Varola and the issue of dosage: A short history lesson

SF and Leon Rasmussen

[In the December 13, 2008, edition of Thoroughbred Times, the magazine’s eminent pedigree writer and bloodstock editor, John P. Sparkman, wrote this article, “A new understanding of dosage,” which gives an historical account of the development of dosage as well as updated research information by John. Dosage was developed by Col. J-J. Vuillier, utilized privately by the Aga Khan Studs for whom he worked, redefined in published form by Dr. Franco Varola, and later refined for widespread use by Dr. Steve Roman. This post on Steve’s analysis of Danehill resulted in some queries on dosage. Roman dosage was popularized in the 1980s by the famous bloodstock writer Leon Rasmussen in Daily Racing Form, but Leon wrote about Varola’s dosage in the 1960s and 1970s, too. Leon, who penned his pieces in the paper’s hugely influential “Bloodlines” column, was a close friend of mine. I’d first written to him at Daily Racing Form about dosage  in 1976, when I was 16, and was flattered when he wrote back. Many years later, I, too, wrote about bloodstock at DRF under the column “Taking ‘Stock,” and the following piece, “Varola and the issue of dosage,” was published in the December 17, 1995, issue of the paper and concerned Leon’s role in Varola’s dosage. It was written in response to John Sparkman’s interview of Dr. Varola in the December 9, 1995, issue of Thoroughbred Times. John and I both blog now, and his excellent blog, The Pedigree Curmudgeon, can be read here. For this “Taking ‘Stock” column, I had access to Leon’s personal correspondence with Dr. Varola while visiting with Leon and his wife at their home in the Los Feliz section of Los Angeles.]

Varola and the issue of dosage

By Sid Fernando

Dr. Francesco Varola, the author of the fine book “Typology of the Racehorse” and the man who developed a dosage system based on the original work of Col. J-J Vuillier—the old Aga Khan’s pedigree adviser whose work was continued and updated by his widow, Germaine Vuillier, and later by her adopted son, Robert Muller-Conte, for Prince Aly Khan and the present Aga Khan, Karim—was interviewed by John P. Sparkman in the Dec. 9 issue of Thoroughbred Times.

Sparkman wrote in his introduction: “Varola’s work was popularized in the pages of Daily Racing Form by Leon Rasmussen, which caught the attention of Dr. Steven Roman and the late Abe Hewitt. Roman, with the assistance of Hewitt and Rasmussen, developed a new system of dosage which has become a popular standard in the industry.” Sparkman also wrote: “Varola very pointedly does not wish for his name to be associated with the proponents of Roman dosage…”

Later, Sparkman asked Varola: “Leon Rasmussen did a great deal to popularize your work in the US, and then he worked closely with Dr. Steven Roman in developing and popularizing Roman’s system, which utilized your classification by type and your chefs-de-race. Did Rasmussen or Roman consult with you at all or ask your permission?” Varola replied” ” ‘No permission was ever asked.’ ”

I don’t believe permission was required. Roman’s dosage certainly owes a huge debt to Varola’s pioneering work, but Varola himself based his concept of the chef-de-race on the original work of Vuillier, who developed the system [over years] to aid in the practical approach to matings for the Aga Khan’s studs.

“I didn’t think I needed permission from Varola to support the work of Dr. Roman,” said Rasmussen by phone Tuesday afternoon. “Through the 1960s and 1970s I wrote extensively about Varola’s dosage—you know, he wasn’t taken very seriously in Europe at the time—and there was some interest in his dosage—mainly from breeders and those people involved in the breeding industry—but the popularity of his dosage was nothing compared to what Daily Racing Form received when we supported Dr. Roman. As a paper for handicappers, I felt our allegiance first was to them and second to the breeders. Dr. Roman’s system was easily applied—unlike Varola’s—and allowed fans and handicappers to utilize it as a betting method if they so chose. You know, a lot of people made money using it for the Kentucky Derby.”

Rasmussen told me that although he and Varola corresponded frequently through the 1960s and 1970s, contact gradually ceased through the latter 1970s and ended altogether after Roman’s work appeared in Daily Racing Form in the early 1980s.

Perhaps as a result of going their own ways, Varola, in the Times interview, felt it unnecessary to acknowledge the role that Rasmussen played in the development of his chef-de-race list of American sires.

