Horse running through field

Native Dancer at the Vanishing Point

by Roger Lyons

Native Dancer has reached a genetic vanishing point in the sense that his influence is so pervasive that his contribution can no longer be contrasted in any significant way with the mainstream of the population. This is evident from the table accompanying my last post, which shows that in no instance do the strike rates of US stallions with mares in some descent of Native Dancer exceed their overall records. That is, no “contemporary” US stallion has a statistically measurable preference for mares in descent of Native Dancer. Keep in mind, though, that it’s because the broodmare population is so largely defined by Native Dancer. It’s like the air they breathe.

Moreover, only two stallions–Diesis and Dixieland Band–(that the table rather loosely defines as contemporary) fall below their normal strike rates when crossed with mares in some descent of Native Dancer, and they are both deceased. They were bred quite differently from one another with respect to Native Dancer–Diesis, by Sharpen Up, by Atan, by Native Dancer, and Dixieland Band, by Northern Dancer, out of Natalma, by Native Dancer.

Reasons can no doubt be given for why they had trouble with mares in descent of Native Dancer, but the fact that they did so has always had more practical import than the reasons why. More interesting here is that their aversion to mares in descent of Native Dancer and their shared birth year of 1980 renders their stud records especially useful as measures of the proliferation of Native Dancer’s influence.

Consider what it could mean that both of these stallions had significantly higher strike rates with mares born prior to 1985 than with mares born after that year.

Dixieland Band got superior runners from 50 of 435 individual mares born prior to 1985, for 11.5%; but, of the 644 mares born after 1984, 51 produced superior runners by him, for only 7.9%. Furthermore, only 23 of the 396 mares born after 1989 produced superior runners by him, for only 5.8%. As Native Dancer’s influence spread throughout the later population cohorts, Dixieland Band’s strike rate with those mares declined. Of the 219 mares with Northern Dancer in their ancestries, only 10 produced a superior runner, and he was barely in range of his average with mares in descent of Mr. Prospector.

Diesis’ stud record reflects the same broad pattern. While 48 of 343 mares born prior to 1985 produced superior runners by him, or 14%, only 28 of 453 (6.2%) born after 1984 did so. Of the 277 mares born after 1989, only 10 (3.6%) produced superior runners by him. Diesis got a superior runner from only one of 64 mares with Mr. Prospector in their ancestries, and he was barely in range of his average with mares in descent of Northern Dancer.

With each successive broodmare population cohort, in which crosses of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector assured a rapid accumulation of Native Dancer influence, the strike rates of Dixieland Band and Diesis declined. It seems warrantable to conclude that Native Dancer’s proliferation in the broodmare population had a more profound effect on their stud records than could possibly be attributed to a decline in viability due to increasing age.

Measuring Ancestor Appeal

by Roger Lyons

Recent posts about Dixieland Band and Graustark preceded their broader context, which arrives as a table, titled “Ancestor Preferences of Major US Sires.” The table covers 164 ancestors and reflects, among other things, how well or poorly individual ancestors of broodmares are playing to the contemporary stallion population. Links to three different versions of the table are provided below.

The table is very simple once you catch on to the concept. To over-simplify, there’s about a 31% chance that a stallion whose name you pick out of a hat is going to react well with Storm Cat in the ancestry of a mare and only about a 9% chance of an unfavorable reaction. That leaves about 60% that do okay with Storm Cat, but not many breeders dream of results that are okay.

If your mare is by Storm Cat, the odds are not bad that you’ll draw a suitable stallion by chance, at least in that respect. However, if her dam happens to be by Halo, with which only 13% of the stallion population react favorably against the 22% that react unfavorably, it’s more complicated. Thus do questions of compatibility arise from the layers of a mare’s ancestry.

Clearly, the breeding of some mares renders them far more flexible as to the selection of a mate than other mares. Ideally, you would want a stallion to have high stike rates with a mare’s entire ancestry. Some mares may have a range of such options, but for other mares there’s no such stallion.

Anyway, for each ancestor, I surveyed 71 proven sires to determine, first, how many of them sired foals out of at least 10 mares in some descent of the subject ancestor. Second, the qualifying sires were divided into two groups: 1) those that, from mares in some descent of the subject ancestor, had strike rates significantly above their overall records and 2) those that had significantly lower strike rates with those mares.

Here’s the legend for the resulting table:

Ancestor–the subject ancestor as represented by broodmares.
Sires–the number of stallions (from among the 71) that sired 10 or more foals with mares representing the ancestor.
Approve–the number from the “Sires” group with significantly higher-than-average strike rates.
Approve%–the percentage of “Sires” with significantly higher-than-average strike rates.
Disapprove–the number from the “Sires” group with significantly lower-than-average strike rates.
Disapprove%–the percentage of “Sires” with significantly lower-than-average strike rates.

