A few years ago a journalist at a horse of the year function mentioned that a particular horse was “a fluke of breeding.” The expression on the face of the proud lady who had bred the Gr.1 winner was one of disbelief.
“When I breed, the aim is to breed a successful racehorse,” she said, “so why, when I have done so, is it considered a fluke?!”
As we all know to win a race is to experience sheer exaltation, ask any racehorse owner. To breed a winner, well that takes the experience to a whole new level. To know that your champion would not have existed if not for your planning, for your dreams – is there any greater satisfaction in racing?
But how does one begin to plan? Obviously it is an impossible task for a breeder to inspect each and every stallion and so there must be a narrowing down process. This is where pedigree analysis comes in. Firstly, match up your mare on paper, noting which stallions best suit her on pedigree. With this list in hand it is time to take a look at the horses and make your final decision.
But how to approach pedigree analysis? There are no firm and fast rules, and many conflicting opinions – but those who have spent lifetimes studying the art nearly always conclude that the top class galloper will boast pedigree patterns that in some way explain their extraordinary ability.
Let’s start with the stallion. The most successful racehorses tend to be products of the most successful stallions. And these stallions in turn tend to be sons of other leading stallions. Thus, utilizing a dominant sire line is one proven method of breeding an above average galloper.
However, as we know, most racehorses fail – even Danehill and Zabeel have had their share of duds. And such are the vagaries of breeding that there has been many a superstar sired by an otherwise average stallion. And many examples of successful stallions whose sires were not champions of the breeding shed.
So there must be more to this game than sire line.
“The mare’s the thing. The merit of a good mare cannot be destroyed; and not only that, it can, by breeding into it, be built up again.”
The words of Lord Wavertree, eccentric but respected founder of the National Stud and breeder of the Classic winners Minoru (Epsom Derby, 2000 Guineas), Cherry Lass (Epsom Oaks, 1000 Guineas), Witch Elm (1000 Guineas), Prince Palatine (St Leger) and Night Hawk (St Leger).
The best stallions tend to hail from prepotent families. Australia’s current leading sires serve as good examples – Redoute’s Choice and Encosta de Lago both descendants of acclaimed matriarchs – Best In Show and Fanfreluche respectivelly.
Both stallions are the products of the flourishing Northern Dancer sire line but through different branches, Redoute’s Choice’s line strong through Danehill and Danzig whilst Encosta de Lago’s sire Fairy King was considered disappointing in Australia – one of the main reasons why his Gr.1 son stood cheaply at his first few seasons.
Encosta de Lago is just one example of successful sire who have overcome the theory that a stallion must be the son of a great stallion. Think about the likes of Sir Tristram (the Sir Ivor line was dying out before this great horse even headed to New Zealand), Star Way (few will have heard of his sire Star Appeal or grandsire Appiani) and Seattle Slew (the Bold Ruler line was fading – even that stallion’s greatest son Secretariat proving a disappointing sire of sires).
These horses are, however, all from outstanding families – Sir Tristram and Star Way both descendants of the great mare Selene (Hyperion’s dam) and Seattle Slew boasting as his matriarch the marvellous Myrtlewood – also ancestress of Mr Prospector.
Sire line and female family – two ways to look at a stallion’s pedigree (apart from the obvious – racetrack ability), but there will always be many horses who fit both criteria. Next how to decide which of these stallions best suits your mare?
“We all know that almost any well bred mare could, through a chance breeding to the right stallion, produce a champion horse,” says American pedigree consultant and author Floyd Oliver.
Finding the “right stallion” for your mare is certainly the key and over the last hundred years numerous studies by well educated breeders, journalists and researchers have come to the conclusion that inbreeding is the best method of breeding an outstanding horse.
“Inbreeding is the rule,” said Frenchman M Rene Riondet early last century, “the only problem to solve is how to employ it, how to direct it.”
The term in-breeding conjures up negative images and for good reason breeders will always be reluctant to duplicate ancestors close up, i.e within two or three generations. However, there is great merit in reinforcing the attributes of older ancestors via their duplication – and this is often referred to in the thoroughbred world as line-breeding.
“Line-breeding reduces genetic variance and increases predictability at the direct expense of random chance,” says US pedigree expert Les Brinsfield.
The U.K based pedigree analyst Patrick Brain concluded a few years ago that only 20% of all matings contained significant line-breeding – and that this number claimed around 90% of major races.
Backing this up, an excerpt from respected publication Highflyer… “studies conducted in North America and New Zealand have shown that top class performers carry more inbreeding and are inbred to more individuals than modest performers.”
Whether we refer to such duplications is line-breeding or inbreeding is not the issue – the central consideration is how to go about it, always remembering that we must only line-bred to superior individuals – whether they be outstanding racehorses, stallions or broodmares.
