Federico Tesio, the Wizard of Dormello, is generally regarded as the greatest breeder the world has known. Tesio once said that the edifice of racing was built on the twin pillars of the Racing Calendar and the Stud Book. The Racing Calendar contained the results of all races run while the pedigrees of the horses which ran in them could be found in the Stud Book. Tesio believed that performances of horses without their pedigrees were as meaningless as pedigrees without performances when it came to developing the Thoroughbred. Pedigree and performance are the two sides of the coin that the modern Thoroughbred is because, over a period of years, the two have been the most important of yardsticks employed in breeding.
However, when it comes to day-to-day racing, and especially the task of isolating the winner of a particular race, pedigree and performance are as good - or as bad - as any of the other methods employed.
Let's start with the pedigree first. If there are many imponderables in racing, the mysteries of genetics are even darker. The reasons why several horses have failed to match the exploits of their full siblings are very easy to understand when you comprehend the basic principle of genetics. Take the case of globe-trotting Running Flame (Steinbeck - Stomata). She was a winner of 10 races including four Gr.1 events - President of India Gold Cup, Indian Turf Invitation Cup, Indian Oaks and Indian 1000 Guineas - who matched strides with Saddle Up, the Indian-bred with the best racing performance abroad. Her two half-sisters abroad were unraced while her elder got-abroad sister Shining Dancer was a winner of the Nilgiris Fillies' Trial Stakes, Gr.3 in the days when it was a more competitive race. Her dam Stomata visited Steinbeck regularly and produced eight full siblings to Running Flame. They were all winners but not a single one of them won a black-type race and so, in comparison to Running Flame, were quite useless.
The genetic explanation is quite simple. None of those other eight Steinbeck-Stomata foals had the same genetic make-up as Running Flame. The genotype of a horse consists of several separate genes. Each gene is composed of 50% contribution from the sire and 50% from the dam. What is very important to remember is that the 50% contribution in each gene is not constant but highly variable. Perhaps, an easier - if less scientific - way of understanding the enormous genetic variability of a genotype is to liken it to the winning combination of a Jackpot of 32 races in each of which there are about 30 runners!
The Running Flame example illustrates how pedigrees can sometimes fail to measure up to expectations in terms of class. What is true of class is also true of aptitude. That gallant grey galloper Thunder Storm - winner of the Indian Derby and Indian St. Leger among his many wins - was sired by the sprinter-miler Gul Mohar. Thunder Storm had a half-brother by Star of Gwalior - also a winner of the Indian Derby and Indian St. Leger - and he would have been expected to stay as well as Thunder Storm. That Star of Gwalior half-brother was called Brijendra and he barely got a mile!
Pedigree is all important in a young horse because that pedigree, coupled with the conformation, decides the price. Obviously, a full-brother to a Derby winner who has only three sound legs is worth nothing. Once the horse is sold and enters training, the pedigree becomes less important but remains the template against which the horse's progress is measured. If the young horse conforms to that template, the trainer's task is easier. If he doesn't, he will be at his wit's end.
Obviously, the trainers of Six Sigma, Six Shooter and Six Gun Smith would have realised at some stage or the other that their wards had not inherited much talent from their illustrious dam Six Speed. On the other hand, trainer Padmanabhan would have been pleased with the progress of Speed Six for it was in conformity with what the pedigree presaged. Each horse is an individual and a good trainer is able to identify the individual traits.
As a horse's career progresses, pedigree starts to recede into the background - but it never vanishes - and his current performance begins to assume greater importance. A classic example of this is Frankel. The son of Galileo, who is unbeaten to date, won this year's 2000 Guineas at Newmarket by six lengths. He went into that race rated far higher than his dozen rivals and his effortless victory would only have enhanced his chance in the Epsom Derby. Yet, his trainer Sir Henry Cecil chose not to run him in the Derby!
In Frankel's absence, the Epsom Derby was won by the French-trained Pour Moi. A line through Native Khan, who ran in the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby, suggested that Frankel would have beaten Pour Moi by about four lengths. So why did Sir Henry Cecil bypass the Derby?
Last year, Sir Cecil had Frankel's elder three-parts brother Bullet Train in his yard. Bullet Train won the Lingfield Derby Trial over a distance only slightly shorter than the Derby and duly ran in the Derby as a fancied runner at 6/1. As such, the astute trainer had firsthand knowledge of two very good, closely related horses. Perhaps, he noticed that as individuals they were very different, Frankel the more mercurial of the two, a freer runner hard to settle. Maybe, he doubted Frankel's ability to handle the sharp turns and the ups and downs of the Epsom track. Whatever his reasons, Frankel remained at his Warren Place stables in Newmarket on the Derby Day. Castigated in some sections of the Press for his decision, Sir Cecil would have perhaps felt vindicated when Frankel just clung on to win the St. James's Palace Stakes over a mile at Royal Ascot. Sir Henry Cecil, of course, is a trainer from the old school and a part of his preparation before taking out his licence was a spell under Madame Couturie learning the breeding and pedigree aspects of the game.
A pedigree has also been likened to a hand at bridge. It shows potential. For that potential to be realised, it requires astute play of cards. An expert will probably make an overtrick; a novice will go two down. A well-bred horse, ill-trained and badly campaigned can never live up to his pedigree.
Like a pedigree, performance is only a guide to a horse's winning chance in a particular race; not an infallible pointer. If it were, every terms race in which horses run at level weights would be won by the highest rated horse. Horses, as is said often enough, are not machines and cannot be programmed to run every time to a fixed rating. There are genuine reasons why this is so. The rating of a horse does not reflect the distance over which it was achieved nor does it indicate the going that was prevailing. While some horses will improve since they were last rated, others will regress. Add to that the effect of change of equipment, draw, pace of the race, luck - or lack of it - in running and you have enough genuine factors to tilt delicate balances.
Pedigree and performance. It makes for a fascinating debate. Just as stamina and class which will be taken up next.