The mating game can be complicated — just ask any human. In the world of thoroughbred horse breeding finding the perfect match can also be a bit of a numbers game.
You might think that creating the next Treve, the two-time Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, or a future winner of the Melbourne Cup would be as simple as pairing off two prizewinning thoroughbreds.
The truth, however, is rather different, says Nancy Sexton, European representative for the American bloodstock agency Schumer Bloodstock.
“You would need to find the best mare you can lay your hands on for the money and then decide which stallion you’re going to use,” Sexton told CNN’s Winning Post presenter, Francesca Cumani.
“Some people look at what families complement other families, some look at how they physically complement each other, while others send the best to the best — and hope for the best.
“It’s not a compete lottery. You can maximize you chances by looking at what crosses work with the family or certain crosses work with a stallion. There isn’t a 100% recipe for success to send a really good mare to a really good stallion … but it certainly helps your chances.”
There are an estimated 500,000 thoroughbreds in the world and 95% of those can be traced back to one stallion — the Darley Arabian, born in 1700, according to a study conducted by Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland.
Racehorse owners are prepared to pay top dollar for retired superstar horses like Frankel — the stallion trained by the late Henry Cecil who was unbeaten in a 14-race career now commands a stud fee of £125,000 ($190,000) a time.
The Saudi-owned horse’s first foal sold for £1.15 million ($1.75m) in November last year.
Bloodlines look certain to always be an important ingredient in breeding winners, but science is playing an increasing role in the process, Sexton says, as owners look to shorten the odds of their equine investments becoming also-rans.
“More people are paying for genetic testing — you can tell if a horse is more likely to be a sprinter, a miler or a mile-and-a-half horse,” she says.
But in the end, science will probably never get too exact when predicting a winner, Sexton thinks.
“If (a horse) has a bad experience or they don’t want to do it anyway, there’s very little you can do to make a big animal do what you want.”