September 19

Understanding a Horses Pedigree: Part 1


Buying a horse for thoroughbred racing can be so confusing. For those in the know – they will pay close attention to a horse’s conformation. Others choose a horse on type and still, others will confer with a trainer on what they think.

Investing in a thoroughbred can be an expensive proposition for some – which is why why many people opt to buy shares in a horseracing syndicate. They share the costs of buying the horses and also share the ongoing costs to train and race the horse.

Regardless, a horse’s breeding can be an important factor in choosing the right horse for you. Reading a horse’s pedigree is an essential aspect of evaluating a horse for sale. Whether a horse costs $5,000 or $500,000, you want to know as much as you can about the horse prior to sale.

Every year in New Zealand, NZ Bloodstock holds multiple sales at Karaka with the main sale being late January early February. NZ Bloodstock is a Thorougbred auction House. Prior to a sale, NZ Bloodstock makes available the sales catalog both online and in print. As you look through the catalogue, you will find each horse that is up for sales is defined by a lot number and a summary of its pedigree.

Understanding the Sales Catalogue

Whenever you attend a thoroughbred horse sale you will notice almost everybody is walking around with a book in their hand. This is the sales catalogue and if you are attending the sale with the intention of purchasing a horse, it is your bible.

Prior to the sale, the professionals will have spent many hours sifting through the catalogue and earmarking those lots that are of interest. These selections are generally made based on a buyer’s preference for a certain sire or their liking for a certain female family. Some will leave it at that while others will undertake varying levels of pedigree analysis.

The level of enhanced due diligence will be specific to each buyer. For example, Bart Cummings used to focus on the first dam. The information he was looking for included: how many foals had she had; what price had they sold for; how had they performed etc. In essence, what Bart was looking to discover was the probability of the dam producing a horse capable of performing at the level he was looking for. By and large, Bart would have undertaken his investigations manually.

The catalog will break down the pedigree into a few different parts.

  • Subject Line, Lot No, Consignor, and Name
  • Three Cross  Family History
  • Sire Blurb
  • Female Family
  • Race Record
  • Engagements

The purpose of the pedigree is to give the buyer an understanding of what the family has done or is currently doing. Keep in mind, when assessing a horse for purchase, other key elements come into play such as confirmation, a horse’s gait, temperament, and so on.

Pedigree Computer Analysis

Computers, and particularly the internet, have allowed buyers who want, to take the depth of their analysis to a whole new level, pretty much at the click of a button. I will provide an explanation of the varying levels in Understanding ThoroughbredPedigrees Part Two next week. 

Depending on the buyer’s preference for detail most of the analysis is based on either a 5/6 or sometimes even 7 tabulated pedigree report. Things they may be focused on include:

  • linebreeding/inbreeding patterns/duplications;
  •  evidence of the “Rasmussen Factor”; proven nicks and crosses, etc. 

To the uninitiated this will all sound like a foreign language; I will provide an explanation of what these all mean, and the relative level of importance, in Part Two.

For now, let’s just focus on understanding how to read the pedigree page in a sales catalogue. 

Pedigree Page

Each horse listed for sale will have it’s own pedigree page. This will include: 

  • a 4-generation tabulation of the pedigree; 
  • a brief overview of the sire (his race record and a list of his best progeny) 
  • and a more extensive overview of the dam and her female line. 

The overview of the dam and her female line includes extensive details about its relatives including his/her mother’s breeding record (number of foals; how many starters; number of winners etc). What you are viewing is essentially an advertisement for the dam and her female line

The information available on the catalogue page has been edited to fit onto the page. As with any good “ad” it is designed to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. It was the negative that Bart was very keen on unearthing. In his mind, this gave him a balanced overview of the horse being sold.

It will also list other important information, e.g. the name of the consignor; the horse’s colour; the foaling date; its brands. And, just as importantly it will list the horse’s location on the sales complex. To help I have included (courtesy of W Inglis & Son) a pedigree page printout that provides you with a roadmap on how to navigate your way around the page.

The Finer Details to Look For

Having digested the above I will now assume that, at the very least, you have a reasonable understanding of how to navigate your way around the catalogue page. That being the case I will now explain the finer details that is included on the page:

1.       Group/Stakes Winners 

Group Stakes Winners are commonly referred to as ‘black-type winners”.  Black type races originate from catalogues in the 1950s that indicated the quality of past races a horse had won. Their names would be written in bold black type, so bidders could understand more easily how good a horse actually was. 

This evolved in the 1980s as the International Cataloguing Standards book was produced to outline the most important races in the world, while the Society of International Thoroughbred Auctioneers was also founded. The two worked to create an internationally-approved system for cataloguing horses and black-type races.

Horses who have won a “black type” race will feature on the catalogue page in in BOLD CAPITALISED font.

2.       Group/Stakes Placed

Group/Stakes Placed is commonly referred to as “stakes-placed” horses. These horses have been placed in a “black type” without actually winning one. They will feature in the catalogue in uncapped black font.

3. Group/Stakes Race Classification –

Group races, also known as Pattern races, or Graded races in some countries, are deemed to be the elite level of races in Thoroughbred horse racing. The “pattern racing” system operates on a 4 tier level:

* GP1 – Group One races are the elite level of racing in a given country. They include most of the world’s iconic races, such as the Derby, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Melbourne Cup, and the Kentucky Derby. Victory in these races marks a horse as being particularly talented, if not exceptional, and they are extremely important in determining stud values

* GP2 – Group 2

* GP3 – Group 3

* L – Listed

*R – Restricted races are those that have restricted conditions of entry. The best examples are races that are restricted to horses sold through a particular auction house’s sale series. Despite these races generally attracting fields of Group standard quality they only carry the R classification due to their not being open to all entries. Despite these races being some of the richest on offer and holding huge prestige they are not   In Australia you have the Magic Millions race day and in New Zealand, we have the Karaka Millions

Classification Committee

These races are constantly being evaluated by each countries “Classification Committee”. This board’s decisions are monitored by an international body. Races can be moved up and down the classifications if the quality of the race (based on the average official rating of horses in the field) increases/decreases over a 3-year period.

A good example of how this works in NZ is the Wellington Cup. 

For many years this race was probably 2nd only in importance to the Auckland Cup, in many people’s view. But as the landscape of NZ racing changed and staying races became less fashionable, this race, despite still being one of the richest races run in NZ, has slipped down the classifications from being a GP1 to now being a GP3. 

Conversely, the time-honored Foxbridge Plate struggled for many years to attract good fields and dropped to Listed Level at one stage. However, a change of date, to mid-August, initiated the revival of the race seeing it elevated to GP2 status.

Choosing Horses for Syndication

For ARO Syndicates to make horse racing ownership affordable, we take many factors into account when we buy horses for syndication. We look at type, conformation, and the horse’s pedigree. You can find out more about the shares we have on offer here.

Watch this space for Part Two coming to you next week where we will go into more depth about pedigree analysis using artificial intelligence.

Meanwhile – happy racing.


affordbable race horse ownershipp, buying shares in a race horse, horse racing, race horse syndicates, racehorse ownership, Thoroughbred Horses, Thoroughbred Pedigrees

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