Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Large Hearts on the Triple Crown Trail

XfactorDoes the large heart factor play a role in the Kentucky Derby? Is it another useful tool for handicappers or just an interesting notion that, while entertaining, is a theory better suited to the breeding shed? What do horsemen mean when they say, “that horse has a lot of heart?”

Let's delve into the components behind these questions.

Unlike humans, a large heart in a Thoroughbred is a good thing. It gives the horse greater stamina and strength. This particularity is passed amongst Thoroughbred families. The large heart gene is also known as the X-Factor, because the gene is located on the x-chromosome. Therefore, a colt can only inherit an oversized heart through his dam, and a stallion can only pass on the gene to his daughters.

The only reliable measurement to determine if a horse has a large heart is to do an ECG of the dam/foal to see if they carry this mutation. The large heart has a 50/50 chance to be passed along to each foal. Therefore, one could have it, while the rest don't. It's a roll of the genetic dice. Other ways to determine (not as reliable) are to examine the pedigree for large-heart ancestors, winning traits of the family and some physical aspects.

Pedigree: X-Factor stallions pass the gene to their daughters, thus becoming good broodmare sires. Secretariat, perhaps one of the most famous stallions noted for his large heart, was noted as one of the greatest broodmare sires in modern history. Some mares are "Double copy" mares, receiving the gene through their sires and dams. For instance, Secretariat's daughter Weekend Surprise was a double copy mare, as she received the gene through her sire and damsire, Buckpasser.Weekend Surprise's dam Lassie Dear and her second dam Gay Missle (by Sir Gaylord) were also carriers. The large heart gene expressed itself in Weekend Surprise's sons A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. Additionally, Lassie Dear's daughter Charming Lassie (by Seattle Slew) passed along the x-factor gene to her son Lemon Drop Kid.
Weekend Surprise Pedigree Chart
A family's racing ability can also be a clue to whether a horse may have the X-Factor. For instance, if a mare who carries a copy (or double copy gene) has ten foals and all of them are winners, she is likely passing along a large heart gene. If only three or four of her ten foals win, she probably isn't passing the gene along.
Also, the X-factor gene can be recessive in a mare. Therefore, she may pass the gene to her babies, but it won't be expressed until her offspring have progeny of their own. That's one of the reasons we see talent skip a generation or two. This is how that comes about. A mare with few winners in her first two generations carrying a recessive heart gene is mated to a stallion with the large heart gene. Surprise - here's a stakes winner. It isn't always that simple, but it does explain why one runner out of ten bred from a mare will be a superstar while the rest languish in claiming races.
Physical Aspects: There is one unique physical characteristic found among horses with large hearts. That is small, curly ears.Secretariat and Zenyatta are noted for their curly ears. Not only is Zenyatta a super-mare, but she's also a double copy mare, receiving the gene from her sire Street Cry (whose entire distaff line is X-factor) and Vertigineux, who receives it from both her sire Kris S. and dam For the Flag.

Zenyattas son
Zenyatta's son
If Zenyatta passes along the X-Factor gene to her sons, they should become excellent runners and sires. Zenyatta's yearling colt resembles his dam and also has her curly ears. Unless Zenyatta's daughters receive the gene from their sire, it is likely that they won't emulate their dam on the racetrack, but they will pass the X-Factor along to their sons.

X-Factor & Handicapping: So how does the X-Factor work to the handicapper's advantage? Nothing is ever mentioned regarding large-hearts and handicapping because it would be impossible to include the info in the past performances. Not every good racehorse carries a large heart. Certain Thoroughbred families carry the large heart gene. Review the pedigrees and racing backgrounds of the contender's families. Also, look for a leaf-like “curly” appearance to the ears. A horse doesn't need to be a statuesque 17 hands high to carry the large heart. Physical size doesn't matter. War Admiral was a small horse, but he carried the double X factor from his sire and dam.
Kentucky Derby Contenders: That brings us to the Kentucky Derby. How many winners have carried the large heart? Reviewing the pedigree charts back to 1970, it seems that the the trend comes and goes. Following are the years that, according to their pedigree charts, horses with the X-Factor won the Kentucky Derby. Note that there is no more than three years between winners who may carry the X-Factor gene.

1973 – 1975 – yes          1992 - no
1976 – no                        1993 – 2000 - yes
1977 – 1981 – yes          2003 – no                
1982 – 1983 – no            2004 - yes
1984 – yes                      2005 – 2007 - no
1985 – 1986 – no            2008 – yes
1987 – yes                     
2009 - no
1988 – 1989 – no            2010 - yes
1990 – 1991 – yes
          2011 – 2012 – no
Keep in mind that heart size alone doesn't guarantee a stakes winner. A horses biomechanics - gait, stride length, conformation, power, health and training all play a part in their ability. However, if the large-hearted horse has these other factors in their favor, there's a strong chance that they'll be a tough customer in their races.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Wood Memorial & Santa Anita Derby – Pedigree Handicapping

By the close of Saturday's racing in New York and California, we'll have a clearer picture of next month's Kentucky Derby field.


