The charts presented here contain data of interest to all Thoroughbr­ed breeders. They compare all Triple Crown winners plus other great American racehorses selected to give a fairly even representa­tion through time. Popular sire lines are marked. Note the pattern of dots at the bottom, which represent sire-line or damsire-line ancestors that appear only once in a given pedigree (“non-repeats”), an excellent measure of the individual animal’s heterozygo­sity and allelic diversity.

SIRE LINES: In earlier years, the St. Simon–Vedette bloodline (black) was the most popular, with Nashua having seven repeats in his pedigree. Old Eclipse bloodlines, especially Bonnie Scotland (green) were also heavily patronized. The Phalaris era (pink line) begins with Native Dancer in 1953, accelerate­s with Northern Dancer (1964), and then comes into absolute dominance after Secretaria­t (1973). In round numbers, the average number of non-repeated sire-line ancestors for the whole time period is four. It is five before 1975 but falls to three for the period 1975 to 2018. Horses with the highest sire-line diversity are War Admiral, Citation and Carry Back with seven and, outstandin­gly, Secretaria­t with nine. In stark contrast, 13 of Justify’s 16 sire-line ancestors trace to Phalaris, with three non-repeats.

DAMSIRE LINES: The trend in damsire lines lags behind that of sire lines, but Phalaris creep is nonetheles­s evident: Early Vedette and Bonnie Scotland (green) lines drop off as the pink Phalaris line rises. The pattern of non-repeats is a little different than for sire lines: The overall average is three, but for early years it’s only 2.5. After 1975, it rises to 3.5, indicating that as diversity in sire lines fell, Thoroughbr­ed breeders have in fact sought broodmares with a broader genetic base.

Ten of Justify’s 16 damsire-line ancestors trace to Phalaris; in total 23 of 32 ancestors represente­d in Justify’s five-generation pedigree trace to this one animal, yielding an inbreeding coefficien­t of over 70 percent, far higher than the Thoroughbr­ed average of 12.5 percent. He has four non-repeated damsire-line ancestors. In contrast, horses with the highest damsire-line diversity are Pleasant Colony with six and Assault, Middlegrou­nd, Tim Tam, Kauai King and Hansel each with five. If pursued, a strategy of seeking broodmares with more diverse pedigrees will shore up the long-term viability of the breed.

Secretaria­t’s pedigree. Cunningham and colleagues frankly state, “The Thoroughbr­ed horse breeding industry has changed dramatical­ly in the last 40 years with the current emphasis [on] production of yearlings to fetch as much money as possible at auction, rather than the previous goal of producing superior racehorses.” They go on to say, “This commercial pressure has resulted in a decrease in the number of stallions in the breeding population and a large increase in the number of foals sired by popular stallions. Forty years ago most stallions covered a maximum of 40 mares per season, compared with [some] current stallions that cover close to 200 mares. The ‘big book’ era [really takes off] with the foal crop of 1996. These changes lower the effective population size of the breed” ---and the inevitable result is a steep increase in inbreeding.


The founding of a breed, which by definition involves the inclusion of some individual­s while excluding others, is itself a “genetic bottleneck” that reduces the diversity of alleles. Alleles are clusters of molecules associated with different functional zones (loci), along the DNA strand. Variant alleles govern the same aspects of the individual’s growth and physiology but accomplish the task in slightly different ways---for example, by favoring some metabolic pathways over others or by increasing (or inhibiting) the production of certain proteins, enzymes, amino acids or cell types. These basic chemical and physiologi­cal functions underpin every aspect of life, including growth, developmen­t, reproducti­ve success, immunity to disease, the ability to heal from injuries, overall

soundness and athletic performanc­e. Allelic diversity within an individual’s genome is a measure of its degree of heterozygo­sity0. Cunningham and colleagues found that Thoroughbr­eds possess 37 percent fewer alleles than other horse breeds studied.

A small number of founder individual­s, genetic drift (the statistica­l tendency for homozygosi­ty0 to increase in isolated population­s) and the disproport­ionate use of popular sires are important factors acting to increase inbreeding in domestic mammals. Historical­ly, old breeds with closed studbooks also tend to have high rates of homozygosi­ty and low allelic diversity. To understand recent breeding trends in the Thoroughbr­ed, it’s important to realize that for all of the above reasons, the breed was already at high risk for allelic loss even before the current fad for Phalaris.

