Archive for June, 2012

In my previous post I listed 3 ways to help decide whether a sire carries the “X factor”. I should have included a 4th bullet point:

  • From his pedigree. The presence of commonly agreed ‘X factor’ damsires in his maternal lines, and the production record of his dam, grandam and great-grandam will also indicate whether a sire has increased chance of carrying the X factor himself. It is more certain if his maternal line production statistics show a higher proportion of foals to starters/winners (and good winners), but also if the mare did this with a range of sires rather than just one, and if the successful horses are colts as well as fillies. This indicates that the X chromosone she contributes may be a dominant one and carrying quality genes. A sire that is a “one off” superb horse but  not supported by some strong production statistics in his previous 2 or 3 maternal generations is much more of a gamble. Flashing Red would be an extreme example of this – a fantastic horse himself, but walking a fairly thin pedigree line.

However even with all the indicators flicking brightly, a sire can still be a disappointment at stud. This may be a result of getting mares with the wrong gene pool to complement his, or because of some other attribute he often passes on (fizzy temperament, conformation fault, lack of mental toughness, or just leaving bigger types that will take a lot of time to strength and mature).

So the X factor is just one of the things that go into the mix.

Refer to the articles that Ray Chaplin and I put together on Rich N Elegant and her siring sons for an example of this puzzle.

I’m not an expert in this at all, and I would love to hear from others who have more experience than I do – do you think the X factor is over-rated? What is the importance of heart size in today’s harness racing?

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Question came in recently from Kevin:  “I am looking for a list of Sires that carry the X Factor..Is there one, and where would i find it.”

I’d be interested in what others think or lists that people have found useful, but here is my views on the topic:

I don’t know of any list of standardbred sires that claims to identify current sires that carry the X factor. I am aware that Marianna Haun has published a list of galloping sires in her book “Understanding the Power of the X factor”, but she carefully defines what the list is – basically some current thoroughbred sires that possibly carry specific important heartlines and trace back to Eclipse (who was born in 1764) (See page 80 of her book).

It would be possible to do something similar for trotting and pacing, and there may be some pedigree/breeding consultancy services that will have databases that allow them to factor this into their evaluations of sires, damsires and mares. Such a list would be possible by either by tracing pedigrees back to Eclipse’s standardbred descendants or by listing current sires who are underpinned by proven producing mares and damsires – the great trotting and pacing families of the modern era.

There are pedigrees like that which maximise the chances of a sire inheriting a large heart. However even those lines can over time become diluted if mares are not matched with compatible sires that ‘bring out the best’ the mare has to offer and keep carryng those quality genes forward. Families “go off the boil” for a time, and often branches of them simply peter out. Even when matches are well considered, there is an element of ‘russian roulette’ about which X chromosome a foal will inherit.

In my view it is not as simple as labelling sires as ‘big hearted’ or not. The X factor usually refers to abnormally larger hearts, exceptional hearts. I’m not sure that an abnormally large heart is the ‘pot of gold’ some people think it is. In terms of heart scores, is a horse with an exceptional 150 score necessarily going to be that much better as a racehorse than one with a very good score of 120?  As in motor-racing, the car with the biggest engine has an advantage, but many other factors make a winner.

How can you tell if a sire potentially carries a large-heart gene?

  • From their performance on the track. All other things being equal, big hearted horses have had a real advantage on the racetrack, and thus are more likely to achieve the consistent top level “stand out” racing performances that are required to become a commercial sires these days.
  • From their performance in the breeding barn, those sires will soon start to build a reputation as a sire of good fillies, not just of colts.
  • And in the longer run, from their performance as damsires, leaving females that go on to be good broodmares of both male and female offspring.

By their deeds you will know them – although it is much harder to gauge new boys hot off the track, as the more reliable signs will only be apparent later.

Some horses (male and female) will never get the chance to pass on their big heart genes because for some other reason they did not show enough potential as a racehorse or their family is not commercial enough.

A list of sires only tells half the story. If you agree that the big heart gene is carried on the X chromosome, then the mares served by a sire play a huge role in carrying and passing on good heart lines.

Firstly, if the larger heart gene is sex-specific (i.e. carried on the X chromosome) then a sire cannot pass this larger heart to his sons. Male foals are the product of a Y chromosome from their sires and an X chromosome from their dams. So the idea that In The Pocket passed on his own heart size to Courage Under Fire and Christian Cullen, for example, doesn’t stand up.

On the other hand, female foals receive an X chromosome from both parents. One of these is likely to be dominant or “expressed”.  It may (or may not) be one that carries a larger heart gene. A larger heart gene could be on the X chromosome from the sire (from his dam), or it could be on one or both of the two X chromosomes the mare carries. This is what is referred to as a single copy or double copy mare.

Marianna Haun explains this really well in Chapter 9 of Looking for the Great Heart (in “Understanding the Power of the X factor”) and describes how to look for the signs of the X factor in the productions statistics of mares and sires.

