Pedigree Theories and Selection Techniques
3. Proven versus Unproven
When an unproven racehorse becomes a good sire or broodmare, research usually indicates that he or she showed tremendous potential in training and was retired due to some untimely circumstance, usually an injury. Danzig (1977) is an excellent example. He is one of the few non-stakes winners to become an important sire, yet a review of his brief racing career shows that he was undefeated in three starts, and showed sizzling speed before an injury left his racing potential unrealized and forced his retirement to stud. This reputation is the reason why the famed Claiborne Farm risked standing him as a stallion.
An earlier example is the unraced stallion Alibhai (1938), who was imported to America as a young horse and showed brilliant speed in training, but bowed both front tendons, never to make an official start. Still, he became a leading sire of many outstanding runners in California and Kentucky.
When evaluating an unproven racehorse as a potential sire, consider the circumstances of his training. Did he show any ability, or was he just another horse? Was he a physically superior individual or was he plagued with infirmities and unsoundnesses? Were any of his physical problems due to poor conformation or genetics that might be passed on to jeopardize the soundness of his progeny? Was he an individual with a competitive spirit, or was he uninterested in racing?
Pedigree over performance
Another factor common to unproven racehorses who become successful stallions is a first class pedigree. Using the two examples above, the pedigrees of Danzig and Alibhai lacked little. Danzig was a son of the best sire of the era, Northern Dancer, and his dam was a stakes-winning sprinter. Alibhai was by the best sire in the world at the time, Hyperion, and his dam was the outstanding staying mare Teresina. There are few holes in either of these pedigrees.
Well-bred but unproven racehorses rarely begin their stud careers at the finest farms. These have already alotted stall space to well-bred successful runners. But many unraced or unplaced stallions with outstanding pedigrees are given a chance in regional breeding programs. Here, their competition usually consists of other stallions lacking something in their background, either good runners with lesser pedigrees or stallions that have disappointed when given a chance at the top and are now exiled from the top breeding centers. Well-bred but unproven racehorses can be used to improve the local pedigrees and inject class and quality to an otherwise working-class population of regional mares.
A good rule of thumb for a regional program is that unless the stallion is already a proven sire of good runners, all other things being equal, choose the stallion with the better pedigree but no race record over one with the better race record but a poorer quality pedigree. Superior genetics have a way of shining through, even if they skip a generation.
Age of parents
Statistics have indicated that a broodmare produces her best runner in her first three or four foals and that the quality of runner tends to tail off thereafter. This is not to say that an old mare can't produce a good runner, just that on average, the best runners out of a mare are usually her first three or four.
This information is more of use to buyers than breeders, since a buyer looking for a top class runner can eliminate all foals that are not in a mare's first four offspring and stand a better chance of getting a good runner than one who does not consider this age factor. On the other hand, a buyer might also get a good bargain buying a later foal out of an already proven producer of stakes winners. The runner may not be her best runner, but it will probably still be a good one.
One reason for this may be the condition of the uterus. In an old mare, the uterus does not have the same good tone as in a younger mare who has had less foals. Blood supply to the uterus may also be a declining factor in an older mare, and older mares may not be as active, which may also affect the quality of the foal in utero and once it's born. Another reason may be the age of the ova. Mares are born with all their ova, which are released singly or in small groups with every heat cycle. The ova of an older mare may experience some physical deterioration that in some way detracts from the overall vitality of the fetus and foal.
Still, a good mare is usually a good mare at any age. In fact, many "blue hen" broodmares break the rules and continue to produce top quality runners late into their careers. Somethingroyal, the dam of Secretariat, had already produced numerous top class stakes winners prior to 1970 (Sir Gaylord, First Family, Syrian Sea), and was actually 17 years old when Secretariat was conceived.
For the breeder, this information can help determine the matings for an older mare. More expensive stud fees may be more efficiently spent on a younger mare, while the older mare might be sent to a less expensive stallion who still sires winners with consistency. One might also gear an older broodmare's production toward getting replacement fillies, and so using different kinds of sires that might be desirable future "broodmare sires."
Some studies indicate that a stallion's production record also tails off late in life. This may be due in part to a decline in the quality of mares being sent to the older stallions as they become less fashionable. One theory also suggests that the DNA of the sperm cell deteriorates with age.
Given the young mare, do you also breed her to a young stallion? The rule of thumb is that one of the parents should be proven, so a young, unproven mare should be bred to a young but proven stallion. The risks of stallions succeeding are extremely high. It's better to gamble the young mare in her breeding prime with a proven sire of quality who is still in his prime rather than with an unproven sire who can drag down her breeding career before it starts.