Horse running through field

What Malibu Moon Really Likes

by Roger Lyons

Prognostications about what a young stallion will “like” invariably begin with linebreeding possibilities. Even after the stallion has proven conclusively that most of these possibilities are of little use, pedigree consultants continue to tout them.

Accordingly, much has been made of the breeding of Malibu Moon’s dam, Macoumba (Mr. Prospector–Maximova, by Green Dancer), from a Mr. Prospector-Northern Dancer sire-line cross. To the important question whether or not Malibu Moon works with mares in descent of Mr. Prospector and/or Northern Dancer, pedigree consultants resoundingly answer, “Well, sure.” They get especially excited about mares that have variations on that cross or its reverse–crosses that are legion in pedigrees internationally. Basically, they get excited about anything that shows up in bold-face type on the pedigree printouts of a stakes winner’s ancestry. They call it linebreeding or crossing “close genetic relatives,” but, basically, it’s especially intense inbreeding.

Consider that, based on his Northern Hemisphere crops through 2006, Malibu Moon sired foals out of 63 mares that had both Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector in their ancestries, and only three of those mares produced a superior runner. He sired foals out of 33 mares with both Northern Dancer and Raise a Native (not through Mr. Prospector) in their ancestries, and two of those mares produced a superior runner. In other words, the strike rate was actually better when the close genetic relationship was more distant.

In any event, I’ve compiled a list of some of the ancestors that Malibu Moon really likes, based on his superior-runner strike rates from mares in some descent of the given ancestor. His best runners, including those that had the dubious advantage of linbreeding to closely related ancestors, had the benefit of one or more of the following ancestors. One need only compare these strike rates with those yielded by close linebreeding:

Hail to Reason: From 103 mares in some descent of Hail to Reason, Malibu Moon has sired superior runners out of 10 of them through his 2006 Northern Hemisphere crop. With male strains of Hail to Reason, his strike rate is somewhat better, 8/69. With female strains, only 2/34. Among those runners are Perfect Moon (Best Pal S.–G2), Raw Silk (Sands Point S.–G2), Sara Louise (Top Flight H.–G2), and Sweet August Moon (Las Flores H.–G3).

Stop the Music: He’s sired foals out of 18 mares with this son of Hail to Reaon in their ancestries and got superior runners out of three of them, including Sara Louise.

Roberto: He’s only 2/18 with this son of Hail to Reason through his 2006 crop, but he has Frizette S. (G1) winner Devil May Care from his 2007 crop.

Boudoir II: Malibu Moon has the amazing strike rate of 11/50 with mares that have Boudoir II within six generations. Besides His Majesty and Graustark, she’s been especially effective for Malibu Moon when descending through either her son Your Host or his full sister, Your Hostess. Within those parameters, her highly favorable effects for Malibu Moon do appear to be irreducible and broadly applicable.

Graustark: Why is it that advocates of linebreeding recognize the significance of Graustark as the ancestor of a mare only when the stallion has the full brother His Majesty in his ancestry? Through his 2006 crop Malibu Moon has sired foals out of 34 mares with Graustark in their ancestries, and he got superior runners out of five of them, including Malibu Mint (Princess Rooney H.–G1) and Malibu Prayer (Chilukki S.–G2). Graustark works very well for Malibu Moon even though he doesn’t have His Majesty anywhere in his ancestry, and it’s a good thing because most stallions don’t cope with Graustark very well, especially those that have His Majesty in their ancestries.

His Majesty: That’s alright because three mares have produced superior runners by him from 15 that had His Majesty in their ancestries, including Raw Silk (Sands Point S.–G2). It’s the Boudoir II effect.

T. V. Lark: Malibu Moon has sired foals out of 21 mares with T. V. Lark in their ancestries and got superior runners out of four of them, including Luna Vega (Molly Pitcher S–G2) and Rodman (Queens County H.–G3).

Nantallah: He’s sired foals out of 42 mares with Nantallah in their ancestries and got superior runners out of six of them, including Declan’s Moon (Hollywood Futurity–G1), Raw Silk, and By the Light (winner of four listed stakes). Those dams had Nantallah through a variety of strains, not just his daughter, Thong.

Eight Thirty: (female strains): He’s sired foals out of 65 mares that had daughters of Eight Thirty in their ancestries and got superior runners out of eight of them, including Malibu Prayer, Sara Louise (Top Flight H.–G2), Sweet August Moon (Las Flores H.–G3), and Malibu Moonshine (winner of seven listed stakes). Eight Thirty is another one that doesn’t go down well with a lot of stallions.

