Pattern vs. Ancestry
IBREEDING TO NORTHERN DANCER THROUGH MIXED-SEX STRAINS BELOW PAR
By Roger E. Lyons
Originally appeared in Owner Breeder journal June, 1998
No topic in thoroughbred breeding is more pervasive at the present time than
inbreeding. The conjecture that certain configurations of the male and female
strains of male and female ancestors will optimize a mare’s productivity is
especially appealing because it means that a formula for inbreeding can be
used to identify the one stallion who most comprehensively completes the
pattern. The task is a simple one, really. All that a breeder must do is select a
stallion whose ancestry fills out the pattern.
The central claim made for these patterns of inbreeding is that they have a
uniform effect, regardless of the ancestors involved. This contradicts the
principle that different ancestors have different effects, that the maintenance
of hybrid values depends upon a variety of influence.
Breeders should be mindful that the names they use to fill out the pattern
are not mere place-markers. They are not merely functions of a formula.
Rather, they are thoroughbred ancestors of vastly differentiated potential.
In a random model of breeding all ancestors would offer the same
opportunities for inbreeding, but observation of successful cases indicates
that different ancestors suggest different models of optimal expression. Some
otherwise influential ancestors are simply not suitable for inbreeding.
Inbreeding to others can be favorable, but only when descending through
certain of their offspring. Whatever stock might be placed in patterned
inbreeding must take into account the optimal expressions of particular
THE SEX OF STRAINS
How effective it is to inbreed to Buckpasser, for example, is a controversial
question. It depends on what you make of the quality and quantity of the 34
SWs so inbred. But, when you consider that 76 percent of these SWs are
inbred through all-female strains, then you get a message concerning how
Buckpasser might fit into an inbreeding pattern. The main point to be made
about this is that, on the whole, Buckpasser’s females were superior to his
males. Not a single SW is inbred to Buckpasser through all-male strains. A
further warning is implied by the fact that, of the eight SWs inbred to
Buckpasser through mixed-sex strains, seven are colts. This does not seem a
favorable model of inbreeding when you consider that your prospect of getting
a colt is only 50 percent.
Nashua’s profile is similar to that of Buckpasser, with 65 percent of the SWs
inbred to him through all-female strains and none through all-male strains.
Of all of the ancestors that might comprise the nearest inbreeding, Rough’n
Tumble is possibly the most versatile, meaning, in part, that virtually all of
the male and female strains through which he descends combine at least
tolerably with one another. In fact, inbreeding through mixed-sex strains
occurs in 75 percent of the 71 SWs inbred to him, 10 percent of these SWs
involving three strains.
Raise a Native contrasts especially with Buckpasser and Nashua in
that, of the 127 SWs inbred to him, only 33 percent involve a female strain at
all. That only two SWs are inbred to Raise a Native through all-female
strains suggests that his female strains are, on the whole, vastly inferior to
his male strains, Real Quiet notwithstanding (Meadow Blue is an
uncharacteristically viable female strain of Raise a Native).
NORTHERN DANCER'S MALE STRAINS
In view of the high frequency of Raise a Native’s male strains, it is
remarkable that Northern Dancer, the most important contemporary subject
of nearest inbreeding, is even more radically oriented towards male strains.
Only 21 percent of the 420 SWs inbred to him involve mixed-sex strains. Only
four SWs are inbred to Northern Dancer through all-female strains.
Just how superior his male strains have been is underlined by our last
survey, conducted in 1995. We compared Northern Dancer inbreeding in a
Keeneland September auction sample with its occurrence in a SW population.
In the auction sample we found that 38 percent of the cases of inbreeding to
Northern Dancer involved mixed-sex strains, compared with 20 percent in
the SW population. That is to say, the commercial opportunity of inbreeding
to Northern Dancer through mixed-sex strains far exceeded performance.
Given the unpredictable variety of thoroughbred influence, the only
amazing thing about this is that commercial breeders would have expected so
much of the female strains. The female ancestors through whom Northern
Dancer descends to contemporary runners, like the female strains of most
notable ancestors, are inferior to the male strains that breed his influence
forward. Everything about Northern Dancer’s record points to that fact--his
extraordinary record as a sire of sires, his less exalted record as a broodmare
sire, and his undistinguished record as a broodmare sire of sires. If you can
resist all of the unsubstantiated claims you have heard about the benefits of
inbreeding through strains of opposite sex, then logic must prevail upon you
to avoid inbreeding to Northern Dancer when a female strain is involved.
There are exceptions, of course. As is suggested in Table I,
Fanfreluche, Royal Statute, and Sleek Dancer do seem to stand above the
rest of the female strains. That said, inbreeding should only involve the best
strains available, and the best strains of Northern Dancer are mostly male.
