Horse running through field

Forestry: Yes He Can

by Roger Lyons

I have to admit that, even though I included Shackleford along with Animal Kingdom and Astrology at the top of my Preakness superfecta pyramid, I really thought it most likely that Animal Kingdom would win. Just in case it turned out Forestry could sire a classic winner after all, I wasn’t going to allow my super to be ambushed by the revelation.

The prior question whether or not Forestry could sire a classic-distance runner of even notable class had been answered only once before, when Woodlander (Forestry-Madam Lagonza, by Kingmambo) won Belmont’s 10-furlong Lexington S. (G3) in 2005. That is hardly a credible precedent for expectations of classic potential, as is evident in how far out of favor Forestry has fallen in spite of his prolific stakes record. For breeders aspiring to classic success it was not just a question of distance, but also of class, and, once that view settles in, it becomes increasingly difficult for a stallion to get the kind of mare that can produce a horse like Shackleford.

Given Forestry’s record, it might be conjectured that Shackleford has gamed his pedigree–that he’s a fluke–but I don’t think so. Rather, it looks to me as if there’s a certain process at work, one that makes Shackleford an interesting case for pedigree analysis.

I think the reason why Forestry appears to have distance limitations is that he does not routinely make efficient use of the stamina influences contributed by his mates. Note that he has a superior-runner strike rate of only 2/32 with Unbridled (Shackleford’s broodmare sire) and 2/20 with Roberto (Sire of Lear Fan, broodmare sire of Shackleford’s dam). However, Forestry can make efficient use of stamina influences if they are mediated by ancestors that are more agreeable with him.

Hold Your Peace, sire of Shackleford’s third dam, with which Forestry has a strike rate of 2/6, seems a likely focal point. While I can’t confirm this, I also suspect there is some special relation between Fappiano (sire of Unbridled) and Hold Your Peace. Note that Astrology, which finished not far behind Shackleford and Animal Kingdom, is out of a mare whose first dam is by Quiet American, by Fappiano, and whose second dam is by none other than Hold Your Peace. I know it looks like a coincidence, but I believe in synchronicity.

Then there is the fact that Forestry has a strike rate of 10/86 with Dr. Fager (broodmare sire of Fappiano), which couldn’t make a difference on its own because of Forestry’s moderate strike rate with Unbridled, but Dr. Fager’s relation to In Reality, to which Shackleford’s dam is inbred, is well established by the many successful runners whose ancestries include those two influences.

My point is that the combination of these ancestors with which Forestry has quite good relations mediates his exploitation of the stamina influences contributed by Shackleford’s dam. Forestry is in similar circumstances with respect to the dam of Woodlander, mentioned above. He’s 1/9 with Kingmambo, 1/16 with Nureyev, and 4/90 with Seattle Slew. But he’s not bad with Graustark (6/65), to which Woodlander’s dam is inbred, and note that Forestry is out of a mare by Pleasant Colony, by Graustark’s full brother His Majesty–both out of Flower Bowl.

Linebreeding three ways to Flower Bowl wouldn’t mean anything at all, except for the fact that Forestry is 10/81 with Flower Bowl, and he’s 2/5 with mares that are themselves inbred to Flower Bowl. It seems a pretty good way for Forestry to make efficient use of stamina.

It’s now clear that Forestry can sire a classic winner from a quality mare that contributes reliable stamina and meets the conditions under which he can exploit it, and that makes him an opportunity for breeders who get it right.

Astrology Bred for the Preakness

by Roger Lyons

Bred from the same sire-line cross as Bernardini, Astrology (A.P. Indy-Quiet Eclipse, by Quiet American) makes his third start of the year in the Preakness S. (G1) on Saturday. He may not win, as Bernardini did in 2006, but he has the right breeding.

With daughters of Quiet American, A.P. Indy has a strike rate of 4/7, including Astrology (G3), Bernardini (multiple G1), and A. P. Warrior (dual-G2). The A.P. Indy-greater Fappiano cross has a strike rate of 5/18, including A. P. Adventure (G1), Teammate (dual-G2), and Admiral’s Cruise (G2). That’s more than enough quality to merit a Triple Plus (A+++) rating in the eNicks rating system.

Astrology doesn’t have the family Bernardini has, but his dam contributes some other assets besides a great nick. He’s the only stakes winner by A.P. Indy and out of a mare with Hold Your Peace in her ancestry (from seven mares), but A.P. Indy is 3/12 with Hold Your Peace’s sire, Speak John. His son Friends Lake (G1) is out of a mare by Spend a Buck, whose broodmare sire is Speak John, and there’s also his son Just as Well (G3), whose third dam is by Verbatim, a son of Speak John.

Furthermore, A.P. Indy is 3/13 with mares contributing Round Table through his son Illustrious, which is the sire of Astrology’s third dam. Two other SWs by A.P. Indy are out of mares that have Illustrious descending through their female lines, as Astrology does, including Boca Grande (dual-G2), and from that pattern of descent A.P. Indy has a superior-runner strike rate of 3/5.