Big Event and Big Hurry: An aggregate of 41 mares with one of these two daughters of La Troienne in their ancestries have produced foals by Malibu Moon, and an aggregate of six of them produced superior runners, including Perfect Moon (Best Pal S.–G2) and Bon Jovi Girl, whose dams descend from Big Event, and Funny Moon (Coaching Club American Oaks–G1), whose dam descends from Big Hurry. Memo to the advocates of linebreeding: Why did the 25 mares that have Baby League within six generations all fail to yield even one superior runner by Malibu Moon, whose grandsire, Seattle Slew, is out of a mare with two strains?

Alydar: He’s sired foals out of 16 mares with Alydar in their ancestries and four of them produced superior runners, including Funny Moon and Bon Jovi Girl. Oh, I forgot, Alydar is a “close genetic relative” of Mr. Prospector, Malibu Moon’s broodmare sire. But what about the close genetic relatives that don’t work? Gone West is a sire that’s even more closely related to Alydar, but don’t bank on that cross to work for A.P. Indy-line stallions on a regular basis.

The Axe II: He’s sired foals out of 19 mares that trace to The Axe II through a daughter and got superior runners out of four of them, including Perfect Moon.

There are many other ancestors that do Malibu Moon a lot of good, but what I want to suggest is that treating genetic relatedness between a stallion and a mare as a marker for compatibility misses the point–and, all too frequently, with unhappy consequences. No doubt, inbreeding can be a mediating factor, so long as it doesn’t over-determine the result. The best way to make sure it doesn’t is to exploit the variety of genealogical resources that have proven to contribute traits beneficial to a stallion’s foals. Keep in mind that, invariably, a sire’s actual strike rates with individual ancestors suggest that his success as a sire is more likely attributable to other factors than are represented by the names in bold-face type on the ancestry printouts of his best runners.

Malibu Moon Doubling Down

by Roger Lyons

In his epic poem The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, Nikos Kazantzakis sends the aging Odysseus and his faithful mariners on one last adventure. All along the way they pour the usual libations to the gods, of course, but not to ask for a blessing on their journey. No, after their last 20-year sojourn abroad, during which they’d been subjected to all sorts of Olympian hi-jinks, they asked that the gods just leave them alone. Just, please, don’t interfere this time. Odysseus knew the downside risk of divine intervention too well to be seduced by the upside potential.

The equine Odysseus (Malibu Moon–Persimmon Hill, by Conquistador Cielo) must not have learned that lesson yet because he appeared to have plenty of help from above winning the Tampa Bay Derby (GII), and he’s into the deities a lot deeper than that, judging from the way he’s bred. I know pedigree consultants have been raving about his “pedigree pattern,” but, given the numbers, it’s not a pattern you’d want to repeat unless you’re assured of only the most benevolent patronage from the gods.

Malibu Moon hasn’t done particularly well in the past from this so-called “pattern.” Not counting his 2007 crop, of which Odysseus is to date the luckiest member, Malibu Moon has had five superior runners from 101 mares with Mr. Prospector in their ancestries. It’s five of 90 with Mr. Prospector in the sire line of the dam, but, when Mr. Prospector was up this close it’s been only 1/38. That’s more typical of very close inbreeding to Mr. Prospector, and it’s very much to Malibu Moon’s credit that he can cope with it at all, especially at that level.

As for Odysseus’ inbreeding to Nijinsky II, well, most of Malibu Moon’s major stakes success from mares in descent of Nijinsky II–all of it, actually–involved dams that had Nijinsky II through male strains. With female strains of Nijinsky II, as in this case, Malibu Moon is 0/22 through 2006, and he’s 0/18 with Round Table through female strains. He’s much better with male strains of both Nijinsky II (3/32) and Round Table (4/22).

So, if you look at the numbers associated with that appealing arrangement of bold-face type on the pedigree printout, it looks less like a pattern you’d want to replicate than one you’d want to avoid–a prime example of mistaking the exception for the rule.

A better model is the breeding of Glencrest Farm’s Devil May Care, recent winner of the nine-furlong Bonnie Miss Stakes (G2), also by Malibu Moon and inbred to Mr. Prospector. Her inbreeding to Mr. Prospector is at the more prudent distance of 3×4, Mr. Prospector being the sire of her third dam, and, perhaps even more importantly, her dam is from Roberto line. From 69 mares tracing in some way to sons of Hail to Reason, two of the nine that produced superior runners by Malibu Moon through 2006 trace to Roberto, which doesn’t count Devil May Care since she’s a 2007.

Don’t be distracted by the pattern of crosses of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector in Devil May Care’s female line. Of Malibu Moon’s 63 mates with both Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer in their ancestries, only four have produced superior runners by him.

