World Rankings: USA Biggest – but Best?

Just_a_Way_106th_Kyoto_Kinen_IMG_1096-2_20130210

The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) revealed its World’s Best Racehorse Rankings for 2014 in January, with Japan’s Just A Way (pictured) topping the ratings with his wide-margin victory in the Dubai Duty Free last March. Such rankings are matters of opinion, rather than fact, and while the IFHA might have official status, the longer-established Timeform organisation is no less of an authority when it comes to assessing the world’s best thoroughbreds. Timeform’s Global Rankings were headed instead by Kingman, winner of four Group 1 mile contests in Britain, Ireland and France in 2014.

Leaving the ratings of individual horses to the handicappers and form experts, the breedingshed will instead look behind the ratings to see which countries, and which sires, are producing the world’s best racehorses (rather than where they are trained). To do that, we have taken the world’s top 100 horses as ranked by the IFHA – or to be more precise, the three-year-olds and older horses who were assigned a rating of 118 or more, which gives a total of 104 animals.

The IFHA publishes other figures besides the World Rankings, and hidden away on its website are breeding statistics which can be used to gauge the percentage of the world’s total thoroughbreds which are produced in various countries in a given year. 2013 was the last year for which statistics are available and the top eight countries for thoroughbred production, with their percentage of the world’s total foal crop are:

USA                                     20.67%

Australia                              12.98%

Argentina                             7.80%

Ireland                                  7.54%

Japan                                   6.63%

France                                 4.67%

Great Britain                         4.29%

New Zealand                         3.73%

In other words, around a fifth of the world’s thoroughbred population is bred in the USA, while Australia accounts for around one in eight thoroughbred foals. It will be seen straight away that Japan is ranked only fifth among the world’s thoroughbred-producing countries but achieved the feat of breeding not only Just A Way but the world’s second-best horse in 2014 according to the IFHA, Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia.

If we apply these same percentages to our sample of the world’s top hundred or so horses, it seems reasonable to expect the USA to have the most representatives among the world’s elite, with twenty or so American-bred horses in the list, followed by Australia with thirteen, and so on. Here are the actual number of horses per country of origin based on the horse’s suffix, together with the highest-rated horse(s) from each country and its rating.

Ireland                                  23           The Grey Gatsby (127)

USA                                     22           Bayern (125)

Great Britain                        17           Australia, Kingman (127)

Japan                                   14           Just A Way (130)

Australia                               8              Able Friend (127)

New Zealand                        5              Dundeel (122)

France                                  3              Treve (126)

Germany                               3              Sea The Moon (125)

South Africa                          3              Variety Club (127)

Argentina                               2              Idolo Porteno, Sir Winsalot (118)

Brazil, Canada, Chile and Italy all had single representatives

So the USA does indeed have a presence in the ‘top hundred’ commensurate with its status as the world’s largest producer of thoroughbreds – but is pipped by Ireland as the best-represented nation in the IFHA rankings, punching well above its weight relative to the number of foals it produces. Indeed, Great Britain and Ireland combined account for nearly 40% of the horses in the ‘top hundred’ despite producing less than 12% of the world’s thoroughbreds between them.

The Grey Gatsby, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club and Irish Champion Stakes, is, however, the only Irish-bred among the top 17 horses in the rankings, compared with six US-bred horses among the top 17 (those rated 124 or more). Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Bayern is the highest-rated American-bred and the world’s top-rated horse on dirt, though there are eight turf performers above him in the ratings.

As already noted, Japan is seen in a particularly good light in the rankings, with around twice the number of horses than could be expected strictly on the size of its foal crop. New Zealand fares well too, particularly in comparison with its much bigger neighbour Australia which is under-represented in the ‘top hundred’ given its status as the world’s second-largest producer of thoroughbreds. The best NZ-bred horses include exports to both Hong Kong (Aerovelocity, 118, winner of the Hong Kong Sprint) and Singapore (War Affair, 119, and Spalato, 118).

Hong Kong is also where the highest-rated Australian-bred horse is based, Hong Kong Mile winner Able Friend (127) having only the Japanese pair above him in the rankings. Australia’s disappointing showing overall is offset to some extent by the fact that the top three sprinters in the World Rankings are all Australian-bred, namely Lankan Rupee (123), Terravista (123) and Chautauqua (122).

Germany and South Africa, neither of whom figure among the largest producers of thoroughbreds, deserve a mention for three horses apiece in the ‘top hundred’. Sea The Moon, who won his country’s Derby by eleven lengths, heads the German-bred horses in the World Rankings, while South Africa’s Variety Club took the scalp of Able Friend when winning Hong Kong’s Champions Mile.

The follow-up post to this one will look at which sires came out best in the World Rankings.

[Image of Just A Way courtesy of Ogiyoshisan]

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