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.


  1. John,

    Did you mean Northern Dancer line for Oak Dancer, because he was a son of the Nijinsky son Green Dancer?

    I do agree with your thesis, that a dominant sire of sires has a hard time becomming a dominant broodmare sire of sires. It's interesting to note that Nedawi, Signal Tap, Southern Halo, Aptitude, Arazi, and Rhythm found themselves at stud in Southern Hemisphere, where Northern Dancer (at least in S. America) was not at the time common.

  2. Yep, should have had "line" in that sentence. Thanks for pointing that out....(LOL).

  3. Actually, I would argue that most super-fashionable stallions, such as Northern Dancer, are overrated as broodmare sires. I say that because they are provided with such outstanding mares, and their daughters are given great chances to produce irrespective of their race records (or lack thereof).

    In other words, given how many Northern Dancer mares had excellent (or better) pedigrees, and were bred to good stallions, it would be surprising if they hadn't produced lots of stakes winners and the occasional champion.

    It's a bit like the vexing question that occasionally arises about top jockeys. For example, if a solid, mid-range rider were to have had the benefit of riding Jerry Bailey's mounts throughout a given year, would he not have recorded roughly the same winning percentage, earned roughly the same amount of money, and have been named champion jockey? Yes, there would be a difference, but would it be significant?

    So what I'm wondering is whether, say, Mr. Leader might have been as good or better than Northern Dancer as a broodmare sire, had be been bred to mares of equivalent quality.

    We'll never know, of course, but I would argue that it is relatively easy to identify outstanding broodmare sires (i.e. those whose daughters were exceptionally productive, but did not themselves have outstanding pedigrees), but rather difficult to distinguish “good” from “to be expected” when it comes to top-class (or high-fashion) stallions.

  4. Determining the difference between opportunity and quality is always difficult to impossible. I would argue, however, that the proof is in long term influence, which, of course, takes decades to determine. But I think it's pretty untenable to argue that a horse who was leading broodmare sire, regardless of opportunity, was not a good broodmare sire. Maybe he wasn't as good as he "should" have been, but no one has ever come up with a really good measure of that in my not so humble opinion. But it is an interesting point, and a very difficult one.

  5. Very difficult indeed. For what it's worth, though, I'd assert that one of Northern Dancer's less fashionable sons was, relatively speaking, a better broodmare sire than the great one himself: Northfields.

    No, I've not undertaken any study, but Northfields' accomplishments under the circumstances were outstanding.