Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The sire of sires effect

I rarely participate in discussions on internet bulletin boards. In part that is a holdover from the time when I was a full-time employee of Thoroughbred Times. Anything I said at that time could have been interpreted as representing Thoroughbred Times, and that would not do at all, so I simply never commented, even in cases of factual error.

Three-plus years into the semi-retirement it is nice to feel the freedom implicit in “freelance”. I am still not inclined to comment frequently in online forums, whether on Thoroughbred racing or other obsessions, because too frequently they turn into flame wars that benefit no one.

Occasionally, however, the urge to correct factual errors or potentially misleading statements overpowers that probably wise reticence. One recent discussion on the tb_breeding_theory board on Yahoo brought me reluctantly out of my curmudgeon cave, brandishing facts.

The discussion began with a question about the comparative rarity of inbreeding to Northern Dancer through his daughters. That eventually led to a broad generalization by one member (a good guy who I doubt intended it the way it came out) that implied that great sires of sires, including Northern Dancer, were not good broodmare sires.
Since I knew the inference that might be drawn from that statement was untrue, I felt duty-bound to step into the fray, and produced the following lists of the accomplishments as broodmare sires of some of the sires mentioned (the sires of sires are in bold face, the produce of their daughters in red--damn I hate that I don't know HTML code!):

Phalaris Among leading BMS England
Picture Play 1,000 Guineas, great foundation broodmare
Mid-day Sun Epsom Derby, champion 3yo
Godiva Epsom Oaks, 1,000 Guineas, ch 3yo filly
Windsor Slipper Undefeated Irish Triple Crown winner, ch 2yo, 3yo
Emborough Leading sire Australia
Delville Wood Leading sire Australia
Enfield Among leading sires Australia
Brown Betty 1,000 Guineas
Sind Leading sire Argentina
*Easton Coronation Cup, good sire
Plassy Good SW, sire of Vandale
Burudun Leading sire Argentina

Nearco Leading BMS England 3 times, leading BMS France
*Prince Taj Leading sire in France twice
Rising Flame Leading BMS Japan, among leading sires Japan
*Arctic Prince Epsom Derby, good sire
Averof Leading sire South Africa
Tamerlane St. James's Palace S., Grandsire of Monsun
Count Rendered Among leading sires NZ
*Khorassan II Among leading sires Aus/NZ
*Miralgo Champion 2yo England
*Tulyar Epsom Derby, St. Leger, champion 3yo
Saint Crespin III Arc, among leading sires England
Forest Row Leading broodmare sire Chile
*Vaguely Noble Arc, leading sire England
Charlottesville French Derby, Leading sire England
Sheshoon Ascot Gold Cup, Leading sire France
*Aggressor II King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S.
Ambergris Irish Oaks,
*Rose Royale II 1,000 Guineas, ch. 3yo filly
Sybil's Nephew Leading sire South Africa
Test Case ch. 2yo colt England, among leading sires NZ

*Nasrullah among leading BMS US 5 times
Boucher St. Leger
Poker Broodmare sire of Seattle Slew, Silver Charm
Turkish Trousers ch. 3yo filly
Tell Sire of good NZ sire Pompeii Court
Talking Picture ch. 2yo filly, great broodmare
Pakistan Leading sire NZ
Hornbeam Leading BMS England
*Sovereign champion 2yo filly England
Lacquer Irish 1,000 Guineas
Drumtop Great turf filly, dam of Topsider

Bold Ruler among the leading BMS US twice (7 champions, 119 SW)
Christmas Past champion 3yo filly
Intrepid Hero Hollywood Derby, United Nations H.
Sovereign Dancer Among leading sires, sire of Louis Quatorze, Gate Dancer
Quick as Lightning 1,000 Guineas
Posse St. James's Palace S., good sire in England
Intrepidity Epsom Oaks, Prix Vermeille
Autobiography Champion older horse
Targowice Leading sire France
Home Guard 2nd leading BMS Italy, good sire

Northern Dancer Leading BMS US (5 champions, 159 SW)
Tap Dance City Takarazuka Kinen, $9.5-million
Vega champion 3yo filly Japan
Muhtarram champion older horse, underrated sire
Eillo Breeders' Cup Sprint
Silk Prima Donna Japanese Oaks
Ryafan champion turf mare
Rhythm champion 2yo colt,
Not for Love good Maryland sire
Arazi champion 2yo
Noverre champion miler
Aptitude champion older horse
L'Enjoleur Canadian HOTY
Southern Halo 8-time leading sire Argentina, sire of More Than Ready
L'Alezane Canadian HOTY
Narita Brian Japanese Triple Crown winner
Ravinella 1,000 Guineas
Signal Tap Successful sire in Brazil
Nedawi St. Leger, among leading sires Brazil

Bold Ruler excepted, all those horses rank among the greatest broodmare sires of the 20th century. They were not, on the other hand, particularly successful as
broodmare sires of least not in the obvious sense. If you read over those lists, you will notice that all of them sired the dams of leading sires--just not in areas where their own sons were dominant sires. For example, the only great sire out of a Northern Dancer mare is Southern Halo, who was dominant in Argentina, but, More Than Ready excepted, failed in the US. Only one Northern Dancer-line horse (the mostly moderate Oak Dancer) has ever led the Argentine sire list.