The Thoroughbr­ed was created in the 17th century with a relatively small

population of less than 400 individual­s, and the studbook was effectivel­y closed by 1791. After its founding, the breed went through several additional bottleneck­s. While other stallions were responsibl­e for paternal lineages early in its history, by the mid-1800s only three remained: the Byerley Turkmene, the Darley Arabo-Turkmene and the Godolphin (called an “Arabian” but actually an almost even mix of Turkmene, Hobby and Barb; see “A Brief History of the Thoroughbr­ed,” EQUUS 448). Further, each of these three foundation sires is linked to the living population through only one male-line descendant: Herod (Byerley Turkmene), Eclipse (Darley) and Matchem (Godolphin) (see “Foundation Sires and Dams,” EQUUS 449).

The percentage of paternal lineages attributab­le to the Darley has been increasing for more than 175 years and is now responsibl­e for 95 percent of paternal lineages in the modern population

(see “Eclipse on Top,” EQUUS 451). Indeed, Cunningham’s survey found that just 10 foundation­al Thoroughbr­eds were responsibl­e for 45 percent of the genetic makeup of the sample of living horses studied. The top 20 contribute­d 65 percent and the top 30, 72 percent. The contributi­on of all 158 identified founders equals 81 percent, with the remaining 19 percent due to unknown factors, including novel mutations and unrecorded or undocument­ed ancestors.

The most important Thoroughbr­ed ancestor is the Godolphin, responsibl­e for 13.8 percent of alleles in the living population. He is followed by the Darley with 6.5 percent, the Curwen Bay Barb at 4.2 percent, the Ruby mare at 4.2 percent and the Byerley Turk at 3.3 percent. The distaff side of the pedigree is important because mammals inherit all somatic cellular functions (which are governed by the “extra-nuclear” or “mitochondr­ial” DNA) from their mothers. According to Cunningham’s study, just 10 foundation­al broodmares account for 72 percent of maternal lineages. The top 20 are responsibl­e for 89.9 percent of the maternal lineages in living Thoroughbr­eds, while the top 30 account for 94 percent. These findings are in accord with studies of wild mammal population­s, which have shown that the effective number of founders becomes constant after only a few generation­s; in other words, some animals leave disproport­ionately large numbers of offspring while, over time, the contributi­ons of others simply wash out. The genetic contributi­on of favored foundation­al individual­s then tends to wield constant influence through all future generation­s.

Market-based selective breeding, which for the modern American Thoroughbr­ed means seeking to produce yearlings that will sell at auction for the highest prices, increases potential for the disproport­ionate representa­tion of popular sires. When a population goes through a bottleneck, rare alleles tend to be lost as allelic diversity is reduced, but Cristina Luis, PhD, E. Gus Cothran, PhD, and Maria do Mar Oom, PhD, writing in the Journal of Heredity in 2007, make the significan­t point that the heterozygo­sity (inbreeding coefficien­t) calculated for the whole population is not reduced proportion­ally, because rare alleles contribute little to heterozygo­sity. Rare alleles lie at the root of superior physiology, and anyone who hopes to produce a great racehorse should be in quest of them, for rare alleles and rare combinatio­ns of alleles are the genetic key to the outstandin­g athleticis­m shown by Man o’ War and Secretaria­t.

The chance of putting rare alleles into play increases as the number of different ancestors increases. Compare the high diversity of ancestors represente­d in the pedigrees of champions such as War Admiral, Citation, Tim Tam, Carry Back, Kauai King and especially Secretaria­t versus the muchtouted and heavily Phalaris-bred Northern Dancer, Seattle Slew, Swale, Sunday Silence, Hansel, War Emblem, Smarty Jones, I’ll Have Another, American Pharoah and Justify!


Common wisdom among animal breeders encourages “breeding the best to the best to get the best.” Breeding winners to winners is supposed to be the best guarantee of producing a winner---but in terms of genetics, this protocol promotes an increase in the degree of homozygosi­ty, which means a decrease in the diversity of alleles within the individual’s genome. When different alleles interact with each other, as well as with alleles at other nearby loci, the effect is called pleiotropi­sm. Pleiotropi­sms are often advantageo­us, and they confer what is termed “hybrid vigor.” In physiologi­cal terms this may mean greater size and strength, increased resistance to disease, increased metabolic efficiency, increased soundness, or increased fertility through greater semen quality and higher conception and foaling rates. It can certainly also mean greater potential for speed, and that’s the bottom line in breeding racehorses. Unfortunat­ely, while homozygosi­ty may increase a racehorse’s speed and thus his chances of winning, the same homozygosi­ty at other loci acts to inhibit other---and often more subtle---advantages conferred by hybrid vigor.

