Breeding: Making A Bloodline

Breeding: Making A Bloodline

Breeding - Day 1 of 12

The breeding of a Thoroughbred is an important aspect of racing. The pedigree and conformation of a thoroughbred are often great indicators of the potential a horse has before it runs its first race. Yearlings that descend from sires* and dams* with excellent pedigrees and performance records are more likely to perform well, themselves. The pedigree, or bloodline, of a horse, plays a big part in the value placed on the horse and the purchase price of the yearling.

All thoroughbreds are descendants of one of three foundation sires that were brought to England in the 17th and 18th centuries - the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian. All three stallions had Arabian bloodlines and were crossed with English mares* to produce the Thoroughbred breed we know today. The General Stud Book was created in 1791 to record the pedigree and official registration of every Thoroughbred horse. In 1868 the American Stud Book, founded by Sanders Bruce, published its first copy, separating the European horses and the American horses. In 1896, The Jockey Club bought out Bruce and is still the owner today. The General Stud Book is still used today in Great Britain and Ireland. Nowadays the foals are registered with The Jockey Club, but only if they are planning on racing or breeding that horse eventually. No two horses can have the same name, so each horse is unique, though many share parts of their bloodline.

Some bloodlines are more powerful than others. In 1930 the Triple Crown was won by Gallant Fox, the second horse to accomplish such a feat. It took five years for another Triple Crown winner to take the title, in 1935 Omaha won the Triple Crown, just like his father did five years prior. Gallant Fox is the only Triple Crown winner to sire another Triple Crown winner. A legacy that holds a high honor. Some bloodlines are not as successful. Secretariat, the Thoroughbred with the fast record for all three Triple Crown races and a record weighing heart at 22 pounds, was not as lucky in the sire department. With 600 offspring, none of his colts carried on the size of his heart or the winning genes. Bull Lea is one of the most prolific sires in Kentucky Derby History. Bull Lea is the father of three Kentucky Derby winners and one Kentucky Oaks, winner. Citation being the most notable son, winning the Triple Crown in 1948. Hill Gail won the Kentucky Derby in 1952, the same year his half-sister, Real Delight, won the Kentucky Oaks. Finally Iron Liege won the Kentucky Derby in 1957. Some bloodlines are more successful than others, though all successful bloodlines come at a cost. Bloodlines that have winners in them do not come cheap. For instance, American Pharoah’s breeding fee is $200,000 per colt, though this is typically not charged until the mare gives birth and the colt stands up. Tapit, America’s most dominant sire has a $300,000 fee for breeding. With 28 Grade 1 winners, 32 yearlings to bring $1 million or more at auction, and earners of over $182 million on the racetrack for the most progeny earnings of any North American sire ever. That is impressive when it comes to bloodlines.

The breeding of Thoroughbreds is an important aspect that goes into creating a Kentucky Derby winner. Though it’s not always the bloodlines that make the winner, but the horse itself. Everything plays a part in how a horse wins the Kentucky Derby, but sometimes it all comes down to chance.    

*Sire: Father of a Thoroughbred
*Dam: Mother of a Thoroughbred
*Mare: Female Thoroughbred over the age of 4
Pedigree fun facts: Triple Crown winners
Racehorses: How Much do They Cost? They’re Not Cheap!
A Thoroughbred of a different color
Virtual Kentucky Derby Museum

Brie Taylor

Marketing Coordinator for the Kentucky Derby Museum.