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In New York at Aqueduct, the battle of the V's will take place in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G-1). Verrazano and Vyjack have been unbeatable. Unless they deadheat at the finish line, one of these fine colts will head back to his stall with a slightly blemished record. The 1 1/8 mile Wood Memorial (G-1) offers 100 Derby Points to the victor – a win and you're in race.
 Eight other colts will face off against VERRAZANO and VYJACK
 In his first race of the season, NORMANDY INVASION closed with a last to first rush – but finished fifth once the dust had settled on the Risen Star. He just missed by a nose at 1 1/8 miles last year, so we know that he should handle the distance. He's been firing bullets at Palm Meadows and could be dangerous.
Poor ELNAAWI had the worst trip of all in the Gotham Stakes. He bashed into West Hills Giant at the start, was yanked over to the rail where he was caught tight, bumped again while having to steady, swung four wide around the far turn, and still managed to close for third place. The half brother to multiple Grade 1 winner To Honor And Serve gets a jockey switch, and hopefully, a better ride.
QUINZIEME MONARQUE (Rock Hard Ten - Quintela (GB), by Giant's Causeway) has the pedigree of a turf router and appears to be too slow for today's class level. He gets first time lasix, but he may need pyrotechnics strapped to his back to have an impact. Don't blame the horse. He's a late May foal and still developing, technically, he's still a two year old. Let's see him later in the year on the turf. 
Like many slower-developing colts, MR PALMER (Pulpit - In Truth, by Quiet American) is maturing into a nice three year old. We'll find out how nice after the Wood Memorial. He's won his first two starts of the year, including a minor stakes at 1 1/8 miles. His first three dams are unraced, however, this distaff line had produced some nice runners, including multiple Grade 1 winner and sire, Behrens, the hard-knocking Commentator, multiple stakes winner Cowboy Cal and Sunland Derby runner-up Show Some Magic. 
ALWAYS IN A TIZ (Tiznow - Calendar Girl, by Elusive Quality) made a huge three-wide move in the Southwest, but couldn't sustain his bid. He gets blinkers, but appears a cut below Grade 1 company.His dam is stakes-placed at 1 1/16 miles. Other than that, this immediate distaff line is unremarkable. 
GO GET THE BASIL (Andromeda's Hero - Images in Jade, by Jade Hunter) has been tearing it up in allowance/optional claiming company. His sire's claim to fame was a second place finish in the 2005 Belmont Stakes. All of Go Get the Basil's half siblings are winners and one is minor stakes placed. This is a modest female family filled with some minor stakes winners. Go Get the Basil has been working well and it's time to see if he belongs. 
Two recent maiden winners bookend the Wood Memorial field. CHRISANDTHECAPPER and FREEDOM CHILD won their last races by entire zip codes last time out, but appear up against it, class and speed figure wise.


Track bias: two races were held this week at 1 1/8 miles. Both were won by off the pace runners. However, this meet, 55% of the 9F races were won by early speed, with 27% going gate to wire. 
The two V's are an automatic include. VERRAZANO appears to be controlling speed, although may let Freedom Child and/or Chrisandthecapper set the pace. Either way, he has tractable speed and figures to get the jump on the rest of them. VYJACK showed a new dimension by sitting behind horses in the Gotham. His pedigree is borderline for 1 1/8 miles, but he's been outrunning the paper. ELNAAWI switches to a better jock and if the talented colt has recovered from his last punishing race, could upset the race. MR. PALMER is a fast-developing colt and owns the highest late pace speed figure in the field. NORMANDY INVASION is dangerous and shouldn't be left off of the ticket. He may need a pace to run at. ALWAYS IN A TIZ's trainer is 0-9 in graded stakes this year and 11% with the blinkers on angle.
#6 MR. PALMER – longshot pick


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The Santa Anita Derby (G-1) field was dealt a blow when San Felipe Stakes winner HEAR THE GHOST was scatched from the race and is now off of the Kentucky Derby trail.
In the San Felipe, FLASHBACK and GOLDENCENTS tangled in a speed duel. Flashback received an immediate jockey change and I expect Kevin Krigger's ears are still ringing from trainer Doug O'Neil's comments.
One of the horses who benefited from the speedster's suicidal match race in the San Felipe was TIZ A MINISTER. He owns a speed over stamina pedigree which is borderline for 1 1/8 miles. However, his off of the pace running style should enable him to handle the distance. 
SUPER NINETY NINE (Pulpit - Exogenetic, by Unbridled's Song) had two back-to-back spectacular victories in an allowance and the Southwest Stakes. Then bombed in the Rebel Stakes as the favorite. He enters with the usual fast Baffert works and owns a pedigree suited to 1 1/8 miles. Does he have a couple more good races left in him or has he peaked? 
POWER BROKER (Pulpit - Shop Again, by Wild Again) hasn't faced competition since his rough fifth place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Only one horse has won the Santa Anita Derby in his three year old debut – and that was back in the 1930's. 
According to his form, DIRTY SWAG is better suited to Polytrack and might want to give the turf a shot – either that, or a step down in competition. 
There's always a few in every crowd. I'm talking about LOM's (Last Out Maiden winners). Either the trainers are doing the racing secretary a favor for betting purposes, or someone is having hallucinations brought on by Derby fever. SUMMER EXCLUSIVE will attempt to jump from a maiden sprint race to 1 1/8 miles. STORM FIGHTER will jump from state-bred company into a Grade 1.


Track bias: Four races have been run at 1 1/8 miles over the main track. Two were won by a front runner, while two were pace pressers/mid-pack runners. 
Neither Flashback or Goldencents has the best pedigree to get 1 1/8 miles. Both prefer to be forwardly placed. Summer Exclusive has :21 speed, and may foil the speed duel. Either way, there's a lot of speed in here with plenty of pedigrees suspect for the distance. Tiz A Minister recorded the highest late pace speed figure in the field. A fast pace will benefit him and he'll come rolling late. Power Broker has the pedigree to handle 1 1/8 miles. He may not have the conditioning to win, but he has the class to finish in the money. Super Ninety Nine likes to be near the front and has the pedigree to go long. I'm willing to draw a line through his last. 
#4 Tiz A Minister
#1 Flashback
#3 Power Broker
#6 Super Ninety Nine – longshot pick