those who avoid these youngsters will concede to what they believe are exceptions to this rule. Such great horses as Sea The Stars, Royal Academy, Ouija Board, Secretariat (pictured above) etc, are merely exceptions to the age old myth that older mares, as a rule, do not produce great runners. That is what they say. These horses are exceptional in their talent, yes,  but they are not exceptions to the rule. [For your own information; Sea The Stars’ dam Urban Sea was 17yrs old when she foaled him, Royal Academy’s dam Crimson Saint was 18yrs, Ouija Board’s dam Selection Board was 19yrs, and Secretariat’s dam Somethingroyal was 20yrs old.]

Of the 209 individual Group 1 winners in Australia these past five racing seasons, 22 (10.53%) were out of mares that were 15yrs of age or older; 55 (26.32%) were out of mares 12yrs or older; 113 (54.07%) were out of mares 9yrs or older; and 96 (45.93%) were out of mares 8yrs of age or younger.

The likes of So You Think (pictured below)Typhoon TracyNorthern MeteorReward For EffortDenmanScenic BlastDescaradoSincero etc, are all G1 winners produced by mares who were 15yrs or older at the time of foaling.

It was interesting to look at the breeding records of these older mares as the results I found put a few other theories/beliefs, such as birth rank, under scrutiny. The G1 winner Prize Lady is the only Stakes winner out of her dam Pen Bal Lady who was 17yrs old at the time of Prize Lady’s birth. Playing God‘s dam Dolly Will Do was 18yrs, and she is also dam of the G2 winner God Has Spoken, foaled when she was 17yrs. Scenic Blast, whose dam was 17yrs when he was born, is the second Stakes winner for Daughter’s Charm, who is also the dam of G1 winner Venom, foaled when she was 16yrs of age.

 Of the 209 individual Group 1 winners looked at for this study, the average yearling price for those that went through an Australian sale’s ring was just under $165,000. In comparison the price of yearlings sold out of mares 15yrs of age or older, showed that their progeny are clearly under valued. The cheapest of this bunch, Sincero (by Umailla) was sold by Nerreman Stud at the 2009 Inglis Classic Yearling Sale for $8,000, bought by G. Wallace. This group of older mares averaged just over $55,000 for their future G1 winners – over $100,000 less than their younger counterparts…need I point out this is a big difference!
It is not only in Australia where we see this bias against older mares – a bias which surely you will now agree, is unfounded and without merit.
In the August 2009 edition of Pacemaker, Andrew Caulfield wrote an article titled “Breeders dismiss elderly mares at their peril”. In his article he made reference to the fact that six of the previous 12 running’s of the G1 Epsom Oaks were won by fillies out of older mares. Ramruna‘s dam was 21. Eswarah, Ouija Board and Shoutoush‘s dams were all aged 19. Imagine‘s and Light Shift‘s dams were 17 and 16 respectively.
Also in 2009, Dar Re Mi won the G1 Yorkshire Oaks. Her dam Darara was 22 when she foaled her. Dar Re Mi went on to win the G1 Prix Vermeille and the G1 Dubai Sheema Classic. She also placed 3rd in the 2009 G1 Breeders’ Cup Turf. Up to 2009, there were at least 15 Breeders’ Cup Champions out of older mares, including Royal Academy and Ouija Board (Rob Whiteley, TDN 2009).
Generally, younger mares are sent to better or more expensive stallions. Older mares, often when they begin to feel the infirmities of old age, will have smaller, weaker, and sometimes, less correct foals than younger mares. This is most likely connected with nutrition, condition, weakening of the tone of the uterus due to age, etc. Older mares are more difficult to get in foal, and consequently a mare’s production level decreases as her age increases. These are simplistic but valid factors as to why older mares produce less Group 1 winners than their younger counterparts. However the reality is this: if the foal or yearling standing in front of you at a sale, is a correct, athletic individual, then I believe it makes no difference to its future racing career if its dam is 8 or 18.
As Joe Estes once stated “Make the best possible estimate of the individual and its parents and you will never find it necessary to worry about birth rank” – or the age of the mare for that matter. (David Dink, “Older Mares” posted on Boojum’s Bonanza, February 16th 2012).
I will conclude with a quote from Rob Whiteley as I believe it sums up perfectly the essence of my argument: False beliefs die slowly in our business. Yet, in  the current marketplace, savvy horsemen have an edge because they realize that a well made, athletic looking yearling out of an older mare has virtually the same chance of success as one out of a younger mare.”