Horse running through field

Pedigree Profile: Eskendereya

by Roger Lyons

The norm in pedigree interpretation is to cite the case of an individual stakes winner and attribute its superiority as a racehorse to any pet theory one likes. One might cite the case of Footstepsinthesand (Giant’s Causeway–Glatisant, by Rainbow Quest), for example, and, in near isolation from other relevant cases, tag linebreeding through Storm Bird and close genetic relative Nijinsky II as a factor. However, that pedigree consultants happen to be selling linebreeding does not make it a reliable norm of pedigree interpretation.

In fact, Giant’s Causeway has sired foals out of 108 mares with Nijinsky II in their ancestries through his 2006 crop, and only six of those mares produced superior runners by him. Even when attempting to account for the superiority of a given runner, it’s important to know the ways in which the breeding of that runner is exceptional, relative to its broader pedigree context. I think it says as much about Giant’s Causeway as anything else I’ve ever seen that Footstepsinthesand’s third dam is by Grey Sovereign, of all things (that great quarter-horse sire line), with which, through females only, Giant’s Causeway has a strike rate of 5/16! And, it explains a lot about Footstepsinthesand, but stay away from the male strains (only 1/35).

It’s quite another thing, then, to cite an individual runner and to assess its breeding from the standpoint of its larger populational and pedigree context. True, that’s what I happen to be selling, but it’s hardly a circumstantial choice. The kind of statistical underpinning required by that approach is not as difficult as weaving a rope of sand, but, if it were easy to come by, everybody would be doing it.

The dam of Eskendereya (Giant’s Causeway–Aldebaran Light, by Seattle Slew) does not have Nijinsky II in her ancestry. If she did, there’s only about a 5% chance that Eskendereya would be one of Giant’s Causeway’s better runners, much less likely favorite for the 2010 Kentucky Derby. The breeding of his dam is, in fact, much more typical of the dams of Giant’s Causeway’s best runners, but not overwhelmingly so. From the standpoint of ancestors that have proven highly favorable to Giant’s Causeway, she ranks at the 48th percentile among the dams of all the foals he’s sired.

The ancestors with which Giant’s Causeway has had very good strike rates don’t tell the story in this case, however. Aldebaran Light is a mare whose profile with Giant’s Causeway is characterized by a cluster of ancestors with which he has had an average rate of stakes production. With Seattle Slew, sire of Aldebaran Light, Giant’s Causeway has a strike rate of 7/75. That’s about as close to his average as an ancestor can be without nailing it exactly.

It’s no secret that Giant’s Causeway prefers Raise a Native to Northern Dancer, but Alydar, sire of Eskendereya’s second dam, has not been a favorite. He much prefers Mr. Prospector. His strike rate with Alydar is 2/34 overall, somewhat below average, but that’s deceptive because both of those superior runners were out of mares to which Alydar descended through female strains, as in this case. Giant’s Causeway’s strike rate with Alydar through female strains is 2/24, right around his average.

Those two runners are indicative. The dam of Pointilliste, winner of multiple stakes in France, including the Prix de Barbeville (G3), is by Alydar and out of a Habitat mare. She won stakes at distances of 12 and 15 furlongs. However, the breeding of Flying Spur, second to Rachel Alexandra in last year’s Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) is more telling. Her dam, Lakeway, is bred on exactly the same sire-line cross as the dam of Eskendereya. She’s by Seattle Slew and out of an Alydar mare.

So, both logically and actually, a cluster of ancestors that yield average frequencies of superior runners for a stallion does not mean you should expect an average runner. Such a profile still means an average rate of production of superior runners. So, it’s hardly surprising that a horse like Eskendereya could result from that kind of profile even though one can’t point to some overwhelmingly favorable factor and say, with warrantable confidence, “That’s why.”

