More questions, more answers

More questions, more answers

July 4, 2021

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by Alan Leavitt

My editor forwarded two interesting messages this week, both of which have made me think very hard with my brain, in the words of my wonderful nephew Seth Rosenfeld, at the age of 3. (Since then he’s made his mark as a breeder of numerous top horses, including Sweet Lou).

Jean-Francois Reid, from Montreal, asked me whether, as a breeder, I favored pedigree matching to outcrossing. First, this kid has always been a market breeder, i.e. someone who does his matings with the intention of selling the foals as yearlings. So, I have always tried to figure out which mating for each particular mare will produce the highest-priced yearling. Nothing more complicated than that.

But that’s not answering Reid’s question. To begin with, I had to look up the definition of pedigree matching. After a considerable amount of research, I’m still not really sure what pedigree matching means. The closest I could come to understanding the term was the idea of “giving back to the sire the best blood of his dam.” And I’m really not sure exactly what that means, let alone how to apply it in a practical way.

I do know what inbreeding, line breeding, and outcrossing are. In case you forgot, a horse is inbred when the same name appears twice in his pedigree when the sum of the generations where it appears is five or six.

Line breeding occurs when the sum of the generations in which the same name twice is seven or eight.

An outcross pedigree is one in which no name appears twice in the first four generations.

A horse by Father Patrick, by Cantab Hall, by Self Possessed, by Victory Dream, and out of a mare by Wewering, by Victory Dream, would be considered inbred to Victory dream, 3 by 2. It can also be stated that the sum of the generations in which Victory Dream appears twice is five.

Between a choice of inbreeding or outcrossing, this kid goes big for inbreeding. It’s tricky because you can wind up with a double emphasis on an undesirable trait, if you don’t use horses that are as near perfect as they can be. But, it’s also how you can strike gold, producing a horse with a double barrel of high speed if you’ve chosen well.

There’s nothing wrong with outcrossing. Plenty of good horses are outcrosses, but you’re very unlikely to produce a world beater.

I can make it even murkier by mentioning the importance of the specific genotype in the stallion you choose. Remember, the analogy of the genetic range to a deck of cards, with two at the bottom and ace at the top. You want to breed to a stallion whose genetic deck starts with a 10, so he’s always throwing a high card for his half of the genetic makeup of the foal being conceived.

Can you know the genetic makeup of any given stallion? The answer is ‘yes’ if he’s sired at least four crops, and he has a lot of stake horses to his credit. Of course, by then he’s one of the breed’s leading sires, i.e. a Muscle Hill, and he comes with a stratospheric stud fee.

The answer here, if neither your mare nor your bank balance can handle one of the few top, proven stallions, is to gamble on an unknown quantity, i.e. an unproven horse.

Here you’ll do okay if you go to a first-year horse who was great on the racetrack. First crop sires always sell yearlings for good prices. That’s true even though there is absolutely no correlation between racing success and sire success, but it’s all we’ve got to go on.

Which is why this kid, and his soul mate Federico Tesio, look for 2-year-old race track brilliance as the best guide to future success as a sire.

Here my favorite examples are the two full brothers, Muscle Massive and Muscle Mass. Muscle Massive was nothing much at 2, but won the Hambletonian at 3. Muscle Mass was undefeated in stakes and won almost $200,000 at 2. At 3 he couldn’t beat Old Shep.

This is not to say that Muscle Massive is a bad sire; he isn’t. But he isn’t a patch on his brother, Muscle Mass, who is one of the best trotting sires alive today.

There. Mr. Tesio and I rest our case, although even the best 2-year-olds don’t come with iron clad guarantees, witness the undefeated 2-year-old Deweycheatumnhowe.

Finally, at least on this subject, it would probably be hard to find a truly outcross pedigree, especially with American trotters, as there just isn’t that much of a variety of either sires or families. It would be easier with pacers, which brings up another point. Anyone who’s spent time in the breeding trenches knows that most of the top trotting sires of the present day come with fertility issues. That is a direct result of the loss of heterozygosity, the variability factor, because our American trotter has, over the years, become too inbred, and when you lose heterozygosity, the first manifestation of that loss is a decline in stallions fertility.

That, in a way, brings me to Ulf Lindstrom’s message. In it he refers to what this kid has said about the loss of the variability factor in the American trotter, and then links it up to the thoroughbred book limits now being imposed by the Jockey Club. The only problem with that is that fact that the American thoroughbred isn’t suffering from inbreeding and the fertility of their stallions is just fine, pretty much across the board.

Here at Walnut Hall Ltd., we’ve been breeding a few thoroughbred mares to a fairly wide range of stallions, and so far I’ve yet to encounter one that isn’t breeding at least three times a day, 24/7. And getting mares in foal on most of their covers.

Three of the leading thoroughbred farms are suing the Jockey Club, saying they have no basis to impose a book limit. The smart money is on those breeders, just as I expect Russell Williams to chew those Jockey Clubbers up and spit them out when it comes to HISA and the pending litigation.

Ulf actually also asked me a totally unrelated question to book limits, but that will have to wait for another time.

Ciao for now, everybody.

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