“Influence”–The Pope Shits in the Woods

Another one of my favorite chapters in Racehorse Breeding Theories was the last chapter, Chapter 16, “Evaluating Breeding Theories–Looking for the Real Patterns Underpinning Tesio’s Greatness,” by Ross Staaden, B.V.Sc., Ph.D.

The Tesio part of that chapter was great. A lot of BS has been written about Tesio. Sometimes I think that almost as much BS has been written about Tesio as has been written about Jesus Christ. This chapter exposed a lot of the BS written about Tesio for exactly that.

But what I liked MOST about that chapter was Staaden’s dozen rules for evaluating breeding theories. I would like to quote them all, but I will settle for one paragraph from his eighth rule, which is: The further back into the pedigree a theory has to go, the more likely it is rubbish.

“With every generation, the influence of a particular ancestor is halved. More importantly, in every mating, it is a different half, a different subset of the great ancestor’s genes, a different group of chromosomes handed down. A sire passes different traits to different offspring, and especially to different grand-offspring. His sons, for example, have at least half of his genes for every trait,  but their offspring may get none of the grandsire’s genes for a particular trait.”

“With every generation, the influence of a particular ancestor is halved.” Staaden does not state WHY this is so. Probably because everyone knows the reason and assumes it to be DOGMA.

The reason why the influence of a particular ancestor is halved with every generation is ONLY because there are TWICE as many ancestors in each generation: two in the first generation, four in the second generation, eight in the third generation, etc.

And that is the ONLY thing a geneticist means when he states that the influence of a particular ancestor is halved with very generation. It is halved because each generation has TWICE as many ancestors. Therefore, the probability that a particular gene is handed down from ancestor to foal halves with each succeeding generation.

Clear as MUD so far????? I wish to point out two things at this point in the discussion. The first is that the geneticist’s definition of “influence” has NOTHING to do with ACTUAL RACING PERFORMANCE. It is merely an expression of the probability of inheriting a specific gene from an ancestor. It makes no statement whatsoever as to whether that specific gene will help or hurt racing performance (or have no effect whatsoever on racing performance).

Now let us consider the remainder of that paragraph:

“More importantly, in every mating, it is a different half, a different subset of the great ancestor’s genes, a different group of chromosomes handed down. A sire passes different traits to different offspring, and especially to different grand-offspring. His sons, for example, have at least half of his genes for every trait,  but their offspring may get none of the grandsire’s genes for a particular trait.”

Genetic inheritance in the Thoroughbred is a crapshoot (as I stated in my last post), and the paragraph above details some of the reasons why. Ancestors beyond the first generation do not transmit racing ability with any degree of regularity or reliability.

I discussed some of the reasons for that in my last few posts. Here is another one. A common misconception exists that full siblings are 100% related. NOT TRUE. On average they are 50% related (have half of their genes in common). They could be 100% related, although the chances of that are very slim. They could be 0% related, although the chances of that are equally slim.

The second thing I wish to point out is that the geneticist’s definition of “influence” (probability of a gene being inherited) does not take into account the fact that some generations are more important than others. Some generations are more important than others specifically if you are trying to estimate the probable racing class of a foal from its pedigree.

Even more specifically, the first generation is more important than the second generation, the second generation is more important than the third generation, etc. The fourth and fifth generations are items of idle curiosity only. And you can DEFINITELY FORGET anything beyond the fifth generation when it comes to estimating the probable racing class of a foal from its pedigree.

This can be easily demonstrated. The best demonstration can be found in Chapter 2 of Racehorse Breeding Theories, pages 29-30. I will elaborate somewhat on that demonstration.

Mr. Prospector was by Raise a Native out of Gold Digger, by Nashua.  As everyone knows, Mr. Prospector was one of the best sires of the 20th century.

Mr. Prospector had four full brothers who also went to stud. They were Search for Gold, Red Ryder, Kentucky Gold, and Vaal Reef. I list them in order of merit, though the former two were only mediocre and the latter two were considerably worse than that.

So imagine that you are looking at the second generation of a pedigree, and the first two names you see on top are Raise a Native and Gold Digger. You are probably very pleased, thinking this foal is by Mr. Prospector, who has “the right stuff” and transmits it with some regularity.

The problem is that you are allowed to look at the second generation ONLY. You are NOT allowed to look at the first generation. You are trying to decide whether to buy this foal. Thinking that the foal is probably by Mr. Prospector, you decide to do so and pay $500,000 for it.

