Horse running through field

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.

2 comments to “All the Horses are Linebred”

  • Sid Fernando writes:

    Roger, love this piece!

  • Roger Lyons writes:

    Thanks, coach.

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