The numbers make sense from the larger perspective of what very close inbreeding is supposed to accomplish. It’s not supposed to result in a Kentucky Derby winner. It’s supposed to yield runners that are specialized around the capacities for which Mr. Prospector is best known. That’s one of the reasons why, with the exception of Devil May Care, no other North American Malibu Moon offspring that is inbred to Mr. Prospector has won a major stakes beyond 8.5 furlongs.

The mythical Odysseus proved he could go the distance, but my guess is, the equine Odysseus, while he may have had Athena going for him at Tampa Bay, will run afoul of Poseidon as soon as he steps up to nine furlongs. But, then, what’s an epic hero without hubris?

Pedigree Pseudo-science

by Roger Lyons

Eugenics was a pseudo-science that sprang up in the latter half of the 19th century to account, among other things, for why the English upper-class was so superior to other populations and why other people were so–well, lower class. That social class could be a heritable biological property was not the only question begged by eugenics. Its foundational principle was “purity of blood,” and, as spurious as that concept has proven to be, it continues to pester thoroughbred pedigree understanding.

It now masquerades as the idea that all good racehorses result from crossing “close genetic relatives.” In a way, that’s a very easy sell because close genetic relationships are even more ubiquitous in thoroughbred pedigree than in the pedigree of eugenically bred, 19th-century, upper-class Englishmen. In fact, close genetic relatives are crossed in the breeding of inferior horses just as frequently as in the breeding of superior ones. In any event, it’s a distinctively eugenic concept insofar as the “blood” relationship itself is treated as the cause of superior performance.

The harm of eugenic analysis is that it misses the point of what really matters in thoroughbred performance–the heritable traits that constitute a well-formed individual. It’s quite true that similarities among thoroughbred horses are ultimately attributable to shared genetic background, but that same background also gives rise to traits which, in the composition of an individual, may be utterly incommensurable with one another. Indeed, the genetic background a mare shares with a stallion might regularly contribute traits that conflict with traits that are regularly contributed by that stallion.

It’s not necessary to pinpoint conflicting traits in order to confirm their existence. Some of those traits may not even be visibly evident, but their existence can be inferred from the statistical trace they leave behind. Let’s just arbitrarily select an ancestor to see how it works. Let’s take Nijinsky II.

Much has been made of the close genetic relationship between Nijinsky II and Storm Bird, and there are, of course, a lot of stallions that have Storm Bird in their ancestries–particularly with the popularity of his son Storm Cat. So, the consequences of mistaking Storm Bird’s close genetic relationship with Nijinsky II for evidence of a broad benefit when crossing these two ancestors are far-reaching. Accordingly, the eugenic approach to pedigree evaluation often goes very far wrong.

It takes Forest Wildcat 24 mares with Nijinsky II in their ancestries to get just one superior runner from the alleged genetic affinity between Storm Bird and Nijinsky II. His record stands at three superior runners from 71 mares. Giant’s Causeway requires 18 mares in descent of Nijinsky II to get one superior runner, with his record of 6/108. In North America Tale of the Cat goes through 32 mares with Nijinsky II in their ancestries in order to get a single superior runner (3/97).

Most other stallions that have Storm Bird in their ancestries have only an average strike rate with mares in some descent of Nijinsky II. A few actually do respond favorably to the traits conferred by Nijinsky II, but, since the genetic relationship in question is constant, all of that is explainable only in terms of variations in the way the offspring of different stallions are affected by the contribution of those traits.

Despite the close genetic relationship, traits regularly conferred by Nijinsky II conflict with the performance of foals by as many stallions in descent of Storm Bird as benefit from Nijinsky II’s contribution. The idea that crossing these two ancestors has an absolute value, precisely because of the genetic purity they represent, is nothing other than eugenics disguised as genetic analysis.

The message to breeders is that they should beware of pedigree prognostication that says a certain stallion with Storm Bird in his ancestry “should” like mares with Nijinsky II in their ancestries because of the close genetic relationship between those two ancestors. It all depends on the traits the individual stallion routinely brings to the match. Having “the right blood” made a lot of difference in 19th-century English society, but on the racetrack it’s all about having “the right stuff.”

