Apr 1, 2021

By Terry Kennedy

When it comes to purchasing a yearling at sale, the horse’s pedigree should be a consideration but it shouldn’t be your only one. With the 2021 Inglis Yearling Sale only 2 weeks away we follow up our discussion on understanding the pedigree page with some tricky questions about other contributing factors to finding a great yearling.

It wasn’t too long ago you would have heard “breed the best to the best and hope for the best” in thoroughbred breeding circles. And it is that old adage that has driven the general misbelief that horse racing at the top level is only available to the very wealthy who can afford the associated price tag of the best of the best.

However, if you enjoy breeding conversation you will know the famous trainer D.Wayne Lukas who started the swing away from “pedigree only” when he began purchasing yearlings based on looks plus pedigree and shocked his competitors with an unprecedented winning streak of black type races in North America.

It seems this has been somewhat confirmed with studies from University of Kentucky Department of Veterinary Science likening performance from breeding to a rubix cube. At best “scientific studies have estimated the heritability of racing performance in the Thoroughbred and concluded that genetics contributes 35-50% to performance.”

So then what makes up the remaining 50-65%?

If you could answer this question you would be considered a genius! As it is the elusive mix that makes thoroughbred racing such an addictive past time and provides a surprisingly level playing field. A place where battler and Sheik have been known to regularly meet.

Just look at super mare Winx. She has genes on her side but Waller openly admitted he never realised what a champion Winx was until she became one. Jockey Hugh Bowman also admits he didn’t initially recognise Winx’s emerging champion qualities.

In fact, prior to Winx’s first Cox Plate, Bowman had considered riding stablemate Preferment over Winx.

Winx was purchased at the 2013 Magic Millions Gold Coast Yearling sale for $230,000. You can still review her pedigree page from that sale.

Australian breeders can be said to put emphasis on the horse being a reasonable size, with strong straight legs, clean joints and a good amount of muscle to make up this 50-65%. With the most common goal to build a higher proportion of fast twitch muscle fibres which are responsible for power and speed: particularly over shorter distances. This can be linked to some of the richer races in Australia being over the 1200m-1600m distance.

This becomes the territory of the bloodstock advisor and what the trainer can work with. An intelligent and bright head might forgive less straight legs or a big yearling could have extra room for a strong heart and lung. The Racing League believes in understanding the impact these faults might have and works closely with the trainer to consider the best combination.