Horse running through field

Pedigree, Conformation, and Zenyatta

by Roger Lyons

My last post explains why a recent post by Frank Mitchell gave me second thoughts about the appropriateness of Giant’s Causeway as a mate for Zenyatta in spite of the sterling statistical profile he has with her ancestry. My underlying point is that what’s on paper can and must be interpreted in light of what’s on the ground–and vice versa. That point drew some thoughtful comments bearing substantively on the case and more generally on the relation between pedigree and conformation.

First, Frank elaborates his reasons for thinking Giant’s Causeway might not be quite right for her, and it has a lot to do with her broodmare sire, Kris S. Frank not only casts his gaze on a lot of horses, but he also measures them, so you can be sure that he’s not speaking from casual observation. When he casts his gaze on Zenyatta, he sees a lot of Kris S. and some Troy, the broodmare sire of her sire, Street Cry.

Then Michele shares the experience, as a breeder, of having tried both approaches–breeding largely on pedigree and, alternatively, breeding largely on conformation, concluding that neither approach seems to make much difference in the frequency of favorable outcomes. Michele’s experiment was not conducted in a lab. It unfolded at much cost and over many years of trying to breed the best horses possible, and, as you read the comment, you get the sense that it rings true.

In the last comment so far, Greg correctly concludes that the distinction between pedigree and conformation is nothing more than a matter of emphasis. After all, he explains, statistical analyses that assess how a given stallion has done with mares representing a given ancestor actually do capture conformation issues–although indirectly. If you read Frank’s “The Weekender Pedigree” (and who doesn’t?) at The Paulick Report, then you know how much he’s into pedigree even though his science is biomechanics. The opposition routinely invoked by the cliche “pedigree vs. conformation” exists only because we associate pedigree analysis with one broad category of facts and conformation with another.

Greg proposes marriage of the two approaches, and he’s right. When Frank says that Kris S. is the major player in Zenyatta’s conformation (note the implication that pedigree and conformation are inseparable), it relieves a lot of statistical pressure. Rather than assuming Zenyatta’s entire ancestry to be more or less uniformly relevant, the focus can shift to Kris S.

Here are the candidates, along with their numbers with mares representing Kris S.: A.P. Indy (2/6), Galileo (1/2 and Frank’s choice), Giant’s Causeway (3/10), Invincible Spirit (1/2), Lemon Drop Kid (1/3), Mineshaft (2/5), Oasis Dream (0/2 with Kris S., but 7/35 with Roberto and great supporting numbers), Speightstown (0/2 with Kris S., but 2/10 with Roberto and good supporting numbers). And, by the way, Songandaprayer is 2/4 with Kris S. and may be a better choice for Zenyatta than better stallions that have poor or questionable numbers with Kris S.

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.

Inbreeding to a Sire in the Female Line

by Roger Lyons

Sid Fernando recently posted on Eskendreya at his Sid Fernando + Observations blog, and he included a link to something he posted on Eskendereya at WTC’s Who’s Hot blog just after the Fountain of Youth, and I went back and read it again. In that earlier post Sid draws a parallel between the pedigrees of Eskendereya and Real Quiet. What do they have in common? Inbreeding to a sire in the female line.

That way of putting it is easier than saying “inbreeding to the sire of a mare in the female line,” which is more accurate. I recall that many years ago David Dink, in his broad study of inbreeding for the Thoroughbred Times, chose the simpler expression, so I’ll use it, too. David did a study so broad that it was almost guaranteed not to find any effects of inbreeding, but, as I recall, he did a special installment on inbreeding to a sire in the female line because it was the only pattern of inbreeding that actually did get results that exceeded opportunity.

Just before re-reading Sid’s post from late February, I had posted some comments on Eskendereya (my last post), among which was the observation that Giant’s Causeway really didn’t have a very good strike rate with Northern Dancer, that he liked Raise a Native a lot more, and that’s true. However, after re-reading Sid’s post, which was about inbreeding to Northern Dancer in the female line of Eskendereya, I checked the numbers for occurrences of Northern Dancer as a sire in the female line of mares that have produced foals by Giant’s Causeway. Sid is going to like what I found.

Giant’s Causeway had 12 mares whose dams were by Northern Dancer–inbred 4×3 to Northern Dancer. The only mare to produce a superior runner was the dam of Aragorn, a dual-G1 winner. The story is high quality, low frequency, but that’s not the end of it.

He sired foals out of 16 mares whose third dams were by Norther Dancer–inbred 4×4 to Northern Dancer. Two of those mares produced superior runners, including G1 winner Frost Giant and Model, a listed stakes winner. It seems fair to assess that provisionally as high quality, average frequency, especially since it’s Eskendereya’s pattern. He won’t be included in my tallies until after the classics.

Giant’s Causeway sired foals out of six mares whose fourth dams were by Northern Dancer–inbred 4×5 to Northern Dancer. Two of those mares produced G1 winners, including Red Giant and Internallyflawless. Unequivocally, that generational distance yielded high quality, high frequency.

Clearly, as far as Giant’s Causeway is concerned, there is something special about mares with Northern Dancer as a sire in the female line, and I wouldn’t be surprised to find that this approach does have broad effects for certain sires, as David Dink’s study found and as is suggested by Sid’s comparison. After all, Raise a Native is the key sire in Real Quiet’s female line. It’s not just a Northern Dancer thing, but generational distance could be a factor, especially in regard to frequency.