Deconstructing Blood Affinity

by Roger Lyons

In response to my last post, which was nothing more than an info-torial about the CompuSire online product, Byron “the straw man” Rogers posted the closing paragraph to a yahoo group. Here is the exerpt he posted:

“I’ve looked at too much good pedigree information to think there’s any such thing as a pedigree affinity, least of all in the sense suggested by those 200 stakes winners. All statistical blips are reducible to the function or dysfunction of certain traits within a very specific context of traits. Obviously, not all the experts agree with me on that, but here’s their little secret. The experts don’t understand pedigree any better than you or I do, especially when it comes to your mare. ”

That’s okay because I meant what I said. But Byron, always the dissembler, put that quote under the topic line “We all know nothing?”–knowledge in place of understanding. He threw the bone and then sat back to enjoy the feeding frenzy, and I was meant to be the bone.

Of course, I’m rescued by 2,500 years of western philosophy, in which the distinction between knowing something and understanding it is fundamental. That distinction is so ingrained that it routinely takes part in ordinary conversation. One can know the facts, but not understand them. In the context of an info-torial promoting an online pedigree information facility, it’s implicit that there’s a lot of pedigree information to be known, and it’s quite explicit that the experts know more of it than anyone else–precisely because, as I said, they use CompuSire online. Oops, Byron left that sentence out.

As the quote above indicates, I don’t believe the concept of pedigree affinity, or, alternatively, “blood affinity” meets a 21st-century standard of pedigree understanding. I’ll illustrate what I mean. The following facts drive that concept to the end of its 19th-century tether.

The stallion Distorted Humor is widely believed to have a powerful blood affinity with La Troienne. No doubt, much pedigree knowledge points to this. However, the more one delves into the facts, the more that idea deconstructs.

I count occurrences of ancestors within six generations of mares that have produced foals by a stallion. Some pedigree experts will say that’s not enough, but, when you use six generations for counting opportunity and six generations for counting the mares that produced superior runners by the stallion, then you will get valid strike rates.

The fact is that Distorted Humor’s strike rate with mares that have La Troienne within six generations is 19 superior runners from 130 mares (19/130), only slightly (but not significantly) above his overall strike rate.

Now, every pedigree expert knows that La Troienne mainly descends through daughters, with the exception of her son Bimelech, 1937 by Black Toney, and Bimelech descends mainly through daughters, the most notable exception being his son Better Self, 1945 out of Bee Mac, by War Admiral, but also others. Here are the facts.

With mares that have La Troienne descending through a female strain (daughters), Distorted Humor’s strike rate jumps to 17/90, which is significantly greater than his overall strike rate. However, with mares that have La Troienne descending through a male strain, he has the abysmal strike rate of only 2/40. So much for the blood affinity between Distorted Humor and La Troienne, but there’s more.

Keep in mind that’s counting only the times Bimelech occurs when La Troienne occurs within six generations. He has a lot more occurrences than that if you count the times he occurs within six generations when La Troienne is farther back. Even though Distorted Humor has a strike rate of 2/40 with male strains of La Troienne when she is within six generations of the mare, his strike rate with Bimelech alone within six generations overall is 14/125, only slightly below his overall strike rate (not statistically significant). Are the two sets of numbers relating to Bimelech contradictory?

Not if you distinguish Bimelech’s descent through sons and daughters. Among mares that descend from Bimelech through his daughters, Distorted Humor has the phenomenal strike rate of 9/54, but through males the strike rate with Bimelech is only 5/72, significantly below his overall strike rate. The culprit? Better Self, with which Distorted Humor has a strike rate of only 2/61. We must suspect that the problem is Better Self, specifically, because through Bimelech’s male strains Brookfield (1942) and Jabneh (1952) the strike rates are 1/6 and 4/29, respectively.

How far does the concept of blood affinity go toward an understanding of these numbers? Quite simply, it leaves us mystified.

As I’ve said before in this blog, these numbers are explainable only in terms of traits, and here’s but one dimension of the explanation. It’s grounded in theory of inheritance. Certain traits passed on by Better Self, so forcefully that they are conferred routinely, if not almost unexceptionally, by contemporary mares, are so at odds with the pedigree context of traits controlled by Distorted Humor as a sire that they negatively affect the performance of runners by him.

Another dimension, of course, relates to the traits that complement Distorted Humor’s influence, and La Troienne is certainly a prime source, but only through descendents that confer those traits, along with some traits they’ve picked up and passed on forcefully themselves.

Pedigree experts, it’s too late for 19th-century notions. Welcome to the 21st century.

CS Online–The Little Questions

Karl Popper is one of my favorite philosophers of science because, long before Thomas Kuhn’s term “paradigm shift” was ludicrously appropriated to corporate lingo, Popper was saying the progress of knowledge depends on answers to very small questions. And he was right.

It’s those little questions that CompuSire online is designed to answer. I’m not going to tell you we’re selling subscriptions like hotcakes, after the current promotional style, but I will say it’s what the experts use. At only $295 for an annual subscription, why wouldn’t they?

