“You Either Got Faith or You Got Unbelief”

Finished another year’s worth of data yesterday, the third of the five years. So now is a good time to scribble another post. Now is a good time to tell you all what project I have been data mining.

The next project is dosage (and I refuse to gratuitously capitalize the word as common usage does; gratuitous capitalization needlessly aggrandizes subject matter).

I am not going to explain here what exactly dosage is in terms of pedigree theories. You can find an adequate explanation of it on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the internet if you do not already know and are truly interested.

I have a personal history with dosage. I first heard about it when I started in this industry in late 1981. At first I like it and believed it. It was mathematical, and I liked all those numbers. It seemed to make sense, at least at first.

Doubts started creeping into my conscience with the North American foal crop of 1982. Chief’s Crown was the champion two-year-old of 1984, and Spend a Buck was the champion three-year-old of 1985 (and Horse of the Year as well).

I was partial to Spend a Buck. He was by Buckaroo, by Buckpasser. Spend a Buck had relatively low dosage numbers. I am not going to get into specific numbers, because those numbers all have changed now. According to dosage, Spend a Buck allegedly had a good mixture of speed and stamina up to the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby.

Spend a Buck did win the 1985 Kentucky Derby, but he was a front-running speed demon, and he did so thanks mainly to an extremely hard, fast, and speed-favoring track on Derby Day. He acted more like a sprinter successfully stretching out than a natural distance horse. In other words, his dosage numbers really did not fit him.

Chief’s Crown had relatively high dosage numbers. In fact, he was considered unfit to win the Derby on the dosage interpretation of his pedigree. Chiefie did finish third in the Derby, second in the Preakness, and third in the Belmont.

He was beaten as the favorite in all three races, but that was more a matter of circumstances than lack of stamina on his part. Later in the year he won the Travers and Marlboro Cup Handicap, both at a a mile and a quarter. Chiefie ran like a natural distance horse. His dosage numbers did not seem to fit him.

Spend a Buck also won the Jersey Derby that year at a mile and a quarter. But he was life and death to do so, barely holding off Creme Fraiche. However, that form looked a lot better shortly thereafter when Creme Fraiche came back to win the Belmont.

Creme Fraiche had a dosage index (DI) of 39. At this point I do have to go into the numbers a  bit. A DI of 1.00 is considered perfectly balanced between speed and stamina. The median for the breed is about 3.0. Anything above 4.0 is considered not good for distances of ten furlongs or more.

So according to dosage, Creme Fraiche with his DI of 39 should have been gasping for air after four furlongs. In reality, he was just getting warmed up at ten furlongs, and twelve furlongs might have been his optimal distance. A gelding, Creme Fraiche raced extensively after his classic win and also won the Jockey Club Gold Cup (at the Belmont distance) twice and other races at that distance.

In other words, Creme Fraiche’s DI of 39 was a total farce. It should have been something more like 0.39. I gave him the nickname “DI 39.” I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back with me and dosage. I ceased believing in it in light of the results of 1985. The dosage numbers on too many nags were just painfully WRONG.

“You either got faith or you got unbelief/And there ain’t no neutral ground.” “The lukewarm I spit out of my mouth.” Having lost my “faith” in dosage, naturally I went to the opposite end of the spectrum and became an outspoken critic of it.

In fact, my first big pedigree project as a researcher and writer was debunking dosage (first published early in 1988). I continued in that same vein for about five years, until early 1993, when I got out of journalism. I thought for good, but a dog returneth to his own vomit.

In the 20 years since then I have said very little about dosage. I guess I was hoping it would die a natural death of its own accord. In a way it has. You certainly hear a lot less (almost nothing) about dosage with respect to the Kentucky Derby these days. That is a big change for the better from 20-30 years ago.

In another way though it has not died a natural death. All the major sources of five-cross pedigrees routinely list dosage numbers on each and every nag. So do all the stallion registries. The numbers are still there. Fewer people seem to care about them (or know how to interpret them at all).

One thing has not changed. I still find the subject fascinating in a perverse sort of way. I love playing around with all those numbers. But my ultimate reason for doing so, I assure you, is to debunk the theory, not to lend to it any credence whatsoever.

I make this statement for another reason. I was recently criticized for my posts on the large heart theory. If you read those posts, it is obvious that I am NOT giving the theory any credence whatsoever (and justifiably so).

But some people were afraid that I WAS giving the theory credence just by discussing it at all. According to them, it is not enough to shoot off both arms and both legs of a theory. Nothing less than silver dagger to the heart will do.

I do not exactly agree with that point of view, but I do not wish to quarrel about it either. I think that if you shoot off both arms and both legs of a theory, that theory will not be walking around or jumping up and down and waving its arms trying to attract attention to itself. And that will be a good thing.

So I want to make it clear that just because I write about dosage, as I intend to do when I finish my research, does NOT mean that dosage has any credibility whatsoever. It does NOT. It is a total crock of shit. But it is fun to play around with that crock of shit, and I intend to have some fun with it.

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5 Responses to “You Either Got Faith or You Got Unbelief”

  1. jim culpepper says:

    While my study of population genetic has focused primarily on maize and racing pigeons, I am intrigued by the genetic pollution factor which name recognition brings to any breeding line, especially thoroughbreds. In particular, the almost universal failure to recognize that inbreeding to any given line serves primarily to reveal the defects inherent to 95% of all breeding populations, leaves the gullible eager to seize on such philosophers stones as dosage. Thus you have the term “horse trader” to illustrate the persistent marketing of culls as prospects for the track, and thus the breeding shed.
    As an aside, you might glance at “The Making of the American Thoroughbred, Especially in Tennessee” by Bailey Peyton, since you appear to seek diversion.

    • ddink55 says:

      You are correct about “diversion.” Everything I do on this blog is for my own amusement and diversion. If readers find any amusement and/or edification in it, so much the better. It is lagniappe. And no doubt dosage has contributed greatly to the pollution factor of name recognition (making names in distant portions of pedigrees seem more important than sires and dams).

      • ned williams says:

        Any interesting “truths” or “conclusions” you have drawn from the world of breeding and racing pigeons? I would be interested to hear your thoughts, ideas or diversions (even if they have no clear apparent application to horses).

  2. Jim Culpepper says:

    The differences in the reproductive math and the politics of horses, as compared to prolifice lab and farm animals, make it easy to test breeding lines of pigs or pigeons in detail and then to eliminate “mistakes” without ceremony. Eliminating defective thoroughbreds is a huge problem in this day when even worthless feral horses cannot be culled to leave room for genuine mustangs of iberian origin, let alone to prevent erosion and habitat destruction from overgrazing. Thoroughbreds illustrate the problems of working with heterogenous breeding populations; even breeding best to best, anything breeding 10 % winning colts is a serious horse, whereas in a pigeon racing loft that breeds brother / sister pairs, culls and then crosses out for hybrid racers, 10 % breeders are headed for the compost pile. I do not currently race due to family issues; However I do not and will not use most of the medications currently in vogue to enhance performance for various reasons. Bill “The Book” Richardson says “medications strengthen the weak and weaken the strong,” and this has proved as true in race birds as in horses. Further, I recycle cull pigeons by allowing my hispanic neighbors to make pigeon tamales with them and thus, anything not labeled for poultry is not used. Check out Book Richardsons web site.

    • Ned Williams says:


      Thanks for your thoughts. As I have stated earlier on this blog, when gestation period is short and multiple young are born, it becomes easier to cull and work toward a specific type. Horses do not lend themselves to this process easily and drugs can serve to confuse results bases on performance. Thanks for your insightful comments.


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