Horse running through field

Pedigree Profile: American Lion

by Roger Lyons

American Lion doesn’t have linebreeding that is intense enough for full compliance with the rules of pedigree correctness (that’s PC for short), but what he has will no doubt satisfy the linebreeding pedigree consultants until the preferred kind comes along. Tiznow’s sire, Cee’s Tizzy, is bred In Reality over Northern Dancer, so, in the vernacular, he’s a “close genetic relative” of American Lion’s dam, Storm Tide. Yes, she has Northern Dancer on one side of her ancestry and In Reality on the other, but, really, it’s not that close. I mean, In Reality is the paternal great-grandsire of her second dam. That’s getting a bit fast and loose with the concept of linebreeding if you ask me.

Besides, Storm Tide’s breeding is a cross of two ancestors that contribute very favorably to Tiznow’s foals–no, not Northern Dancer and In Reality. His numbers with both those ancestors are really quite moderate, as are his numbers with Mr. Prospector. It’s understandable. Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector are both represented by a wide range of descendents. You don’t expect any stallion to work well enough with all of them that he would have a good strike rate on an aggregate basis.

What Tiznow likes in Storm Tide’s ancestry is her sire Storm Cat and her broodmare sire Carson City–and, even more to the point of what’s working for American Lion, the combination of the two. Largely by virtue of that cross, Storm Tide scores at the 99th percentile of mares that have produced foals by Tiznow through 2006, as to how well her ancestry matches what he likes in a mare. Never mind the linebreeding. That’s a red herring.

Through his 2006 crop Tiznow has sired superior runners out of four of his 18 mates with Storm Cat in their ancestries (not counting Storm Tide). Those include dual-G1 winner Folklore, dual-G2 winner Informed, G2 winner Tiz Wonderful, and listed stakes winner Tiz Now Tiz Then, the last of these being the only one whose dam did not have Storm Cat in direct male descent. This looks like a simple nick between Tiznow and Storm Cat.

He’s also sired superior runners out of two of five mates that had Carson City in their ancestries. Those two were G1 winner Bullsbay, out of a mare by Carson City’s son, Lord Carson, and listed stakes winner Lady Chace, out of a mare by Carson City. This looks like a simple nick between Tiznow and Carson City.

It’s not incidental, though, that these two simple nicks add up to some seriously potent speed. The numbers suggest, in fact, that Storm Tide’s cross might be an extreme expression of a broader pedigree context involving Storm Cat and other strains of Mr. Prospector. It happens that the dams of Folklore and Tiz Wonderful are both bred Storm Cat line over Mr. Prospector line, the same broad sire-line cross as the dam of American Lion. Tiz Now Tiz Then is out of a mare by Seeking the Gold, and his second dam is by Storm Cat. Thus, even though Tiznow’s numbers with Mr. Prospector generally are only average, from nine mates of Tiznow bred from crosses of Storm Cat and Mr. Prospector, three produced superior runners by him, not counting American Lion. Speed is the common denominator of that sire-line combination. Note, too that Tiz Wonderful is out of a mare by Hennessy, an especially speed-oriented strain of Storm Cat.

I’m not going to keep up the pretense that In Reality doesn’t figure in this at all. After all, Folklore’s third dam is by In Reality, which almost certainly contributes to the speed delivered by Folklore’s dam. That’s far from saying, though, that, as a function of linebreeding, it invokes an abstruse blood affinity. It’s just a very effective method of inbreeding that very effectively reinforces speed. This is further supported by G2 winners Bear Now and Tizfiz, two of Tiznow’s four superior runners with In Reality in their ancestries. Both are out of mares whose dams are by speed influence Crafty Prospector, whose broodmare sire is In Reality.

I have a theory about Tiznow, which might be wrong, and, if it is, somebody who knows better should correct me on it. The reason why so many of the Tiznows–American Lion, for example– like to be on the front, or close to it, is not that Tiznow is a natural sire of speed. If that were the case, he would get some sprinters. His value lies elsewhere. The key is that his big horses get their speed from their dams, and Tiznow’s job, which he does extremely well, is to carry that speed farther than you’d otherwise expect it to go. That’s why American Lion is one horse that’s not going to stop in deep stretch at Churchill Downs on Saturday.

