The Metropolitan Handicap (G1) has long enjoyed the reputation as a “sire's race”, a contest particularly useful for predicting future successful sires. That perception took on added gloss in the 1980s through the success of '81 Met Mile winner Fappiano, whose Racing Hall of Fame trainer and owner-breeder extraordinaire John Nerud averred that he would rather win the Metropolitan Handicap than the Kentucky Derby (G1) to make a sire.
The sheer brilliance of Quality Road's victory in the 2010 Met Mile on May 31 thus raises the question of how well the race does, in fact, compare to other top races as a predictor of future sire success.
As shown in the accompanying box, which briefly summarizes the sire careers of winners of several races since 1970, the Metropolitan does have a lot to be proud of as a producer of successful stallions.
Two Met Mile winners during that 41-year period became official leading international sires, Executioner (Brazil) and Honour and Glory (U.S. freshman), but those achievements pale against the reputations and overall accomplishments of Nodouble, Tentam, Cox's Ridge, and Fappiano, all of whom were very high class sires and important contributors to the Thoroughbred breed in their day. In addition, Conquistador Cielo, Gulch, In Excess (Ire), Holy Bull, Langfuhr, and Wild Rush all have made a highly positive impact without quite scaling the heights of the first four.
If percentage of stakes winners to foals is an important measure of sire success, however, the stud record of Metropolitan Handicap winners pales against that of winners of both the three U.S. Triple Crown races and the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). The 29 Met Mile winners with sufficiently advanced stud careers to judge (at least five-year-olds on the racetrack) have sired an average of 5.51% stakes winners. While that figure is almost twice the average for the breed, it is well below the comparable figure for the other four races.
The Breeders' Cup Classic, which was inaugurated only in 1984, boasts the highest percentage stakes winners sired by its winners, 7.5%. The Classic has also produced three leading sires, multiple Japanese champion sire Sunday Silence, leading North American sire A.P. Indy, and leading U.S. freshman sire Tiznow. The Classic's list of otherwise notable sires is not as extensive as the Met Mile's, but with only 17 eligible winners to date, that should hardly be unexpected. Still, a list that includes Wild Again, Unbridled, and Awesome Again matches up quite well, considering the differences in numbers.
Somewhat surprisingly, only one Met Mile winner in the period under review also won a Triple Crown race. Conquistador Cielo won both the Metropolitan and the Belmont Stakes (G1) in the space of five days in 1982 and enjoyed a solid if not spectacular stud career. The Belmont, because of its distance, is now widely viewed as the least attractive of the Triple Crown races for a stud prospect, but its record as a producer of great sires is impeccable. Seattle Slew and his son A.P. Indy both were leading sires and Secretariat a leading broodmare sire. And any race that produces sires as good as Affirmed, Thunder Gulch, and Lemon Drop Kid has proven its worth to breeders.
The three Triple Crown races in fact have very similar profiles as producers of top sires, no doubt partly because so many horses in the time period (1970-2003) under review won at least two of the three races. In addition to Triple Crown winners Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed, 18 different horses (including the gelding Funny Cide) won two out of three. The Triple Crown races have, individually and collectively, taken a lot of guff recently, but they do their job as producers of influential sires. Dust Commander, Foolish Pleasure, Elocutionist, Spend a Buck, Summer Squall, and Codex, among others, all were either very good sires in one context or another or demonstrated exceptional ability as sires despite limited opportunity.
Of course no race has a perfect record as a producer of sires. All five of the races summarized above have thrown up some real clunkers like Classic winner Arcangues, Belmont winner Go and Go (Ire), Preakness winner Bee Bee Bee, Derby winner Gato Del Sol, or Metropolitan winner Arbees Boy, but all five of the races summarized are far better than average at predicting future sire success.
Will Quality Road prove a better sire than the only classic-winning colt of his generation, 2009 Belmont winner Summer Bird? The historical record says that both have an excellent chance to be important sires, given the opportunity.
That is all we can ask of any important race.