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Archive for June, 2010

One possible source of good breeding advice is experienced, successful New Zealand breeders.

Studholme Bloodstock’s Brian West and Alta Dream Lodge’s Tony and Val Dickinson kindly give their advice and thoughts about breeding, pedigree matching .  I regard both of them as successful breeders because (going right back to my very first blog) they have thought long and hard about the “U” part of the equation – what they are trying to achieve. For example, Tony is measuring his success less by the immediate financial returns at the yearling sales and more but the outcome on the racetrack when the horse matures. Brian has a strong sense of what sires are trending commercially but not at the cost of compatibility with the mare’s pedigree and type.

Bee: Have you ever used a breeding consultant or consultancy as one of the inputs when you are deciding a match or assessing a potential broodmare purchase? If so, was it helpful and was the result successful?

Tony: Yes, I do use a consultant but only to analyse the progeny pedigree (filly or colt) for stallions I have already shortlisted for other reasons, e.g. size, conformation, fee, stud performance etc.

Brian: No. But I have talked to Jim Dalgety many times over the years as a mentor and he has been very helpful. He is an incredibly knowledgeable man, who deserves far more recognition for what he’s contributed to our industry.

Bee: Do you think breeding/pedigree consultants are a rip off or a waste of money?

Tony: Of course they are not a rip off – any help from this quarter is useful and it is up to the breeder to decide how much weight to attach to the advice.

Brian: As long as the person’s credentials are okay, it’s not a bad idea at all. Breeders can always do their own research if they have the time. But if you are new to the business (and it is a high-risk industry) you need as much advice as you can get.

Bee: What advice would you give to someone who was considering using a breeding or pedigree consultant?

Tony: Beware of pedigree analysis which delves deeply into obscure family history simply to reinforce the consultant’s own preference for certain sires or sire lines. In years gone by, stallion owners were quick to debunk theories, such as cycle breeding, genetic sibling matches, ‘golden’ crosses and so on, when their stallions did not suit the theories. This doesn’t happen much now because fewer and bigger stud farms have an array of stallions to cover most eventualities. But it was certainly prevalent around the time that John Gaines famously referred to breeding consultants as ‘charlatans’ as he looked to protect his extensive interests in the horse industry.

Brian: Find out what they have bred of note, or what they have suggested to others and why they chose that sire. If they are putting themselves up as an expert you would expect to see some success in their own breeding decisions.

Bee: Do you use any standard breeding theories in making your sire selections (e.g. line breeding, outcrossing, x factor, returning to the sire the best blood of his dam, etc)?

Tony: I am very much influenced by the need to replicate famous matriarch blood, particularly if it sits in the pedigree where the x factor can be transferred to the progeny.

Brian: I tend to look for a total outcross or 4×4 to Meadow Skipper or a combination of that. But in terms of advice to others, I suggest a good place to start is to print out the pedigrees of the top 10 or preferably top 20 two and three year old horses in a season. Study the pedigrees closely and you will start to see what might work, and identify some of the ‘nicks’ that are successful.

Bee: What do you think of the saying: “Breed the best to the best and hope for the best?”

Tony: Alright, as far as it goes, but that’s not far enough in my view. Every breeding theory can be justified in some way. However, nothing substitutes for good hard research into a mare’s family history and the proposed consort/s race and stud performance and pedigree compatibility. An orderly, considered approach beats the random method of sire selection.

Brian: It’s a cop out. As you go on, you reach other conclusions.
Bee: When you select a sire for your commercial broodmares, what factors are most important to you: (Possibly all of them, but what 2 or 3 are most important?)

A. Likely commercial appeal of sire.
B. Pedigree compatibility on paper.
C. Physical type complements mare’s type.
D. Sire’s reputation regarding type he leaves (physical and/or temperament)
E. Service fee
F. Similar pedigree matches are successful (in that family, as ‘golden crosses’, or in a top race horse/s)
G. Sire is proven.
H. Other

Tony: Physical type complements the mare. Service fee.

Brian: Pedigree compatibility on paper. Sire is proven (sire line successful, he performed as a 2yo and 3yo, and he has had success as a sire). Physical type complements mare. Service fee.

Bee: Any other comments about approaches to breeding that you feel strongly about?

Tony: The commercial appeal of a sire is important, but we don’t let that consideration over-ride our desire to breed top performing racehorses – as distinct from breeding yearlings (remember, there are no races for yearlings!) If we bred solely with the yearling sales in mind, we enter the ‘fashion fickle stakes’ wherein a popular stallion today may be out of favour in two years just when the yearling goes on the market. We look to create a point of difference, patronizing a mix of sought-after sires and new, unproven sires for our mares where we are convinced that the resultant mating is in the best interests of the foal making it to the racetrack.

Brian: You do have sires that serve you well, and mares or families that serve you well. In terms of mares, I’ve got about 30 mares at the moment and at least 10 of them are from the Dream Bel family. And for sires, early on Soky Atom was a sire I really went for. I’ve had a go with some of the good Australian-based ones in the past, like Walton Hanover and Village Jasper, but they didn’t sell well here. You learn as you go. Usually I prefer proven sires, but I will take a punt on a third year sire which might be at a slightly reduced fee because that’s the year they can struggle to get mares. And I will take a punt on a new sire if he meets most of what I want. I can take those risks with some of my mares because I have the numbers.  I usually make a longish short-list at the beginning of the season, then reduce to about 5 or 6 sires.

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Breeding can be a pleasurable hobby, and checking potential sires is one aspect that many breeders enjoy doing themselves. If you are really interested in beating the odds, selecting a sire with a pedigree to match your mare needs careful consideration and, yes, research. 

Everyone is happy to give their advice, for free. “It’s the same cross as Auckland Reactor, you can’t go wrong.” “Try Under A Plum Tree. He’ll give you a 7x7x8x5 to Michaelmas Daisy.” Or in my case, “You’d be mad not to go back to McArdle.”

There’s no shortage of sires to ponder over – including a stallion called Ponder!

Pedigree matching has become a bit of an industry, with theories, books, software programmes and consultancies. There’s plenty of material about pedigree theories and lots of pedigree charts on Tesio or the HRNZ website to study in the wee small hours if you can’t get to sleep. I often tuck up in bed with John Bradley!*

But how many of us feel confident that we understand the significance of what we are reading?

And which, if any, of the theories has been proven to work in practice?

Where can you get good advice – and is it worth paying for it?

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