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Posts Tagged ‘pedigree matching’

I want to sing the praises of pacing stallion Shadow Wave, born 1955 and died 18 years later.

Shadow Wave's grave

Shadow Wave's grave

His gravestone records him thus:
SHADOW WAVE P3 1.56 3/5
WORLD CHAMPION THREE YEAR OLD
GREAT SIRE OF SPEED
GENTLE INTELLIGENT STALLION

“Gentle and intelligent” – those words tell us a lot about the horse, and the love and respect he had from those who managed him.

He was a chestnut with distinctive markings – four white socks and a prominent blaze the full length of his face. I’ll come back to that shortly. The only pictures I’ve sourced of Shadow Wave are the two in John Bradley’s wonderful book “Modern Pacing Sire Lines” which also records detail about his racing career, his breeding and his offspring. Bradley describes him as “a lanky, attractive chestnut” who “has added strength to pedigrees and is a very positive influence.”

Shadow Wave, from John Bradley's book

Shadow Wave

Shadow Wave was a son of Adios. He was unraced as a 2yo but went on to be a top performer at 3yo – the winner 20 races including The Little Brown Jug and named World Champion. He left plenty of good, fast horses, but no sires that carried on his line, which is how sires are judged. However his legacy really comes as a damsire and as a source of quality genes that, given the right conditions, can carry his influence over an extended number of generations.

He’s not Mr Fixit. But he is a strong integral part of a lovely fair-isle knitting pattern of breeding I am trying to create (I say “try” because there are no instant guarantees, given the nature of nature). He is a strong coloured yarn held behind the pattern and ready to be introduced to make an impact. Hang onto your knitting needles!

Shadow Wave’s strong white blaze is unusual in top sires, and distinctive white face markings pop up in some of his top progeny and their descendants. Is this a sign of the strength of his influence, sometimes over several generations?

New York Motoring, distinctive star to blaze to snip markings

Take a look at these sires and offspring who have become part of the outstanding Zenover family and its different branches in recent times – they all have Shadow Wave genes – speed and strength. This family really appreciates Shadow Wave – and the feeling is mutual.

New York Motoring (sire of Interchange and Zenola Star) Shadow Wave is his damsire.
Payson’s Brother (mated with Interchange and grandsire of Copper Beach) Shadow Wave link through the sire line of No Nukes.

Payson's Brother

Payson's Brother - his sire is No Nukes who is by Oil Burner out of Shadow Wave mare

Elsu (son of Interchange). New York Motoring is his damsire.
Destination Moon (Grinfromeartoear son of Zenterfold). Shadow Wave appears twice in his  pedigree, once in his sire’s and once – via New York Motoring – in his dam’s.

Just to highlight Shadow Wave’s influence on the world-wide stage, amongst his filly foals were Dottie Shadow (dam of Oil Burner, $535,541), Tiny Wave (dam of Big Towner, $547,126), Ingenue (dam of Falcon Almahurst, $400,776), Real Hilarious (grandam of Die Laughing ($2,164,386) and also of Go for Grins ($302,003)), and Resourceful (grandam of Armbro Operative ($1,012,712).
Elsu

Elsu - son of Interchange

Shadow Wave is also the sire of Peaches N Cream, who is the dam of New York Motoring ($230,492) and Happy Motoring ($538.495), two well performed brothers by Most Happy Fella who are influential as sires and damsires in their own right. Happy Motoring pops up as the sire of On the Road Again ($2,819,102), and the grand-damsire of Pacific Rocket ($2,333,401). New York Motoring is the damsire of Elsu ($2,083,352), and the grand-damsire of Tintin in America ($934, 305).

Of course Oil Burner turned out to be the sire of No Nukes, and so brought Shadow Wave’s influence into many modern pedigrees.

Destination Moon as a foal - Grinfromeartoear from Zenterfold

New York Motoring was a prominent sire in New Zealand through the 1990s and therefore Shadow Wave is included in many mares’ pedigrees in New Zealand.

