Casper Netscher wins 2014 Nearctic Stakes

Have you ever wondered who your great, great grandfather is? Where did he come from? Who were his parents? Do you have any resemblance to him? What was his name? You would be surprised how many of us cannot answer these questions. With the popularity of various on-line web sites devoted to the research of such inquiries, many people are interested in finding their “Ancestry”.

If we were thoroughbred equines, we would not have this dilemma. The records of pedigrees for thoroughbreds have been meticulously kept for over three centuries. However since the horse, though very intelligent in their own right, cannot read, they do not know who or where they come from. Nor do they care. But we do. It is for this reason that we keep bloodline records of these most beautiful of animals not only because it is required, but to also further the development of the breed by introducing top stallions to the top mares.

The bloodlines of the horses you cheer for, bet on, admire as champions, or favourite thoroughbreds you simply fall in love with can all be traced back to their origins. Their immediate pedigrees (sire – dam – dam’s sire) are listed in the program you read at the race track. The comprehensive statistics of thoroughbreds and their families list a Who’s Who of champions and influential stallions and mares in the pedigrees of today’s track heroes and heroines. We can trace the ancestry of every thoroughbred born in every year dating back to the dawn of the breed.

As humans we select our own mates, but thoroughbred mating is selected for them by humans based on many factors. Conformation, speed, stamina, bloodlines, temperament, stud fees, etc. are all taken into account when a stallion is selected for breeding to a mare. The old saying in breeding is “breed the best to the best and hope for the best” will always ring true. However many breeders have taken to pattern breeding or “nicks”. In theory this means that if you have a mare by one particular sire and another stallion has many winners from mares by the same sire as your mare, then breed her to him. This is a method of selection that has been practised throughout the evolution of the thoroughbred.

While this is a noble method to try to breed a racing champion, it can quickly lead to too much close inbreeding. Inbreeding is unavoidable since all thoroughbreds trace back to three founding sires, The Darley Arabian, The Byerley Turk, and The Godolphin Arabian. There were other stallions in service at the dawn of the breed, which were less influential as time passed on, but still contributed nonetheless. Alcock’s Arabian and the Brownlow Turk were both greys which has lead to many conclusions from breeders and equine geneticists as to where this particular colour in modern thoroughbreds originate.

Throughout the history of the thoroughbred, certain stallions have become more prolific than others in siring winners and champions. These horses are frequently inbred to, in order to obtain their characteristics desired by the breeder. Also, certain mares who have been either a champion on the track or produced exceptional runners as broodmares or both are inbred to by many breeders for the same reason.

Now this is not to say that inbreeding is necessarily wrong or damaging. However, it is not a fool proof method of raising champions either since there are no certainties when breeding thoroughbreds. Many stallions are selected for breeding because they have absolutely no similarity in bloodline (within 6 or 7 generations at least) of the mare to be bred. This is to introduce different blood to “the family”. These selections are based more on conformation and the speed/stamina equation. Also, if a certain stallion seems to be quite prolific and is siring good horses regardless of the mare’s pedigree then these stallions are keenly sought after.

Not all champion horses become exceptional sires or broodmares. Many have bred on with progeny that has equalled or surpassed their track accomplishments, while others, because of their supreme track records did not get an heir to their throne. Some were not fertile enough to breed. Generally however, champions on the track will pass on some quality in their offspring, though it may not be evident in the immediate progeny but in some future offspring by their progeny.

High expectations are placed on dominating champion thoroughbreds when they are retired from the track and enter the breeding arena. Huge amounts of money are spent by top breeders the world over to try to breed their own version of said champion.

Consequently, some sires and broodmares who were just below the top flight of racers have become exceptional and influential in pedigrees of future champions on the track. Most of these thoroughbreds didn’t get a chance to shine in racing due to injury, while some never ran in a race. However, because of their pedigrees, they were given the chance to become stallions or broodmares.

