“Pedigree, along with conformation and temperament are the most important factors for creating a racehorse. For instance, certain sires are noted for getting precocious sprinters while other sires offspring need time to mature and may prefer turf over dirt.
A horse’s distaff line can give important clues to how the offspring will perform. There are always exceptions; however, if the female line prefers turf and the horse has the build of a turf router, a six furlong maiden race in June isn’t the optimal place to start the horse’s career. Often, owners and trainers overlook the pedigree in favor of conformation or how fast a horse can run a furlong or two at a sale. The horse as a whole – pedigree, conformation and temperament need to be assessed to give him the optimal chance on the track.”
Laurie Ross is a horse pedigree specialist. On this article she explains the importance of pedigree in a racehorse and handicapping. She has successfully foretold the winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes since 2009, even many of the following 4 finishers.
How pedigree in a racehorse really works
“Pedigree is simply a record of the horse’s lineage. Just about everything is inherited from the parents. Conformation is a huge part of pedigree, yet very few pedigree analysts mention this. Temperament and class is also a large part of the equation. Each horse receives attributes form the sire and dam, 50% – 50%. The key is knowing what traits good or bad, are passed along. Genetic traits persist through many generations, yet determining which strengths or weaknesses a foal will inherit is a roll of the dice. We’ve seen some beautifully bred horses with four left feet who can barely make it out of the starting gate. We’ve also seen horses with obscure breeding become top runners. Chalk it up to genetics. However, specific traits are known to be passed along certain lines, stamina, speed, soundness, unsoundness, precocity, etc. Knowing what these attributes are and how they might combine with another line is the art of pedigree.”
Myth and fact with pedigree
“There are plenty of theories and a few facts floating around. Some people swear by nicking ratings. However, many of these so-called “nicks” or bloodline crosses are broad and vague and account for only half of the pedigree. When I check the bloodline crosses, I do so only within the first two generations of the subject stallion’s sire and damsire line crossed with the subject dam’s sire and damsire line. That gives an entire picture.
“Best pedigree” is pretty objective. I may love a pedigree, whereas someone else may not. A horse with a popular pedigree may not perform as well as one without. Take a look at some of our recent Kentucky Derby winners. Those who weren’t homebreds sold at the sales for $20,000 or less.”
There’s a saying, “Breed the best to the best and hope for the best.” If this were true, only the very best bred horses and the very rich owners would win all of the stakes races.
A sire won’t make it on pedigree alone. Conformation, temperament and race record also has to be taken into account. In a class of freshmen sires, on average, roughly 10% of them will be deemed a success at stud. Stallions who were outstanding on the racetrack almost always attract the best-pedigreed mares, giving these stallions the greatest chance of success at stud. If the stallion also has a strong female family, he might have a good chance to succeed.
It’s difficult to say which sire will pass along the coveted positive genes. “Malibu Moon” started with a $3,000 stud fee in Maryland and only raced a couple of times, yet his babies performed so well that he now commands a $95,000 fee. “City Zip” had a nice pedigree, but few people had an interest in him until he started siring winners. On the other side of the equation, we’ve seen “Champion Point Given’s” fee tumble to $7,500.
Unfortunately, buyers at the sales want popular pedigrees and are always searching for the next big horse without giving a stallion a proper chance to succeed. To that end, we’re breeding ourselves into a corner.
I’ll take a wild guess that 80% or more of the horses competing today are descended from just three bloodlines, Raise a Native, Northern Dancer and Bold Ruler.
In fact, only one 2015 Kentucky Derby contender is not descended from these three lines.
The Little Mike Saga – Should successful horses from a weak line be studs?
Little Mike, a horse with a weak sire coming from Sire Spanish Steps, out of Hay Jude. Spanish Steps never really raced and Hay Jude had a short career at the tracks. Nonetheless Little Mike, with his small stature and all, managed to win several high stake races and become a Florida legend. I have read Little Mike is now a gelding, is it proper to cut his blood line even though he was a successful horse?
“Often, it is a case of supply/demand. There are plenty of stallions on the market, yet foal crops have been declining. “Spanish Steps” is a full brother to the very popular and successful “Unbridled’s Song”, yet Spanish Steps climbed out of the wrong end of the gene pool. I don’t know whether he didn’t race due to an accident or unsoundness, but he didn’t receive the same opportunity at stud, nor did he pass along genes like his brother did.
What is interesting about Little Mike’s pedigree is that he may carry the X-Factor a.k.a large heart gene. Both his sire “Wavering Monarch” and damsire “In Reality” may have passed the gene to their daughters. Based upon the produce record of Hay Jude and photos of Little Mike, I’ll hazard a guess and say that he carried the gene. The only way to determine if a horse has a larger heart than normal is an EKG, although there is one physical characteristic that sometimes appears, which is curly, tulip like ears. Take a look at the ears of Zenyatta, Secretariat, California Chrome and Shared Belief. They all show signs of the X-Factor. If Little Mike stood at stud, perhaps he would have become a decent broodmare sire, but it’s impossible to predict.”
The best horseracing bloodlines
Obviously, the top three bloodlines have the greatest success just by sheer numbers of runners.
I’d like to see more variety brought in, simply to keep these lines alive. Darley America is attempting to do this by shuttling stallions. Darley has “Animal Kingdom”, grandson of “Blushing Groom”, and they brought “Lonhro”, here for a season. Lonhro is from the almost extinct “Royal Charger” line. Brining in bloodlines from other countries is never a bad thing.