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Joe Estes was a great researcher and a monumental force in evaluating the way we think about Thoroughbred pedigrees.

When he came to the Blood-Horse about 80 years ago, nobody thought about statistics as a means of assessing bloodstock or pedigrees. For one thing, it was so hard to compile a statistically valid body of data that essentially nobody wanted to do it.

Estes was lucky to have his position at the Blood-Horse because it allowed him to search for answers with a staff that had the leisure to follow his direction and compile reams of information that he could analyse and explain to the breeding public.

The volume of information he and the magazine staff could compile allowed him to discuss things about pedigrees that were totally new to breeders. Heretofore, breeders had selected mares on the basis of the leading broodmare sires, or by the Bruce Lowe family numbers, or according to the nick.

And here comes this quiet man writing things in an upstart publication (Blood-Horse wasn’t always the house organ) that came out of left field, at least according to the way most people thought at the time. Using his command of statistics and language, Estes retarded the effect of dosage on breeding by a good half-century, and his combination of satire and research into the Figure System of Bruce Lowe effectively destroyed it as a serious breeding system.

So after writing about stallion selection this week, I went in search of some input from Estes. In the Blood-Horse of 26 August 1939, he wrote:

The most important item in appraising the stud prospects of a young horse is his racing class. The racing class and breeding records of his sire and dam are also worthy of consideration, but beyond that the pedigree will tell you nothing worth remembering.

The prevalence of the popular notion that a good sire must come from a sire family (a term invented by Bruce Lowe, all-time hocus-pocus champion in Thoroughbred breeding) is easy enough to understand. It provides  a reason to predict that a horse from a non-sire family probably will fail at the stud. And he probably will. So will the average good horse from any family.

Estes sure packed a punch, didn’t he? Still does.

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