The duplication of influential mares is one of the most popular methods of line-breeding. It is not as easily done with mares as with stallions (for the obvious reason that a stallion will have many more foals in a lifetime) but it is interesting to note just how often top class gallopers will boast such duplication.
“While female family inbreeding is observed in only a variable minority of currently bred thoroughbreds, it continues to shape the evolving thoroughbred more than any other identifiable breeding mechanism,” said pedigree analyst and author Rommy Faversham.
Whilst never overlooking the value of strong males in a pedigree, it is the influence of the mare that I concentrate on in my own work as a pedigree analyst. A couple of examples to illustrate…
“An early shout out for pedigree of the year,” said Pedigree Consultant’s Byron Rogers after Fair Trade’s spectacular Gr.3 C.S Hayes Stakes victory at only his second start.
Sold for an Australian record price to Hong Kong after that memorable victory, this high class gelding has been considered by two successful trainers – Michael Kent and Casper Fownes – as the best they have had.
He is an example of how a great family can be resurrected after a generation or two of neglect. His dam Villa Igea is by an unsuccessful stallion in Papal Power out of a mare who, despite hailing from the best family in Australasia, had failed to produce a black type performer… having visited mostly average stallions.
Villa Igea’s dam Wycombe is a half sister to two of Australia’s best stallions, Danewin and Commands. Her grandam is the mighty Eight Carat – dam of five Gr.1 winners and ancestress of many more. How best to make the most of the strengths of her family I thought? Line-bred to it.
And so Villa Igea visited Viscount, with some conformation reservations. But a 4 X 4 cross of Eight Carat supported by a 6 X 5 cross of another fine mare in Oceana (dam of Faringdon and Todman) was alluring. The resultant foal was not a great type, small and narrow – subsequently sold cheaply.
But he can run. His name is Count The Diamonds and whilst no world-beater he has won over ten times his purchase price.
With Villa Igea having thrown a few horses who had failed to impress on conformation, it was time to combine pedigree and type. Which member of the Eight Carat clan was throwing the strongest types? The answer was easy – the imposing Danewin.
But there was a catch, for this was no ordinary stallion and mare match up. The two were closely related, a 2 X 3 cross of Cotehele House – dam of Danewin and grandam of Villa Igea – the result. Such close line-breeding is not often attempted but breeding is a game of experimentation… and there were other crosses in the background of this mating that made it desirable.
And so Villa Igea’s owners experimented and it paid off. They stuck with the Eight Carat line-breeding the next two years… resulting in two Kempinsky fillies line-bred to Eight Carat and Oceana. The second is yet to race but the first is the promising Hearts And Arrows, runaway winner of her first two starts.
Albert The Fat
Having been part owner of the Gr.1 sprinter Bureaucracy, it was a gratifying achievement for NSW breeder John Allen to, some two decades later, breed another elite level winner out of a mare by that very stallion.
Albert The Fat – determined winner of the BTC Cup and unlucky at his most recent outing in the Stradbroke Handicap. A horse by a good and reliable stallion – Magic Albert (stood for $11,000 at the time of this mating) from a good and reliable family.
The good and the reliable were elevated to Gr.1 status with a bit of pedigree planning. What were the attributes of his dam Alemar’s pedigree? One thing that stood out was the influence of the prolific Marchetta family in Bureaucracy – his dam bred on a close 4 X 3 cross of one of its members in Aurora.
As a broodmare sire Bureaucracy was already picking up on strains of Marchetta – the champion Hong Kong sprinter Silent Witness an example with his sire El Moxie being out of a mare bred on a 4 X 4 cross of Marchetta’s granddaughter Lavendula II.
Magic Albert meanwhile, is also line-bred to this family with a 6 X 6 cross of Lavendula II’s daughter Source Sucree. So here we had the melding of a stallion and a mare whose pedigrees both featured line-breeding to the same family. And a Gr.1 horse resulted.
Which is where an appreciation of what stallions are picking up on (and just importantly, what they don’t have an affinity for) comes in handy. This comes only from many hours of dedicated research, studying the pedigrees of the successful and not so successful.
The mare owner with the time and inclination should become aware of the strengths of her pedigree. Breeding a winner is a tough task but not an impossible one and thanks to generations of winners we can study patterns – checking out what has and hasn’t worked and applying this knowledge.
And if you don’t have the time, engage the services of a pedigree analyst. How much you outlay to utilize their knowledge is only a small part of how much a horse costs to breed and raise. When you make a selection, whether it be at the races having a punt, or as a breeder, you want to put the odds in your favour. At the track you do the form, at stud do the same – the pedigree is the form guide!