All the Horses are Linebred

by Roger Lyons

Now I’ve heard everything. I didn’t get this at some obscure website specializing in pedigree correctness (PC for short, please) that hardly anybody reads. No, it came from none other than a Blood-Horse pedigree column, a publication that–well, obviously, I still read it.

It goes like this. The reason why La Troienne is such an important influence is that her sire, Teddy, traces four generations back to Ormonde, and her second dam, Lady of Pedigree, is by a sire whose second dam is Ornament, a full sister to Ormonde. In other words, she’s linebred through full siblings. That’s around the twelfth generation of contemporary horses, and, when mares with La Troienne are crossed with stallions whose pedigrees contain these two ancestors, we’re told, the foals will light up the tote boards.

Yes, good horses all have linebreeding within 12 generations, but so do all of the bad horses. The reason they’re all linebred is that they are all products of pedigree. You carve out a population of horses, define a range of performance that favors those horses, close the book around their ancestries, and call it pedigree. Then, 200 years later all of the descendents of those horses are linebred, especially as defined in broad strokes by its advocates.

Besides its role in signifying commercial value, pedigree is a set of rules enforced by the Jockey Club, and ubiquitous linebreeding is an historical consequence of the enforcement of those rules. The advocates of linebreeding conclude that it facilitates the breeding of good horses, but that is generally not what rules are about. Rather, rules pose a challenge to the playing of the game.

Suppose there were no rule in the game of basketball that says you have to dribble the ball, that you can’t just tuck it under your arm and saunter down court. Basketball would be much more boring and tedious than it is. The rules are meant to challenge the players, to make the game harder to play and more interesting to watch.

That’s exactly what linebreeding is in today’s thoroughbred racing and breeding environment. Racing and breeding without linebreeding would be like golf without the rough, sand traps, and water hazards. It would be like tennis without a net, like basketball without dribbling. Linebreeding and those pedigree patterns that are trotted out ad nauseum are the rough, sand traps, and water hazards of thoroughbred breeding.

If those distant ancestors of La Troienne were the key to Distorted Humor’s response to certain of her strains, then he would have a similar response to any expression of La Troienne’s influence. As I showed in a previous post, however, that is not the case. It’s not about some distant blood affinity. It’s about the variety of ways in which different descendents of La Troienne express her influence in regard to specific traits. By way of generational variation, some of those descendents contribute La Troienne’s influence in ways that are favorable to foals by Distorted Humor. Others contribute it in ways that are unfavorable to his foals, and those same ancestors interact with other stallions differently.

Any specific method of linebreeding will have harmful effects in a lot of pedigree contexts. Those who look at the twelfth generation and assume that everything they find there has some absolute value never notice the problems that have sprung up along the way, such as the negative effect mares in descent of Better Self (by Bimelech, a son of La Troienne) have on Distorted Humor’s foals, which I pointed out previously. Above all, no method of linebreeding has value in and of itself. Whether a method is beneficial or harmful depends on its pedigree context.

Jack Werk’s clients valued his advice so highly because he understood what so many pedigree consultants don’t get–to the extent that rules are in force, the onus is on making moves in the game. The hard part is to hit the jump shot off the dribble, to come up with a Lookin at Lucky amid the hazards of linebreeding.

Pedigree Profile: Super Saver

by Roger Lyons

Super Saver is not the first runner his dam, Supercharger, has had by Maria’s Mon. There was a 2003 gelding named Hedge Fund that ran 48 times, won four races, was second 13 times, and was third four times. He won just over $144,000–a useful runner, effective only as a sprinter.

