The Seven Corners Conundrum

There is no particular reason you should be familiar with the sire Seven Corners (1956 by Roman–Miss Traffic, by Boxthorn). Seven Corners was a decent racehorse, with a record of 71-10-16-11 for earnings of $79,679. He placed in eight stakes but was not a stakes winner. Seven Corners was no great shakes as a sire: 106 foals, one stakes winner, AEI of 1.00 (exactly average, at least theoretically).

Yet Seven Corners still shows up in modern pedigrees primarily through only two sources: Gulch and Silver Deputy. He sired the second dam of the former and the third dam of the latter.

Asbury Mary was a winning daughter of Seven Corners. She produced Jameela (by Rambunctious), who posted a sterling record of 58-27-15-6 for earnings of $1,038,704, Jameela won 16 stakes, including three G1s.

Jameela produced only two foals, the full brothers Gulch and Big Mukora (both by Mr. Prospector). Gulch was 1988 champion sprinter and a pretty decent sire. But having produced no fillies, the female line of Jameela expired there.

Seven Corners also sired Proud Pied, whose race record reads 3-0-0-0 for earnings of $0. Proud Pied produced six foals but no stakes winners. She did become the second dam of stakes winner Silver Valley (by Mr. Prospector), the dam of Silver Deputy (by Deputy Minister).

Silver Valley produced a dozen foals, eight colts and four fillies (Silver Deputy was her first foal). But the female family of Silver Valley has not exactly flourished, aside from Silver Deputy.

So you still see Seven Corners in modern pedigrees, almost always in connection with either Gulch or Silver Deputy. I look at a lot of pedigrees, but I do not recall ever seeing one with Seven Corners NOT through either Asbury Mary or Proud Pied (Gulch or Silver Deputy).

Therefore, if you were examining sires in the fourth generation and including all of Gulch’s foals, Seven Corners looks pretty good. His record is virtually the same as Gulch’s. And that is pretty damn good for a sire in the fourth generation.

Similarly, if you were examining sires in the fifth generation and including all of Silver Deputy’s foals, Seven Corners looks pretty good. His record is virtually the same as Silver Deputy’s. And that is pretty damn good for a sire in the fifth generation.

What we have here is an example of statistics telling us one thing and common sense another thing. Statistics might claim that Seven Corners was actually a pretty good sire. He has survived into the present through two pretty good sires, Gulch and Silver Deputy.

So do you believe those statistics???? In this case, no. Or rather, you go back to the original statistics, those of Seven Corners himself as a sire: 106 foals, one stakes winner, AEI of 1.00. The latter statistics are much more credible than the former statistics.

The truth of the matter is that Seven Corners was an ordinary sire who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Yes, he has survived into the present through two pretty good sires, but he did so through sheer luck, not through any particular merit.

And that is the Seven Corners conundrum in a nutshell. When looking at statistics on sires four or five or more generations back, it behooves you to remember that you are looking at what has SURVIVED of those sires. And what has survived of those sires is usually the best of those sires. A lot of their dross has been winnowed out over the years and generations.

In the case of Seven Corners, what survived is Gulch and Silver Deputy and very little else. Seven Corners sired 106 foals. Two of them (Asbury Mary and Proud Pied) survived into modern pedigrees. The other 104 foals were dross and did not survive.

I make this elaborate point in connection to my previous post, “As Many Grains of Salt (Phalaris Revisited).” Look at the final comment to that post (by Pete) and my response to it. I have been beating my brains out trying to understand how Phalaris could have better results than his paternal grandson Nearco and whether that is indeed a legitimate result.

One of the reasons that happened is the Seven Corners condundrum. Phalaris is two generations further removed from modern pedigrees than Nearco is. That actually works to the advantage of Phalaris. It gives him two more generations with which to winnow out all his dross. So the numbers I presented in that post might need to be taken with an entire cake of salt, not just a few grains.

I am beginning to think that the whole approach of counting “presences” of a given sire (or dam) in modern pedigrees (no matter how far back) and trying to determine if “more is better” is simply fraught with too many unaccountable variables to yield legitimate results. Chronology is one variable I have discussed and tried to minimize already. Another is the topic of today’s discussion, the Seven Corners conundrum.

To restate that conundrum, you have to remember that only the best survive into modern pedigrees. A lot of dross has been lost (good riddance) along the way. It would be nice to know exactly how much dross a given sire (Phalaris or Nearco, for example) has shed along the way. The more it has shed, the less impressive the current results. The less it has shed, the more impressive the current results. But the precise amount shed appears to be unquantifiable at this point.

I sometimes think that you could pick just about any name that has survived into modern pedigrees and “prove” statistically that “more is better” with respect to that name. Because the deck is stacked in favor of a verdict of “more is better,” both through chronology and through the process of the dross being weeded out and only the best surviving.

Take Bull Lea, for example. Bull Lea was the leading sire five times and leading broodmare sire four times. So he was obviously a pretty good sire in his own time. But his male line failed miserably, and so most people today think of Bull Lea as a long-term “failure.”

This is short sighted for several reasons. The obsession with male lines leads to this kind of fuzzy (to put it charitably) thinking. Just because a horse fails miserably in the male line (almost all of them do) does not mean that horse is a “failure” as a sire.

