“Dark as a Dungeon”

Why is it that most people accept that male lines rise and fall? Yet when it comes to female lines, they do not seem to accept that at all? These are some of the questions that occurred to me as I posted this series on the La Troienne (LT) female line. I think I may have an answer or two.

When male lines fail, they do not just deteriorate, they disappear. Take the leading sire lists in North America from 1930 to 1953, for example. The sire lists of that period were led four times by Sir Gallahad III, once by his full brother Bull Dog, and five times by Bull Lea (a son of Bull Dog).

That sire line, once so successful, has disappeared now. And no one laments its passing. No one goes on and on about how “magic” those names still are in pedigrees (as opposed to LT).

In contrast, female lines deteriorate but never really disappear. The female line of LT, for example, continues to produce a goodly number of stakes winners. As long as it does so, people fail to realize that its results have actually deteriorated over time when compared to the number of foals it produces (the latter of which is the missing factor in the equation that most people just seem to ignore rather blithely).

Of the 70,714 sales foals of 2003-2007, just over 60% were from either the Northern Dancer male line (21,420) or the Mr. Prospector male line (21,115). That is pretty typical of how numerically dominant male lines are.

There is no argument that LT is the dominant female line in North American breeding, at least numerically, even today. Nothing else even comes close. My guess is that Escutcheon (including her daughter Bourtai) would be next. Or maybe Etoile Filante (1918 by Fair Play out of Chit Chat), who is even older than LT (a foal of 1926).

Yet dominant as it is, the LT female line accounts for only a little over 2.4% of the entire population among both sales foals of 2003-2007 and sales foals of 2008-2011. Female lines are nowhere near as dominant numerically as male lines. That is just the nature of the beast. And probably the reason why female lines never really disappear, while male lines do disappear.

The obsession with male lines is understandable only in terms of academic curiosity. It is a matter of historic interest to see which males lines come to dominate and which ones disappear. But that does NOT mean that a foal from a dominant male line is likely to be any better than any other foal (at least in any statistical sense). It is understandable to think about male lines in macro (historical) terms. But in micro terms (evaluating an individual foal), males lines are just about irrelevant. The only thing they are good for is fodder for advertising BS (pardon the redundancy).

(From a genetic point of view, the sire of the sire is no more important than the broodmare sire. Or the dam of the sire. Or the second dam.)

And the same is true of female lines. They are interesting historically (macro terms), but they are just about irrelevant in micro terms (evaluating an individual foal, as I just demonstrated with LT). Just because a male line or female line has the most numbers does NOT necessarily mean that it is any good. Sometimes quite the opposite. The most popular male and female lines frequently become the victims of their own (perceived) successes.

For whatever reasons, male lines are a lot more visible to most people than female lines. Male lines are sort of like the alphabet. You have to learn the alphabet before you can learn to read. And many people never learn to read at all. They never progress beyond the alphabet (male lines).

Another difference between male and female lines is the availability of statistics. You can find plenty of free statistics online on just about any sire. And if you are willing to pay $$$$, you can find quite detailed and esoteric statistics on just about any sire.

Finding statistics on female lines????? Good luck!!!!!

As far as I know, no organization routinely generates statistics on female lines via the computer. If you want to evaluate one particular female line, you can pay through the nose for a computer product on that line and then assimilate all the data and crunch all the numbers yourself.

If you want to evaluate more than one female line, you can acquire auction reviews and wade through thousands of foals one by one (sort of like the Johnny Cash song “One Piece at a Time”). Personally, I prefer the latter approach.

I believe this is the biggest reason why people have been reluctant to accept the fact that female lines rise and fall (albeit not quite as drastically as male lines rise and fall and sometimes disappear). Because statistics on female lines are very few and far between.

Particularly GOOD statistics on female lines. By which I mean statistics that include the number of foals involved, not just the number of stakes winners. As you may have heard me rant before, too many statistics are based on stakes winners only without any reference to the number of foals involved. The former is virtually meaningless without the latter.

So people see that the LT female lines is still producing Judy the Beautys and conclude erroneously that the name LT is still “magic” in pedigrees. It may have been “magic” at one point in time (through the 1970s or so), but even then only in the female line itself. As I just demonstrated, even the LT female line is actually below average now and well below average compared to its prices.

It takes hard WORK and EFFORT to generate viable statistics on female lines. You have to hunker down into the data mines and dig out those foals one by one. God forbid that any pedigree “expert” should have to stoop to WORK or EFFORT to substantiate his opinions. It is so much easier just to spout unsubstantiated drivel.

The name of the song is “Dark as a Dungeon.” Merle Travis wrote it. Johnny Cash did a pretty good version of it.

“Where the rain never falls, the sun never shines

It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.”

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7 Responses to “Dark as a Dungeon”

  1. ned williams says:

    Brilliant explanation. Not to mention it passes the the common sense test.

  2. ddink55 says:

    “Common sense” reminds me of a joke about working at The Jockey Club.

    Is it true that you must have a lobotomy to work at TJC????

    Only if you’re in management. The regular slaves just have to check their brains at the door.

    Most people who write about pedigrees have checked their brains at the door.


  3. nepetalactone says:

    In addition to the Effort Factor–to be human is to look for the easy way out–a lot of us came up in an age when finding female line data was damn hard. I speak of those dark times prior to computerized data.

    What you could research in those times was male line descent, so that is what you did. Some people never lost the habit, even though it makes not much sense at all IF you know anything about genetics.

    Back in the late 1970s, I spent a winter curled up with an obscure tome entitled Polish Arabian Horses in Their Genealogical Charts by Rozwadowski. The Poles race their Arabians, not with the goal of producing faster Arabians, but to prove soundness, physical and mental. (At least this was true as long as the horses were the property of state-owned farms). The race records were noted for every horse that raced in charts listed by female line descent; I dutifully marked this volume with color-coded dots, indicating non-winners, winners, stakes winners, and classic winners.

    And when I was done, clearly some female families were incredibly superior, usually those who had raced at the top of the game. Even when the very best families were bred to stallions of no great speed, the mares did okay. Clearly, quality in the dam matters as does quality in the stallion; neither should be ignored. If anything, this is truer in Arabians than in Thoroughbreds.

    All of this seems…obvious, but the lesson is so obvious that it is followed blindly generations past the point where it has meaning. YA GOTTA LOOK AT THE NUMBERS! YA GOTTA LOOK AT THE DATA AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO THE HORSES OF INTEREST TO YOU! YA GOTTA BREAK INTO AN INVESTIGATIONAL SWEAT!

    • ddink55 says:

      I think we can agree that the sire is important and that the dam is important. The sire of the sire???? The dam of the dam???? I would venture to say that the importance of the former is more exaggerated than the importance of the latter.

      • nepetalactone says:

        What really matters…are the parents, the sire and the dam. The people who worship at the altar of pedigree fail to note the importance of non-trivia such as temperament. All the speed and soundness in the world will not matter if the animal is crazy or dangerous-crazy, or if the individual is extraordinarily timid.

    • ddink55 says:

      I think we can agree that the sire is important and that the dam is important. The sire of the sire???? The dam of the dam???? I would venture to say that the importance of the former is more exaggerated than the importance of the latter.

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