Shadow Wave’s appearance in the pedigrees of Panorama and Safely Kept means he is also poking his white-blazed nose into many quality Australian pedigrees as well.

More recently, Shadow Wave has appeared though Shifting Sands and Blue Horizon and Tiny Wave in the maternal lines of sires available in New Zealand, Australia and North America – Real Desire, Red River Hanover, Mach Three and of course Grinformeartoear. New sires with double ups of Shadow Wave include Artistic Fella and Shadow Play. You can see from all these sires that the white face and sock markings are often not present, but having Shadow Wave in the background may mean they pop up in some of these sires’ progeny in a “where on earth did that come from?” moment.

So while Shadow Wave may not have ‘created waves’ as a sire of sires, he has been – and is still – a very positive influence in the pedigrees of many horses today.

He is one of those sires whose genes seem to “punch above their weight” and blend well with other influential (not necessarily the most obvious or modern) genes. He was known for working well with mares of his time from trotting lines. He seems to love finding his own sire Adios and some of the great old bloodlines that New Zealand breeders access through Tar Heel, Albatross, Good Time and others.

I don’t believe in double ups for their own sake, but Shadow Wave is a sire who thrives on meeting himself in a pedigree, and can influence through maternal and sire lines equally.

If he’s there, he adds value. And this can be reinforced by breeding choices.

Those white markings are a lovely reminder of  the continuing influence of this gentle and intelligent stallion.

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We can become familiar with the most common breeding theories, and use free Tesio pedigree charts on the studs’ websites to look at a future foal’s family tree.

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

A Tesio chart is like getting a contour map of 50 hectares. It might identify some key features and the slopes, but it doesn’t tell you the climate or soil type or what has been proven grow most successfully on similar blocks of land across the country, or where potential springs of Contour mapwater might be hiding.

It gives you useful data, it identifies double ups, and it points you towards some classic mares. Is that enough?

So there are some good reasons to get advice from a breeding or pedigree consultant, or others who can shed light on the basic contour map of a pedigree chart:
• to save you the time it takes to do extensive research
• to access information not easily available to you
• to identify successful patterns
• to spot small but significant ingredients
• to get advice that is outside immediate fashions and opinions. 

I don’t take anything as ‘gospel’ – but it all adds to my knowledge and ability to hopefully breed more successfully. And it’s certainly more interesting that putting on a blindfold and sticking a tale on the donkey!

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I believe that genetic traits can endure through many generations, if they are kept strong by correct matching. That depends on whether the breeder helps increase the odds by putting pedigree matching as one (not the only) factor into sire selection.

This is the approach of Equinex Breeding Service Ltd, the Australian pedigree consultancy I’ve used on several occasions as one part of selecting a sire. Mike and Ricky Goode are quick to acknowledge all the factors that go into producing a good racehorse including conformation and a good feeding regime for the mare and foal, but their service advices on one key factor – the genetic capacity of a breeding match to produce a quality offspring, specifically a match that maximizes your chances of getting a performance enhanced X chromosome from the sire or dam.

They use an extensive computer database of horses, both good and poor performers, to evaluate what is a poor, fair, good, very good or excellent genetic source for any horse (standardbred or thoroughbred) in the world. They assess your mare’s genetic strength and where it lies, i.e. her X chromosome sources from her paternal and maternal sides, and then search for stallions that have ‘genetic affinity’ with those sources. This affinity, they say, increases the chance of inheriting her excellent X chromosome source. Without this, you are pretty much “subject to the random and lucky spin of the genetic wheel”. It’s an opportunity to reduce the odds of breeding to a genetic source that doesn’t complement your mares and will in fact weaken the genetic structure of your breed in future.

