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A Key Ancestor for Encosta de Lago

While he is now considered an "elder statesman" of the Coolmore Australia stallion roster, there can be no doubt that Encosta de Lago (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO) is one of the premier stallions standing in Australia this year. The son of Fairy King has amassed a sensational record at stud with 6.3% stakes winners to foals and 7.6% stakes winners to runners (up to his current 4-year-old crop) and is now closing in on 100 stakes winners for his career.

With over 1,400 foals that are 4 or older, the pedigree patterns that Encosta de Lago responds to are well established with mares by the Turn-to sire line, via either Hail to Reason or Sir Gaylord proving best. While this may be the case for the direct sire line, there is another stallion whose presence in pedigrees of the dams bred to Encosta de Lago has far outperformed opportunity and is a "Key Ancestor" for those looking to purchase yearlings by this leading sire.

Photo: Coolmore
Encosta de Lago (Fairy King—Shoal Creek, by Star Way)

Within five generations of the foal, there are 143 foals of racing age by Encosta de Lago that carry Bletchingly in their pedigree, with 14 of these being stakes winners (9.7% SW/foals), including group I winners Manhattan Rain (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO), Mnemosyne, Racing to Win, and Aloha. The strike rate of Bletchingly appearing in the pedigree of these foals outperforms opportunity and not surprisingly diminishes the further back it recedes into the pedigree page. Eight-five foals have the presence of Bletchingly within three generations and 10 of these horses are stakes winners (12% SW/foals) while for the other 58 foals with Bletchingly appearing in the fourth and fifth generations there are just four stakes winners (7% SW/foals, which is getting back towards Encosta de Lago's general strike rate).

This diminishing effect of a key ancestor is not unique; rather, it is to be expected as the recombination of genes as generations progress makes it less likely that whatever "genetic goodies" Bletchingly provided for Encosta de Lago are inherited. In this vein, the presence of Bletchingly in mares bred to sons of Encosta de Lago hasn't proved so fruitful. With over 200 foals by Encosta de Lago's sons that contain Bletchingly in their pedigree within five generations, there are only two stakes winners with both of these being by the same stallion, Northern Meteor (AUS) (TrueNicks,SRO), a resident of Widden Stud, the same stud that once stood Bletchingly. The reason for the failure of sons of Encosta de Lago to act in a similar fashion to him with Bletchingly may come down to a generational effect—as time goes by Bletchingly appears increasingly farther back in pedigrees, and Encosta de Lago's sons themselves represent another generation for recombination.

For whatever reason, Northern Meteor may prove to be the exception to the statistics and be one that, like his father, responds positively to Bletchingly. With just 13 foals from his first crop carrying Bletchingly he has two stakes winners, Romantic Touch and Zoustar, who this weekend ran 1-2 in the J. J. Atkins Stakes (formerly T. J. Smith, Aus-I) for 2-year-olds. Both of these racehorses carry Bletchingly via his Golden Slipper-winning son Canny Lad, the same as Encosta de Lago's stakes winners Manhattan Rain, Mnemosyne, and Echoes of Heaven.

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Perhaps the reason the sons of Encosta de Lago don't bear fruit with mares with a presence of Bletchingly is that it doesn't matter in any specific cover who the stallion or mare is except the racing quality of the stallion or mare.  The thoroughbred is a general type and nothing can be inferred from any specific breeding or set of breedings.  Specific covers are just that, a momentary tossing  up of a droplet from the great stream that is the Thoroughbred(with apologies to Tolstoy).  To me Nicks are little fictions that I love to contemplate(with apologies to Calvino and Borges).  Keep'm coming.

jim of G 11 Jun 2013 11:36 AM

Jim of G,

While we won't attempt to match you're level of literary allusion, we think it's quite easy to refute the suggestion that it "doesn't matter in any specific cover who the stallion or mare is except (for) the racing quality of the stallion or mare."

For example, if this were true, Secretariat would have been a multiple Champion Sire, and founder of a powerful male line, and it would be he, not the vastly inferior runners Raja Baba and What a Pleasure, who would have been the Bold Ruler sons to capture a Leading Sire title, and it would be Secretariat who continued the Bold Ruler line, not Boldnesian. We'd also be reveling in the parade of wonderful runners by Skip Away, Silver Charm and Smarty Jones, an immensely talented trio of races who as sires could not come up with a single grade one winner between them. In fact if we look at "the lessons of history" (if we may be allowed to use the popular misquoting of Santayana) we actually find that sire lines are often handed down by the less talented sons of great stallions, and that there frequently is a serious disconnect between the possession of racing class and the ability to transmit it.

To dismiss the thoroughbred as a "general type" and to believe that eliminates any potential for affinities between strains, is also flying in the face of not only history, but also genetics. The thoroughbred, which was created from a multitude of different equine types, beginning around 30 generations ago, still has considerable gentotypical and phenotypical diversity (for example there is far more discernible physical difference between a field of thoroughbreds prior to a race, than a group of German Shepherds assembled for a show). The thoroughbred, like the human, is also diverse in aptitude, with optimal racing distance being anywhere from five furlongs to two miles plus. It is now generally understood that in human and horse alike, the diversity in athletic ability and aptitude is down to a number of variant genes (placed at around 200 in the human). The inheritance of these genes is not random, but nor is it as simplistic as breeding together individuals who have a high compliment of desirable variants. Throw in what is in all likelihood, the more complex epistatic effects that control genetic expression, it's hardly surprising that just breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best has not been a particularly rewarding formula (for instance consider the depressingly bad record of Buckpasser when crossed with some the best bred and most accomplished daughters of Bold Ruler, a combination of two of the greatest runners and sires of their era).