After you buy the foal, then you are allowed to look at its first generation. Imagine your consternation after you have paid $500,000 for this foal and are allowed to look at its first generation and you see that it is NOT by Mr. Prospector, but by Search for Gold, Red Ryder, Kentucky Gold, or Vaal Reef. You have just paid about $495,000 too much for this foal (or maybe $499,000, depending on which of the four sires it is).

The point is that the names Raise a Native and Gold Digger in the second generation are not nearly as important as the name Mr. Prospector in the first generation. If you think the second generation is just as important as the first generation, I have for sale just for you some wonderful oceanfront property in Arizona.

Let us imagine another scenario. This time around you are allowed to look at the fifth generation ONLY and not at any of the closer generations. Among the 32 ancestors in the fifth generation you see four pairs of Raise a Native–Gold Digger. You jump to the conclusion that the foal in question must be 4x4x4x4 to Mr. Prospector. Imagine your consternation once you have bought the foal and are allowed to see the rest of its pedigree that it is NOT 4x4x4x4 to Mr. Prospector. Four of its eight sires in the fourth generation are Search for Gold, Red Ryder, Kentucky Gold, and Vaal Reef.

Not that a foal inbred 4x4x4x4 to Mr. Prospector is necessarily a GOOD proposition. But it is a BETTER proposition than a foal with Search for Gold, Red Ryder, Kentucky Gold, and Vaal Reef as four of its eight sires in the fourth generation. The important point here is that the fourth generation is more important than the fifth generation. And the first generation is VASTLY more important than the fourth or fifth generations.

So we have two facts here. The first is that “influence” (as defined by geneticists) decreases by half with each succeeding generation ONLY because there are twice as many ancestors in each succeeding generation. Not too many people will argue with that.

The second fact is that when seeking to evaluate a foal from its pedigree and predict its probable racing class, for all practical purposes the first generation is the most important generation and is more important than the second generation, which is more important than the third generation, etc. If you want to argue with that fact . . . you probably think that the Pope shits in the woods too.

The next question is: What logical conclusion(s) can be drawn from these two facts???? I am usually not much of a practitioner of the Socratic Method, but in this case I am. I am calling upon readers to take the next step for themselves and to answer the question above.

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11 Responses to “Influence”–The Pope Shits in the Woods

  1. jim culpepper says:

    Except for some strange atavistic recessive gene cropping up, even the third generation can be ignored unless every individual is a grandchild of a given ancestor which is at an extreme edge of the bell curve. I have a racing pigeon which is 37% inbred to “Witoger 720,” which was considered an Ace breeder. 37% generally means that 80% of offspring will be mediocre at best, 15% will be decent and 5% percent above average. The individual racer proves the pedigree rather than the reverse, although careful inbreeding can slightly improve the average over time.

    • ddink55 says:

      I definitely agree that the individual racer proves the pedigree rather than the reverse. I do not disagree too much about the latter half of the statement.

  2. Ned Williams says:

    What I have seen over and over again is that pedigree gurus “back” into a conclusion as to why a horse is fast. In order to do this, they often search ever deeper into the pedigree and pick out individual horses and crosses that they can use to explain success and verify their ability to unravel the mysteries of the breeding world. What I never see them do, is to go back into a slow horse’s pedigree and note the exact same crosses and individuals. There are far more slow horses with “good crosses and or individuals” back 2,3 and 4 generations in there pedigrees than fast ones. I am unsure how one can disprove hundreds of years of genetic study. However, pedigree gurus ask us to simply do just that and to ignore genetics 101. Simply put, the best indicator for future racing success comes from the racing ability of the sire and first dam. The only “nick” that is truly meaningful is the cross between the sire and first dam. What is interesting is that most breeders do not have the nerve to cross their mare back to the same stallion more than once. Think about it, if a mare is bred to a proven stallion in year one, why not year two? Why not year three? The racing ability of the first foal has not yet been established. What has really changed? If the pedigree or nick was perfect in year one, it should be just as perfect in year 2,3,4 and 5. What really happens is that breeders are admitting (unknowingly) to the randomness of their endeavor. They are unconsciously admitting that they are/were unsure about the first cross and are therefor going to try another and another. However, they are not necessarily making a mistake with this approach because as stated above: the best indicator for future racing success comes from the racing ability of the sire and first dam. This can be true for any first dam and any sire (within reason). What it does tell you, is that in the real world, breeders are hedging their bets. While many say they are true believers in “nicking and pedigree” most do not have so much faith that they will stick to a stallion repeatedly.