The fact Equinex is based in Australia doesn’t bother me a bit. I am not looking for local knowledge, but rather for unbiased advice based on analysis and comparisons of a huge number of pedigrees that I have neither the time nor resources to examine. You need to set clear parameters about the commercial nature of the sire or his location so you don’t get a recommendation for a sire that isn’t available or is not commercial here – but that’s just an indication that they are evaluating purely on genetic structure and compatibility.

Another Australian based pedigree consultancy I’ve used is the online service http://www.equineexcellence.biz. They also focus on the Jim Squires’ elements – a sound and persistent genetic structure and the importance of the maternal contribution, but acknowledge the need for the breeder to look at other key factors like conformation and temperament. Like Equinex Breeding, they place importance on the X chromosome. The company has a matrix of factors that have helped them develop an algorithm they can run through their database that will identify genetic excellence characteristics in your mare and a range of potential suitors, and hopefully “genetic excellence affinity © “ between particular  recommended sires and your dam.

A load of codswallop? Are they taking your cash in exchange for mere opinions or weird theories they don’t have to explain? Or are they experts who can give you insights well beyond your own reach – the baking powder for your cake?

Both these consultancies have websites that explain their approach in more detail. The low cost discussion papers put out by http://www.equineexcellence.biz are provocative reading and show the emphasis they place on research and hard evidence. If you have an open mind, they will take you to some interesting places!

In both cases, you can get information directly relevant to your mare/s for around $300 to $500 – about the same as a working fee or the GST on your stud fee. A frustration arises from the commercial nature of their businesses which prevents them from sharing the detail at the heart of their analysis of a match, the specifics of a “genetic affinity”. But returning to the cooking analogy – it’s no different from buying KFC and getting a box of fried chicken but not the secret recipe for the herbs and spices.

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(The art and science of breeding Part 3 of 3)

There’s a lot of wisdom in the so-called feminine arts that provide a nice counterweight to the strutting PR about a sire’s performance on the track and the endless rankings based on ‘my season earnings are bigger than your season’s earnings.”

In Jim Squires’ foreword in “Racehorse Breeding Theories” he writes:
“A quarter of a century of personal unraveling has yielded only a few precious strings to which to cling: one, that genetic traits can indeed persist through many generations, not just two or three; that mating solely or even mainly on the basis of pedigree without physical consideration of the two animals is idiocy; and that the importance of females has been and continues to be vastly underestimated in the equine world.”

Let’s look at his first and third ‘strings’ – persistent genetic traits and important females. It’s good that he talks about strings and unraveling, because it leads me nicely into knitting. Yes, knitting.

fairisle knittingWhen I’m studying pedigrees I keep in mind the art of fair isle knitting.

That’s the traditional style used in jumpers, vests and hats where different coloured yarns form patterned bands.

The knitter uses ‘active’ colours while other colours are simply held behind the piece, carried as a loose strand of wool yarn and introduced when the pattern requires it.

On the right side is a highly structured and balanced pattern that creates an overall impact – stunning.

On the reverse side it looks almost messy. You can see individual coloured threads weaving in and out, some of them looped along a row, held back and waiting to add their unique element to the pattern again. 

Two yarns can form a striking pattern if they complement each other, and other colours can be kept going in the background and reintroduced at the right time to lift the pattern to another level or form a new one.

I have a liking for certain strong maternal lines and the great broodmare sires associated with them – the wonderful McKinney sisters, Spinster, Old Maid and Breath o Spring, the underestimated Nedda, and of course Leta Long and Meadow Cheer amongst others.

These are mares and families that have had a genetic influence way beyond their own lifetime. They are ‘persistent’, like the coloured yarns the knitter holds loosely at the back waiting to reintroduce into the pattern.

There are more modern broodmare gems that are developing powerful maternal lines, although unlocking their potential can be a puzzle –Lismore/Lisheen, Three Diamonds and Rich N Elegant come to mind as wonderful maternal lines of recent sires whose genetic potential we are have struggled to activate in New Zealand, yet. (In a later I’ll examine the ‘rich and elegant’ puzzle in more depth).

