dark star, elements of the thoroughbred, Kentucky Derby, native dancer, pedigree in matings, racing class
Aside from the question of racing class, which is obvious and self-explanatory, why does one stallion have greater success than another?
Like most of those who have approached this question from the side of pedigree, I long ago saw that there are some lines that breed on and others that don’t. Most explanations for this are couched in terms of one theory or another, and there is enough truth in these approaches to keep people researching and working to find the “key” to bloodlines and breeding.
But after 20 years of treading that path with considerable industry, in the early 1990s, I came to a conclusion that seemed inescapable to me (and that has seemed so to other diligent researchers, as well). Partly, the limitation is that most pedigree theory is historical, taking its shape from things that have already occurred, but even more it is that pedigree — even at its most subtle and prescient — only represents a part of the magical sum that is the Thoroughbred.
It is similar to the relationship of the theory of diamond cutting to the radiant beauty of the diamond itself.
While an essential part of the whole process, pedigree is only one of many elements that contribute to a horse’s success. Others include the animal’s conformation, character, constitution, and response to training.
As an exercise in thinking through this great puzzle we call breeding the Thoroughbred, I have taken the time to study the race records and stud results of the first two finishers in the 1953 Kentucky Derby, one of the better results in terms of racing class and stallion success.
In the 1953 Derby, Dark Star led the entire race, won by a head, then was injured in the Preakness. He was at the peak of his racing class with the Derby victory, and Dark Star had to be a very good colt to defeat the champion of his crop, even under perfect circumstances.
Dark Star’s Derby was the only career loss for Native Dancer, who was a great racehorse capable of immense efforts to gain a victory.
The comparison of racing class between these two holds up well in an examination of their stud careers. Native Dancer was a great sire (304 foals, 44 stakes winners, 14 percent with an AEI of 3.15), and Dark Star was a pretty darned good one (301 foals, 25 stakes winners, 8 percent with an AEI of 1.65).
I believe that we can learn quite a bit by looking at this high-class pair, and I will be elaborating on that in tomorrow’s post.
While I’m interested to see where you are going with this, Frank, the following line is worth putting into a contemporary context:
“Others include the animal’s conformation, character, constitution, and response to training.”
Yes, years ago those variables were extremely important. Sadly, though, during the past two decades (or so), as breeding to sell essentially replaced breeding to race as U.S. breeders’ raison d’etre, those crucial characteristics became marginalized.
All one really needs to know in order to confirm that damning assertion is that Storm Cat, the poster child for this deeply insidious change, regularly passed on hot temperaments, poorly conformed knees, and bad throats, yet was widely hailed as the best sire standing in the U.S., and hyperbolically viewed as one of the best sires of modern times.
Without going off too much further on this tangent, if it weren’t for Giant’s Causeway, Storm Cat would, among other things, arguably go down as one of the very worst sire’s of sires in the history of the breed (within the context of the absurdly high number of sons he has had at stud).
Yes, I would tend to agree that the intrusion of excessive commercial motivation has blurred the lines of the good, bad, and indifferent. We can all see this in the way that the mega-books have contributed to diluting the quality of better stallions’ books and making the statistics about their offspring less reliable.
But the self-interested behavior of some groups should not (and indeed must not) keep us from maintaining perspective and demanding clarity from ourselves as we pursue the best in the breed.