While we are some way from having a reliable genomic methodology for breeding racehorses, we do now have an ability to systematically examine thoroughbred pedigrees from a statistical viewpoint. So, for example, we can determine that Encosta de Lago has produced a statistically significant higher percentage of stakes winners to foals out of mares carrying Bletchingly (and particularly within the first three generations of their pedigree) than with all other mares to which he was bred. That quite simply is a fact. It is also true that the sons of Encosta de Lago, in general, have been less impacted by the influence of Bletchingly. Among the possible explanations are the one we advanced a) that with Encosta de Lago being one generation further away, and due to the passage of time, the Bletchingly strain tending to be further back in the mares covered by Encosta de Lago's sons, the combination of genetic variants the made the Encosta de Lago/Bletchingly combination successful is less likely to occur; or b) that the one that you advanced, that the diminished success rate of Encosta de Lago's sons with mares carrying Bletchingly, is not down to generational distance, but instead proves that "nothing can be inferred from any breeding or set of breedings...." and that nothing else matters except "the racing quality of the stallion or mare." As to which of these explanations is the more likely or logical, we're quite happy to let our readers determine.

Alan Porter 12 Jun 2013 12:50 PM

Alan  There's nothing predicative about breeding the thoroughbred.  All you are doing is describing what happened and even that is filtered through many bias.  The thoroughbred is a fiction, one that I find fascinating and I count you as a Tolstoy of the story.  Regards, Jim

jim of G 12 Jun 2013 10:35 PM

Isn't it more like 60 generations ago? I think it was 30 in the 1950s.

I think the failure of a presumed "nick" to show up in the progeny of a stallion's sons disproves the existence of a nick if the sample is large enough.

Nicks must occur -- if stallion A has working genes which are, in stallion B, damaged, the advantages of stallion A as a mate for stallion B's daughters might show up even in the inadequate sample we're apt to get of this cross. It's impossible, given the enormous amount of genetic damage that occurs, that this situation doesn't arise.

Do you have knowledge of somebody who has quantified recombination in thoroughbreds, or horses, or equines? I have never found such work by a scientist and it varies tremendously between species. The persistence of fatal flaws in our best horses suggests to me that we've got another 40 centuries to go before we can treat our horses' ancestry as though it was soup.

Cassandra.Says 13 Jun 2013 5:21 PM

It is not "quite simply a fact" that Encosta de Lago has produced a "statistically significant" higher percentage of SWs etc. as you would require a sample many times larger to reach statistical significance. The best you can say of the numbers are that they are hypothesis generating. The failure of the nick to appear in the next generation scotches that hypothesis!

I think there may be only two nicks: Blenheim/Nasrullah and Nearctic/Native Dancer. Breeding good horses consists of reassembling the nicks when they drift apart.

Somebody back in the early 70s, Estes?, demonstrated that there was not a Nearctic/Native Dancer nick by a comparison that some might think methodologically flawed by counting European champions as unraced horses and a "stakes" as a measure of ability, making equivalent the winner of a sales stakes and a classic.

The B-H had no respect for statistics or Northern Dancer and juggled the one to downgrade the other. Setting out to make a comparison of sires, they write a conversation of the qualities to consider. Left out: classic winners! Of course, while this boosted Bold Ruler, it disadvantaged not only Northern Dancer but Ribot, whom they considered one of their own. Some discussion of making some accommodation for the quality of Ribot's winners. (Perhaps this contributed to the adoption of stakes grading.)

BTW, Northern Dancer was also an 'anti-nick' to Bold Ruler. He had close to 25% SWs from other lines but not a single stakes winner from more than 30 Bold Ruler mares (closer to 40 if I remember correctly -- not a given).

Cassandra.Says 13 Jun 2013 7:10 PM


It wouldn't be 60 generations from say, 1700 to 2000, or so, as you'd only be allowing 5 years per generation. We did some research on the #1 family and were generally coming up with low 30s for number of generations.

With regard to the size of the sample 143 foals by one stallion with a particular strain in the dam is a pretty big sample. We should also remember that the significant improvement by foals carrying the cross against foals not carrying the cross, is despite all the other variables involved. It also seems convoluted to argue that the hypothesis that Encosta de Lago has benefited from mares carrying Bletchingly (born out by 9.7% stakes winners to foals, against his lifetime figure of 6.3% stakes winners to foals) is rendered null by a total separate event, that the sons have been less effective with mares carrying Bletchingly. Given that the impact of any given ancestor (and here we have two, Encosta de Lago and Bletchingly) will regress towards the mean with generational distance, it seems somewhat perverse to use what we would expect to happen (diminished impact with increased generational distance), to disprove the validity of the original event.

With regard to the cross of Nearctic over mares by Native Dancer, the TrueNicks enhanced report tells us that there were six stakes winners from 32 foals (19%) on the cross (including Northern Dancer, Icecapade, and the English group winning and classic placed Freeze the Secret). That compares with 16% stakes winners to foals by the sire with all other mares, and 8% stakes winners for all Native Dancer mares. The cross also produced better than twice as many stakes winners to starters as did the Native Dancer mares bred to Nearctic did when bred to other stallions.

Alan Porter 14 Jun 2013 10:33 AM

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