How to understand and use average winning distance statistics

November 16th, 2021

Top Thoroughbred stallions can sire thousands of foals over the course of their stud careers. After a few hundred have reached the races, it’s possible to statistically analyze the stallion’s progeny to determine the areas where they excel.

A useful statistic is the average winning distance (AWD) metric found (among other places) in Brisnet Ultimate Past Performances. These numbers (measured in furlongs) unsurprisingly indicate the average winning distance of a sire’s foals. They can be highly useful for analyzing unraced horses, or horses racing over a specific distance for the first time.

Review the sire stats table for any horse you find in Brisnet Ultimate Past Performances, and you’ll see the numbers for the horse’s sire (included to the right of the “Sire Stats” row) and dam sire (to the right of the “Dam’s Sire” row.) If the number reads 6.2, this means the progeny of the sire in question win at an average distance of 6.3 furlongs.

Sire stats, as contained with Brisnet Ultimate Past Performances

In theory, AWD stats are easy to comprehend. But to use them effectively, they must be analyzed in context with the realities of average race distances in North America.

Let’s explore this in greater detail. According to data from The Jockey Club 2021 Fact Book, 40,798 Thoroughbred horse races were contested in the U.S., Canada, and Puerto Rico in 2019. Of these, 33,934 (83.2%) were contested over distances of one mile or less, leaving only 6,864 (16.8%) held over distances longer than one mile. Furthermore, 20,239 (49.6%) were held over six furlongs or less.

Naturally, this skews the AWD statistics. There are many more opportunities for horses to win sprints than routes, which means AWD ratings rarely exceed the 8.0 mark. If a stallion boasts an AWD of 8.0 or higher (uncommon, but not unheard of), you can take this as a sure sign his foals thrive running long distances.

Need examples? 1992 Horse of the Year, and renowned stamina influence, A.P. Indy boasts a lofty AWD of 8.2. Meanwhile, the AWD for two-time leading sire Into Mischief stands at 6.8 furlongs as of mid-November 2021.

So how should you interpret the numbers? From personal experience, my broad rule is as follows: an AWD of 7.5 or higher points toward a stallion who routinely passes on stamina, while an AWD under 6.5 indicates a stallion successful at siring sprinters and possible milers. In between fall more versatile stallions whose progeny perform well over a variety of distances.

A couple of broad exceptions to keep in mind—young stallions tend to have low AWD ratings until their foals mature and have an opportunity to race longer distances, while AWD stats for stallions based in Europe can run higher than those boasted by North American stallions. Unless you’re a deep racing fan who knows the ages and whereabouts of the world’s leading stallions, a bit of extra research may be required to identify these exceptions.

The main takeaway from all this is simple—don’t try to exactly match AWD numbers to the distance of the race you’re analyzing. If you’re handicapping a race over 1 1/8 miles (nine furlongs), there’s no point in looking for runners whose sires have an AWD of 9.0—an AWD of 7.5 will suit just fine. And if you’re handicapping a seven-furlong sprint, you should keep in mind a stallion with an AWD of 7.0 (indicating success over a variety of distances) might ironically be less likely to sire a winner over seven furlongs than a stallion with an AWD of 6.5 furlongs (indicating success in sprints and miles).

Armed with a better understanding of AWD stats, you can put them to good use on your next handicapping mission. Good luck!