“Uncle” Abe Hewitt Revisited

The Great Breeders and Their Methods, by the late Abram S. Hewitt, seems to have acquired a formidable reputation. I searched for this book about a month ago in the Lexington public library system. The system had one copy, in the reference section downtown. Meaning that the book could not be borrowed nor leave its downtown location.

I was a little surprised that this book was classified as reference material and its availability therefore restricted. Perhaps it is a matter of scarcity. Not that many copies of the book exist, which enhances its formidable reputation and restricts its availability.

At any rate, I borrowed the book from a friend and read it again in its entirety recently. I would like to share some quotes from it.

Page 313:

“It should be noted that Bromus, the dam of Phalaris, was inbred 2 x3 (one free generation) to Springfield, the fastest horss of his time in England; also that her sire Sainfoin, though only a fairly modest racehorse himself (he did win the Derby but not much else), was inbred to Stockwell 3 x 3 (two free generations), and Sainfoin’s dam was inbred 3 x 2 to the full brothers Rataplan and Stockwell.

“Thus, Bromus, though of little racing merit herself, carried intense inbreeding to highly superior strains, both in her own pedigree and the pedigree of her sire Sainfoin.”

Page 183:

Sweet Tooth, the dam of Our Mims, Alydar, and Sugar and Spice, is inbred 3 x 3 (two free generations) to the old Calumet champion sire Bull Lea. Similarly, Davona Dale and Before Dawn are inbred 4 x 4 x 4 to Bull Lea, their dams being inbred 3 x 3 to Bull Lea.”

Page 192, on Planetoid, the dam of Grey Flight:

More interesting, perhaps, was the fact that Planetoid was inbred 3 x2 (one free generation) to Sweep, who combined some of the best American strains of the time, being by Ben Brush out of a mare by Domino. The author did not then know the great advantage, for stud purposes, of an intense gathering of superior genes one generation or so back in a pedigree.”

The author appears to be leading the reader to believe that inbred mares make better broodmares. This is not exactly a new or novel observation. When I did my first series on inbreeding 20+ years ago for Thoroughbred Times (see “To Build a Pile”), I included an entire chapter on inbred broodmares. No one chastised me for wasting time and effort on a loony idea.

But to say that inbred mares make better broodmares is oversimplifying the views of Hewitt.

Page 290:

“This suggests that inbreeding to the best strains can be successfully exploited, though the direct results of such inbreeding, that is, the inbred animals themselves, may not be very successful on the track. It is when the closeup descendants of these inbred animals are mated to sires of classic stature, such as Swynford, Gainsborough, Prince Rose, and Phalaris that great successes on the track, and even more so at stud, are realized.”

Page 388:

The presence of close inbreeding in a close-up ancestor of the key horse has occurred too often–Lexington, Domino, Commando, Phalaris, Pharos, Nearco, Blandford, Tourbillon, Djebel, St. Simon, Stockwell–to be ignored as a favorable factor in the makeup of both stallions and mares.”

So here Hewitt is referring to both stallions and mares. He SAYS that this factor has occurred too often, but does he prove it???? In a nutshell, no. It is all anecdotal evidence. There was no scientific survey of the entire breed to determine how often this factor actually occurred.

One of the reasons for that is that the factor (close inbreeding in a close-up ancestor of the key horse) is dot defined very well at all. It is totally amorphous.

This is absolutely typical of most breeding theories. (Just ask “Uncle” Joe Estes, if you do not believe me.) Make your definitions as amorphous as possible. Throw in some exceptions to the rule. Leave yourself plenty of loopholes and fallback positions. Recite some anecdotal evidence and act as if you have proved your point.

Nevertheless, all this speculation is somewhat interesting. One thing that CAN be empirically tested is the proposition that inbred mares make better broodmares. I am in the process of doing so and should have some results in about another month.


For a study on inbred sires, see this linked article.

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3 Responses to “Uncle” Abe Hewitt Revisited

  1. Johnny Appleseed says:

    So what definition will you use and how will you determine what a “key horse” would be?

    Not all “key horses” are created equal therefore your study will need to identify which “key horses” you are referring to.

    • ddink55 says:

      The concept of “key horse” is exactly what I mean by “amorphous.” It is impossible to define. No matter how you try to do so, someone will quibble with it. Therefore, I reject your assertion that I need to identify “key horses.” I will stick to my usual methodology. Number of foals, number of stakes winners, quality of stakes winners. Those are the only three factors you need to know in order to evaluate any breeding theory. Prices too of course.

  2. ned williams says:

    Looking forward to some interesting reading. Glad you are back at it.

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