Well, they wouldn’t if it weren’t the best product of its kind. The experts use it for whatever purpose suits them, but it’s really for anybody who understands the devil is in the details. I’m going to tell you a little secret about pedigree expertise, but first. . . .

CompuSire online is a stakes search facility. I’m not talking about the winners of the one-third of North American blacktype stakes that are restricted in some fashion–races that can be won by a horse that has one or two things going for it on a certain day. I’m talking about races whose winners are likely to embody speed, stamina, soundness, the will to win, etc.–the array of qualities that, ultimately, are functions of pedigree. After all, if it’s the details that matter–and it is–then you want to be relatively certain the details you’re looking at are actually relevant to the kind of performance you want from the horses you breed. Restricted stakes are important for a variety of reasons, but the winners of those races, as a population, don’t show you how to breed a racehorse.

When the pedigree consultants tell you at least 200 stakes winners have Halo and Prince John combined in their ancestries, how do you think they came up with that? Is it because they’re smarter than you or because they have better memories than you have? No. Chances are, they got it from CompuSire online.

But, that aside, what’s the meaning of those 200 stakes winners? If you have a mare that happens to have Prince John in her ancestry and she’s about ready to be bred, then you might think it a happy coincidence to be told about those 200 stakes winners. You might want to breed her to a stallion standing down the road that just happens to have Halo in his ancestry.

But, don’t you think it’s relevant, given the distribution of Prince John in the population, just how many times and to what extent that particular stallion has actually been successful with mares that had Prince John somewhere–anywhere–in their ancestries? And, don’t you think it might matter whether or not the quality of those stakes winners was comparable to the quality of that stallion’s overall stakes performance? And, maybe it might also be useful to note whether that stallion’s success with Prince John occurred through male strains of Prince John or female strains.

That’s the kind of detail CompuSire online is really designed to provide. Karl Popper would love it.

I’ve looked at too much good pedigree information to think there’s any such thing as a pedigree affinity, least of all in the sense suggested by those 200 stakes winners. All statistical blips are reducible to the function or dysfunction of certain traits within a very specific context of traits. Obviously, not all the experts agree with me on that, but here’s their little secret. The experts don’t understand pedigree any better than you or I do, especially when it comes to your mare. The difference is, they subscribe to CompuSire online.

PS: To subscribe, click the eCompuSire logo in the left-hand partition of any eNicks web page.

Jack and I

by Roger Lyons

At one point during that difficult week when we all gathered in Fremont, I was reminded of some of the conversations I had with Jack. Sid called me on his way to Fremont asking for directions. I gave him very accurate and concise directions to Fremont from San Francisco airport. What I didn’t know at the time and didn’t put together until about three phone calls later was that Sid had landed in San Jose. If you’re completely unfamiliar with the Bay Area, you won’t be able to fully appreciate the implications of that. I know Jack would get it because he had some conversations like that with me. So, you can see the challenge he faced, day to day.

And keep in mind, Jack and I worked together for 18 years. We developed a lot of products together, and we had a certain creative process. Now, that process often started off looking less like an exchange of ideas and more like a head-on collision. We both had the unfortunate tendency, whenever we put our heads together, to get a running start. But don’t waste your time looking for the wreckage. All you’ll find is a long line of accomplishments that memorialize my relationship with Jack more than anything else could, at least on the surface.

But, as Jack liked to say, here’s the rest of the story. He’d call me with a really good idea, and anyone who knew him well had seen how exuberant he could be. Then the debate would begin, with Jack on the affirmative and me on the negative. As a formal matter, my role was to try to talk him out of it, and whatever survived that process is what we went with. That’s where Jack’s receptive qualities kicked in–tolerance, flexibiltiy, attentiveness, and I’ve been thinking about those qualities recently, I suppose, because the last things you learn to appreciate about somebody are the things you’ve always taken for granted. I remember times when–maybe I interrupted him a little too soon, or maybe I stayed on the wrong track a little too long–Jack would say in his patient, soft-spoken, non-confrontational way, for which he was so famous, “Wait a minute, Roger. Just listen to me for a minute,” and what else could I do? I’d shut up and listen.

That happened less and less in the later years because, little by little, it was in ways like that, over the years, that I think Jack rubbed off on me. It couldn’t have been easy for him, but I’d like to think–I think it’s true–that maybe I’m a more tolerant, flexible, and attentive person, not just for having known Jack, but for his having made an extraordinary effort to understand me. One of Jack’s closest friends said it best: “Jack made me a better person.” There’s no accounting that can put a value on that.