Monday, November 3, 2014

The Breeders Cup - The Pedigrees

The Breeders Cup - the self styled World Championships of thoroughbred racing - is now over. The dozen or so non US breds have gone home licking their wounds except for a lone colt from Japan who defied the norm with his pedigree and won a BC event against all odds.

There were 13 races in total with purses from $1 to $5 million in various combinations of track surface, distance, age and sex.

The Classic was the top race and was won by Bayern, a son of Offlee Wild and a descendent of Nearco, the line known for Northern Dancer, as were six of the other Cup winners. The other six events were won by descendents of Native Dancer, the line that is famous for Mr Prospector. That pretty much sums up what you need to win a Breeders Cup. A Nearco line sire bred to a Native Dancer line dam or vice versa. Both lines ultimately go back to the same origin in The Darley Arabian, one of three founding sires of the thoroughbred breed and also the origin of the majority of Standardbreds.

There were three exceptions to this general rule. One was the great three year old filly Untapable who solidified her claim for Horse Of The Year with a convincing win in her third consecutive Grade 1 win. She is linebred to the Nearco line and inbred maternally to Northern Dancer. Her dam is double linebred to Nearco and her 2nd dam is also linebred to Nearco.

In a sport where outcrossing to the point of having little or no common individuals in the first six generations this has to be somewhat of a revelation. In standardbred breeding her pedigree would be considered mildly inbred but for TB officiandos she must be quite a shock. Maternal inbreeding is a big part of Standardbred breeding as we see for the top 3 year old filly Shake It Cerry.

Is there a correlation between speed and maternal inbreeding ? Every year we see new "world" records set by standardbreds but the thoroughbreds have none. Perhaps it has something to do with the emphasis on speed versus endurance. The bottom line in both sports is not how fast you go but how much money you make. With the "classic" races in thoroughbreds going distances from 1 1/8 to 1 1/2 miles it appears that breeding for distance is key and the prevailng wisdom is that outcrossing with a minimum of inbreeding is the only way to succeed.

North America is the only jurisdiction where pacing and trotting races are raced almost exclusively at a distance of one mile. That was the standard for inclusion in the first stud book - the ability to trot or pace a mile within a certain time, originally 2:30. In Europe and down under in Australia and New Zealand they are not so bound to tradition with racing conducted at different distances and with different starting methods.

In recent times we have seen exceptional performances by European standardbreds such as Sebastian K racing in North America and the success of the Swedish bred Revenue at stud in North America siring  the likes of multi millionaire Market Share, have opened the doors for greater opportunity to improve the breed. The thoroughbred industry has been international in scope for many years.

Getting back to the Breeders Cup races there was a Japanese bred called Karakontie who also parlayed his Nearco line breeding into a Breeders Cup win. He balanced out his pedigree by being inbred maternally to Native Dancer though and his dam and 2nd dam were traditionally outcrossed Nearco to Native Dancer and vice versa.

Perhaps both breeds can learn from each other with the T-breds embracing maternal inbreeding and the Standarbreds welcoming the outcross possibilities from other lands.