NINJINSKY II PLUS ?
One other major demurrer is in order concerning the use of female
strains. In our 1995 survey, 50 percent of Northern Dancer inbreds involved
Nijinsky. That proportion has fallen--and significantly--to 45 percent, most of
the difference occurring very recently. Other strains are apparently stepping
up to approximate his function. We also noted in passing that, when a female
strain was used, Nijinsky’s frequency dropped significantly.
Nijinsky’s aversion to female strains is even more pronounced in our most
recent survey. When the 146 cases of Northern Dancer inbreds involving
Nijinsky are removed from the SW population of Northern Dancer inbreds,
then the level of inbreeding through mixed-sex strains among those that are
left rises from 20 percent to 35 percent, almost what it was in our auction
group. This happens because 91 percent of the SWs that involve Nijinsky are
inbred through all-male strains--that is, when Nijinsky is involved, the
frequency of inbreeding through mixed-sex strains is one-fourth that of the
rest of the Northern Dancer inbreds, at only nine percent. This is clear
evidence that a stallion with a female strain of Northern Dancer is an
especially low-percentage choice for a mare with the Nijinsky strain, and vice
The web site of Jack Glengarry, a New Zealand bloodstock consultant,
warns that inbreeding through all-male strains "can lead to plodding colts,"
but "the filly foals can be quite exciting." If so, then shouldn’t at least a
majority of the SWs inbred to Northern Dancer involving the Nijinsky strain
and another male strain be fillies? In fact, only 44 percent of them are fillies.
Since colts among the Northern Dancer inbreds have a majority of only one
SW, Nijinsky combined with another male strain actually decreases the
proportion of fillies.
Coincident with this, note that in Table II, the Nijinsky-Storm Bird
combination is one of the most frequent crosses among Northern Dancer
inbreds. This was predicted by Ken McLean back in 1986. None had occurred
as of our last survey, and I committed the indiscretion of theorizing about
this. On a professional level, I am taught a lesson in the fundamental
conservatism of science: never try to push a theory farther than it will go
under its own power. At a more personal level, I am reminded of the old blues
song, "Don’t Make Your Move Too Soon."
McLean is vindicated. But what was wrong with my theory reveals
something important about the broader context of Northern Dancer
influence, which will be the starting point of next month’s episode. The lesson
here is that, when inbreeding in accordance with a pattern of gender
distribution, the particular ancestors involved are crucial. The natural
proclivities of a particular ancestor, especially as regards the strains through
which the ancestor is optimally expressed, may not fulfill the requirements of
the larger pattern.
Table I: Most frequently occurring strains (4+)
Strain SWs Male Female
Nijinsky II 146 78 68
Lyphard 91 48 43
Danzig 38 22 16
Vice Regent 34 14 20
Nureyev 29 16 13
Be My Guest 22 11 11
Sadler’s Wells 20 12 8
Northfields 19 8 11
Fanfreluche 17 10 7
Storm Bird 14 6 8
The Minstrel 13 4 9
Try My Best 11 6 5
Sovereign Dancer 8 4 4
Royal Statute 8 4 4
Lomond 8 0 8
Viceregal 6 3 3
Sleek Dancer 6 3 3
Secreto 6 4 2
Northern Taste 6 5 1
Dancing Count 6 2 4
Topsider 5 1 4
Northern Answer 5 3 2
Far North 5 3 2
Fairy King 5 5 0
Rose Red 4 3 1
One For All 4 1 3
Lauries Dancer 4 1 3
Grand Chaudiere 4 2 2
Dixieland Band 4 1 3
Cool Mood 4 3 1
Table II: Most frequently occurring combinations (3+)
Nijinsky II - Lyphard 38
Nijinsky II - Danzig 14
Nijinsky II - Nureyev 12
Nijinsky II - Vice Regent 9
Lyphard - Danzig 8
Nijinsky II - Storm Bird 7
Nijinsky II - Northfields 6
Lyphard - Sadler’s Wells 6
Nijinsky II - Sadler’s Wells 5
Lyphard - Nureyev 5
Lyphard - Be My Guest 5
Nijinsky II - Be My Guest 5
Nureyev - Northfields 4
Nijinsky II - Lomond 4
Vice Regent - Cool Mood 4
Nijinsky II - Secreto 3
Nijinsky II - Sovereign Dancer 3
Nijinsky II - Northern Taste 3
Lyphard - Try My Best 3
Lyphard - Lomond 3
Copyright © 1998 Roger E. Lyons.
Web queries should be directed to CompuSire's WebMaster.