So what might account for that fact? It seems logical that when a sire becomes accepted as a great sire of sires and large numbers of his sons go to stud in a given area, those sons make it very difficult for sons of daughters of that same sire of sires to gain any traction as sires. For example, Northern Dancer had so many great sons at stud that breeding those sons to sires out of daughters of Northern Dancer would create inbreeding closer than most breeders are willing to accept.

On the other hand, in a breeding area where sons of that sire of sires have not penetrated the gene pool, there is room, as it were, for the genetic influence of the sire of sires to be passed on through his daughters. Thus, Southern Halo could become a dominant factor in Argentina, a country where male-line descendants have enjoyed markedly less success than almost anywhere else on the globe.

I'm not sure myself exactly what I think of this hypothesis. It's something I'll be mulling in the nether reaches of the brain stem for awhile, but, if true, the implications are obvious for stallion importers in regional markets.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Vuillier and the Triple Crown

Before they proved they were top-class runners, the pedigrees of the three winners of America's 2009 Triple Crown races would not have been described as fashionable. Indeed, Mine That Bird famously sold for only $9,500 as a yearling, while neither Rachel Alexandra or Summer Bird were offered at public auction.
Fashion be damned. As shown by the data below (please forgive my ignorance of how to make the columns come out neatly in HTML code), their pedigrees are actually well within the norm of contemporary top-class pedigrees.

Archetype Mine That Bird Rachel Alexandra Summer Bird
Blue Larkspur(100) 56 88 104
Bold Ruler(157) 128 128 128
Buckpasser(108) 32 0 160
Hail to Reason(94) 0 256 0
*Mahmoud(118) 104 168 152
Man o' War(116) 108 132 168
Mr. Prospector(256)640 256 128
*Nasrullah(243) 240 144 208
Native Dancer(199)352 224 256
Nearco(279) 280 280 288
Northern Dancer(296) 512 512 640
Phalaris(178) 170 218 164
Plucky Liege(118) 111 148 125
*Princequillo(151) 144 160 192
*Ribot(75) 0 192 0
Seattle Slew(120) 0 0 0
War Admiral(85) 60 56 136

The data presented above are based on research by the author on a new implementation of the Vuillier dosage system published in the December 13, 2008 issue of Thoroughbred Times. The dosage numbers in parentheses represent the average genetic contribution of the archetypes listed to the pedigrees of the winners of the most important races in America since the institution of the Breeders' Cup in 1984. (You can read the article by clicking on the link titled “A new understanding of Vuillier dosage” on the right hand side of the page.) The numbers in the three unfortunately jagged columns are the dosages of the same archetypes in the pedigrees of Mine That Bird, Rachel Alexandra and Summer Bird.
The archetypes chosen for display here are actually the ones that produce the most varied dosages among these three pedigrees—their pedigrees are virtually identical on the other most significant influences on contemporary pedigrees. Indeed they are close to identical on a few of the archetypes included here as examples, like Bold Ruler, Nearco and Seattle Slew.
Naturally the widest variations in dosage are on the youngest archetypes listed, like Buckpasser, Hail to Reason, Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, *Ribot and Seattle Slew. That is the way pedigrees work. The genetic influence of the most significant sires and dams gradually stabilizes as time passes and their names recede further into the background of pedigrees.
The Vuillier system, though, gives a holistic view of pedigrees and offers tremendous insight into the direction one should take with matings.
For example, the pedigrees of Rachel Alexandra and Summer Bird are complementary in many ways. Rachel is above the norm in Hail to Reason, *Mahmoud, Phalaris, Plucky Liege and *Ribot, while Summer Bird is either below the norm or at least lower than Rachel in all five of those influences. Conversely, Summer Bird is high in Blue Larkspur, Buckpasser, Man o' War and *Princequillo, while Rachel's pedigree is less saturated with those powerful influences.
In a conventional pedigree presentation, it is easy to see that both Rachel Alexandra and Summer Bird have plenty of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector in their pedigrees, but it is simply impossible to see the imbalances in more distant but still vitally important ancestors. The Vuillier system makes those imbalances obvious.
The Vuillier system is based on the assumption that a mating that produces a pedigree more similar to the pedigree of the winners of the best races is more likely to produce another winner of those same races than one that does not. Indeed that is the same assumption behind other popular mating systems like nicking and even biomechanics (in an indirect way).
That is the beauty of the Vuillier system, and the implementation I devised with the help of Simon Morris at TesioPower and described in the linked article. It provides the ultimate in flexibility in applying those insights.