The Timeform Knowledge: Why Pedigrees matter

Simon Rowlands explains why breeding matters in horse racing
Simon Rowlands explains why breeding matters in horse racing

Simon Rowlands explains how analysis of pedigrees can be an important winner-finding tool in horse racing.

In particular, a horse's pedigree - as reflected in those sire, dam and damsire details - can be a powerful predictor of what to expect, not just on a horse's first start but often for a good time afterwards.

Much of what has gone before in The Timeform Knowledge has involved measuring performances that have already taken place, be it through form-based ratings, through time-based and sectionally-based ratings, or through a more intuitive interpretation of what has been seen.

The reader might be forgiven, therefore, for wondering what approach is required when faced with a race which involves horses that have not run previously.

It is not the case that we know nothing about such unraced horses other than their names, of course. We know their trainers and jockeys, the race they are being asked to make their debuts in, and we know who their sires, dams and damsires are. All of these factors, and many more besides, can be evaluated and estimated.

In particular, a horse's pedigree - as reflected in those sire, dam and damsire details - can be a powerful predictor of what to expect, not just on a horse's first start but often for a good time afterwards.

The breeding of racehorses is a complex undertaking - much more so than the light-hearted "breed the best to the best and hope for the best" truism implies - and has spawned a multi-billion-pound industry in which pioneers use cutting-edge genetics and statistics to achieve their ends.

But that a clear difference in expectation can be established with just limited pedigree information is also true. For instance, if you knew nothing more about an unraced or lightly-raced horse than the identity of its sire you would already know something of worth.

There is a large difference between the achievements of the offspring of good and of mediocre sires, for all that this will be down in part to differences in opportunity and upbringing.

The following extract illustrates this by looking at the average Timeform Master Rating (defined in this instance as the highest performance rating for a horse in a given calendar year, with non-ratings set at 35) for the offspring of those sires with 100 or more qualifiers of all ages in Britain and Ireland from 2011 to 2014 inclusive, of which there were 145 examples.

average ratings all ages.png

There is a gulf between the average class of the offspring of Monsun and Galileo and of Auction House and Proclamation, though it should be remembered that even the latter pair have been successful enough to sire a large number of offspring.

As a further indication of what this signifies, the average rating needed to win a maiden on the Flat in Britain and Ireland is around 80 (it varies by age and by sex restrictions), a figure that all the top nine sires exceed. The average rating required to win a seller is around 69 (ditto), which little more than a half of the leading sires surpass.

If you knew nothing more about two horses than that one was by Galileo and the other by Proclamation, you would be entitled to view the former more favourably - a lot more favourably - than the latter.

The above figures are derived from horses of all ages. It may be that some sires are better at producing precocious types (or types that will be trained to be precocious) than others. The following extract considers the same measures, but for two-year-olds only, and by sires that had 50 or more qualifiers over the same period, of which there were 93 examples.

average ratings juveniles.png

Galileo is not only a good sire but a good sire of two-year-olds; meanwhile, Monsun has disappeared off the table entirely, having only 19 qualifying youngsters (for a respectable average rating of 72.4). The latter is a good sire, but not of precocious horses.

Both Auction House and Proclamation dropped off the table due to lack of juvenile representation but had low average figures for those which did run (53.2 and 54.7 respectively).

Overall, offspring of sires which appeared on both tables were rated 4.4 lb higher on average for all ages than as two-year-olds. But, at opposite extremes, you had those who improved a lot from two to all ages (Authorized, +8.8; Shirocco, +9.8; Hurricane Run, +10.2; and, unexpectedly, Monsieur Bond, +10.7) and those who improved little or not at all (Three Valleys, +0.4; Kodiac, +0.3; Multiplex, -0.5; and Cockney Rebel, -1.1).

If you knew nothing more about a horse than that it was by the pretty good sire Kodiac, say, it would be useful to know whether it was a two-year-old or an older horse, for the evidence is that the sire does better in relative terms with the former than the latter (ranked 14th with two-year-olds but 50th overall).

Precocity may be a function of stamina, of course, for it is only as a horse matures that it gets the opportunity to race at distances of further than a mile and a quarter (indeed, few two-year-olds get to race at beyond a mile).

There are many different ways of measuring the apparent stamina of a sire's offspring, one of which is to establish the average distance at which mature offspring ran to form (defined as 5 lb or less than that offspring's highest rating in that calendar year). This information is displayed for a selection of the sires mentioned above, along with the distribution of performances across different distance ranges.

distribution of runs.png

It can be seen that Galileo and Monsun get horses which show their form at much further, on average, than does Kodiac, while Proclamation and Auction House are in between. It can also be seen that a negligible number of mature Galileos and Monsuns even run at sprint distances, while few Kodiacs and Proclamations are seen at the opposite extreme.

To those who know about pedigrees, the ability, stamina, and even precocity, associated with such sires will come as no surprise. But to anyone who has hitherto ignored pedigrees the differences in quality and aptitude may make them think again.

It must be clear that breeding counts, even at the basic level of a horse's sire, but sourcing this information and making sense of it is no easy matter (there are similarities with sectional timing in this respect).

Fortunately, help is just around the corner. Timeform will shortly be introducing Predicted Ratings for unraced horses which will condense important information from a horse's breeding and several other significant factors into one rating for direct comparison with horses that have already run.

The debutant's sire will be just one component in the algorithm used, but the above does show that it will be an important one in some circumstances.
There can be a world of difference between one unraced horse and another, and an understanding of breeding is a powerful tool in establishing what that difference is likely to be.

The usefulness of Timeform Predicted Ratings can be seen in an example taken from Newmarket's meeting this coming Friday. The one-mile maiden for two-year-olds sees a mixture of raced and unraced youngsters at the five-day stage. How can those without racecourse experience be expected to measure up?

predicted ratings example.png

On the face of it, it is a big ask for one of the newcomers to oust the likes of Culturati and Ventura Storm, who have fairly useful form in the book. However, the John Gosden-trained pair of Satish and Perigee look best placed to do so, with the former appealing rather more (on breeding and other measures) than the latter.

A win for one of the newcomers might well be a very positive indicator for the future. The race has been of variable quality over the years but saw the winning debut of no less a horse than Frankel in 2010.

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