“Influence” is a tricky word. It means different things to different people. It means one thing to geneticists. It means another (entirely different) thing to all the rest of us. In a later post I will explain what “influence” means to geneticists. In today’s post I will try to explain what “influence” means to all the rest of us.
“Uncle Joe” Estes invented the average earnings index (AEI) back in 1948. Applied to sires, it remains a very viable statistical tool today.
AEI as a measure of sire performance is a measure of sire “influence.” An AEI of 1.00 is average. An AEI below 1.00 is below average and means that the sire possessing it has below-average “influence” (or is a negative “influence,” if you prefer). An AEI above 1.00 is above average and means that the sire possessing it has above-average “influence” (or is a positive “influence,” if you prefer). For example, A.P. Indy has an AEI of 2.90. That means his “influence” as a sire is 190% above average.
AEI is based on average earnings per starter per racing year. A similar index called the standard starts index (SSI) is based on average earnings per start (adjusted for sex) per racing year. AEI favors nags who are sound and race often. SSI favors nags who race less often. Six of one, half a dozen of another. Both are useful indexes. As applied to sires (and later to broodmare sires), both are measures of “influence.” Both are based on a scale of 1.00 being average.
“Influence,” therefore, is a measure of ACTUAL RACING RESULTS. It can be quantified and standardized to a scale of 1.00 being average so that you are can see at a glance which sires (and broodmare sires) possess above- or below-average “influence.”
So if you can quantify the “influence” of sires and broodmare sires, why not do the same with sires of sires (P1 in the second generation)???? Why not do the same with sires of sires of sires (P1 in the third generation)???? Who not do the same with the other three positions in the third generation???? Why not do the same with the eight possible positions in the fourth generation????
These were all good questions, I thought, when I started asking them around 1988 or so. That is the year I joined Thoroughbred Times, then affiliated with Bloodstock Research Information Services (BRIS). BRIS loved to brag about its omniscient computer and all the “magic” it could perform. So I tried to interest them in this idea and persuade them to perform some “magic” for me.
They made one half-assed effort at it, using stakes winners only (NOT the correct way to go about it). They said they could not see anything “significant” in the numbers they generated.
They must have been BLIND as well as STUPID. I could see some definite patterns, even using stakes winners only. But I could not persuade them of that. This experience and other similar ones soured me on using their omniscient computer and all its “magic.” See To Build a Pile for a related story on this same theme.
Why was I so interested in quantifying the “influence” of sires from all portions of pedigrees in the first place???? Mainly because it was intellectually interesting, and I had a “thirst for knowledge” (as my high school chemistry teacher used to say). I thought that if I could quantify the “influence” of sires from all portions of pedigrees, I could come to a better understanding of how pedigrees really do and do NOT work.
“Uncle Joe” Estes was a major influence on me. I strongly recommend as required reading “How Joe Estes Transformed Breeding and Pedigrees,” Chapter 4 in Racehorse Breeding Theories. It is the longest and best chapter in the whole book (including my own chapter therein).
I felt like I was trying to extend the work of Estes myself. Now if you are familiar with Estes, you might wonder at this point if Estes would have approved of quantifying the “influence” of sires from all portions of pedigrees. Estes believed that sires and dams were by far the most important components of pedigrees. He might have seen me looking deeper into pedigrees as a distraction from sires and dams. He might have seen it as making names deeper in pedigrees appear more important that they really are.
Estes need not have worried. That was not my intention at all. After all, I was not trying to “sell” these numbers. If I had been trying to “sell” these numbers and make $$$$$ off them, then Estes should have been worried.
Reading between the lines, that is undoubtedly the reason why the powers that be at BRIS declined to explore the matter themselves. They could not find a market for it. They could not think of a way to make $$$$ off it.
So using the massive computer resources of BRIS was off the table. I had to think of ways to explore this subject on my own. I had to devise methodologies that did not NEED the computer to be calculated. All they needed was a lot of hard work, one pedigree at a time, and a fair amount of number crunching. “Someone had to reach for the rising star/I guess it’s gonna be up to me.”
So I thought of some ways to explore this subject on my own and executed them over the years. I did so without massive computer resources to accumulate all the data and crunch it all for me. I did use the computer, but I used it merely to mine the data myself (one pedigree at a time) and then to crunch it myself. It was a lot more FUN that way.
Along the way I discovered that the best uses of these numbers were to discredit all kinds of assorted breeding theories (of which Estes would have thoroughly approved, the discrediting, that is). Many, many breeding theories rely on names in pedigrees still being “important” and capable of positive “influences” even from deep within pedigrees. Demonstrate that names in pedigrees are nothing more than names in pedigrees, and voila, many theories crumble into dust.
Geneticsts will tell you that the genetic inheritance of the Thoroughbred is pretty much a crapshoot. It is extremely unreliable and unpredictable (most breeding theories are dependent upon names in pedigrees being reliable and predictable, which they are NOT). I was able to demonstrate just how unreliable and unpredictable names in pedigrees really are.
Looking back on it, that is undoubtedly another reason BRIS did not want to explore this project with me. It undercut their own business, which was making $$$$ by selling pedigrees based on theories dependent on names in pedigrees being somehow reliable and predictable and mainly positive in “influence” (which they are NOT). I doubt if they understood this at the time, but they may have sensed it with their low, animal cunning (instinct for making $$$$$$).
So over the past 25 years or so I have amused myself enormously by mining tons of data one pedigree at a time and then crunching said data into iconoclastic conclusions. I think “Uncle Joe” Estes would definitely approve.
“The intellectual foundation of science is observation, logic, and skepticism.” I do not know if this is an actual quote from some famous luminary, but I found it on the internet and take it as my mantra.
Observation equals data mining and crunching. I have done tons of that over the past 25 years or so. I tried to extend the work of Estes in a logical fashion. In doing so I exercised plenty of skepticism regarding existing breeding theories. Some say I exercised a surfeit of skepticism. Better too much than too little when it comes to science.
In my next post I will try to explain what geneticists mean by “influence” (as opposed to how most people understand “influence”) and all the ramifications thereof.