Good Sense - By Martin Stiles

"That ’ampstead, ’e’ll never ’urt ’imself!”

The speaker, an Englishman from the class that drop their aitches, was doing time in the United States breaking yearlings. Hampstead, the yearling just then cantering past us on the training track, was my first racehorse, having been foaled from my first broodmare.

What was the real meaning behind the trainer’s remark? He was clearly passing judgment on the colt’s potential, which he did not rate very high. (Hampstead, by Beau Prince—Sun Miracle, by Heather Broom, was gelded soon thereafter, and eventually won several claiming races.) I took the trainer’s remark to mean that he felt the colt lacked the competitive fire that characterizes the best runners, and which is generally believed to make horses more subject to break down. I also detected a note of admiration for the colt who had the good sense to keep well within himself, to “take care of himself” while performing. Many times during the subsequent 40 years, I have asked myself whether the goal of breeders shouldn’t be to produce horses with good conformation, good speed, and good sense.

It seems likely that one reason speed has become such a dominant ingredient in the recipe followed by Thoroughbred breeders is that it is so readily quantified. At a sale of 2-year olds in training, workout times like :20 or :21 for a quarter-mile attached to an entry will virtually guarantee a good price but provide no assurance the individual will ever want to run farther than a quarter-mile, or remain sound long enough to earn back his purchase price. It would be of some help to buyers and sellers of young horses if there were a numerical scale that rated certain of the horse’s other qualities in the same way the speed figure does.

One small step that could be taken to provide some indication of stamina in a pedigree would be to make greater use of the statistic “average winning distance.” AWD is seldom encountered in the American horse literature (it can be found on’s Stallion Register Online), never in sale catalogs.

Similarly, the number of starts made by each of the runners in the first two or three generations of a pedigree could help to identify the families that turn out tough runners. Horses that fail to earn black type nonetheless contribute soundness (or unsoundness) to a pedigree, and that important fact ought to be recognized.

Federico Tesio, the brilliant Italian student of pedigrees, who more than anyone else put his ideas to practical use (he was the breeder of both Nearco and Ribot), considered that the aim of the breeder was to produce a racehorse that “over any distance could carry the heaviest weight in the shortest time.” Success in meeting this standard could be measured by the use of tools no more complicated than a stopwatch and a set of scales. But the horse is a complex machine, and his performance is likely to be influenced by factors that these simple tools cannot measure.

Since Tesio’s time (he died in 1954), it has become almost routine to use the laryngoscope, radiographs, and ultrasound to check sale horses for abnormalities. However, to date, these diagnostic techniques serve merely to locate animals whose sale may be voided. No scale has been developed by which objective scores that are generally accepted can be assigned. Many experienced horsemen feel the links between racing performance and the data from these sophisticated instruments are not fully established. More research is evidently needed before some of these powerful tools can be used to a breeder’s best advantage.

More daunting still is the challenge posed by the “good sense” factor. It has long been recognized that a balance between brilliance and toughness is desirable in a racing animal. The theory of dosage as developed by Franco Varola and others is an outgrowth of that idea.

Dosage theory has been useful in planning matings and focusing attention on the need for balance in a pedigree. The temptation to use dosage as a handicapping tool proved irresistible, which led to some undeserved loss of credibility. However, the basic principles of the theory remain valid.

Keeping always in mind that the racecourse is the proper venue for testing Thoroughbreds, breeders should aim at the production of runners whose performances reflect the right balance among toughness, speed, and good sense.

Martin Stiles, and his wife, Martha, bred group winners Hardgreen, Castle Green, and Canadian champion Buckys Solution at Stockwell Farm in Bourbon County, Ky.

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