Snapshot of Triple Crown winners by percentage of imported or foreign-bred ancestors could lead to conclusions

The 11 US Triple Crown winners spanned the time frame from Sir Barton in 1919 to Affirmed in 1978, roughly about 60 years. Each is listed below by year of classic wins, name, the number of generations to the first imported or foreign-bred ancestor in the pedigree (in parenthesis  after name; if a sire or dam is an import, the number would be “1” and so on, up to “5”), and the percentage of imported or foreign-bred ancestors in each’s pedigree within five generations (number of imported or foreign-bred ancestors as a percentage of the 62 ancestors found in the first five generations).

1919 Sir Barton (1) 80.6%

1930 Gallant Fox (1) 85.4%

1935 Omaha (2) 83.9%

1937 War Admiral (2) 74.2%

1941 Whirlaway (1) 66.1%

1943 Count Fleet (2) 75.8%

1946 Assault (2) 56.5%

1948 Citation (1) 95.2%

1973 Secretariat (2) 62.9%

1977 Seattle Slew (4) 25%

1978 Affirmed (4) 24.2%

By the time of Seattle Slew and Affirmed, the first imported ancestor has receded back to the fourth generation, and consequently the percentage of imported or foreign-bred ancestors in their pedigrees has declined as well.

For shits and giggles, here’s a random sample of some Kentucky Derby winners since then, and you’ll note a continuation of a trend over the last 35 years:

1998 Real Quiet (4) 17.7%

2004 Smarty Jones (4) 9.79%

2007 Street Sense (1) 30.6%

2008 Big Brown (4) 22.6%

2009 Mine That Bird (5) 3.2%

2010 Super Saver (3) 14.5%

2011 Animal Kingdom (1) 74.2%

2012 I’ll Have Another (3) 9.7%

2013 Orb (4) 9.7%

Street Sense, the only BC Juvenile winner to also win the Derby, is by the imported Street Cry, while Animal Kingdom, a rare recent Derby winner to race at 5,  is by two imported parents and consequently a throwback to another time.

The lowering of the “import” or foreign-bred factor, interestingly, has occurred during the last 30-odd years—the age of Lasix—when the North American Thoroughbred’s soundness has come into question. Is there a connection?

If, in fact, the pedigrees of these specific horses, exceptions aside, are reflective of an overall breeding trend, perhaps this information, combined with Lasix usage, larger foal crops versus the middle of the last century, changes in training, lowering of distances, increases in stallion books, dwindling of bloodlines, the advent of the Breeders’ Cup, and any number of other factors could explain at least partially the lower number of starts per runner and appearance of fragility of the better horses of each crop that are so often the subject of commentary?

Your guess is a good as mine.

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