Ghostzapper shows first-crop sire rankings can be misleading

January 3rd, 2024

Every year, breeders and bettors alike pay attention to the leading first-crop sire rankings. Who are the hottest new stallions with the most successful progeny? The numbers don’t lie.

Or do they? Ranking new stallions by progeny earnings is useful for identifying up-and-coming sires with potential, but they can be misleading. When a stallion’s first crop of foals hits the races, they’re all two years old, and not every stallion will excel as a sire of early-maturing juveniles. The progeny of some stallions hit their peak at ages three and four, so judging a stallion off their first crop of two-year-olds can give the wrong impression.

Consider Ghostzapper, the 2004 Horse of the Year who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), Metropolitan H. (G1), Woodward (G1), and Vosburgh (G1) during his decorated career. A Grade 1 winner racing six furlongs, one mile, 1 1/8 miles, and 1 1/4 miles, Ghostzapper retired to stud with a fee of $200,000, then the highest number ever demanded by a new stallion.

When Ghostzapper’s first foals hit the races in 2009, the results were… a bit disappointing. By the end of the year, Ghostzapper ranked 21st on the list of leading first-crop sires compiled by, with his progeny earnings of $414,621 trailing top-ranked Officer by more than $1.5 million.

But it turns out sons and daughters of Ghostzapper simply need time to grow up. Ghostzapper himself didn’t win a graded stakes until September of his three-year-old year, and his progeny more or less follow that example.

You won’t find many early-maturing juveniles on the list of Ghostzapper’s most accomplished runners, but you will find Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) winners Goodnight Olive and Judy the Beauty, Dubai World Cup (G1) hero Mystic Guide, Queen’s Plate S. winners Shaman Ghost, Moira, and Holy Helena, and a boatload of other Grade 1 winners who scored their signature victories at age three or older.

Dirt. Turf. Synthetic. Sprints. Miles. Routes. The progeny of Ghostzapper have won major races over pretty much every conceivable distance and surface configuration. He was the fourth-leading second-crop sire of 2010 and the third-leading third-crop sire of 2011, and he’s been prominent among North America’s leading general sires ever since. In 2021, he rose all the way to second place.

So when you review the first-crop sire rankings at the end of each year, don’t assume stallions ranked low on the list have proven unsuccessful. If the stallion was a late-maturing racehorse, a bright stud career may still await, and you’ll reap betting dividends if you can climb on the bandwagon before other pedigree handicappers take notice.