Can a Cheap Horse be a Stakes Winner?

Currently a couple of horses have made the news because they were purchased for a low price and progressed to win impressively. So, can a cheap horse be a stakes winner? The first horse of interest was Opalescence a NZ 3yo filly who was purchased for $1,000 and won a G3 at her last start. The second horse, Paniagua, was a $600 buy and has become somewhat of a cult hero after eight straight wins in Queensland. Unfortunately, he was unable to take the easy road into the G1 Stradbroke Handicap via the $250,000 Gateway Stakes.

The story has plenty of public interest but I wouldn’t recommend buying a horse just because it is cheap. In fact, even if a horse is given to you, the training and associated costs will amount to at least $100,000 for the first 3 years of its racing life. The first step in being a potential owner is to examine its pedigree to assess the chances of it being a successful racehorse. For interest here is a brief examination of the pedigrees of these two horses. You can reach your own conclusions.

Sires relating to Opalescence and Paniagua (Table 1)

Opalescence (Showcasing – Fairy Story)

This mare has a record of 10 starts, 4-1-1 and $98,310 in prizemoney. Her PRI score is 54.0 and AEI $9.8k.. I would expect an AEI of around $2k for this PRI score.    She announced herself last month when she won the Bonecrusher Stakes (G3). Showcasing (Oasis Dream – Arabesque) although he doesn’t make the top 150 Northern Hemisphere sires, he is the sire of 41 SW with a SW/R of 6.35%. This compares favorably with his sire Oasis Dream (6.6%) and the other branch of the Green Desert sire line headed by Invincible Spirit (11.3%). See Table 1

Paniagua (Tycoon Ruler – Dani Sharleen)

He has a record of 13 starts,8-1-0 and $255,250 in prizemoney. His PRI score is 67.7 and AEI $19.6k. I would expect an AEI of around $10.3k for this PRI score.  His best win to date has been the Cairns Cup. Tycoon Ruler has not been very successful at stud. Only 2 SW after covering 681 mares giving a SW/R of 1.7%. One of his contemporaries in the Last Tycoon sire line is O’Reilly with 91 SW and SW/R of 10.1% sets the benchmark.

Broodmare Sires

Pentire is the broodmare sire of Opalescence. His SW/R is 4.6% which is low but not hopeless compared with other broodmare sires in NZ, Northern Hemisphere, and Australia. (See Table 2). The same applies to  Danzero, the broodmare sire of Paniagua.

Other Pedigree Examination Tools

Oasis Dream

Space doesn’t allow me to expand much on these. Opalescence is line bred 3m x 4m to Green Desert through Oasis Dream (Green Desert – Hope) and Volsksraad (Green Desert- Celtic Assembly). There are 8 SW line bred to Green Desert.  Play that Song (winner of G2 Eclipse Stakes in NZ) is also a 3m x 4m cross.  Paniagua has no linebreeding short of generation 4. There are plenty of crosses beyond the 4 generation for both horses.  But in my view these crosses are too far down the pedigree to have significant impact.


Yes, a cheap horse can be a stakes winner. Carl Nafzger, the American trainer with two Kentucky derbies to his credit sums it up this way “Once in a while you can breed the sorriest stud to the sorriest mare and produce a stakes winner. However, the percentages aren’t in your favor when you try that. Racing is a game of percentages as much as anything else and you must learn them to your advantage.”

Sex Selection in the Sire


It is not easy to track genes in racehorse families. Occasionally, statistics can indicate that there is sex selection in the sire. The catalogues have started to arrive so how do we use the information to buy a winner? Well, it is a useful document to find most the information in one place. However, a catalogue is unashamedly a selling document and to improve your chance of success you need to know more.  Sometimes the information that is not there is just as important. Both sides of the pedigree require more data. Here is a tip for the male side.

Performance of the Sire

This information can be found in the Australian Stud book or, or a number of similar data bases.  The data shows things like stallion fees, winners/runners, best performers, premiership tables, siblings etc. However, sometimes you have to dig deeper than this. To illustrate the sort of information which could be useful in your investigations let’s look at the stallion performance of Foxwedge (Fastnet Rock-Forest Native).


Foxwedge was an excellent racehorse. In the G1 William Reid he pushed Hay List and Buffering into second and third places.  As a Sire he has a winners/runners ratio of 43.7% which puts him close to horses like So You Think (44.4%) and Nicconi (41.7%). However, what makes his performance worth another look is the fact that his progeny has won three of the highest quality G1 races. Not all G1 races are the same no matter what some industry people say. The table below lists some of the important winners of these races that have been won by his daughters.

All three of Foxwedge’ s G1 winners are fillies. Further investigation shows that of his 18SW, 15 are fillies and 3 are colts. Is there some sort of sex bias operating here? Is it a case of sex selection in the sire? Well, that may be true to a small extent as In the 2013-2015 crops there are 178 fillies and 142 colts.  However, this difference would not explain the SW disparity. It could be chance or is there is a sex-linked factor expressed in the X chromosome of Foxwedge that is related to racing performance. This gene is reinforced by the X chromosome in some of his mares. How do you use this information? If you are interested in Foxwedge progeny, give preference to the fillies. At a service fee of only $11,000 they are definitely worth a look.