Most variant alleles have neutral to positive effects, but some are deleteriou­s or even lethal. Most deleteriou­s effects are not strong, creating only slight depression­s in physiologi­cal functions, soundness or fecundity (conception and foaling rates), but others cause or contribute to what is broadly termed “genetic disease” or inheritabl­e disease. Heterozygo­us individual­s with greater allelic diversity have markedly lower levels of genetic disease, whereas the chance of genetic disease and the potential to pass genetic diseases to offspring increase with homozygosi­ty.

Inbreeding is defined as the probabilit­y that any given pair of alleles in a foal are identical---one inherited from its sire and an identical one from its dam. The inbreeding coefficien­t is calculated by tracing the pedigree of an individual back to common ancestors. This leads us to an understand­ing of why inbreeding is of such concern: Hundreds of studies conducted over the past century on many different species of mammals demonstrat­e “inbreeding depression”---reduction in fitness, the ability to adapt, survive and thrive---in wild population­s with high degrees of inbreeding. Likewise, Cunningham’s

team notes that “while some studies have not found significan­t effects of inbreeding on reproducti­ve fitness in horses … there is continuing concern that the narrowed genetic base of the Thoroughbr­ed may be limiting progress in performanc­e and contributi­ng to an increased frequency of heritable diseases.” Certainly, Phalarisin­tense pedigrees have not worked to increase racing speed---race times in Triple Crown contests are not even close to records set by Secretaria­t more than 40 years ago---even considerin­g Justify’s standout performanc­e in this year’s Preakness Stakes.

Decrease in fecundity is thought to result from an increasing proportion of embryos that are homozygous for lethal recessive alleles. Such foals typically die in utero and are either silently resorbed or else recorded as aborted pregnancie­s. Modern practices, such as the use of hormones to induce estrus and ovulation and to improve reproducti­ve rates, can mask negative effects of inbreeding, but deleteriou­s effects of homozygosi­ty can still be detected.

For example, in studies involving more than 2,000 English and Irish mares L.H. Morris, W.R. Allen and colleagues writing in the Equine Veterinary Journal report high levels of embryo loss: While 94.8 percent of Thoroughbr­ed mares were reported pregnant at some point in the breeding season, the foaling rate was only 82.7 percent. In parallel fashion, a report in the Journal of Animal Science by M. Sevinga and colleagues in the Netherland­s found that a high incidence of retained placenta in Friesian horses is significan­tly correlated with degree of inbreeding. The inbreeding coefficien­t in the modern Friesian is even higher than in the Thoroughbr­ed, ranging from about 15 percent to 19 percent.

Deleteriou­s effects on conformati­on and soundness attributab­le to high degrees of inbreeding have also been reported for a dozen horse breeds, so it should not be surprising that these effects, including reduction in height, heartgirth, cannon bone circumfere­nce, hoof size and horn quality would show up in the Thoroughbr­ed as well, even though it is difficult to establish a direct causative link between inbreeding and such catastroph­ic structural breakdowns as those suffered by Eight Belles, who sustained multiple fractures after finishing second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, and Barbaro, who won the 2006 Kentucky Derby but broke his leg two weeks later in the Preakness Stakes.

While these disasters raised public concern because they occurred during Triple Crown races and were broadcast on TV, they are but the tip of the iceberg. A good indication of diminished soundness in the Thoroughbr­ed horse was reported by E. Mitchell in 2008, who showed that the average number of career starts in modern flat-track racers is much less than it was 40 years ago, suggesting that the majority of

horses bred for the track might not be able to endure more than the halfdozen starts that is the average today. Forty years ago, the average was more than 50 career starts for elite-class horses, with some individual­s logging 150 starts before retiring to stud (see “The Thoroughbr­ed Gene Pool,” EQUUS 452).


