by Alan Leavitt
I have received two fascinating emails from Ms. Dot Schmidt in Australia. Ms. Schmidt has a much more in-depth knowledge of equine genetics in general, and standardbred pedigrees in particular, than I, or anyone else I know.
Ms. Schmidt points out the many problems that can arise with inbreeding. There are two areas that can cause problems. The first is the sudden accentuation of visible physical defects, such as the tendency of the feet to roll over or turn over, suddenly becoming a major and irreparable problem. Another example is bad feet, which in the inbred generation can mean chronic pain.
The second area of perhaps even more concern is the activation of a previously latent gene. It can mean a suddenly compromised immune system, with potentially fatal results. And another problem that inbreeding can create is loss of fertility, especially in the male horse. It is a fact that inbreeding has caused a loss of heterozygosity (the factor of variability) in the American trotter, which manifests itself in a loss of fertility in some otherwise highly respected trotting stallions.
All of the examples cited here simply reaffirm the need to breed closely only with exceptional individuals, both in terms of conformation and with exceptional track performance i.e. top speed. But with all of these conditions granted, let me give you an example of the good results that inbreeding can achieve.
You have to start with the definition of this kid’s inbreeding. I call it inbreeding when the sum of the generations in which the same horse name appears twice is six or less. This brings me to my first great horse, Noble Victory.
Noble Victory retired at the end of his 4-year season as the fastest racing trotter of all time. He entered stud at five, at Lana Lobell Farms, and from his first two-year-old generation, he had two 2-minute performers.
To put this in perspective, this was the first time that a standard breed stallion, trotter or companion had two 2 minute horses of his first generation. For the record, the first point guard to win this jackpot was Race Time, which was held at Castleton Farm.
Noble Victory was sired by Victory Song, also a father of Castleton, who was by Volomite. Her mother was Emily’s Pride, by Star’s Pride, and her grandfather was also Volomite. So, Noble Victory was 2 x 4 to Volomite, making a total of six, making him inbred with Volomite.
I hasten to say that I don’t recommend going deliberately closer than six just for the sake of it. The more you reproduce, the more likely it is that a defect is amplified rather than a desirable quality. The exception here is when you have two exceptional individuals, and there is a good chance that their good qualities will prevail.
Going back to Noble Victory, he was the first standardbred to sell for a million dollars when I syndicated him in 1965. It only happened because he lost the Hambletonian earlier that year. , while he was the big favorite. A handshake deal had been made between Ken Owen, who owned Noble, and Walnut Hall Farm, to unionize the horse for a million dollars, on condition that he won the big race.
As it happened, there was torrential rains that week at Du Quoin, and the dirt track was a quagmire. Noble couldn’t handle the heavy ground, although his team mate Egyptian Candor came out as smooth as an eel and won the day.
By the way, Stanley Dancer led Noble, as always, and he gave the winning order on Egyptian Candor to his good friend, Del Cameron. That was before white driving pants became de rigueur, and before the race, Dancer gave Cameron some bright blue driving pants. After Cameron won the Hambletonian, in his new blue pants, Dancer insisted that Cameron not take those pants off for the next three weeks.
Ms. Schmidt also echoed my mention of CR Kay Suzie, and how her success reflected Carl Allen’s coaching prowess. I don’t know how many riders today realize the debt of gratitude we all owe to Allen for his invention of the trotting restraints.
Allen was a real all-round rider, to plagiarize Isaac Walton’s title of The Compleat Angler. He was not only a great trainer and driver, but he was also a skilled blacksmith. It was while preparing his tools and shoe irons to tackle one of his trotters that he had a revelation.
He suddenly realized that if he could design hobbles for his trotter’s front legs and attach them to a spring on the front of his racing bike, he could shoe his horse with lighter front shoes from six ounces than the ones he and everyone else used.
It is difficult to understand today what a revolutionary step forward the hindrance to the trot was. Suddenly, the public of punters could bet on pari-mutuel trotting races, where for nearly a century it remained behind, because of the unpredictable escapes that the trotters were inclined to make.
Today the trotting breed is truer than it ever was, but yet there are still many good trotters who wear shackles. Not only do they give the public the confidence they need to put in their hard-earned money, but they let drivers be more aggressive now that they don’t have to keep them together like before, even in long driving.
This is all due to Carl Allen, whom I am proud to say was a good friend of mine. And the same goes for Rod Allen, whose first name provides the “R” which always follows Carl’s “C”. A large family of great riders.
Speaking of great riders, I have repeatedly emphasized how Ake Svanstedt is in a class of his own. In the age of specialization, Svanstedt trains at the highest level and drives just as well. And no one plays the game as skillfully as he does, starting three and four horse entries in the biggest stakes, and picking up big purse checks with them even if they don’t win.
But here in Kentucky we have our own version of Ake Svanstedt, a rider who is both a great trainer and an equally good rider. That’s Randy Jerrell, a humble man from the Kentucky boondocks who produces good horses every year he rides on his third-mile track and then drives them as well as any big-name rider.
Somehow these days I find my thoughts going back to the distant days when I was just a tiny part of the show horse world. At that time, two of the most successful riders were Tom Moore, who was a thin reed, well over six feet, and Garland Bradshaw, who on tiptoes was my height.
And here’s a quick digression to Tom’s wife of the day, Donna. It was the legend that she had actually fired multiple shots with her gun at Tom for his alleged marital missteps.
I had known Donna when I was a show horse, so when I moved to Kentucky, we renewed our friendship. Which led me to ask Donna what was the truth about the shooting legend.
“I went to this girl’s apartment,” she said, “and there in the closet was Tom’s second best pair of shoes. So I turned on his TV to let him know I was there.
Either way, there was a class of futurity at the Junior League Show here in Lexington, and it went on to two yearlings, one from Tom and one from Garland, and the judge them. lined up side by side.
As the judge paced back and forth between the two foals, on the side of his mouth, Garland said, “This tall, tall boy doesn’t need money, judge, but I sure do.”
There were times over the years when I wanted to say to an imaginary judge, “These tall, tall boys don’t need money, judge, but I sure do.”