Rebuff redeemed

by Alan Leavitt

After watching all the great races at the Red Mile these past two weeks, there are two things I want to get off my chest:

At any race at a mile, every horse in the field should be on the gate. A great trotting filly raced her heart out to finish second because she had to start from the second tier. There is no good reason to make a horse start from behind the field. It not only creates an unfair handicap for the horse or horses starting from behind the field, it also creates an unfair handicap for the two horses starting from two outside gate positions. Posts nine and ten are disadvantageous in their own right. With one starter behind the field at the Red Mile, the two horses with the outside gate positions now have one more horse inside them. With two horses behind the field, the outside posts now have two more horses inside them, which is a tremendous handicap.

There also should be a permanent stop to “dragging” by the track. Dragging consists of holding the field long after the official clock has passed zero minutes to post. It’s done to increase the betting handle.

As it’s practiced now, the claim that dragging increases the handle becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the bettors know each race will drag, they hold on to their money until the last 15 seconds.

If the bettors know that there will be no dragging, they’ll get their money in on time according to the official clock. In the biggest betting race in our world, the Kentucky Derby, when the clock hits zero the horses are being loaded into the gate.

There’s a more ominous downside to dragging, and I’m amazed a casino company has not yet raised it. When the clock says zero time left to post, and the field is held for more than five minutes after zero, the tracks are practicing dishonesty. It can only be a matter of time until a casino company uses this matter of dishonesty to support its decoupling efforts. They all want to be done with harness racing, and we’re handing them a perfect weapon to do us in.

At the races, Rebuff redeemed himself, if he even needed redemption, by winning the Kentucky Futurity. Although winning a classic race at 3 like the Futurity enhances his image as a future sire, his brilliance at 2 is the determining factor for me.

On a personal note, his caretaker graciously let me visit Rebuff several times in his stall at the Red Mile. Rebuff is a friendly guy, and quite affectionate. He should be an easy horse to handle in the stud.

I suspect a deal to stand him could well be in the works now. But whether that’s true now or not, if he were mine I’d have gotten the issue of his fertility out of the way while he was in Lexington, where repro vets abound.

Anyone of them could have taken certain testicular measurements and put them into an equation that will tell with 95 per cent accuracy what his semen output will be. It doesn’t say what the quality will be, but from a stud master’s point of view, the quantity is the essential number. And once this procedure is done, there’s no need to make a deal contingent on an actual fertility test.

A stallion’s strength or weakness as a sire revolves only around his racing ability, with no reference to his pedigree. But here we’re talking about two entirely different aspects of every horse’s makeup, his Phenotype, which is the living horse and includes his racing side, and his Genotype, which is his genetic profile.

Within every horse’s Genotype is his speed gene, and his ability to transmit it determines his ability to sire fast horses, and with what frequency. For a layman horse breeder, it’s convenient to think of a horse’s genetic profile as a deck of playing cards, running from a low card of Two to a high card of Ace.

Each parent of every foal contributes 50 per cent of its genetic makeup, although what each contributes is entirely separate unto itself. At the instant of conception two genetic contributions are blended, and the average of the two determines how fast the foal will be on the track.

A great trotting sire, Walner, always comes with a high speed card, so even with a low or middle range speed card from the dam, the result is at least a decent racehorse. But with any help genetically from the dam, you get a stakes colt or filly. Which is why there are so many sons and daughters of Walner in the first three placings of so many trotting stakes.

Which brings me, at long last, to Rebuff’s five generation pedigree, which tells us where he came from. Valley Victory, who raised the speed level of the trotting breed to a new level, is both Rebuff’s Tail-Male sire on his paternal and maternal sides. Which makes Rebuff technically inbred to Valley Victory.

As a quick refresher, when the sum of the two generations in which the same name appears is six or less, that is properly designated at Inbreeding.

When the sum of the two generations in which the same name appears is seven or eight, what is Line Breeding.

If no name appears twice for a total of eight or less, the horse so bred is designated an Outcross. The overwhelming majority of today’s trotters and pacers are Outcrosses. The racing success of Rebuff shows how powerful an effect Inbreeding can have.

Rebuff’s extended pedigree also shows how great a role Charlie Keller played in breeding the modern standardbred. Rebuff traces twice to Charlie’s foundation mare Yankee Duchess, who is the granddam of Yankee Blondie, the dam of Muscle Hill, and also the granddam of Gratis Yankee, the dam of Yankee Glide, who’s the sire of Meucci Madness, Rebuff’s dam.

Keller’s affect is also seen in Brazen Yankee, who is the second dam of Maiden Yankee, the dam of Muscles Yankee.

Charlie Keller was a great ballplayer who played in the New York Yankee’s outfield with Joe DiMaggio and Tommy Henrich. For several seasons he outplayed DiMaggio in every way, including statistically, but he never got the recognition he deserved. The same is true for his career as a standardbred breeder.

I’m proud to say he was a friend of mine. Rest in Peace, Charlie, you deserve it.