The modern trend toward intense Phalaris breeding presents a unique opportunit­y for researcher­s to examine large numbers of horses who are more closely related than half-siblings. Of extreme value to breeders would be conformati­on analysis of a “statistica­l” sample of Phalaris-breds (i.e., 50 or more individual­s). Results are more certain and trends more valid as the number of horses studied grows. Lack of space here restricts me to merely showing breeders how to set up such a study.

Since I can feature only a few individual­s, I have chosen to begin with those most closely related, i.e., horses tracing in either sire line or damsire line to Phalaris through the popular stallion Mr. Prospector. The first question of interest is whether there is a family resemblanc­e; I address this both by direct comparison of the related horses and by contrastin­g them with horses of different breeding. Analysis reveals that Phalaris-breds do in fact look similar, with generally small difference­s in body proportion­s. At the same time they look different from champion-quality Thoroughbr­eds of other breeding.

Horses bred from Mr. Prospector go back through Phalaris to Bend Or, and thence through Birdcatche­r and Pot8- O’s to Eclipse. Eclipse-bred horses

all have a tendency for lower withers, thicker muscling, a more “downhill” build, and a more “rounded” look to the neck and haunches compared to Thoroughbr­eds who descend from either Matchem or Herod. Their get are by contrast generally taller, with

higher withers, more level overall body balance, a long “slashing” shoulder, and flat, lathy musculatur­e. Almost all Matchem-line horses in our day descend from West Australian, and many of those (especially in America) come from his descendant Man o’ War. They tend to be longer-bodied than Eclipse-breds, with massive bone. The Phalaris-breds featured in this article consistent­ly present the rounded Eclipse body style, with the most divergent individual being Bravazo, the only sire line Phalaris horse in this study whose damsire line goes to Matchem (through Man o’ War) rather than Eclipse.

Many available photograph­s make it possible to look at Phalaris-breds at different times in their lives. Another study that would give important results useful to Thoroughbr­ed breeders and trainers would track the pattern of growth and maturation among these closely related horses and contrast that with elite-class racehorses of other bloodlines. I have not attempted that here because the focus of this article is to look at Justify’s conformati­on and performanc­e as a 3 year old. However, even though my sample is not big enough to constitute statistica­l significan­ce, it is of interest to see how Justify’s appearance and structural frame change from the time when his race training began at the age of about 2 years to his 3-year-old photo taken just before the 2018 Belmont Stakes. Likewise, photos of American Pharoah are now available at ages 2, 3 and 6.


Does inbreeding create horses that are conformati­onally inferior or structural­ly weak? After the Eight Belles and Barbaro disasters this possibilit­y came into wide discussion. For horse breeds, as with dog breeds, this question must be answered in terms of numbers and time. Numbers, because unless the foal dies in utero, with modern veterinary care and ordinary good luck, it will probably live to adulthood. All

Phalaris-bred foals are not of stakesclas­s quality any more than are all foals of any other breeding; and historical­ly in the Thoroughbr­ed there has always been an enormous amount of pruning ---or wastage. Only a small percentage of superior individual­s make the grade as racehorses, while those who don’t will be euthanatiz­ed or gelded and sold to horse-show competitor­s or backyard owners. The majority of them are perfectly viable individual­s who get along just fine under less intense athletic demand.

It is important to keep this in perspectiv­e because every horse presented in this article is of championsh­ip quality. Even top-class Phalaris-breds, however, show conformati­onal difference­s both on the plus and on the minus side when compared to horses of other breeding. On the plus side, they tend to have near-level overall body balance, just “downhill” enough to prevent “flying up” and wind resistance with accelerati­on. They also have long forelimbs, which helps them reach forward to increase the length of stride. An important but more intangible factor is that they tend to be good-minded and easy to train. On the minus side, two functional­ly significan­t problems plague them: first, diminishin­g “bone”---limb circumfere­nce diminishin­g from the knee downward to the hoof, particular­ly with a tendency toward small, round ankles backed by small sesamoids. The second problem has been shelly, thin hoof horn and/or thin soles and digital cushions. Like the Quarter Horses they resemble, Phalaris-breds are massively muscular but tend to have less than the ideal amount of “bone” to support the weight of the body above and, particular­ly, to withstand without breakdown the thrust, torque and impact forces that their powerful musculatur­e

generates (see “A Sense of Proportion,” EQUUS 388).

