What You Should Know About Nicking Reports
by: Laurie Ross
The upcoming breeding season and auctions have breeders, owners and trainers scrutinizing nicking reports before taking action.
Nicking reports are a major instrument in the buying, selling and breeding of Thoroughbreds. Most owners and breeders rely on the reports to some extent, and in some cases, the nicking ratings will influence a purchase or breeding plans.
What is Nicking?
Nicking is simply the cross of a sire line over a broodmare sire line in an attempt to yield high quality foals. A nicking evaluation is based upon a particular sire or sire line back to three generations and includes the stallion's sons and grandsons in the estimation. They are evaluated with the broodmare sire and his sire line back to three generations. This is a very broad estimation and frequently, the report rating bears little resemblance to the actual pedigree being considered. Each generation beyond the first lessens the accuracy of the study.
For instance, suppose someone wanted to breed their Distorted Humor mare to Bernardini. Two prominent nicking companies give ratings of A and B, one based upon A.P. Indy – Distorted Humor and the other Bernardini/Mr. Prospector and his sons and grandsons. Upon closer inspection, Bernardini has 14 foals out of Distorted Humor mares. Eight have started and three are winners, no stakes winners. They have combined earnings of $258,253 and their aei is 0.72. Based upon the first generation bloodline cross, this nicking interpretation is misleading.
What are the disadvantages to Nicking?
A nicking report will be inaccurate or have no rating if there isn't enough data to formulate an assessment. That doesn't mean that the cross will be bad, just that it hasn't been tried enough times to generate a response from a computer.
Influencing the breed.
Nicking scores are popular and heavily relied upon by owners and breeders. Some of whom don't fully understand the concept behind the ratings or how to use the reports properly. Supplemental catalogs that include nicking ratings are a huge business. A horse's value can decrease if the nicking estimation is poor, despite how well-bred or well conformed the animal is or how successful the breeder has been. Nicking reports are so powerful that owners will breed to a stallion that ranks an "A" with his mare, rather than breed to a stallion with a less favorable rating that might work better with the mare's conformation and pedigree. This leads to less capable race horses and an overall decline for the distaff and sire lines.
Nicking reports don't work with new sires.
In last year's OBS April Two Year Olds in Training catalog, 30 new sires were represented by 366 foals. Buyers of these two year olds shelled out millions of dollars based upon faulty nicking calculations that had little bearing on the actual pedigrees. Using the first and second generation results, the majority of these two year olds should have received a "no rating" or insufficient score.
Nicking ignores half of the pedigree.
Any system that uses only 50% of available data won't give a reliable outcome. Nicking fails to factor in the important contributions of the stallions'' broodmare sires and mares' distaff families. An appraisement of the stallion's broodmare sire and the dam's first two damsires should be included in research. Furthermore, reviewing the individual's distaff line can reveal telling clues about sire line affinity and negative crosses that should be avoided. The same nicking rating is used for a well – pedigreed horse as it is for a poor one.
Why use Nicking?
So, if nicking reports are so unreliable, what good are they? Despite the broad generalizations, nicking estimations are a good place to start investigating a horse's pedigree to see how successful the mingled sire lines measure up.
Once the broad sire/sire evaluation offers a positive, negative or undetermined rating, it is time to narrow down the particulars. Does the sire or first tail sire have offspring out of mares by the broodmare sire? If so, how many raced and what is the quality of runners? Does the mare's female family have a history with the stallion's sire or damsire lines?
Once the thorough nicking research is complete, the answers should help form an opinion as to whether additional study should be undertaken.
Nicking has it's uses, but remember that it is only one tool in the appraisal of a horse or hypomating. Just because a nicking report isn't highly ranked doesn't mean that the subject horse will be a failure on the track or should be passed over for one with a higher rating. Used properly by knowledgeable horsemen, nicking can be a beneficial instrument in discovering or breeding the next champion.