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.”