Horse running through field

Zenyatta Plus ?

by Roger Lyons

As an earnest reader of Frank Mitchell’s blog, I attended with interest to his remarks about a mate for Zenyatta, especially his misgivings about Giant’s Causeway as a possible match. Now, Frank is an expert in biomechanics, so I’m supposing that, when he says, “I don’t especially like him for this mare,” he means he sees a physical mismatch somewhere along the contours of the two individuals. When Frank speaks, I listen, but I don’t much like what I hear in this case.

That’s because on paper, which is where my life unfolds in this business most of the time, Giant’s Causeway is the best match out there among proven stallions. Don’t get me wrong. Frank’s choice is Galileo, and he also has a great profile on paper, but it’s not as factually confirmable as that of Giant’s Causeway–on paper.

Just for reference, Zenyatta is by Street Cry, by Machiavellian and out of Helen Street, by Troy, and her first, second, and third dams are by Kris S., Forli, and Hoist the Flag, respectively. Giant’s Causeway has had no opportunity with mares by Street Cry (hardly any stallion has), but he has a superior-runner strike rate of 2/7 with Machiavellian and 2/7 with Troy. He’s also 1/2 with Helen Street, the dam of Street Cry, because she’s also the second dam of four-time G1-winner Shamardal, by Giant’s Causeway.

On the other side of her pedigree, Giant’s Causeway has a strike rate of 3/10 with Kris S., 10/117 with Forli (a bit weak, admittedly), and 8/46 with Hoist the Flag. The way I add it up, Zenyatta’s ancestry scores in the 94th percentile of all mares that have been bred to Giant’s Causeway.

I’m not going to get in a fight with Frank over this because I know when to back down. The truth is–as much an embarrassment as it might be to those of us who specialize in pedigree–what’s on the ground has the right to veto what’s on paper. So, I’m going to defer to Frank on this and back Galileo although, in deference to what might actually happen, A.P. Indy has a very good profile, too. The Mr. Prospector-line stallions that have been suggested–not so much.

8 comments to “Zenyatta Plus ?”

  • frank mitchell writes:

    Roger, are you looking for a rumble? Well, we don’t have any differences that will require knives or other implements of unTruth.

    The best thing about the match with Giant’s Causeway is the pedigree. And with so much strength in that end, as you point out, he might be a worthwhile mate.

    But my take, as you rightly infer, is focused on the shape and mechanics of the horses. Zenyatta has so much of Kris S. about her … size, bone, class … with an interesting admixture of Troy. I’d be much more intrigued with trying to bring out the speed and the finesse in the mare without adding more size or bulk.

    And surprisingly, Giant’s Causeway can get some thumping big stock. Galileo, AP, or Pulpit would play to her best qualities, I believe, and provide some inclination to scale back a bit on size, while adding some more pace.


  • Roger Lyons writes:

    No, Frank, just trying to draw you out about Giant’s Causeway, and it worked. Thanks for that instructive analysis.

    My numbers square with your thoughts about A.P. Indy. He’s 2/5 with Machiavellian (3/9 with the dam of Machiavellian), 2/6 with Kris S., 11/77 with Forli, and 11/53 with Hoist the Flag (11/43 with female strains, of which Zenyatta has two).

    It’s a great profile, except the numbers are weak behind Helen Street. But, when you say Kris S. is the major player in Zenyatta’s ancestry, that means the ancestry of Helen Street is less likely to be a factor, depending on the extent of that “admixture of Troy.”

    So, I guess it’s settled.

  • Greg writes:

    Zenyatta’s size is an issue obviously. How much and in what way does her running style play into these choices? And separately, would style issues in general be reflected, at least theoretically, in paper pedigree choices, since they’re measuring what has worked?

  • michele hubbs writes:

    i have bred mares over the years based on pedigree and had mixed results and i have gone to kentucky and bred my mares to physical specimens that i felt would improve the offspring and again had mixed results. my best foal was, give praise by pioneering who won a g2(at the time, now a g3) in her 3rd lifetime start for james chapman. the filly was physically nice with the exception of a turned out front right which caused her to be overlooked in the sale ring causing me to lose money. she sold for $3,500! i bred her based on pedigree…..i was looking to infuse some speed. the mare was never bred back to him. she produced several very nice physicals that couldn’t run a lick! so there you go….you do the best you can with what you have and what you can afford and you hope for the best. personally, i like the pulpit play for the great Z! then giant’s causeway. i would not choose a.p. indy for her. but, what do i know. not much in the bigger scheme of things. i have learned much from you over the years, roger. thank you.

  • Roger Lyons writes:

    Greg, the numbers no doubt capture running style and aptitudinal type, but only in an unsystematic and far from comprehensive way. Frank’s approach, no doubt, addresses those issues much more directly and systematically.

  • Roger Lyons writes:

    Michele, thank you for the kind remarks. It seems to me–and Frank might have something to say about this–the main limitation of a strictly conformational approach is that any given individual’s ancestry usually has some surprises in store for the next generation–traits the individual does not express itself, but passes on.

    In light of what Frank says about Zenyatta–that she harks to Kris S.–Pulpit would be a questionable option because he’s 1/8 with Kris S. It’s not bad, but would you want to bank Zenyatta’s next foal on that uncertain record, which does not involve a runner of very high class? Maybe, maybe not. And, he has mixed numbers in the background of Troy (which Frank also mentioned as a possible factor).

  • Greg writes:

    I think Frank’s approach seems direct, but based more on the individual than systematic, but maybe I’m not thinking right about that. I’d still love to hear what he thinks about matching aptitudes generally . I wonder if he want to breed toward Zenyatta’s running style and breed to a distance sire with a late turn of foot, or if he would want to mix in more early speed, and why.

    I do think the point of your numbers is that they reflect the physical. The reason there is paper compatibility is that there has been physical compatibility–even, or especially, physical charcteristics that match up well even when they aren’t obvious to the eye necessarily. But I also agree completely that the physical and aptitudinal charcterisitics that someone like Frank can observe in the individuals involved are hugely valuable. I’d say, I guess, you need everything to work and should always marry both aspects–paper and physical observation–when you can.

  • ron writes:

    Sometimes paper beats rock, but Zenyatta is the size of a boulder and is as polished a stone as ive ever seen! I think when you are dealing with extreme conformation exponentials you always defer to the eye and save the paper champions for less risky situations. If you can pair Zenyatta’s heart and lung size in a smaller lighter package well thats just a scary thought.

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