So there are no guarantees even by breeding a filly from a sire that is carrying a large heart gene, that the foal will express that gene. But of course it does help your chances.

My previous blogs about Nedda, Nedda Guy, Esther, Volomite and the link back to Eclipse might show an example of how quality lines and big hearts can endure through many generations and pop up in modern pedigrees in different places.

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Cambridge Raceway, New Zealand on Jewels Day 2012

Cambridge Raceway, on Jewels Day 2012

Cambridge turned on a nearly perfect day weatherwise for the Harness Racing Jewels –  a few records tumbled, a couple of favourites stumbled, and overall it was a fitting climax for the racing season.

Yes, the course, distance and the draw can combine with little luck in the running and the fact that some of these horses are coming to the end of a pretty big season… and I don’t think anyone would claim that the Jewels winners are necessary the best of the best horses taken over the full season. But the winners can say they beat the top earners in their age group in one of the real tests of speed, on the day that it mattered. Congratulations to them and their trainers, owners and breeders.

The shocks – Bettor Cover Lover being beaten, Gold Ace scratched, and Ideal Scott fading out.

The highlights for me?

A 2yo trot where,  although some made mistakes, the improving quality and class of young trotters made for an excellent race. Big, bold Royal Aspirations (Monarchy-Aspiring Gal-Sundon) was dominant – fantastic feat by trainer Fred Fletcher, and a lovely confident drive from Sam Smolenski.

The similarly dominating, crushing run by Smolda (Courage Under Fire-Under the Mattress-Safely Kept)  in the last race – and a NZ record of 1.52.17. By then the beautiful sunshine had clouded over and the temperature had dropped by about 5 degrees. Some of the crowd had already left, and what a race they missed! Smolda took on Ideal Scott, and couldn’t get the lead, but sat parked, challenged again, and won. On that speed, absolutely TOUGH!

Two other runs caught my eye in terms of  horses who had to do it so tough and still ran on bravely for a place… Cheer The Lady’s run for 3rd in the 3yo fillies Diamond from draw 13 and parked wide without cover for a significant time. And I understand she was pulling a flat tyre for the last 800m. Gutsy! Likewise Border Control’s run from draw 6, parked out and having to come wide and yet made considerable ground in the straight. There were several more – interested to get comments from those who noticed some “wow” moments.

Now looking at the breeding of those who came 1st, 2nd or 3rd in their age/sex race:

Here’s a quirky one – Safely Kept appears as a damsire of the 3yo pacing colts and geldings winner (Smolda) and the 3yo trotters winner (Cyclone U Bolt) – Safely Kept was a sire able to leave good quality in both gaits over the course of his career, but never had many foals here, so a quite remarkable feat to pull off as a broodmare sire on one day of top racing!

Trotting 2yos – 1st and 2nd places taken by horses sired by Monarchy (out of  Sundon and  Yankee Reb mares) and Monarchy doesn’t really have a rep as a sire of young trotters. And in the trotting 3yos Ruby – 1st and 2nd places taken by horses sired by Dream Vacation (out of Safely Kept and Sundon mares).

Bettor’s Delight sired the 1st, 2nd and 3rd placegetters in the pacing 4yo mares Diamond (out of Christian Cullen, What’s Next and Save Fuel mares), as well as siring the 3rd horse in the 2yo fillies Diamond (from a Holmes Hanover mare), the 3rd horse in the 3yo Diamond (from an Albert Albert mare). Bettor’s Delight also sired the 1st and 3rd placed horses in the colts and geldings 2yo Emerald (out of Butler BG and Artsplace mares) and the 3rd placegetter in the 3yo Emerald (out of a Frugal Gourmet mare). The conclusion I’m drawing here is not just the class of Bettor’s Delight as a sire (particularly in races that need speed and huge desire to win) but that he is doing such a great job as a sire with a wide range of mares/damsires.

Unfashionable damsires to poke their noses into a win or place were Jaguar Spur, Albert Albert and Frugal Gourmet. You just never know – and I kinda like that!

No space here to put the full results, but those reading this can find all the details including the breeding of each horse on the HRNZ website (see the link on the right side bar of my blog)under the Results/Cambridge page.

The only quibble I had about the whole day, is that lack of real “event buzz” on course, and that might partly be the laid back Kiwi nature, or the pleasure of relaxing in the sunshine…but it did feel more like a highly successful “Summer at the Races” event rather than the Jewels. There was an absence of bright buntings, active compere on course, and I didn’t even spot signs in Cambridge township pointing to the event.  I felt a cheery local band playing some live jazz would have kept the crowd warm between races when the day started to cloud over. But those were minor quibbles on a great day. I am sure lessons can be learnt to keep this great concept buzzing into the future.

PS  What was the name of that Pizza stand again? They were scrumptious! Italian pizza base, real fresh basil…Yum!

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