My point in mentioning Hedge Fund is this. My statistical profiles at this time of year take into account the dams of foals by a stallion through last year’s three-year-old crop (2006). I add the dams of current-year three-year-olds as a group around mid-year because by then many of the offspring have had a chance to race. However, Super Saver’s dam is included as the producer of a superior runner even though Super Saver is a current three-year-old. That’s because Supercharger is represented by a runner born prior to 2007.

Super Saver’s dam takes Maria’s Mon to a record of 2/4 with A.P. Indy mares. Forget about how many foals there were. It’s the number of mares that matters. No matter how many foals a mare produced by Maria’s Mon, the question is whether or not at least one of them was a superior runner, and Super Saver certainly is. The other A.P. Indy mare that produced a superior runner by Maria’s Mon is Flirtatious, dam of Wait a While, which won three G1 stakes and five G2 stakes. You could safely say it’s the nick.

You could say it’s linebreeding involving the genetic relationships organized by Raise a Native and Buckpasser, but not as safely. Maria’s Mon’s sire is by Wavering Monarch, bred on a Raise a Native-Buckpasser cross. Supercharger is inbred to Buckpasser and is out of a mare by Mr. Prospector. That’s definitely linebreeding, but the numbers say Maria’s Mon is only 5/66 with mares that cross Raise a Native and Buckpasser, and that is just average for Maria’s Mon.

Besides, Maria’s Mon’s numbers with both Raise a Native (16/256 through males) and Buckpasser (7/97 through females) lack lustre. He does much better with Northern Dancer through females, at 5/27, and Supercharger’s second dam is by Northern Dancer. That could be an important factor, but it doesn’t point to the linebreeding.

On that basis, Supercharger ranks at the 93rd percentile of mares that had foals by Maria’s Mon through his 2006 crop, as determined by a formula that evaluates strike rates with the individual mares’ ancestors. Indpendently of the Buckpasser thing, it’s a good profile. But there is also a blip in the numbers relating to the position of Buckpasser as the sire of her third dam, Numbered Account.

Maria’s Mon sired foals out of nine Buckpasser-line mares, and not a single one produced a superior runner. and the same goes for the 13 mares whose dams were from Buckpasser line. However, two of the ten mares whose second dams were by Buckpasser mares produced superior runners–that is, foals inbred to Buckpasser 4×4 through their third dams, including Latent Heat, winner of the Malibu S (G1). Then there is Supercharger herself, which is one of eight mares that produced foals inbred to Buckpasser 4×5 through their fourth dams, including Super Saver. These two positions of Buckpasser as a sire in the female line have a combined strike rate of 3/18 for Maria’s Mon, against a strike rate of 5/103 in all other positions combined (including the multiple occurrences through mares inbred to Buckpasser, as in the case of Supercharger).

For Maria’s Mon, no other placement of Buckpasser in the ancestry of his mates comes close to this, and overall Buckpasser has a strike rate at the low end of Maria’s Mon’s average. Nevertheless, the numbers suggest Buckpasser could be a highly favorable factor for Maria’s Mon as the sire of the third or fourth dam of a mare. In fact, both Super Saver and his dam are inbred to Buckpasser through their female line.

Sometimes it’s the nick. Often it’s an ancestor with no special genetic relation to the sire. Sometimes it’s a very discretely defined method of inbreeding. Sometimes it’s even linebreeding, but, frankly, not very often.

Pedigree Profile: Awesome Act

by Roger Lyons

In 1997 Crypto Star, winner of the Arkansas Derby (G2) at nine furlongs, was not the only runner by Cryptoclearance to have won a stakes at that distance. However, despite the perception of Cryptoclearance as a stamina influence, only one other of his offspring had won a stakes beyond 8.5 furlongs. That was Kingdom City, which happened to be entered in the undercard on Derby Day that same year. He had won the Round Table S. (G3) at nine furlongs two years before, but was not the same as a five-year-old. Neither of them fared very well on Derby Day 1997.

That distance barrier for Cryptoclearance remained intact only until the following year when Victory Gallop won the Belmont. The only other offspring of Cryptoclearance to win a stakes beyond nine furlongs was Volponi in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Needless to say, Crypto Star didn’t take my money that Derby Day. Betting that a horse’s performance, especially in the Kentucky Derby, will be anomalous to its breeding is like drawing to an inside straight. No, I’m no fool, I found a much smarter way to lose my money.