Generally these horses enter the breeding arena at a lesser value than say a champion by the same sire or dam or both, because of their lack of race track accomplishments. This opens the possibility to breeders of lesser financial means to breed to the bloodlines, which can result in a more diverse book of mares. The diversity can open the possibilities of discovering certain “nicks” that work with the bloodlines of such horses.

Breeding thoroughbreds is far from an exact science. In fact, there have been quite a few exceptional champions on the track that were not considered as “fashionably bred”. The sire and dam may have been ordinary and consequently did not breed many other winners, other than the one exceptional individual. Some refer to these horses as freaks of nature, which is a very unfair denouncement of them.

Genetics is still an inexact science we do not fully understand. It is this reason that the unexpected will occur. Many factors play in the part of training and racing a champion. Breeding is definitely very high, but so is environment, training methods, jockey selection, track conditions, etc.

On this web-site, we can look into the history of the most influential bloodlines that have become dominant in thoroughbred breeding. The major sires of the breed and the most influential broodmares consistently pop up in pedigrees of recent champions. From the origins of the thoroughbred in England, to the importation of top stallions to the U.S., to the breeding of world class horses everywhere, let us examine why these horses are what they are.

Also within the articles on this web-site we can discover some of the top breeders of thoroughbreds who, like the horses they bred, have left an indelible legacy to the sport. The stories of the great champions during their racing careers are significant as well, as it is in these moments that we can learn of the individual personalities of the thoroughbred themselves and the various setbacks and personal hardships that they had to overcome.

I will cover the significant stallions in pedigrees where, through direct male line descent, important branches of the lines were created that lead to the present day top sires, and consequently the top stakes winning thoroughbreds. By following the thoroughbred pedigrees in this manner, definitive patterns will emerge.

There are also stallions through the influence of their daughters, whose names frequently arise in pedigrees of top runners and sires. A pattern will show as to the stallions most frequently emerging in these pedigrees.

Categories on the great breed defining broodmares will highlight many of the great female thoroughbreds from the past. These Magical Matriarchs and Queens of the Turf are just as responsible for the champions and great sires as much as the heralded sires were. Sometimes I think that with the preponderance of acclaiming the great males of the thoroughbred, not enough credit is given to their partners in foal making. Many notable broodmares have been exceptional producers of sires that became prominent in breeding, thus are consistently seen within the pedigrees of some of the best thoroughbreds of today.

Now only if we can find out the origins of our own personal blood lines to be just as comprehensive in nature. But that is for another web-site.

Weanlings 1982 b

(First photo courtesy of Michael Burns and Woodbine Race Track. Second photo courtesy of the author)


  • Just discovered this site-intriguing. Is it possible for you to email me? Avid fan from childhood much like you. I saw Northern Dancer and Natalma at Oshawa as teen!

  • Thank you for your kind words Skye. I have sent you and e-mail off site.

  • Thank you for your AWESOME website of Thoroughbred Ancestry!! I enjoy reading about thoroughbred pedigrees and the horses racing careers. Hopefully, we will see Hialeah, my favorite track, return to Thoroughbred Racing in the near future!

  • I am very glad you enjoy the articles Pattie. This is a labour of love for me. I enjoy researching and writing about the greats. Hialeah was a great track with a fabulous history. With the recent closing down of Hollywood Park, we have lost two very historic tracks. I hope there will be no more such disasters but some other fabled tracks are in trouble, as we speak, and Massachusetts has now lost all live racing. Keeping my fingers crossed that there will be no more closings.

  • Nicki Boyd-Clouston

    Hi, Colin: Your articles are brilliant as usual. This is part of my daily reading”requirements”. would you be able to find out about Carry Back, please? It was 1961 & I was 14 & that year’s Kentucky Derby was my first experience with Thoroughbred racing. Sadly, I was infected with horse-fever & it’s proven to be incurable for me. Thanks & keep up the great work you are doing. Best Wishes, Nicki

  • I breed Quarter Race Horses. In reading a recent article about genetics they referenced direct tail-male descendants. In looking for more information about this term I came across your Pinterest site. Would you explain this term for me either on your blog or in an email?
    Make it a great day!