For instance, a Jan. 28, 1967, letter from Varola to Rasmussen said:

I must also thank you for your most valuable suggestions on American chefs-de-race as presented in the Daily Racing Form. You know so much more than I do as regards American sires that it will take some time for me to digest all your suggestions … I am attempting a preliminary reclassification of the 10 sires you propose, as follows: a group composed of Bold Ruler, Nashua, Native Dancer, and Tom Fool is the most likely to be elected in the new setup for 1970 or 1971, where Bold Ruler might qualify as intermediate, Nashua as intermediate or classic, Native Dancer as intermediate, and Tom Fool as classic.

Another group of Double Jay, Olympia, Hail to Reason, and Round Table would have to be further watched, with Double Jay as intermediate, Olympia as brilliant, Hail to Reason as intermediate, and Round Table as intermediate.

Finally, Johns Joy and Bull Dog would appear to be a little past the purpose of the 1970/71 reassessment, however Johns Joy might qualify as brilliant and Bull Dog as intermediate.

In some cases the above aptitudinal classifications differ from yours, but this is offered only as a point for further discussion … I will set your list as the basis for the future study.

In a January 1971 column in DRF, Rasmussen wrote that he felt Bold Ruler was brilliant, Native Dancer classic or intermediate and that “perhaps Hail to Reason is heading toward a classic classification.”

In “Typology of the Racehorse,” published in 1974, Varola named Bold Ruler brilliant, Native Dancer intermediate, and Hail to Reason classic—just as Rasmussen had suggested in 1971. Varola also named Nashua intermediate, Tom Fool classic, and Double Jay brilliant.

In a Sept. 5, 1967, letter to Rasmussen, Varola wrote:

… both Vuillier and myself have placed to the disposal of everybody the result of our findings … it can be utilized, applied, modified … by everybody who wishes to do so.

It was and is.

Copyright 1995 Daily Racing Form. Reprinted here with permission of DRF.

Varola and the issue of dosage: A short history lesson

15 thoughts on “Varola and the issue of dosage: A short history lesson

  1. Pedigree theorists who believe that Dosage, Nicks, or other methods on ‘how’ to breed a top class racehorse, are never comfortable in answering the fundamental question… “Why, is there a difference in ability between full brothers, or full sisters, if they both have the same ‘nick’ or the same ‘dosage’ of genes..?”
    Almost every top stallion in history had brothers who disappeared in the mists of time, Northern Dancer had three, Bold Ruler had a brother, Mr Prospector had no less than four brothers, why were they not good at stud.?, does dosage influence only work once in a pedigree, is breeding a second foal from the mare a waste of time?.

  2. Elaine Belval says:

    Mr. Dane,
    Avalyn Hunter wrote an interesting article which appeared in the Blood Horse on February 13, 2009, which I would encourage you to read.
    The preliminary results of her research indicated that duplicating the mating which produced the “superior racehorse” substantially improved the odds of getting a good horse.

  3. Elaine., the above post proves Avalyn wrong with her conclusion.
    Natalma was mated with Nearctic several times, but the magic ‘nick’ only worked once.. one of her produce won the Kentucky Derby, the others were just second class or worse.
    Stud Book history proves that it is pointless 85% of the time, trying again with the same stallion and same mare for a second champion.
    Nicks and Dosage are only theories created by people with a copy of the General Studbook, or thoroughbred female family charts

  4. watcher says:

    Commercially-driven products, such as Roman’s Dosage/Dual Qualifier and the various ‘nicking’ reports, may satisfy the neophyte’s need for quick answers to breeding questions but they serve only as a joke to professional breeders. In all cases their methodology is so inherently flawed that only those horse owners who need some sort of ‘expert’ justification for their decisions will ignore that obvious fact.

  5. Watcher., In the forthcoming “Genetic” conference at the Marriott hotel in Lexington, there are 18 experts on the subject, listed to give their opinion.. I wonder how many of them actually own a broodmare.

  6. watcher says:

    Hal Dane, I don’t know, of course, but I would be interested in knowing the percentage of stakes winners to foals their mating selections have yielded.

    What may also be informative is any new statistically valid research on subjects which can help breeders produce better quality racehorses. I dont have much faith in the drive-through pedigree experts’ opinions primarily because they are driven by sales. But objective researchers who dont have a profit motive behind their label can be very enlightening.