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(The art and science of breeding Part 2 of 3)

In my view, there is no “magic bullet” for successful pedigree matching. It always amuses me how double ups are bolded in the Sales catalogue pedigrees, as if that somehow signaled a highly significant factor we should automatically pay more for. In some cases, maybe. But often not.

My personal approach is to look for things that are complementary rather than the same – “what likes what” rather than “like with like”.

It’s a bit like cooking.

You don’t really need to follow a strict recipe for a good fruitcake. If you gather the basic ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, butter, and dried fruit) in the right proportions you can put a cake together. The cake is the result of mixing things that aren’t the same, but complement each other. The total is greater than the sum of its parts.

Too much liquid and it won’t set. Too much flour and it will crumble. Increasing one good ingredient a lot can throw the ‘whole’ out of balance.

In breeding terms, doubling up a recognised genetic speed factor may reduce stamina or increase risky temperament traits, and inbreeding or loading up with a common dominant sire may demand subsequent outcross breeding to get a family back in balance.

Getting your proportions right and blending them into a consistent mixture is vital for success. In this fruitcake analogy, the main ‘ingredients’ might be all the factors you put into your breeding decision mix.

For me, that means conformation, character, commercial factors, family performance, and pedigree, with commercial factors being the ‘sugar’ content I can reduce if I need to go ‘lite’ for financial reasons. If you are focusing on pedigree matching alone, these main ‘ingredients’ might be more specific phenotype and genotype inputs such as speed, gait, stamina, or perhaps so-called golden crosses or perhaps relative positions within the proposed family tree e.g. 4x4x4 to Meadow Skipper, or the Rasmussen theory, or specific dam or sire lines you want to include.

You are focused on proportions and achieving a certain balance when complementary things are combined.

However there’s more to a fruitcake than those obvious ingredients. It will turn out flat and tasteless without some small but vital items – a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of baking powder, or a dash of vanilla and almond essences.

These are the things that will lift your cake to another level (literally, in the case of baking powder!) 

In breeding terms, these small but key ingredients are what I want to find when I go looking for what ‘nicks’ with what, and when I learn that a sire stamps his foals with a longer stride or a mental toughness or better bone density, or when I use a new feeding programme that gives foals a stronger foundation.

You might seek those ingredients from an “instant packet” (a breeding consultant’s or other expert’s recommendations) or from reading lots of recipe books (study and research) or by developing your own highly tuned taste buds (your own breeding theory or intuition), it doesn’t matter. In the end, the proof of the fruitcake is in the eating.

And that is why breeding successful racehorses is a fascinating challenge and the search for the right ingredients continues.

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(The art and science of breeding Part 1 of 3) There are some breeders who pay scant attention to pedigree matching and believe it is less scientific than pinning the tail on the donkey.

Maybe. But evolution tells us one thing very clearly – genes do matter.
Like most things, in my view, there’s a bit of science and a bit of art in breeding.

The ‘science’ part is relatively straightforward. Science informs the advice we get about what we feed our mares and foals, health issues, fertility, biomechanics and so on. There is also a wealth of hard statistical data on the relative success of sires, progeny percentages, and so on. Add to that an impressive array of breeding theories that have some decent research behind them – such as the theory that large heart genes are carried on the X chromosome, and consequent debate about whether a large heart is vitally important for the type of short distance speed racing we are increasingly preparing horses for.

Frank Mitchell’s easy to digest book “Racehorse Breeding Theories” summarises many of the key breeding theories that use a ‘scientific’ approach (i.e. rigorous research and working methodically with data to try to find results that are repeatable – a system for success).

Don’t skip over the foreword to this book, written by Jim Squires of Kentucky. It is a beautiful statement of the huge gap that is still left between the search for scientific evidence and the actual breeding of a brilliant race horse.

Right now I am going to divert into a couple of weird and wonderful analogies that illustrate the balancing science and art when it comes to breeding – and the importance of not underestimating small ingredients that punch above their weight.

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