  • Colin: Do you know what it means when someone reports an owner buys back his/her yearling/sales horse from the auction house? I see it fairly often mentioned in Bloodhorse.com. I don’t understand what goes on when a breeder sends a horse to auction. I know what reserved not acquired means but that’s about it. I have lots of questions but don’t know where to go to get the answers. I sure hope you can shed some light onto this for me or send me in the right direction to get the answers for myself. Thanks a bunch & a love what you are doing with this site. Highlight of my day!!!

  • Hi,Colin: I have another question. How does a stallion syndication work?

  • Nicki, a stallion syndication is set-up by breeders for gaining the rights to have access to a potential or established stallion on a yearly basis. A value is placed on the horse at the time of the syndication and is divided by the number of shares to be made available. Usually thirty-two to forty shares but this is not a hard set total.
    Invited breeders are then canvassed to see if they are willing to purchase shares and if so, how many would they be willing to purchase. Each syndicate member would be allowed one breeding right to the stallion each year for each share they own. This is for the life of the stallion or until they sell the share or shares to another breeder.
    Also each shareholder is given a vote, as to the stallion’s stud career management. Example: if an offer to purchase the stallion outright should come from an outside source, then the stallion’s manager would contact the syndicate members with the sale proposal and a vote would take place as to whether the sale can be made. Each share is considered as one vote. If a member owns multiple shares, then his or her vote would carry more leverage in the final tally.
    If breeding seasons beyond the total allotted to syndicate members are sold to breeders outside of the syndicate, then the resulting money earned would go towards advertising and farm management fees to cover the cost. Syndicate members are also free to sell publicly or privately a breeding season if they chose to not breed to the stallion that season.
    I hope this answer helps you to understand the workings of a stallion syndication. — Colin

  • Roberta Gonzalez

    I was trying to find out if you wrote anything about Phar Lap, and couldn’t find anything. Did they ever find out if he was poisoned? He was amazing, and I know he carried a lot of weight. They kept trying to beat him by weight. I know he had an unconventional trainer.

    • Tonya Marie Stephenson

      Early on 5 April 1932, the horse’s strapper for the North American visit, Tommy Woodcock, found him in severe pain and with a high temperature. Within a few hours, Phar Lap haemorrhaged to death. An autopsy revealed that the horse’s stomach and intestines were inflamed, leading many to believe the horse had been deliberately poisoned. There have been alternative theories, including accidental poisoning from lead insecticide and a stomach condition. It was not until the 1980s that the infection could be formally identified.

      In 2000, equine specialists studying the two necropsies concluded that Phar Lap probably died of duodenitis-proximal jejunitis, an acute bacterial gastroenteritis.[21]

      Phar Lap’s skin was preserved by Louis Paul Jonas and is now exhibited as a taxidermy mount by Melbourne Museum.
      However, in 2006 Australian Synchrotron Research scientists said it was almost certain Phar Lap was poisoned with a large single dose of arsenic in the hours before he died, perhaps supporting the theory that Phar Lap was killed on the orders of U.S. gangsters, who feared the Melbourne Cup-winning champion would inflict big losses on their illegal bookmakers.[22][23] No real evidence of involvement by a criminal element exists, however.[24]

      Sydney veterinarian Percy Sykes believes poisoning did not cause the death. He said “In those days, arsenic was quite a common tonic, usually given in the form of a solution (Fowler’s Solution)”, and suggests this was the cause of the high levels. “It was so common that I’d reckon 90 per cent of the horses had arsenic in their system.”[25] In December 2007 Phar Lap’s mane was tested to find if he was given repeated doses of arsenic which, if found, would point to accidental poisoning.