It just so happens that the moon enters Aquarius at about the time the gate opens on the 2011 Preakness. I have absolutely no idea what that might mean, but Astrology’s pedigree is a good sign that he’ll be close to the finish line when the race is won.

Best Dam Lines Dominate Derby

by Roger Lyons

Even if I have to say so myself (and I do), the Dam Line Index (DLI) profiles presented in my pre-Derby post were very lucky in separating the contenders from the pretenders. That post cited 11 Derby qualifiers whose DLI profiles, while not necessarily distinguishable from one another, were clearly superior to the rest of the field. Five of those 11–Animal Kingdom, Nehro, Mucho Macho Man, Shackleford, and Master of Hounds–finished in that order. Furthermore, nine of the top 12 finishers were among those 11 with superior DLI profiles. As I recall, even during its glory years, dosage had a lot nearer misses than that.

Of course, the profiles would be more satisfying if, like the individual indexes that constitute them, they would do a better job of ranking the female lines, on the whole. But, how do you compare the profile of Animal Kindom’s dam line, which consists of individual DILs ranging from 4.0 to almost 5.0 for the third through the seventh dams, with Nehro, whose indexes of 1.0 to 3.0 for the first through the third dams lead back to a fourth dam whose DLI is 13.5?

If we had known that on this occasion consistency across the dam line would be better than a big number in the background (and who’s to say it’s not!), then Jackie and I might have taken Animal Kindom on top of Nehro, instead of the other way around–and hit the super!

Kentucky Derby Dam Line Index Profiles

by Roger Lyons

The table introduced by this post lists the Dam Line Index (DLI) for the first seven dams of each of the 20 Kentucky Derby 2011 qualifiers. The DLI, remember, is derived from the number of runners winning stakes during the last 15 years and descending, tail-female, from a given dam, divided by the average number of generations that dam was removed in those cases. So, the DLI is, literally, the number of SWs attributable to a dam per generation removed, on average.

The DLI is a pedigree measure and bears only a statistical (read tenuous) relation to performance. What I mean is, you can go very far wrong predicting individual performance based on population characteristics.

There is very little in the DLIs for Uncle Mo’s female line to suggest that he would be Champion Juvenile Colt, let alone a Kentucky Derby winner. What it might suggest, however, is that he is in that respect anomalous to his breeding since, in fact, those accomplishments are largely reserved for horses from better dam lines.

The DLI profiles of Animal Kingdom, Archarcharch, Brilliant Speed, Master of Hounds, Midnight Interlude, Mucho Macho Man, Nehro, Pants on Fire, Shackleford, Soldat, and Stay Thirsty are far more typical of the horses of highest racing class.

Archarcharch has an especially unusual and intriguing profile. Ordinarily, the DLIs in a good female line descend in value from the seventh dam to the first dam, as in the well defined case of Pants on Fire, for example. By contrast, the DLIs in Archarcharch’s female line actually ascend in value from back to front, such that his second dam, Pattern Step (1985), by Nureyev, has a DLI of 5.0, the highest-rated second dam, by far, in the list. This would seem to be the picture of an improving branch of a female line that has otherwise gone more or less dormant.

In any event, see what you can make of the DLI record, but don’t bet on it.

Is a Horse a Who?

by Roger Lyons

The use of the personal relative pronoun as a reference to horses–who and whom instead of which and that–struck me as peculiar when I first took an interest in racing. I thought it stood out like a sore thumb, but deferred to what I took as a stylized convention of turf writing.

Adopted self-consciously at first, the conventions of turf writing settled comfortably into my speech and writing–all except that one. Gradually, it began to stick in my craw. That’s just the opposite of the way a convention is supposed to work. When introduced to an unfamiliar culture, one finds its conventions strange at first, but then becomes inured to them. As they take their place in the framework of one’s understanding of others, they recede into the background of one’s awareness. To me, however, “who” and “whom” for horses became more obtrusive over time, not less.

The long and the short of it is that the personal pronominalization of horses doesn’t feel like a convention. It feels more like a pretense. This becomes all the more evident in view of the grammar of motives.

Besides the person/non-person grammatical contingency, pronouns also have the contingency of number–singular or plural. Most people refer to themselves with the singular pronouns “I” and “me,” but not everyone. Monarchs have the prerogative of the plural “we” and “us”–the “royal we” as it is called. Just as this usage poses an exception to the grammatical aspect of number, the use of who and whom for horses compromises the aspect of person, and it strikes me that these two aberrations share in the same motive. By way of pronoun reference, certain horses are valorized over other animals just as the monarch is invidiously distinguished from other persons.

Now, imagine how pretentious it would seem to a naive reader of bloodstock writing that employs both forms of this artifice. It’s not unheard of.

And have you noticed, as I have, that in American speech and writing the word “that” is displacing ordinary use of the word “who”? Even speech and writing about thoroughbreds, which insists upon “who” for horses, is abandoning it as a relative pronoun of reference to persons!

This grammatical depersonalization of actual persons seems significant in an age of declining civility and, at least for me, renders the personalization of horses that much more difficult to process.

Exception Proves the Rule

Just to clear up two questions that might arise from my last post on Galileo’s conditions of possible effectiveness (let’s call it CPE) with mares that have Sharpen Up in their ancestries.