Pedigree Profile: Lookin at Lucky

by Roger Lyons

Lookin at Lucky (Smart Strike–Private Feeling, by Belong to Me) is out of a mare whose genealogical profile as a mate for Smart Strike currently ranks her at the 96th percentile among mares that have produced foals by him through his 2006 crop. This percentile rank is based on an aggregation of Smart Strike’s rate of production of superior runners from mares representing individual ancestors of the subject mare–in this case, Private Feeling. Basically, the purpose of the profile is to measure how well the ancestry of the subject mare matches up with Smart Strike based on the preferences he has shown. If a given ancestor has proven significantly favorable to Smart Strike relative to opportunity, it contributes positively to the aggregate profile and percentile rank. An ancestor that has proven significantly unfavorable negatively affects the profile and percentile rank.

No knowledgeable observer would be surprised that a stallion by Mr. Prospector would have a relatively low strike rate with mares contributing Raise a Native. The redeeming factor for Smart Strike is that his strike rate with mares contributing Northern Dancer has generally been slightly above average. It happens , though, that Smart Strike has an exceptionally favorable response to Private Feeling’s specific expression of these two important ancestors.

Her sire, Belong to Me, is bred from a Danzig (Northern Dancer)–Exclusive Native (Raise a Native) sire-line cross. Through his 2006 crop Smart Strike has sired foals out of four mares by Belong to Me, and two of those mares produced superior runners by him, including Papa Clem, winner of the Arkansas Derby (G2) and San Fernando S. (G2), and Striking Tomisue, winner of the Wayward Lass S. Lookin at Lucky’s dam is Smart Strike’s third mate by Belong to Me to produce a superior runner by him. In short, it’s a nick.

When Werk Thoroughbred Consultants first recommended this mating, however, the Smart Strike–Belong to Me nick was not yet established. Get that story here.

As is typical of a broodmare sire that crosses well with a particular stallion, Smart Strike’s numbers with ancestors in the background of Belong to Me are very solid. Through male strains of Danzig, he has a strike rate of 6/45 through 2006 and has three additional superior runners from his 2007 crop, including Lookin at Lucky, of course; On Verra, runner up in last year’s Prix Marcel Boussac (G1); and Zanzibari, winner of last year’s Prix de Cabourg. Smart Strike’s overall record with Danzig, including female strains, is reflected in his strike rate of 11/76 with Pas de Nom, notable predominantly as the dam of Danzig. He is 9/79 with Hail to Reason, sire of Belong to Me’s second dam, through female strains and has a strike rate of 3/12 with No Fiddling, Belong to Me’s third dam.

Smart Strike’s record with the ancestry of Lookin at Lucky’s second dam, Regal Feeling (Clever Trick–Sharp Belle, by Native Charger) is not nearly as conclusive, mainly for lack of opportunity. He’s had opportunity with only seven mares with Clever Trick through female strains and no superior runners to show for it, other than Lookin at Lucky. However, the background numbers suggest potential, given more opportunity. With Clever Trick’s sire, Icecapade, he’s 2/20 and with Native Charger 1/6, which is good enough.

One peculiarity of Private Feeling’s ancestry is that she’s inbred to Northern Dancer 3×4 through a male strain (Danzig) and a female strain (Sleek Dancer, Private Feeling’s third dam). Some pedigree analysts regard inbreeding through sex-opposite strains as an absolute pedigree value, but the numbers show that many stallions respond differently to male and female strains of certain ancestors, including Northern Dancer. It happens that Smart Strike has the fairly good strike rate of 4/24 with female strains, but only an average 46/384 with male strains. Accordingly, with mares inbred to Northern Dancer through mixed-sex strains his strike rate is only 1/17, not counting Lookin at Lucky or any of the opportunity in his 2007 crop. For Smart Strike, sex-opposite strains of Northern Dancer generally collide with one another, but not in this case.