One horse that won’t get my money this year is Awesome Act. I just can’t back a horse in the Derby with 4×2 inbreeding to Mr. Prospector, especially one that has not yet won a stakes at nine furlongs. Oh, and did I mention? The only runner by Awesome Again and inbred to Mr. Prospector to have won a stakes beyond 8.5 furlongs was Awesome Gem, which won the Hawthorne Gold Cup H. (G2), but that horse is inbred 4×4 and it was in the mud.

That analysis could easily go wrong for me because Awesome Act has already proven he’s exceptional in other ways. Through his 2006 crop Awesome Again has sired superior runners out of only six mares with Mr. Prospector in their ancestries, that from 103 opportunities. So, in that sense, what Awesome Act has done so far makes him a rarity.

One way in which Awesome Act is typical of his breeding is that his dam is out of Coup de Folie, by Halo, and that’s the kind of family that’s almost indifferent to the stallion that’s been selected for it. It’s a good thing, too, because Awesome Again has had a superior runner from only one of 26 of his mates that had Halo in their ancestries, and the eight additional mares that had Halo’s dam, Cosmah, descending in some other way all failed to fire.

No matter how Awesome Act might fare in the Derby, Awesome Again has already established his credentials as a versatile sire that can get classic-distance runners. Besides Awesome Gem, he’s sired Ghostzapper (Breeders’ Cup Classic–G1), Ginger Punch (Personal Ensign S.–G1), Rumor Has It (Kentucky Cup Turf S.–G3–and three other stakes beyond nine furlongs), and Hotstufanthensome (Mac Diarmida H.–G3); and nine furlongs is a piece of cake for many of his runners. However, if you check CompuSire online, you’ll see that the nearest inbreeding among the classic-distance stakes winners–outside of Awesome Gem–was 5×4 to Raise a Native in the ancestry of Hotstufanthensome. The rest, by today’s standards, were outcrosses.

Clearly, Awesome Act’s breeding does not fit the profile that is typical of the best offspring of his sire, especially those that won at classic distances. The question is, how exceptional can he be?

The one other thing that worries me is Volponi, that anomalous son of Cryptoclearance. Nobody was more shocked than I was when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic because, you see, he’s inbred 3×4 to Mr. Prospector!

So, while I won’t be backing Awesome Act, I completely agree with Frank Mitchell when he says, “you just never know.”

What Linebreeding Really Is

by Roger Lyons

Most people think of inbreeding and linebreeding as two different things–inbreeding as a duplication of ancestors within four generations and linebreeding as a duplication of ancestors outside of that generational distance. Consequently, inbreeding is considered more intense than linebreeding because it involves less generational distance from the new individual.

What geneticists mean by linebreeding, however, has nothing to do with generational distance, and I know Blood-Horse pedigree columnist Les Brinsfield will back me up on this. It’s formed by the cross of two or more ancestors that share relatives on both sides of their ancestries. It’s what’s sometimes called crossing close genetic relatives. The generational distance of these ancestors from the new individual is irrelevant. The most intense form of linebreeding, in fact, consists in breeding a mare to her full brother. Clearly, linebreeding is a specialized form of inbreeding.

Well, then, if that’s what linebreeding really is, why is it that you can go to commercial breeding sites all over the internet and find it defined incorrectly–as a function of generational distance?

First, it’s important to understand that pedigree has no place in the science of inheritance. It has nothing whatever to do with genetics or its terminology. It was created out of whole cloth in the middle of the industrial revolution as part of an institutional structure for the new pure-breeding model. This was a time, don’t forget, when naturalists all over Europe, including Charles Darwin well into the 19th century, were preoccupied with exploring the biological frontiers of hybrid breeding–of crossing different varieties.

