by Alan Leavitt
I’ve received two fascinating emails from Ms. Dot Schmidt, in Australia. Ms. Schmidt has a far deeper knowledge of equine genetics in general, and standardbred pedigrees in particular, than I have, or does anyone else whom I know.
Ms. Schmidt points out the many problems that can come with inbreeding. There are two areas that can spell trouble. The first one is the sudden accentuation of visible physical flaws, such as a tendency for feet to turn out or turn in suddenly becoming a major, unfixable problem. Another example is bad feet, which in the inbred generation can mean chronic soreness.
The second area of perhaps even greater concern is the activation of a previously latent gene. That can mean a suddenly compromised immune system, with potentially fatal results. And another problem that inbreeding can create is a loss of fertility, especially in the male horse. It is a fact that inbreeding has caused a loss of heterozygosity (the variability factor) in the American trotter, which manifests itself in a loss of fertility in certain otherwise highly respected trotting stallions.
All of the examples cited here simply reaffirm the necessity to breed closely only with outstanding individuals, both conformation wise and with outstanding racetrack performance, i.e. superior speed. But with all these provisos granted, let me give you an example of the good results inbreeding can achieve.
One must start with this kid’s definition of inbreeding. I call it inbreeding when the sum of the generations in which the same horse’s name appears twice is six or less. That brings me to my first great horse, Noble Victory.
Noble Victory retired at the end of his 4-year-old season as the fastest racing trotter of all time. He went into the stud at five, at Lana Lobell Farms, and from his first crop of two-year-olds had two 2 minute performers.
To put this into perspective, this was the first time any standardbred sire, trotter or pacer, had two 2 minute horses from his first crop. For the record, the first pacer to hit that jackpot was Race Time, who stood at Castleton farm.
Noble Victory was sired by Victory Song, also a Castleton sire, who was by Volomite. His dam was Emily’s Pride, by Star’s Pride, and his grandsire was also Volomite. Thus, Noble Victory was 2 x 4 to Volomite, which adds up to six, which makes him inbred to Volomite.
I hasten to say that I don’t recommend deliberately going closer than six just for the sake of doing so. The closer one breeds, the greater the chance that a flaw will be magnified rather than a desirable quality. The exception here occurs when you have two exceptional individuals, and the chances are their good qualities will prevail.
Going back to Noble Victory, he was the first standardbred to be sold for a million dollars when I syndicated him in 1965. That only happened because he lost the Hambletonian earlier that year, when he was the heavy favorite. A handshake deal had been made between Ken Owen, who owned Noble, and Walnut Hall Farm, to syndicate the horse for a million dollars, contingent upon him winning the big race.
As it happened, there were torrential rains that week at Du Quoin, and the clay track was a quagmire. Noble couldn’t handle the heavy going, although his stablemate, Egyptian Candor, got through it slick as an eel and carried the day.
As an aside, Stanley Dancer drove Noble, as always, and he gave the winning drive on Egyptian Candor to his good friend, Del Cameron. This was before white driving pants became de rigueur, and before the race Dancer gave Cameron a pair of bright blue driving pants. After Cameron won the Hambletonian, in his new blue pants, Dancer insisted that Cameron didn’t take that pair of pants off for the next three weeks.
Ms. Schmidt also picked up on my mention of CR Kay Suzie, and how much of her success was a reflection of Carl Allen’s training prowess. I’m not sure how many horsepeople today realize the debt of gratitude we all own Allen for his invention of the trotting hobbles.
Allen was a truly Compleat Horseman, to plagiarize Isaac Walton’s title of The Compleat Angler. He was not only a top trainer and driver, but he also was a competent blacksmith. It was while getting his tools and shoe irons ready to plate one of his trotters that he had an epiphany.
He suddenly realized that if he could design hobbles for his trotter’s front legs and attach them to a spring on the front of his racing bike, he could shoe his horse with front shoes that were six ounces lighter than the ones he and everybody else used.
It’s hard to understand today what a revolutionary step forward trotting hobbles were. Suddenly the betting public could bet on pari-mutuel trotting races, where for almost a century they hung back, because of the unpredictable breaks the trotters were prone to make.
Today, the trotting breed is truer than it’s ever been, but yet there are still plenty of good trotters that wear hobbles. Not only do they give the public the confidence they need to put their hard earned money down, but they let the drivers be more aggressive now that they don’t have to keep them pulled together as they used to, even in the stretch drive.
This is all due to Carl Allen, who I’m proud to say was a good friend of mine. And the same is true for Rod Allen, whose first name supplies the “R” that always follows Carl’s “C”. A great family of great horsemen.
Speaking of great horsemen, I’ve several times pointed out how Ake Svanstedt is in a class by himself. In an age of specialization, Svanstedt trains at the highest level and drives just as well. And no one plays the game as deftly as he does, starting three and four horse entries in the biggest stakes, and picking up big purse checks with them even when they don’t win.
But here in Kentucky we have our own version of Ake Svanstedt, a horseman who is both a top trainer and an equally good driver. That’s Randy Jerrell, a modest man from the Kentucky boondocks who comes up with good horses every year that he makes on his one third mile track and then drives them just as well as any big name driver.
Somehow these days I find my thoughts returning to the long ago time when I was a very small part of the show horse world. In those days, two of the most successful horsemen were Tom Moore, who was a thin reed, well over six feet, and Garland Bradshaw, who on his tip toes was my height.
And here a quick digression regarding Tom’s wife of the day, Donna. It was legend that she had actually taken several shots with her revolver at Tom for his suspected marital missteps.
I had known Donna back in my show horse days, so when I moved to Kentucky we renewed our friendship. Which led me to ask Donna what the truth was of the shooting legend.
“I went to that gal’s apartment,” she told me, “And there in the closet was Tom’s second best pair of shoes. So I shot up her T.V. to let her know I’d been there.”
Anyway, there was a futurity class at the Junior League show here in Lexington, and it devolved down to two yearlings, one of them Tom’s, and the other Garland’s, and the judge had them lined up side-by-side.
As the judge was going back and forth between the two colts, out of the side of his mouth, Garland said, “That long, tall boy don’t need the money, judge, but I sure do.”
There have been times down through the years when I’ve wanted to tell an imagined judge, “Them long, tall boys don’t need the money, judge, but I sure do.”