    Note: I fully understand the commercial side of the business and that many commercial breeders are trying to breed to the “hot” stallion. Hence my use of the word “proven stallion” above. The commercial side of the business is a whole other discussion.

  3. Bill says:

    So If only the sire and dam are important. Then breeding a champion to champion should = a champion.

    • Ned Williams says:

      No. Still very difficult to breed a champion. The randomness of genetics makes it very difficult. However, your chances are improved. By this I mean you have a greater chance than if the champion + champion is 2,3,4 generations back in the pedigree. DDinks 55 has posted on this earlier.

  4. Ned Williams says:

    …and remember the title champion is given by humans (who are sports writers etc) not breeders. Champion can mean different things to different voters (i.e. most popular etc). However, it should be given to best “on track” performance, which is the key component, in my opinion.
    I am not sure that the title of champion makes a sire the best one to use in breeding decisions. Could be, but maybe not. I, personally, consider other factors as well (Soundness, distance, limitations, trainer, competition etc.).

  5. Bill says:

    Help with this quote. Why did he say two generations.
    J. A. Estes has gathered considerable data to prove the contention that high racing class in the immediate ancestors is the best index of probable excellence. For example, the Futurity has been run 56 times, and 22 of its winners, or 39 percent, were the sons and daughters of stakes winning mares. Since there are so few mares of this caliber, the normal expectancy would be nearer 10 percent. A similar study by Robertson of the classic winners in England, showed convincingly that racing class of a dam is indicative of her potential value in the stud. Estes adds, “It is, more specifically, my intention to contend that it costs ten times as much to buy a pedigree without racing class as racing class without a good pedigree, and that these odds are upside down. Class without pedigree is actually a far better
    risk than pedigree without class. Class with pedigree (if the pedigree is limited to two generations) is of course better than either.”

    • fmitchell07 says:

      By “ten times as much to buy a pedigree without racing class,” I’d assume that you mean “effective cost” because the up-front cost of such mares and stallions is greatly lower, but then they eat as much as champions, cost as much to board, cost as much from the vet, etc.

      Your line of thought about buying racing class without pedigree has actually worked in some cases, although those who took that line (Mabee, Juddmonte, etc., in particular instances) also sent those mares to very good stallions. Mabee, in particular, told me that he refused to use unproven stallions (this was later in his career as a breeder and not referring to his California operation) and that the cost of using premium proven sires was justified by the reduction in losses, missed opportunities, and so forth with his mares. He certainly bred enough good horses to have a basis for judgment.

      Best of luck!

    • ddink55 says:

      “Class with pedigree (if the pedigree is limited to two generations) is of course better than either.” Why did Estes specify that pedigree be limited to two generations???? I suspect because that is exactly what he meant. Names in pedigrees beyond the second generation are merely that: names in pedigrees. They have no effect whatsoever on the racing class of a foal. At least that was his considered opinion. See also the comment from Jim Culpepper.

  6. jim culpepper says:

    It is worth noting that a lot of Genetic junk was removed through inbreeding during the first century of the english thoroughbreds existence and this is why the current crap shoot yields the occasional good horse. Taking the garbage from the kitchen is a different function than setting the table with five star fare, yet the latter is impossible without the former task. During the eighteenth century, lacking a humane society, worthless individuals were disposed of ASAP. The Walker family set their strain of foxhound by going into the woods with a shovel, and a cull hound on a rope. They would return with the shovel and rope. The mere fact of inbreeding NEVER yields superior stock except where used to purge unfavorable genes from a line that is “heterotic” with another inbred line purged in like manner. Pedigree is useful only the the extent that it demonstrates this purified breeding, except for its far more common use as a marketing ploy to bamboozle nouveau riche folks who believe jillion dollar horse to be an effective fashion statement.

  7. Ned Williams says:

    Jim is absolutely correct. Delmar Smith buried many a Brittany Spaniel before he was able to breed the dog he was able to win the Pointing Dog National Championship with. Bob Wehle bred many an english pointer and culled ruthlessly before he got the line of dog he was looking for, now famously known as The Elhew Line of English Pointer. The difference is that a dogs gestation rate is 63 days. Dams have multiple pups that have different traits. The best can often be picked out inside a year, (or year a half at the outside) the others can be culled from the line. It is conceivable that two or three generations can be tested in the same time it takes to get one foal to the track as a three year old. Not to mention that an equine cross only produces one foal at a time while a litter of puppies may produce 5 to 10 genetic outcomes, of which the most desirable can be kept, based on performance not pedigree.)

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