Besides wanting to see how weird a pigeon could look, they were interested in where to draw the lines between species. They had spirited debates in the Royal Academy about whether species difference should be inferred from the infertility of offspring, on the one hand, or, on the other hand, the inability of manifestly differing parents to reproduce at all. Hybrid breeding of English racehorses had been the dominant approach earlier in the 18th century, but the new pedigree breeding was at best tangential to prevailing, early 19th-century scientific interest.

At mid-century when Darwin was focused on how species adapt to their environments, the English Jockey Club had its hands full trying to adapt the racing environment to unanticipated changes in the population of pedigreed horses–and in such a way as to sustain the pretense that the horses were actually getting better in some absolute sense. Meanwhile, successive generations of horsemen since the first half of the 19th century have complained that the horses are not what they used to be, and they’ve been right all along.

Historically, the emergence of pedigree is understandable only from the standpoint of its commercial utility. Its form of development has been oriented, first and foremost, toward limiting the size and regulating the commercial value of living populations. The changing conditions of racing that at any given time reflect the thoroughbred population’s capacity for performance, the forms of genetic representation, typographical conventions, statistical formulations, cataloguing styles, pedigree analysis, and the terminology in which thoroughbred horses are discussed all comprise the system of signifying practices we call pedigree.

What does it all signify? It very convincingly signifies commercial value even if it’s not that good at predicting performance.

The new sense of pedigree, as represented by the English Stud Book, had much to do with the emerging industrial values of efficiency and scale, but it was also a form of commercial packaging. For the most part, science is welcomed to the party only at times when commerce has run so far afoul of biology that something needs to be fixed.

It’s not surprising, then, that linebreeding would be understood one way in a system of practices whose purpose is to represent its measurable effects and quite another way in a system whose purpose is to invest it with commercial value. Accordingly, linebreeding is a salient technique in the packaging of pedigree. Because inbreeding has a bad name in the world at large, commercial breeders, whether of dogs, cattle, whatever, don’t want to say the animals they’re selling are inbred. Instead, they say their animals are linebred, and they’re careful to make sure the breeding fits the definition that’s been especially adapted to the commercial interest in pedigree. It’s really just inbreeding packaged to sell.

To their credit, thoroughbred breeders are not so squeamish about inbreeding, but the commercial motives underlying pedigree so forcefully distort language and sense that the perception of linebreeding as a specialized–and often more intense–form of inbreeding has been almost hopelessly suppressed.

Odysseus/Devil May Care, Take Two

by Roger Lyons

In a recent post about the breeding of Odysseus and Devil May Care, I argued that Odysseus is not bred to win a major stakes beyond 8.5 furlongs, as Devil May Care had just done. So, you can imagine how eagerly I anticipated Odysseus’ start in the Bluegrass Stakes (G1). Or perhaps, instead, you imagine trepidation. Either way, I was looking forward to it.

I didn’t expect him to win, but didn’t expect him to run last, either. Then came the sad news of the bone chip, which might well have happened during the race. As so often happens in racing, some questions never find ultimate answers, but that misfortune pales by comparison with the bad luck for Padua Stables, and I’d rather have been proven wrong than have it turn out that way.

In any event, my quarrel with his pedigree has largely, but not exclusively, to do with his close inbreeding to Mr. Prospector (3×3), based on Malibu Moon’s past success and opportunity. Statistical information like that only tells you what to expect based on a norm. Strictly speaking, you can only hypothesize. You can say something like this: if Odysseus is able to win a major stakes at 10 furlongs, then he is not at all typical of his breeding. Any given horse can become an exception to its breeding, but most don’t.

In that same post I also argued that Devil May Care is much more likely than Odysseus to be exceptional relative to the past performance of Malibu Moon’s Mr. Prospector inbreds. First of all, her inbreeding to Mr. Prospector is at 3×4, which is a huge difference. Secondly, she comes from the Roberto sire line, with which Malibu Moon has had good success from opportunity.

