In a response to Monday’s post, Travers posed a question: “Lexington was the leading sire in the United States 16 times. What percentage of the foal crop during those years were Lexington-sired horses? What made him such a dominant sire during those years?”
OK, that’s two questions. The answer to the first is going to take some digging into the Stud Book and will require more time than I can offer today. But an answer to the second is more accessible.
Lexington was a tip-top racehorse whose chief competitor was Lecompte. Both were sons of the fierce and virtually unbeatable horse Boston. Out of high-class mare, Lexington had top racing class in both parents and possessed it himself. So on pedigree and performance, he had considerable hopes for making the grade as a sire.
But no stallion is so good that he can lead the sire list 16 times, right? Well, tell that to Lexington. Truly transcendant stallions, who add something to the breeding environment that is otherwise lacking, can produce a slew of performers that are amazing.
That is what Lexington did.
And I have suspicions about how his success developed. His hopes for success as a stallion were aided immensely by his owner, RA Alexander, who was a far-thinking breeder with enough money to give his stock every decent chance to do their best.
But even more importantly, Lexington came to stud at time of change in the tides of racing. When he was racing, the premium sport was competing in three- and four-mile heats. Best two out of three.
Those horses were tough.
But racing changed forever after the War Between the States, and perhaps surprisingly, Lexington had the right genetic and mechanical qualities to take advantage of the changeover from heat racing to what the English called “dashes.”
These were the single heats, frequently over six furlongs or a mile, that constitute what everyone now thinks of as “racing.” Even though multi-heat racing hung on for decades, in bits and backwaters like Kentucky, the momentum in the racing centers of New York was to the English style, the English course, and light and elegant grayhound stock that had the finesse to show their form over short distances.
Some of the long-distance racers performed admirably in the change of style. Others did not. And Lexington was a marvel. He had to have possessed certain factors for power that his competition did not have. That would have made him a more effective racehorse, and it would have been immensely valuable to his offspring racing over shorter distances that put an emphasis on power: power to get position quickly, power to accelerate when needed, power to finish through the stretch.
Those athletic virtues, added together, made Lexington a marvel of his time and an icon in ours.