He has a strike rate of 6/46 with mares inbred to Northern Dancer through all-male strains, but that’s deceptive because in all six cases Danzig was one of the strains. So, on the whole, Private Feeling’s Northern Dancer influence can be deemed highly favorable to Smart Strike only because of Northern Dancer’s descent through Danzig and a female strain. It’s not because they’re sex-opposite strains. It’s because, despite his preference for female strains, he just happens to like Danzig especially well.

Another issue is that Private Feeling has five strains of Native Dancer within six generations, two through males (Raise a Native and Native Charger) and three through females (Natalma, the dam of Northern Dancer in two cases and Shenanigans, the dam of Icecapade in one case). As in the case of Northern Dancer, Smart Strike responds differently to Native Dancer depending on the sex of the strains. With female strains of Native Dancer he has the significantly favorable response of 47/359, and, remember, Private Feeling has three female strains. This makes sense in that Northern Dancer confers a female strain of Native Dancer while Raise a Native confers a male strain. Accordingly, with male strains Smart Strike has a strike rate of only 7/128. Of course, in Private Feeling’s case this response is conditioned by Native Dancer’s descent through male strains to which Smark Strike has proven amenable. So, overall, Private Feeling’s Native Dancer load leans very heavily in Smart Strike’s favor.

I should add, too, that the breeding of Belong to Me’s dam, Belonging, broadly reflects Smart Strike’s Raise a Native–Turn-to sire-line cross and, therefore, constitutes a linebreeding pattern. Smart Strike’s strike rate with mares that return to him that pattern, including all its possible forms, is 5/65, just a bit below his average, not bad at all. There can be no doubt that linebreeding can serve to mediate type, but, among superior runners, the numbers only very rarely warrant a pedigree interpretation that casts it as a decisive factor. At best, linebreeding has only limited functional relevance in Lookin at Lucky’s pedigree context.

The linebreeding of Lookin at Lucky is one thing, but the linebreeding of his dam, with her build-up of Native Dancer, is quite another. Much of that is favorable to Smart Strike, but mainly because of the specific ancestors through which it is expressed. In no way could a build-up of Native Dancer in the ancestry of a mare otherwise be taken as an encouraging factor for Smart Strike. It all depends on how that build-up is expressed, and Smart Strike is extremely particular about that. Private Feeling’s distinctive expression happens to suit Smart Strike especially well, but there are lots of ways it would go wrong for most other stallions.

Sourcing the Sadler’s Wells-Darshaan Nick

by Roger Lyons

As an addendum to my last post, I’ll report some further findings relating to Dar Re Mi’s scond dam, Delsy (Abdos–Kelty, by Venture). Delsy is also the dam of Darshaan, by Shirley Heights. As I reported in my last post, Singspiel, sire of Dar Re Mi, has a superior runner strike rate of 2/14 with Darshaan, and, if you take Darshaan out of Singspiel’s opportunity with Shirley Heights, the strike rate with Shirley Heights is 2/18. Singspiel, however, has had some additional opportunity with Delsy on her own, and the strike rate is 3/15. That extra superior runner, of course, is Dar Re Mi.

These numbers are small, but provide some presumptive ground for thinking that Delsy might be the operative factor in the mega-nick between Sadler’s Wells-line sires and Darshaan-line mares. So, since posting that, I’ve taken a look at the numbers Sadler’s Wells accumulated during his career. Keep in mind, though, I’m considering all occurrences of Darshaan in the ancestries of mares that produced foals by Sadler’s Wells, not just occurrences in the broodmare sire line. Also, a mare contributes to the stallion’s strike rate when she descends from the ancestor in question and produces a runner that wins an unrestricted North American blacktype stakes or blacktype-qualifying foreign stakes OR runs second in a G1 or G2 race.