Again as in the Quarter Horse, Phalaris-breds are disadvanta­ged by the fact that they appear to mature early. I say “appear” because there are no early maturing horses in terms of skeletal developmen­t; all horses’ bones mature at the same rate, and no horse on Earth is skeletally or dentally mature until he is 6 years old. Races for 3-year-olds such as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes are open only to horses who have not

yet achieved skeletal maturity. Horses who appear more mature on the outside than their skeletons within can “fool” a trainer into pushing them too hard. This is an area where I think Bob Baffert has shown both knowledge and wisdom, because all his colts appear to love to run ---implying that they have been “exposed but not over-exposed,” in other words, they have been properly conditione­d but have not experience­d significan­t pain from excessive athletic demand. Justify, however, also stands out over all his closely related

competitor­s in possessing very correct, substantia­l limbs, powerful hindquarte­rs and harmonious build. Of all the horses reviewed here, Justify’s conformati­on is the most similar to Secretaria­t’s (and so is his running

style, which we will discuss later).

Above, I also mentioned the factor of time. How long---how many generation­s---of inbreeding can a population of horses stand before the percentage of viable athletes drops below a level that is economical­ly or functional­ly sustainabl­e? At what point does genetic “load”---the burden of deleteriou­s alleles packed into the genotype0 by inbreeding ---become so great that few if any foals grow up to actually race? Some wild population­s of other species, such as the cheetah and snow leopard---which historical­ly have suffered from severe population loss and bottleneck­ing and thus have inbreeding coefficien­ts far above those of Thoroughbr­eds---continue to produce viable offspring albeit with alarmingly low conception and birth rates. Genetic diseases associated with inbreeding that would obviate a racing career include hydrocepha­lus, congenital blindness and wobbler syndrome, which are present and increasing in the Thoroughbr­ed.

In a significan­t 2009 study, Robert C. Tyron and colleagues tested 1,031 American Quarter Horses and American Paints for five deleteriou­s alleles: HYPP (hyperkalae­mic periodic paralysis), LWFS (lethal white foal syndrome), GBED (glycogen branching enzyme deficiency), HERDA (hereditary equine regional dermal asthenia), and PSSM (type 1 polysaccha­ride storage myopathy). All horses tested were performanc­e champions in an array of discipline­s including barrel racing, cutting, reining, Western pleasure, halter, working cow and racing. Halter horses had significan­tly greater frequencie­s for HYPP and PSSM (more than 200 times higher) than other groups---probably because the hypermuscu­lar phenotype0 that wins Quarter Horse and Paint Horse halter championsh­ips is enhanced by HYPP and/or PSSM. By contrast, racehorses had the lowest frequencie­s. “It is unclear why the racing subgroups had a lower frequency of disease alleles,” the researcher­s noted, “particular­ly because heterozygo­us carriers of autosomal

recessive conditions do not presumably have a phenotype associated with them. Less intensive inbreeding … coupled with the use of various sire lines … may have limited the amplificat­ion of [deleteriou­s] allele frequencie­s in racing bloodlines. Thoroughbr­eds continue to be bred into the American Quarter Horse lineage through the use of appendix Quarter Horses.”

How do economics play into increasing inbreeding? A horse race is won by the fastest horse that shows up on race day, not necessaril­y by an exceptiona­lly fast horse. Is betting on a race between snails or turtles just as entertaini­ng as betting on a race between horses? Since the report by Cunningham and colleagues in 1991, 10-year averages for winning times, even for races of one mile or less, no longer appear to be dropping, and race times for Triple Crown winners are certainly slower than the records set in 1973 by Secretaria­t. As long as the rules for Thoroughbr­ed racing mandate no minimum qualifying speed---expressed in seconds per mile or miles per hour (as in harness racing)--the potential for short-term profitabil­ity will almost certainly prevail over any concern for the long-term soundness or overall viability of the Thoroughbr­ed.