First, that post established that Galileo’s probability of siring superior runners out of mares that descend from Sharpen Up through either Kris or Diesis is at least .28. Doubly Sure, the dam of Kris and Diesis, seems to be the key factor, especially considering that Cape Blanco (G1) is out of a daughter of Doubly Sure sired by Presidium, by General Assembly rather than Sharpen Up. That leaves open the question how well Galileo might handle mares in descent of Doubly Sure through her daughters, and I would have mentioned it except that Galileo has had only one such mare.

Second, I mentioned that Galileo had sired a superior runner out of only one mare of the 29 that descended in some way from Sharpen Up, but not through Kris or Diesis. So, the problem is, if descent through Kris or Diesis is a CPE governing Galileo’s relation to Sharpen Up, how can 16.5-f Marathon S. (Sandown, 2010) winner King of Wands (Galileo ex Maid to Treasure, by Rainbow Quest and an image in the Tarot, I believe) be explained? His third dam is by Sharpen Up.

The answer is that, even if a mare fails to fulfill a CPE relating to one of her ancestors, she may still fulfill other CPEs that control a sire’s potential. Now, Galileo doesn’t have a great strike rate with Rainbow Quest–only 4/24–and his record with Blushing Groom is 9/75. What is more likely decisive in the ancestry of King of Wands’ dam is her broodmare sire Indian Ridge, with which Galileo has a strike rate of 4/11. Moreover, his overall record with Indian Ridge’s sire Ahonoora is 6/18. That’s a superior-runner probability of at least .33.

It’s clear, then, that Galileo’s CPE relating to Indian Ridge and Ahonoora, whatever it might be, is far less stringent than his CPE relating to Sharpen Up. Furthermore, because of Sharpen Up’s generational distance in this case, his normal negative effect on foals by Galileo (when not descending through Kris or Diesis) is much less likely to be expressed than the highly favorable effect associated with Indian Ridge.

Discovering the conditions of possible effectiveness is a critical function of pedigree interpretation, and, while it can only yield probabilities comparable to those of, say, short-term weather forecasts, those probabilities are a lot more reliable than reading tea leaves, questioning the Ouija, or trusting in the make-believe deficit reduction in Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.

UPDATE: In the Tarot, the King of Wands denotes the ability to persevere toward a goal, overcoming all obstacles by exceptional means. Seems appropriately named.

The Possible and the Probable

by Roger Lyons

In previous posts I’ve noted that breeding methods are subject to conditions of possible effectiveness. That is to say, any given topic of pedigree discussion–a nick, a method of inbreeding, any combination of one ancestor with another–can yield a stakes winner if certain conditions are met by the specific cross. By definition, a cross that does not meet any conditions of possible effectiveness has virtually no chance of yielding superior performance. We can’t always know whether or not a cross meets conditions of possible effectiveness, but, given what is at stake, any evidence of such conditions is worth considering.

I would go so far as to submit that the conditions of possible effectiveness are crucial to determining the probability of superior performance from a cross. Here’s a case in point.

Last year I mentioned the nick between Galileo and the sons of Doubly Sure–Kris (by Sharpen Up), Diesis (by Sharpen Up), and Presidium (by General Assembly). At that time, 25 mares with one of those three sires in their ancestries had produced foals by Galileo, and six different crosses had yielded superior runners, including three G1 winners (Sixties Icon, Lush Lashes, and Cape Blanco) and New Zealand, which ran second in the Irish St. Leger (G1). Since then, Gallic Star, whose third dam is by Kris, won the listed Silver Tankard S. in England, bringing the total number of superior runners to seven.

Thus, assuming a mare of similar quality in some descent of Kris, Diesis, or Presidium–all out of the mare Doubly Sure–the probability that she can produce a Galileo foal capable of superior performance is at least .28, the probability of a G1 winner at least .12. Don’t get caught up in the fact that Kris and Diesis are by Sharpen Up. Galileo’s record of 7/53 with Sharpen Up suggests only a .13 probability of superior performance (not adjusted for the conditions of possible effectiveness).

But, we know from the numbers that the presence of a son of Doubly Sure in the ancestry of a mare is a condition of possible effectiveness for offspring of Galileo. That condition is met by 24 of the 53 mares with Sharpen Up in their ancestries, and six of those seven dams of superior runners met that condition. This means that Galileo’s strike rate with mares in descent of Sharpen Up, but not through a son of Doubly Sure, was only 1/29, with a probability of only .034 of yielding a superior runner. In other words, those cases do not meet Galileo’s conditions of possible effectiveness with Sharpen Up.

It’s perfectly reasonable to think of the probability of success as a frequency of superior performance from opportunity, but that reasoning goes wrong in thinking of opportunity as nothing more than the number of times a cross has been tried. It might be fair to say that the number of times a cross has been tried constitutes its nominal opportunity, but the real opportunity is defined by the cases that actually meet conditions of possible effectiveness. An “opportunity” that has virtually no chance of success is an opportunity you can do without, especially when trying to pin down a true probability of superior performance.