      On 19 June 2008, the Melbourne Museum released the findings of the forensic investigation conducted by Dr. Ivan Kempson, University of South Australia, and Dermot Henry, Natural Science Collections at Museum Victoria. Dr. Kempson took six hairs from Phar Lap’s mane and analyzed them at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago. These high resolution x-rays detect arsenic in hair samples, showing the specific difference “between arsenic, which had entered the hair cells via the blood and arsenic, which had infused the hair cells by the taxidermy process when he was stuffed and mounted at the museum”.[26][27]

      Kempson and Henry discovered that in the 30 to 40 hours before Phar Lap’s death, the horse ingested a massive dose of arsenic. “We can’t speculate where the arsenic came from, but it was easily accessible at the time”, Henry said.[28]

      However, in October 2011 the Sydney Morning Herald published an article in which a New Zealand physicist and information from Phar Lap’s strapper state that the great horse was never given any tonic with arsenic and that he died of an infection.[29] Said Dr. Putt, “Unless we are prepared to say that Tommy Woodcock was a downright liar, which even today, decades after the loveable and respected horseman’s death, would ostracise us with the Australian racing public, we must accept him on his word. The ineluctable conclusion we are left with, whether we like it or not, is that Phar Lap’s impeccable achievements here and overseas were utterly tonic, stimulant and drug-free.” Contradictory to this though is the tonic book of Harry Telford, Phar Lap’s owner and trainer, and is on display in Museum Victoria, Melbourne. One recipe for a “general tonic” has a main ingredient of arsenic and has written below it: “A great tonic for all horses”.[30] Several theories have been proposed as to how Phar Lap came to consume such a large amount of arsenic. The source is unlikely to ever be determined.

  • Is it possible to find the name of a thoroughbred based on her markings. That is all I have available, no tatoo.

  • Well, I’m stunned. You have here what I’ve imagined that I was going to do. Thoroughbred ancestries within a Canadian frame. Huzzah to you. Now I can get rid of all those moldy banana boxes filled with copies of The Toronto Telegram and the racing page that fueled my interest in Canadian bloodlines. It didn’t help that I moved to Toronto in 1964 and my dah was Irish.
    I hot-walked Battling (Nearctic-Lyford Cay by Battlefield); got to meet Mr E.P.Taylor who used to come around and watch him while we ‘iced’ his ankles; got the ‘what if’ disease when Battling died in a shipping accident
    You must know ‘what if’ because you note history so well. What if bugged me. I didn’t appreciate the complexity of a large breeding operation such as Windfields Farm, yet here was Mr Taylor coming around a gypsy operation that had claimed Battling for $7,500, asking about racing and retirement plans for the horse. This horse had heart as he ran on 3 legs against some of the toughest horses at that time in the United Nations Handicap.
    ‘What if” I could find another Nearctic – Battlefield cross? Been with me all my life except on a back-burner.
    Found your site through the Windfields Farm facebook posting on Nearctic and am very appreciative of all the work of compilation and personal history that makes this site such a great read.
    Thank you for saving me from searching through all those files and boxes to do as you have done. Much appreciated.

  • I don’t have a website but I’ve been a racing fan for many, many years (and I’m nearly old now). I enjoy the discussion of pedigrees and where they lead. I’ve seen some of the greats of the past and I’m looking forward to reading more from Thoroughbred Ancestry. Thank you.

  • Thank you for your wonderful site I grew up hearing about Man O’War, Count Fleet, Whirlaway, War Admiral and more. My great grandfather Hugh Tully was a jockey and when I visited him he would tell stories about the horses he rode. My grandfather grew up at the racing tracks. He went on to work with Polo Ponies at the Los Angeles Riviera Polo Field. I was on my first horse with my grandfather at 6 months. I have loved it every since. This site really brings back wonderful memories for me.

  • Hi, – Great web site.
    I do understand what a great horse and sire Nearco was. However, I have read more than once some words that seem to infer that mention of Nearco in the pedigree is possibly a negative when looking for broodmare sires – see note below in brackets:

    (Nearco does not appear in the four generation pedigree, which probably plays a role in his success as a broodmare sire).