Let us consider the sources of Bull Lea in modern pedigrees. Let us start with Storm Bird (Northern Dancer–South Ocean, by New Providence). New Providence was by Bull Page, by Bull Lea. Storm Bird is the sire of Storm Cat. So right there is a sizable chunk of modern pedigrees bearing Bull Lea through Storm Cat.

Bull Page was also the broodmare sire of Nijinsky II (and several other sire sons of Northern Dancer). Yet another sizable chunk of the population.

Roberto was by Hail to Reason–Bramalea, by Nashua. The second dam was Rarelea, by Bull Lea. Yet another sizable chunk of the population.

Alydar was by Raise a Native–Sweet Tooth, by On-and-On. Sweet Tooth was inbred 3×3 to Bull Lea. So Alydar has a double dose of Bull Lea. Yet another sizable chunk of the population.

So the four principal sources of Bull Lea in modern pedigrees are Storm Cat, Nijinsky II, Roberto, and Alydar. And there are other sources as well.

With those four sources, I feel pretty certain that Bull Lea would hold up well to a statistical analysis of the “more is better” variety. Because the deck is stacked in favor of “more is better.” And in Bull Lea’s case, because he lost a whole lot of dross in the process of surviving into modern pedigrees. Probably a lot more dross than Phalaris and/or Nearco lost, for example.

Many, many moons (more than 25 years) ago I remember working on the entire crop of foals of 1983. Bull Lea was one of 20+ sires I was examining in the fourth generation. The average for the entire crop was just above 3% stakes winners from foals. Bull Lea was around 2.5%. Pretty bad, in other words.

I finished the fourth generation and started on the fifth generation. Bull Lea was one of the 20+ sires I was examining in the fifth generation. I was thinking to myself, “Bull Lea was horrible in the fourth generation. He must be even worse in the fifth generation.”

Actually, Bull Lea was around 3.5% stakes winners from foals in the fifth generation. I was very surprised, to say the least. At the time I just chalked it up to chronology.

In retrospect, I see the Seven Corners conundrum at work. That extra generation gave Bull Lea more opportunity to get rid of his dross. His surviving results were much better in the fifth generation than in the fourth generation.

That seemed rather illogical at that time, but I have observed it over and over again as I have continued to examine populations of pedigrees over the years. X+1 generations are not always worse than X generations. Sometimes they are. Sometime they are not. All depends on the sire and the chronology and the amount of dross a sire has managed to shed.

I believe that Bull Lea is actually fairly typical of how “influence” actually waxes and wanes (mainly the latter). “Influence” actually decreases a lot more quickly than most people think. Sometimes it drops below 1.00 (the theoretical average) a lot more quickly than most people think.

But having dropped below 1.00, it can also rebound back up above 1.00, as Bull Lea did in the fourth and fifth generations for foals of 1983. But generally speaking, once it hits or drops below 1.00, it remains around 1.00 (with some fluctuations) no matter how many generations farther back you go.

I think Menow might be another good example. Both Menow and Bull Lea were foals of 1935. I think it might be interesting to compare the two statistically. But that is a project for another day and time.

The important thing to remember is that when you are looking at names in pedigrees several generations back or more, you are looking at what has survived of that name, and usually only the best survives. The dross is almost always winnowed out with time.

So the population of pedigrees containing that name is not the same now as it was originally. Which makes evaluating names in pedigrees more difficult than it should be, especially the farther back you go in pedigrees, and especially if you are testing the “more is better” hypothesis. As Heraclitus put it, “You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.”

I have been testing the “more is better” hypothesis for just about a year now. I feel like I have been barking up a tree without a coon. I feel like I have been hunting a snark. I feel like I have fallen down a rabbit hole.

I apologize to readers for having subjected them to this misadventure into Wonderland. But I think I did learn something from it. I learned how to explain the Seven Corners conundrum. I hope I have done so sufficiently (albeit not very succinctly).

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4 Responses to The Seven Corners Conundrum

  1. Ned says:

    Well explained! It seems to only reinforce much of what you have been preaching over the years. While interesting, names in pedigrees have little influence or “value” once one moves beyond the second generation. I actually found it peculiar that you undertook this massive project, as it seemed to lend some credence to the idea that names found deeply in pedigrees had significance. What I appreciate is that you are always looking and always testing. You are willing to do the difficult work to prove or disprove popular or unpopular theories. You also have a way of explaining your thinking and findings that make the fairly complicated, easy to understand. You should have been a professor!

    • ddink55 says:

      Ned,

      Thank you for the kind words.

      It was not my intention to suggest that names deep in pedigrees have “value.” If anything, the opposite. But sometimes the numbers just do not cooperate with your intentions.

      I do not know about being a professor, but you could consider this blog in that light. Every post is a lecture. Take all the posts together, and they are a textbook of sorts. I try to approach it that way. It is satisfying to be able to explain something and feel like you actually succeeded.

      Boojum

  2. Pingback: As Many Grains of Salt (Phalaris Revisited) | Boojum's Bonanza

  3. Pingback: The Bull Lea Quartet (Storm Cat, Alydar, Nijinsky II, and Roberto) | Boojum's Bonanza

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