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A Classic Case of Coincidence?

The interpretation of Thoroughbred pedigrees is no simple matter. The multi-factorial elements that might be considered include nicks, inbreeding, linebreeding, the positions of ancestors relative to one another, the relationship of the pedigree to the female line, and the class of the individuals involved.

Given the volume of the data, and the difficulty of reducing much of it to simple paradigms—even the TrueNicks rating, considering just one aspect of the pedigree, requires a complex algorithm; the entire database of The Jockey Club Information Systems; and considerable computer power to achieve its output—it's not surprising that pedigrees are often viewed as being rather random and chaotic, especially when the above factors are overlaid with genetic variability (the differences in ability and aptitude that can occur even with full siblings, let alone with other close relatives). That, however, is not our view, although we'd agree that patterns and paradigms are so complex that they can easily seem random (similarly the patterns of protein sequences on a strand of DNA are so complex that they were thought to be random, until artificial neural networks were brought to bear on the problem around 25 years ago).

While some might view it as nothing more than an article of faith, we'd also have to say that over 40 years of looking at pedigrees has engendered a firm conviction that certain types of crosses and pedigree patterns occur in good horses far more often than they should by chance. And although it's purely anecdotal, we were particularly struck by a two recent classic winners that appear to be a remarkable case of coincidence.

The first of these is Oxbow, who led virtually throughout to claim the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). What is notable here is that Oxbow's victory came less than 12 months after his very close relative Paynter (a Pedigree Consultants recommended mating), led for all but the last stride of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) before returning to take the Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) in a style of a potential champion.

Oxbow and Paynter are both sons of the excellent runner and sire Awesome Again (TrueNicks), and their dams, Tizamazing and Tizso, are siblings (that duo are also sisters to Tiznow (TrueNicks)). The sisters have so far produced eight foals of racing age to the cover of Awesome Again, six of whom have started, with Oxbow and Paynter being joined as stakes winners by Oxbow's brother Awesome Patriot, a stakes winner who is also graded-placed. So that's a 50% stakes winner to starters strike rate, with one being a classic winner, and another being a near classic winner and spectacular grade I scorer.

It's likely that the inspiration for the cross that led to Awesome Patriot, Paynter, and Oxbow was the superlative Ghostzapper (TrueNicks), who was by Awesome Again out of a mare by Relaunch, the paternal grandsire of Tizamazing and Tizso. Oddly enough, however, although the Awesome Again/Relaunch cross is responsible for Ghostzapper, Paynter, and Oxbow—who along with Game On Dude would be considered three of their sire's best four sons—when we remove the sextet produced by Tizamazing and Tizso, we find that Ghostzapper is the sole stakes winner from 37 other runners by Awesome Again out of Relaunch-line mares. When comparing Tizamazing and Tizso to Baby Zip, the dam of Ghostzapper, we can note that their granddam, Sleep Lonely, is by Pia Star, who is by Olympia (by Helipolis out of a mare by Mahmoud, a Blenheim II/Gainsborough cross), from mare by a son of Tom Fool, and that Baby Zip is out of Thirty Zip, whose sire Tri Jet is by a son of Tom Fool, out Haze, who is by Olympia out of Blue Castle, another product of the Blenheim II/Gainsborough cross. As as a result Baby Zip has a rather similar background to Tizamazing and Tizso.

It was such nuances that, in part, drove the creation of the TrueNicks Key Ancestors Report, a product that considers the whole pedigree, searching the entire Jockey Club database for mares with similar backgrounds to the subject mare.

Oxbow and Paynter are, in the conventional sense, very well-bred horses. The same couldn't really be said for Meisho Mambo, who this weekend took her record to four wins in seven starts with a victory in the Yushun Himba (Japanese Oaks, Jpn-I). Her sire, Suzuka Mambo, was a talented son of Sunday Silence, winning the Tenno Sho Spring (then a Japanese group I, but not recognized as so by the international cataloging standards), but Meisho Mambo is the only stakes winner to appear from 177 starters in his first three crops. A look at the distaff side of the pedigree reveals that none of Meisho Mambo's first five dams produced a black-type winner (only one produced a black-type horse), and that prior to Meisho Mambo the only other stakes winner under the first four dams was the minor black-type winner Meine Ratsel (who is by another Sunday Silence horse, Stay Gold, and has Meisho Mambo's fourth dam as her third dam).

The "coincidence" here is the relationship between Spring Mambo, the dam of Suzuka Mambo, and Meisho Mambo's stakes-placed granddam, Meisho Ayame, who prior to Meisho Mambo was the only black-type performer to be produced by the first five dams. Spring Mambo is by Kingmambo (by Mr. Prospector out of the fabulous Miesque, a daughter of Nureyev) and out of a daughter of Nijinsky II. Meisho Ayame is by Jade Robbery (by Mr. Prospector out of a Nijinsky II three-quarters-sister to Nureyev), so very closely related to Spring Mambo. The relationships don't stop there, as Suzuka Mambo's granddam, Key Flyer, is a Northern Dancer/Graustark cross, and Ameriflora (dam of Meisho Mambo's broodmare sire, Grass Wonder) is a Northern Dancer/His Majesty (brother to Graustark) cross. We'll conclude by noting that Grass Wonder is a son of Roberto, a horse whose dam is closely related to the dam of Mr. Prospector (who is here twice). Overall this pedigree serves as another example of what we see time and time again: an under-performing pedigree is upgraded by close inbreeding to genetic relatives.

Incidentally, the TrueNicks Key Ancestors Report with Analysis for Meisho Momoka (dam of Meisho Mambo) is particularly interesting here, recommending several similar matings with Japanese sires, including Stravinsky (by Nureyev with a second dam by Mr. Prospector), Fasliyev (by Nureyev out of a Mr. Prospector mare), Bago (whose dam is a Nureyev/Mr. Prospector cross), and Kingmambo's son King Kamehameha (bred on a very similar cross to Meisho Mambo's second dam.

To sum up: we have one weekend, and two classic winners. One is out of a mare whose sister produced a grade I scorer and near classic winner, by the same sire, the sisters also having a background very similar to the dam of that stallion's best runner (and only stakes winner on the cross not out of the siblings). The second classic winner is by a sire who has no other stakes winners from 177 starters, from a family that hasn't produced a stakes winner for five generations. A classic coincidence, or a sign that complex patterns have an impact?

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