There are three versions of the table, one listing 164 ancestors by “Approve%” rank to show them in order of the frequency of high strike rates by the stallion sample; another listing them by “Disapprove%” rank to reflect the downside risk; and then an alphabetical listing so you can have fun looking them up individually.

Bear in mind, the survey includes only US sires. Danzig’s approval rating of only 14% and disapproval rating of 23% would be vastly different based on a survey of European or Australasian sires. Nevertheless, Danzig is a problem for a lot of US stallions.

I’ll comment further on this table in future posts, beginning with the reason why Native Dancer’s approval rating is the lowest in the list.

Graustark’s Hard Edge

by Roger Lyons

A rough measure of an ancestor’s relevance in the contemporary broodmare population can be taken from how well proven stallions, as a group, are doing with mares that descend from that ancestor. I mentioned this approach a couple of posts back in regard to the influence of Dixieland Band, and I’m driven back to it by the intriguing case of Warrior’s Reward (Medaglia D’Oro-For All You Do, by Seeking the Gold), winner of the 2010 Carter H. (G1) and now standing at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky for $15,000, first foals eagerly anticipated in 2012.

Note that Warrior’s Reward’s third dam is by Graustark (1963 Ribot-Flower Bowl, by Alibhai), an ancestor whose influence was quite extreme a decade ago. We know this because back then an unusually large proportion of the stallion population had serious trouble with mares in some descent of Graustark. Since then, his effects have been tempered by generational distance. That’s evident in that only around 18% have serious problems now, as against the 16% whose records actually benefit from his influence.

He’s already gravitating toward the vanishing point that awaits him at the margin of effective pedigree space. Nevertheless, Graustark still has profound effects in many cases, and Warrior’s Reward is probably one of them. His dam is one of five with a superior runner by Medaglia D’oro from the 25 that produced a foal by him and had Graustark in their ancestries. Graustark is hard to process, but Medaglia D’Oro has the knack.

What’s interesting is that, although about 30% of Medaglia D’Oro’s SWs win stakes at two, three of the five whose dams have Graustark in their ancestries, including Warrior’s Reward, didn’t win a stakes until age four. That could have something to do with the size and bone mass associated with Graustark.

Despite the stallion population’s problem with processing Graustark, his full brother, His Majesty (1968), continues to enjoy the approval of about 30% of the stallion population, one of the highest among major ancestors, with only about 14% disapproval. That’s the reverse of where Graustark was a decade ago, and in that time His Majesty’s effect has shown no sign of abating, maybe because His Majesty’s stud career started six years after that of Graustark.

Bukowski at the Races

by Roger Lyons

There’s been some talk of introducing casino-style customer service to racing. The late Charles Bukowski, an inveterate raceplayer, would have had a good laugh over that idea, but, faced with the reality of it, his soul would puke–at first. Once he’d digested it as one more weird eventuality in the unfolding of the American dream, he might welcome it as further incentive to drink. Bukowski understood that racing is not for narcissists.

In the first place, people who actually play the races are not customers, and, for that reason, customer service would be completely wasted on them. Bukowski would offer no sympathy to those who complain that playing the races should be like shopping at the mall or going to Disneyland. He didn’t go to the racetrack to have a good time or to be a consumer of “the racing product.”

In life, it was always Bukowski against the throng. There was almost certainly no particular respect in which he aspired to be different from anyone else, but he knew what drove him to drink. He just wanted to be not like that, and he certainly didn’t want to be a customer. Consumer society’s intolerance of difference is such that the racetrack is one of the few places–maybe the only place–where being Charles Bukowski can actually be rewarded. At the racetrack, being at odds with the crowd gave him a fighting chance.

He understood that you can’t beat the crowd without a system. If Hank Chinaski, his fictional counterpart (alter-ego, Bukowski himself, whatever), is to be believed in the novel Hollywood (1989), Bukowski had as many as 20 different systems–all methods of betting against the crowd. He didn’t always bet longshots, but he hardly ever bet a favorite, especially at odds-on. One other thing. No matter how much everybody else drank, Bukowski drank more.

You’d never get Bukowski to join in a boycott over the takeout. It was just part of the risk of losing, without which the whole thing would be meaningless, and, besides, he was neither a joiner nor a crybaby. He wouldn’t have placed much stock in a boycott, anyway, judging from these lines of his poem “the world’s greatest loser”:

I guess nothing ever works for us. we’re fools, of course–
bucking the inside plus a 15 percent take,
but how are you going to tell a dreamer
there’s a 15 percent take on the
dream? he’ll just laugh and say,
is that all?

Nobody would mistake Bukowski for a dreamer, but most people are, and most of them dream the same dream, more or less. Bukowski orders another drink from his favorite waitress (who, he’s convinced, is only pretending she despises him) and goes for the alcohol-induced, but quite plausible, reality in which the six, at 10-1, ends up with a nose in front, and the waitress drives him home.

“Now that,” he laughs, “is what I call customer service.”