    Would it possible to clarify if this is the case or if am misinterpreting.

    Best Regards

  • Always loved thoroughbreds. They love to run like I loved to run the 800meters in high school.

  • I love history, love this website.

  • Dear Colin,

    I have been reading your painstaking research articles for quite sometimes, appreciate what you done in sharing your love and knowledge of this great game, thank you and keep up the great work.

    Denny Chow
    Canada/Hong Kong

    **** Dear Colin, any possibility that you do not publish my full name in this page and if I could write you directly by email from time-to-time to pick your brain? Thanks again, Denny.

  • Colin, just read in the BloodHorseDaily an article “Godolphin Star Mares Sent to Galileo Revealed” by Martin Stevens/Racing Post 22nd Sept ’18 and was struck by the fact that was presented that ‘Weatherbys record 165 mares sent to him as of Sept 1st’18’. This is a 20 year old stallion covering that many mares?
    Your article talks of inbreeding and I saw considerable Danehill line mares being sent but that is not my query.
    Here is a 20yr old stallion covering 165 mares (and that’s only a single covering!). This appears to me rather rare. I’m going to pick your resources as to how often does this happen?

  • Colin,
    Just read in the BloodHorseDaily an article “Godolphin Star Mares Sent to Galileo Revealed” by Martin Stevens/Racing Post 22nd Sept ’18 and was struck by the fact that was presented that ‘Weatherbys record 165 mares sent to him as of Sept 1st’18’. This is a 20 year old stallion covering that many mares?
    Your article talks of inbreeding and I saw considerable Danehill line mares being sent but that is not my query.
    Here is a 20yr old stallion covering 165 mares (and that’s only a single covering!). This appears to me rather rare. I’m going to pick your resources as to how often does this happen?

  • Dear Colin,
    Have you written anything about Zenyatta, Winx, and California Chrome? I love Chrome; he has the courage and desire to win like the greats! On top of everything else, he is beautiful, and has a great personality. I am concerned with him being shuttled to do double duty. They say they watch him carefully, but there have been too many heart attacks, and other casualties with overbred stallions; it is not natural to breed that many mares, and then there is the stress of traveling and quarantine. He is a good shipper, but I saw a video, that when they tried to put him in the quarantine container (that’s what it looks like) he started shaking allover and didn’t want to go in. This is a very intelligent horse who loves being around people, and he clearly hates being quarantined. His father, when he became popular because of Chrome, started breeding more mares, and suffered a heart attack while breeding a mares. How can you predict that, or see it coming? I did see that he was over weight before he went to Chile, but when he came home he had lost a lot of weight. They also say he doesn’t run around and saves himself for the breeding shed; that is ridiculous, he doesn’t know when he is going to the breeding shed; he is tired. When he is back home, he is running, rearing, and playing. I hope they keep him here now. He has, and will continue to make money for them, but not if he dies; he deserves better!! It does no good to flood the market with his offspring. He should ne handled more like Tapit. I was wondering if there has been any studies done on the quality of the sperm going down with over breeding, which would make the foals not as strong. Chrome was an iron horse. I would be interested in what you thought about this subject. Have you written your book yet? Please get back to me!!!

  • This is such a wonderful and insightful website. Your research and writing make for great reading. I see you have a book out about Windfields Farm. Just ordered a copy from Amazon. Can’t wait to read it. Keep up this website because it is fantastic.

  • Howdy Colin – Interesting resource here to explore further! Got here by inquiring about Nearco having a bad front left hoof. I’ve always heard it was too bad he had bad shelly hooves. I found in breeding warmbloods, when I selected a TB mare, usually looking for a great deep butt and bendy hocks, I often ended up with Nearco in the background and a need to monitor the front left very carefully. It would dish the minute it got overlong, and I even lost a mare to an eroded coffin bone before I understood the syndrome. I’m still nursing along my last ISR school horse (we’re both retired now) with this situation. Any thoughts or places to send me for info? THX!

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