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Distancing Dosage


By Roger Lyons
This article was originally titled "Dosage for Dummies." That was before we were informed that IDG Books has, by way of a carefully orchestrated trademark application blitz, virtually removed the ordinary words "for dummies" from possible use in titles. So we changed the title of this article.

       The little yellow-and-black manuals (for Dummies) published by IDG Books have become as popular among computer users as Cliff's Notes (same color) are among undergraduates. The concept is that, even if you have only a superficial understanding, you can probably muddle through on that. To breeders who use the Roman dosage method as their guide, some caution is in order. Whether taking a short-cut around technology, Moby Dick, or understanding Thoroughbred aptitudes, one is bound to miss something of importance. It's a matter of priorities.
       Why CompuSire does not subscribe to the Roman method of identifying aptitudinal type is illustrated by a recent article by Ed Fountaine in his "Bloodlines" column of Daily Racing Form, in which Fountaine examines the case of Secretariat, who is not a chef de race in the Roman system of dosage. Fountaine consults with Steven Roman "seeking to clarify why Secreatariat has not yet been classified as a chef de race despite his obvious impact on the breed." He quotes Roman at length, but the gist of it is captured by Roman's observation that "nothing sticks out at you that says he (Secretariat) is either a staying influence or a speed influence."
       What sticks out here very conspicuously is Roman's insistence upon reducing Thoroughbred aptitudinal possibility to a simple ratio of speed and stamina, which he treats as a function of distance. This defines the singular function of the Roman method, which is to identify the distance at which a runner is likely to perform best.
       One problem with Roman's method as an information resource for breeders is that it begs the question of the ancestor's actual aptitudinal contribution. Most people take Roman's dosage formulations to be derived from the chefs de race in a pedigree. In fact, however, Roman's method works in just the opposite way. He admittedly derives chef-de-race designations from his distance-based formulas. Whatever aptitude yields formulations that best accord with thet winning distances of runners with the ancestor in their pedigrees is what ends up being the chef-de-race designation for that ancestor. In Roman's view, Secretariat is not needed as a chef de race because the dosage formulations of his runners already correspond with the distances at which they win.
       Whether that is truly the case or not, his method is generally functional within a limited handicapping context, but only because he argues the premises (chef-de-race designations) from the conclusions (dosage formulations). The classifications are rigged to fit the formulations.
       A systematic consequence of Roman's method, therefore, is that the aptitudes of quite a number of chefs de race are incorrectly represented by their formulated designations. That is why CompuSire recognizes the chef-de-race designations made by Owner-Breeder. That journal designates chefs de race on the basis of a broad exmination of stud record and under advisement by an appointed committee of people who are interested in, and informed about, the fine points of Thoroughbred aptitude from the perspective of breeding interests, rather than handicapping interests.
       Secretariat's influence, as Roman observes, is not oriented especially towards speed or stamina, but to say that he makes no distinctive aptitudinal contribution contradicts both intuition and science. Owner-Breeder recognizes him as an intermediate/solid chef de race (see Robert D. Fierro, "Secretariat, the Solid Mixer," Owner-Breeder, August 1995, the most enlightened and enlightening analysis ever written about Secretariat's influence). This classification acknowledges his similarity with his own broodmare sire Princequillo, who was also a great broodmare sire of sires; and it reflects both Secretariat's ability to cross favorably with a wide variety of types and the characteristically agonistic manner in which his descendents perform in competition. Roman's method, oriented strictly towards ratios of speed and stamina, cannot capture either the intermediate or the solid aptitudes. Speed and stamina are useful descriptors of individual Thoroughbred performance, but the competence that is inherent in the nature, origins, and development of the breed encompasses a range of specialized aptitudes that interact with one another in complex and not altogether predictable ways.
       CompuSire provides the familiar dosage formulations on the basis of Owner-Breeder's chef-de-race assignments, but it is a mistake for a breeder to be preoccupied with these formulations. Understanding the aptitudinal contributions of individual influences in pedigrees and the ways in which they are likely to interact is what really matters. A mare should be bred to the stallion who contributes the aptitudes that will complement the type of horse she is most likely to produce. If this requirement is fulfilled, then the dosage will be right, no matter what the formulations might indicate about optimal distance.
       [Note: Since the publication of this article, Roman has made Secretariat an intermediate/classic chef de race. Go figure.]

Copyright © 1998 Roger E. Lyons
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