  7. Mr. Dane, I don’t know if you actually read the above post, judging from your comments, but it is a historical account of how sires were selected in the US for dosage analysis, with Mr Rasmussen playing a role between Messrs. Varola and Roman, who had two very different types of dosage analysis. Dosage isn’t a breeding theory designed to produce better horses or stakes winners; it is simply a “gauge” as to distance aptitude in Roman’s version and “moral character” in Varola’s version. The article reproduced below the note was published in 1995 in DRF as a response to an interview with Varola that appeared in Thoroughbred Times. There isn’t a “silver bullet” here, nor is there one in “nicks,” which simply recite successful sire line crosses from the past. It’s information that some breeders use, along with many other criteria, to plan matings.

    And to Watcher, there are many “objective researchers” that make their information available for a price, just as there are stock analysts or professionals in other fields that do. I don’t expect anyone to work for free—including the plumber who fixes the sink with the latest gadget. Usually I’ve found that you get what you pay for. If you can find a vet, trainer, stud horse, boarding farm, or free pedigree research, I’d advise you–for free here—to do some due dilligence before accepting the “gift” horse.

    Tinky, yes it is interesting, thanks. But which dosage is flawed? Varola’s or Roman’s or Vuiliier’s? They are all quite different, and if you want to speak intelligently on each, I’d suggest you read up on each. The Aga Khan studs—one of the most successful European breeding establishments in the world—use Vuilliier dosage, and flawed to you is apparently “not” to them.

    Again, thanks for the comments from everyone—you, too, Diego, and Elaine.

  8. One last word Sid., you must admit that some ‘nicks’ that somehow seem to get good winners, also appear in dozens of bad horses bred on the same lines..and the bad horses far outnumber the winners..

    Dosage.. in Vuillier’s early work WAS meant to be a breeding method, it was shot down as nonsense, just like Bruce Lowe’s crazy idea of
    Breeding Winners By The Figure System.. which basically was ‘nicking’
    family X mares with family Y stallions..

    Are you speaking at the forthcoming genetic conference..?

  9. Hal, yes, of course, “nicks” appear in good and bad horses. There are four European Guineas winners in 2011 by Galileo out of Danehill mares, and from here on sons of Galileo will be bred to mares by sons of Danehill that will create hundreds of horses bred the same way on the Galileo/Danehill nick that will be less successful. That’s the nature of the beast.

    You are correct about Vuillier dosage, but apparently it was not shut down as nonsense to the Aga Khan Studs—who use it quite successfully, if you follow European racing.

    Yes, surprisingly I was invited this year—last year I was not—and have accepted the invite to speak. My topic will be more historical in nature—the diminishing of stamina sire lines in the US.

  10. Thanks for the response Sid., I keep up-to-date the winners of all the classic races from 28 countries around the world, 252 of them.

    In thoroughbred breeding there has always been a curious culture, when someone is successful a few times, gaining some publicity, it seems every other breeder jumps onto the bandwagen.

    If the Aga Khan’s success in the 1920’s and 1930’s was down to the Dosage method, you can bet your blue swede shoes that all other
    breeders will follow suit… it did not happen..

    His success was simply through the female lines in his stud descending from the few mares he purchased at the beginning of his involvement in racing.
    Note: actually nine out of ten pedigree “experts” think tha the Aga Khan bred the wonderful Mumtas Mahal.

    If you are going to push for more stamina in American Breds, there is plenty of staying blood in Europe for importation bay any courageous breeder.


  11. Calvin L. Carter says:


    The Aga Khan’s purchase of Mumtaz Mahal was based upon the dosage profile of Lt. Col. J. Vuillier and the conformation report of George Lambton.

    Author and bloodstock agent Ken McLean in “Quest for a Classic Winner” wrote:

    “In 1922, George Lambton and Vuillier agreed that the best Yearling at the Newmarket Sales was the grey filly by the Tetrarch from Lady Josephine by Sundridge. She had a wonderful dosage profile with a mixture of the best English, French and American strains. The Aga Khan was adamant about owning her after his advisors gave their nod of approval. He paid top price for the filly with a bid of 9,100 guineas and named her Mumtaz Mahal. She became champion two year old of her generation. Mumtaz Mahal established a dynasty of champions and her grandsons Nasrullah and Mahmoud would exert tremendous worldwide influence.” – page 87

  12. Calvin:

    Thanks, I’m quite aware of that, but unfortunately it’s not worth bringing up because quite a few readers are in disbelief and I’ve found that though you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make him drink it…..

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