With Darshaan, Sadler’s Wells has the almost unheard-of strike rate of 18/48 (37.5%). If you take out Darshaan, Sadler’s Wells’ strike rate with Shirley Heights is 19/83 (23%), exactly Sadler’s Wells’ average). Intuitively, you would think that Darshaan makes the difference, and so he does, but the logical counterweight to his sire Shirley Heights is Darshaan’s dam, Delsy. Sadler’s Wells happens to have had opportunity with five daughters of Delsy, which placed her in the second generation of the foal, one generation closer than in occurrences through Darshaan. The result?

Three of those five mares produced superior runners by Sadler’s Wells, including two G1 winners–Daliapour, winner of the Coronation Cup (G1) and Hong Kong Vase (G1), and Darazari, out of the dam of Dar Re Mi and winner of the Ranvet S.(G1) in Australia. Delsy appears to be something of an independent source of the values that otherwise constitute the Sadler’s Wells–Darshaan nick.

Dar Re Mi and the Men in Tights

(With apologies to Robin Hood)

by Roger Lyons

Pedigree consultants have to do some genealogical back-flips in order to get Sheema Classic (G1) winner, Dar Re Mi’s pedigree to conform with their 19th-century notions of pure breeding, the springboard for which is, of course, linebreeding. I would give them about a four, but that’s with a lot of credit for degree of difficulty. Dar Re Mi’s nearest inbreeding is 6×6 to Nearco, which means the linebreeding pedigree consultants will have to suit up for some serious pedigree gymnastics. Sorry, but we’re talking tights.

After bows to the audience, they begin with a daring leap from Singspiel’s eighth-generation ancestor, Flares, the broodmare sire of Nantallah, sire of Thong, to land precariously on Black Devil, in Dar Re Mi’s seventh generation. He’s the paternal great-grandsire of High Top’s second dam. Don’t worry, Flares and Black Devil are not the only close genetic relatives they could find. They’re saving the best for last.

After a couple of ad-libbed pirouettes to regain their footing, they somersault across Dar Re Mi’s pedigree to Forli, the sire of Sadler’s Wells’ second dam and then gather themselves for the finale, a twisting double-back-flip to Abernant, broodmare sire of Top Ville’s paternal great-grandsire, Derring Do, and a close genetic relative of Forli. At least, they finish the performance in range of the audience.

A pedigree floor exercise judge might question our intrepid gymnists’ choice of Black Devil and Abernant as landing marks in the pedigree of Darara. These are both ancestors of Top Ville, and, while Sadler’s Wells line generally has done well with Top Ville-line mares, Singspiel really hasn’t, with only one superior runner (Dar Re Mi herself) from 12 mares, and he has exactly the same strike rate with High Top at 2/24.

The numbers don’t look much better as you follow them back into Top Ville’s ancestry. With Abernant, Singspiel has been about average, but he’s been below average with Black Devil. If Abernant and Black Devil are the reasons why Darara worked so well with Singspiel, then why doesn’t Singspiel have better numbers with those ancestors?

Clearly, there’s something working for Singspiel in the ancestry of Darara, but Top Ville’s credit for it appears limited to his having got out of the way in this case. The real payoff for Singspiel almost certainly has more to do with ancestors of Darara’s dam, Delsy, because the ones that have been favorable to Singspiel comprise a long list.

Besides, Delsy is also the dam of Darshaan, which is one of those mega-nicks with Sadler’s Wells line, and she might actually be the key to it. Singspiel is 2/14 with Darshaan, but with Delsy he’s 3/15. That he’s 4/24 with Astronomie, to which Delsy is inbred 3×4, suggests that the contribution of Delsy probably plays a substantial role in Singspiel’s nick with Darshaan and quite possibly in the greater Sadler’s Wells-Darshaan nick as well. After all, if you take out Darshaan, Singspiel is only 2/18 with the rest of Shirley Heights line.

Regardless of how far it goes, the numbers suggest that this is the most probable pedigree interpretation relating to Dar Re Mi. However, there’s some comical amusement in watching the contortions of pedigree consultants who are really just cheerleaders for linebreeding, blithely oblivious to actual effects.