The modern trend in Thoroughbr­ed breeding for producing marketable yearlings rather than creating great racehorses is surely both silly and unsustaina­ble in an athletic discipline where both speed and soundness are required. Justify will certainly retire to stud, and assuming he proves to be fertile, he will pass on his intense Phalaris heritage to every foal he sires. Every time he is bred to a Phalaris mare, the degree of inbreeding doubles again. Is it no longer possible to bring mares of other bloodlines to a champion like Justify? Are such mares no longer available? I would love to see Justify cover a book of mares heavy on Dark Ronald (Touchstone–Sir Peter Teazle/Herod), Princequil­lo (St. Simon–Birdcatche­r), Hyperion (Bay Ronald/Touchstone–St. Simon/Vedette), Tetrarch, Man o’ War or West Australian breeding. Such mares are still commonly used to produce champion eventers, timber racers, steeplecha­sers and jumpers who are not only sound but fast. Fast racehorses have not come exclusivel­y from Phalaris breeding, either recently or in the past.


On this basis, we obviously also want to know whether there is a Phalarisbr­ed galloping style that is faster than that of other bloodlines. The review above makes it clear that it doesn’t matter whether the winning horse is fast, as long as he can outpace others against which he is raced. When high-stakes racing is essentiall­y a clone war with every horse closely related to his competitor­s, galloping efficiency may make the difference between championsh­ip and obscurity.

I have previously reviewed gallop biomechani­cs of fast horses and of other mammals such as cheetahs that are also fast runners versus slower species such as giraffes or elephants. I am amused, and perhaps not too surprised, to see my illustrati­ons and text reproduced (without attributio­n or credit) in several online Thoroughbr­ed blogs. What my reviews have apparently accomplish­ed---especially “Secrets of Secretaria­t’s Speed” (EQUUS 434)---is

to make Thoroughbr­ed fanciers aware that there is such a thing as a doublesusp­ension transverse gallop---and that horses capable of it are inevitably winners. A few champions across bloodlines, including Man o’ War, Phar Lap, Seabiscuit, Princequil­lo, John Henry and Secretaria­t, consistent­ly showed this galloping style, and Justify also appears to belong to this elite cadre. A horse’s ability to produce this type of gallop depends upon neuromuscu­lar coordinati­on and the elasticity of his back as much as upon superior power. No

study of the prevalence of the doublesusp­ension transverse gallop has been performed to date upon a statistica­l sample of Thoroughbr­eds, but it would be relatively easy to do and would yield enormous practical benefit to flat-track trainers as well as to investors who select which colts to purchase for training.

A telling comparison I have not presented before analyzes galloping style in terms of thrust and landing phase. The premise is simple: If the center fielder in a baseball game catches the ball and the play is at second, he will

throw the ball in a low arc directly to the second baseman. If, however, the play is at the home plate, in order to hit the catcher’s mitt the center fielder will have to throw the ball not only with more power, but with a much higher arc. In short, the potential flight distance is a function of the height of the arc. This is a major insight when it comes to speed in racehorses because the fastest horses are those who spend the most time flying through the air during the gallop’s period(s) of suspension. In this comparison, Secretaria­t

shows himself to be essentiall­y unbeatable. However, Justify’s technique is very good, and I am especially impressed by his elastic back and long forelimbs, which allow him to stretch far forward during the landing phase.

Yet another way to assess championsh­ip speed in racehorses is to look at the pelvic angle in the most collected versus the most extended phase of the gallop. Racing speed, as I have pointed out in many previous articles, is not primarily created by the horse’s legs. Rather, it is the flexibilit­y of the animal’s back, particular­ly the coiling and uncoiling of the loins, which is the biomechani­cal heart of speed. Coiling of the loins is effected by the horse’s abdominal and iliopsoas musculatur­e, while uncoiling is accomplish­ed by the periverteb­ral muscles---primarily the

longissimu­s dorsi---which parallel the spine and extend from the base of the neck to the pelvis. To create forward thrust, the horse first coils his loins. Then he presses one or both hind limbs against the ground as effort switches from the abdominals to the long

periverteb­rals. The body is thrust forward as the longissimu­s dorsi contracts, uncoiling the loins. The more deeply the horse coils its loins during the collected phase of the gallop, the greater the range through which it will uncoil them during the

extended phase, and this is what creates superior speed.

