top of page

'Pedigree' Handicapping

There is nothing more subjective than 'Pedigree Handicapping', its like saying any descendant of Marie Antoinette are going to lose their heads.

I have actually seen people turn their nose up at a pedigree catalog page without ever setting eyes on the individual.

One pedigree 'expert' called one of my babies pedigree 'unpalatable'.

I had simply asked about the tendencies of the pedigree, not the pedigrees value.

I wanted to know, sprinter, router, turf, dirt, precocity, but I got the snob with a 'unpalatable' response. No other detail.

I wasn't aware of races being written for 'unpalatable' pedigree horses only.

I learned immediately that pedigree handicappers want to be fed silver spooned horses.

What happened with the horse?

His name was Sea of Pleasure

He was a $25K yearling purchase. He set a track record first out and became a Stakes winner later.

His problem was his throat, not his pedigree.

Pedigree is in the eye of the beholder and what they subjectively gleam off the catalog page. They are far from being objective in their assessment as most don't even have eyes on the individual.

Currently, preferred sires are the in-thing. The standard, especially freshmen sires, they carry less baggage.

This is where it gets tricky, individual tendencies and prejudice seems to be prevalent.

An owner, agent or trainer has had a bad experience with a sire, as one trainer told me along ago "I have no luck with Tapits".

Pre-conceived notions become realities.

There is a wide and systematic individual sire prejudice. Some sires completely ignored because of widespread opinions, yet they are fruitful on the track. They are the meat and potatoes, the backbone of the industry.

We can't all have Quality Roads, the Curlins, the Arrogates, the Good Magic's, the Justify's.

Speaking of Curlin, I sat with a bloodstock agent one morning at Saratoga, it was Curlin's freshmen season as a stallion.

Curlin, who developed later as a racehorse, was a later developer, he had had one noticeable winner at Saratoga, Palace Malice, in August of 2012. This is August of his freshmen year. His progeny on the track were only two-year-olds and the agent turns to me "I don't think Curlin is going to be much of a sire'.

The agent gave Curlin no more for wiggle, it was only August of his freshman season and he was already being pegged as a failure.

This is not restricted to Curlin, who has since proved anyone who uttered those words dead wrong, but to many sires who are not precocious sires by nature. We want them to be, we want them to shine in two-year-olds in training sales and go 9.4, if NOT they are a bust.

People buy off the page, first, individual 2nd and last of all the veterinarian's reports, and paying premium price, in contrast, a moderately priced horse, its veterinarian report most important to the buyer, individual 2nd and pedigree 3rd.

One to comes to mind is Always Dreaming. His horses need to mature and are best when allowed to debut later in their two-year-old season or even three years of age.

End-users are those who purchase at sales to race and their criteria is different, the individual and vet report takes precedence over the pedigree page.

Pin-hookers are those who buy at the weanlings (less than a year old) and yearlings (1 year of age), and are pointing to the two-year-old training sales.

So what do people like at the sales? what do they buy?

They like 9.4 horses, 10 flat bullets, and 20.4 or 21 flat previewers at the sale.

Owners want the fastest horse at the sale, and are willing to pay for it.

In my opinion, they simply don't get it, will never get it, and all their monies won't buy them a good horse, or a lasting horse with that mentality.

Therefore, you are spending monies of fifths of a second, and a pedigree page, which all in the eye of the beholder.

There has also been a different dynamic popping up of late.

Once upon a time, you had buyers and sellers, two distinct groups, however, now, the buyers have also now become the sellers, and the sellers have also become the buyers.

Horses nowadays can go through the auctions multiple times. By the time a two-year-old has gone to a trainer to train, he may have gone through a weanling sale, a yearling sale, and a two-year-old sale. Their growing bodies and frames have been pushed and prodded, before they even record their first work.

Handicappers also value auction dollars spent on horses at auction at the windows, they are bet well below their value on the tote board as a racehorse. The expectations are high, and on the flip side are discounted if the sale price wasn't a flashy neon sign.

Big money yearlings are treated like they have a silver spoon in their mouth. They may be soft and question arises can they handle the pressure when asked.

Also, horses auction price and pedigree evaporates as they train and show their ability on the track, that is who they are and their purchase price can't help, not even a bit.

One handicapper when told horse 'had poor conformation' he responded '' doesn't pedigree take care of that?"

Well, emphatically NO!

Horses are built the way they are, just like us, we take traits from our lineage.

Every horse has an achilles heel. There is no such thing as a completely perfect racehorse, and winners/good horses come from all shapes and sizes.

I believe 1.) Individual, 2.) vet reports/conformation 3.) pedigree page.

A pedigree page can't pick themselves up and run races, the individual does, and the vet reports and conformation can tell you the expectations of a career.

You can't expect a horse built wrong in the hind end will be sound for long, and yet, the pedigree page makes it all copasetic. You can't expect a horse with a immature, thin epiglottis wall in the throat to possible handle the stress of pressure and racing, in the heat of the battle. You can't expect a horse built in a way that has soon you put pressure on them they start wearing thin their medial collateral sesamoids and suspensory branches support and the beat goes on and on.

Yes, there are horses that have many issues in their joints and yet run right thru it, but how they are built through the conformation is KEY.

Nothing is constant, some horses will prove you wrong, but they are a long shot to make it.

So, when someone handicaps pedigree without all the factors we have mentioned, they are solely going off a catalog or pedigree page, is strictly opinion.

Thus, when we say pedigree handicapping is subjective, as objectivity is based on facts and evidence, subjectivity, the perspective based on feelings, emotions, and most of all, opinions, makes Pedigree Handicapping a sketchy handicapping factors without all the evidence presented.

If you want to read a fascinating book, singular, about breeding is 'Breeding the Race Horse' by Federico Tesio.

Tesio was called "the only genius ever to operate in the breeding world" and "the greatest single figure in the history of Italian racing.

Even my father knew who he was and rode his motorcycle from Napoli to Torino, about the distance of Los Angeles to San Francisco to see Tesio's Ribot.

Tesio also bred Nearco, who sired Northern Dancer, and won Tesio bred, owned and trained 22 winners of the Derby Italiano.

Sadly, he died before ''his masterpiece' Ribot made his debut. Tesio in 1999, nearly half a century after his death, was named at number 18 in the Racing Post's list of 100 Makers of 20th Century Racing.

I have read those Tesio books.

In the end, don't lose your head basing opinions solely into Pedigree handicapping, because it is not strictly about a catalog page, or an auction price, or what the sire or the broodmare did on the track,ITS how they are built, what the individual is, mentally and physically, how did the veterinarians report represent their throats, joints, knees, stifles and other key revelations on the future of an equine athlete success.


Recent Posts

See All



bottom of page