Of Malibu Moon’s five SWs inbred to Mr. Prospector, Devil May Care’s breeding is exceptional, especially in regard to her pattern of inbreeding to Mr. Prospector, and readers of my last post (if there are any) might guess exactly how. Odysseus’ dam is by Conquistador Cielo, by Mr. Prospector, which means Mr. Prospector is returned by the sire line of the dam. Devil May Care, on the other hand, is out of a mare whose second dam is by Mr. Prospector. That is to say, Devil May Care is inbred to a sire in the female line–the pattern shared by Eskendereya (inbred 4×4 to Northern Dancer) and Real Quiet (inbred 4×3 to Raise a Native).

The numbers are important. Of all the foals Malibu Moon has sired out of mares in some descent of Mr. Prospector, only five mares had Mr. Prospector as a sire in the female line. Two of those mares had foals inbred at a distance of 3×3. Throw those out because it’s too close. The foals of only three of those five mares were inbred at the much more effective distance of 3×4, like Devil May Care. So, Devil May Care comes from precious little legitimate opportunity.

We don’t know what is typical for that kind of breeding. It’s a new thing for Malibu Moon. Devil May Care has already gone farther in a major stakes than any other of Malibu Moon’s Mr. Prospector inbreds when she won the nine-furlong Bonnie Miss S. (G2). She’s done enough already, but, if she wins the Oaks, her pedigree is the new take on how to get a very high-class Malibu Moon runner inbred to Mr. Prospector.

Inbreeding to a Sire in the Female Line

by Roger Lyons

Sid Fernando recently posted on Eskendreya at his Sid Fernando + Observations blog, and he included a link to something he posted on Eskendereya at WTC’s Who’s Hot blog just after the Fountain of Youth, and I went back and read it again. In that earlier post Sid draws a parallel between the pedigrees of Eskendereya and Real Quiet. What do they have in common? Inbreeding to a sire in the female line.

That way of putting it is easier than saying “inbreeding to the sire of a mare in the female line,” which is more accurate. I recall that many years ago David Dink, in his broad study of inbreeding for the Thoroughbred Times, chose the simpler expression, so I’ll use it, too. David did a study so broad that it was almost guaranteed not to find any effects of inbreeding, but, as I recall, he did a special installment on inbreeding to a sire in the female line because it was the only pattern of inbreeding that actually did get results that exceeded opportunity.

Just before re-reading Sid’s post from late February, I had posted some comments on Eskendereya (my last post), among which was the observation that Giant’s Causeway really didn’t have a very good strike rate with Northern Dancer, that he liked Raise a Native a lot more, and that’s true. However, after re-reading Sid’s post, which was about inbreeding to Northern Dancer in the female line of Eskendereya, I checked the numbers for occurrences of Northern Dancer as a sire in the female line of mares that have produced foals by Giant’s Causeway. Sid is going to like what I found.

Giant’s Causeway had 12 mares whose dams were by Northern Dancer–inbred 4×3 to Northern Dancer. The only mare to produce a superior runner was the dam of Aragorn, a dual-G1 winner. The story is high quality, low frequency, but that’s not the end of it.

He sired foals out of 16 mares whose third dams were by Norther Dancer–inbred 4×4 to Northern Dancer. Two of those mares produced superior runners, including G1 winner Frost Giant and Model, a listed stakes winner. It seems fair to assess that provisionally as high quality, average frequency, especially since it’s Eskendereya’s pattern. He won’t be included in my tallies until after the classics.

Giant’s Causeway sired foals out of six mares whose fourth dams were by Northern Dancer–inbred 4×5 to Northern Dancer. Two of those mares produced G1 winners, including Red Giant and Internallyflawless. Unequivocally, that generational distance yielded high quality, high frequency.

Clearly, as far as Giant’s Causeway is concerned, there is something special about mares with Northern Dancer as a sire in the female line, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this approach does have broad effects for certain sires, as David Dink’s study found and as is suggested by Sid’s comparison. After all, Raise a Native is the key sire in Real Quiet’s female line. It’s not just a Northern Dancer thing, but generational distance could be a factor, especially in regard to frequency.