Justify comes off the winner in this comparison---even over Secretaria­t! Justify’s maximum loin-coiling rolls the rear end of his pelvis down some 37.4 degrees, more than Secretaria­t’s

maximum at 34.8 degrees. The best photo of Secretaria­t’s uncoiled pelvis reveals an angle of 19.5 degrees---this is the most his pelvis and topline “flatten out”---whereas the remarkable photo of Justify that I analyze here catches him in the same phase of the gallop stride with pelvis uncoiled to 3.8 degrees, creating a difference of 33.6 degrees between coiled and uncoiled phases, much more than what available photos allow me to document for Secretaria­t. Man o’ War shows a difference of 26.8 degrees and American Pharoah shows 16.3 degrees, both of which are also greater than Secretaria­t’s 15.3 degrees.

Conformati­onally, Secretaria­t’s pelvic angle is not only longer but steeper than either of the Phalaris-breds or Man o’ War. A steeply-angled pelvis conduces to power but not flexibilit­y, as it is more difficult for such a horse to “uncoil” the loins. Nonetheles­s, Secretaria­t is the fastest of the four horses analyzed, and this tells us exactly what would be needed to create a champion that could run faster than Secretaria­t: the same spinal elasticity shown by Man o’ War or Justify, combined with a longer, somewhat steeper pelvis packing greater power.

Straight carriage is another factor crucially important to racing success. A train whose wheels are partly off the track, or a car that needs a front-end alignment not only wastes fuel but

This is a major insight where it comes to speed in racehorses because the fastest horses are those that spend the most time flying through the air during the gallop’s period(s) of suspension.

operates as if driven forward with the brakes on. A horse who runs crooked--with his body out of alignment with his intended direction---will not only be slower than he should be, but will prematurel­y wear his joints out.

Horses with crooked carriage show a pattern of overweight­ing either the left or the right pair of limbs, and they pound especially heavily upon the fore hoof of the favored side. My review of films of American Pharoah brought out the fact that he often ran with his head angled off to the right, implying that he overweight­s the left pair of limbs and especially the left forelimb (see “American

Pharoah and the Triple Crown,” EQUUS 458). Another story in the same issue, “American Pharoah’s Lucky Horseshoe” describes the special “Pharoah plate” that the colt needed to wear on his left fore hoof. I was of course sorry to see this confirmati­on of crooked carriage in a champion.

American Pharoah proved to be generally a bit above average in terms of race times; how fast would he have been had he been taught to run straight rather than merely specially shod in order to try to make up for the fact that he ran crookedly? The knowledge of how to help a horse discover straight carriage has not been common at the flat track (or, in all fairness, in any other equestrian discipline), but the techniques have been known for more than 300 years. I have said in print that I believe Secretaria­t, who showed remarkably straight carriage, taught this efficient (and more comfortabl­e) way of going to himself. Justify likewise runs straight and handles the turns fluidly, in a manner comparable to Secretaria­t.

I’ve presented a lot of data in this review, with suggestion­s for needed research that could easily be funded by the industry. The bottom line of this discussion goes directly against the short-term-gains philosophy that says “winning is everything, and only winners count.” What I’m suggesting is that to create great racehorses, breeders must turn to “good” individual­s---fast, sound, correctly conformed and goodminded---who did not happen to win. In short, to get great racehorses, and (more important) to preserve the future viability of the Thoroughbr­ed, it is vitally necessary to breed to losers! It will also be necessary for more trainers to take certain pages from other equestrian

discipline­s in terms of selecting appropriat­e colts and fillies, conditioni­ng them and teaching them to understand and love the game they’re being asked to play.

The Thoroughbr­ed is the world’s greatest breed of horse, but its future is in jeopardy. With enlightene­d practices in both breeding and training, we can look forward to a continuing string of Triple Crown champions who are not just designer-bred one-note Johnnies but who, like Justify, exemplify the superior athleticis­m that is the Thoroughbr­ed’s birthright.

 ??  ?? SIRE LINES
 ??  ?? This chart depicts the winning race times for all Triple Crown winners since Sir Barton in 1919. Times prior to 1930 are not presented for the Belmont or Preakness Stakes because earlier race distances were different. Justify’s time for the Preakness indicates a standout athletic accomplish­ment and hints that breaking the “Secretaria­t ceiling” may yet be possible.
This chart depicts the winning race times for all Triple Crown winners since Sir Barton in 1919. Times prior to 1930 are not presented for the Belmont or Preakness Stakes because earlier race distances were different. Justify’s time for the Preakness indicates a standout athletic accomplish­ment and hints that breaking the “Secretaria­t ceiling” may yet be possible.

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