04/10/2007 11:00PM

Female inbreeding makes a comeback

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LAS VEGAS - Everyone in racing is familiar with the saying, "Breed the best to the best and hope for the best." But I have never subscribed to that random kind of breeding.

Weaned on the premise that class in the dam is the single most important aspect of a Thoroughbred pedigree, it just made plain sense that duplicating a superior female would increase the chances of breeding an animal of quality. The great breeders of yesteryear - Federico Tesio, H.H. Aga Khan, Lord Derby, and Marcel Boussac - employed this inbreeding pattern, known as female family inbreeding (FFI), to create some of the most influential racehorses and stallions in history.

But FFI, once so popular in the last century, fell out of fashion in America, mostly due to the changing nature of racing. An obvious reason is that the once-dominant racing families - Calumet Farm, Greentree Stable, Darby Dan Farm, Rokeby Stable, and Powhatan Stud - who bred strictly for sport and to improve the breed slowly vanished during the last two decades of the 20th century and were widely replaced by commercial breeders.

Rommy Faversham, a respected bloodstock analyst who co-authored, with the late Leon Rasmussen, the definitive book on the subject, "Inbreeding to Superior Females" (The Australian Bloodhorse Review, New South Wales, Australia, 1999), asked in that epic tome why FFI, if so successful, was not utilized more and how commercial breeders altered the Thoroughbred.

"This predominant force in breeding is rarely concerned with breeding theories," Faversham explained. "The sales consignor is primarily occupied with the bottom line - what will be responsible for the foal realizing top dollar."

The authors further reasoned that "this requires a 'name' sire or stallion and a black-type family with well-known relatives without regard to the structural nuances in the pedigree. If the sales horse happens to have the RF, it was, more often than not, an accident. Rarely has this been premeditated. The first two generations generate the horse's profitability."

Rasmussen, the oft-honored "Bloodlines" columnist for The Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form for more than 37 years, as well as a regular contributor to Owner-Breeder, was such an ardent advocate of FFI that Jack Werk, editor and publisher of Owner-Breeder, referred to this form of inbreeding as the "Rasmussen Factor" or "RF."

Top Derby contenders carry RF

Despite the fact that RF's make up less than 10 percent of the entire Thoroughbred population, the number of high-quality 3-year-olds with FFI is significant. Street Sense, Cowtown Cat, Notional, Summer Doldrums, Teuflesberg, Belgravia, Pavarotti, Admiralofthefleet, Imawildandcrazyguy, and Flying First Class may have purposefully been bred with the RF in mind, but it is more likely accidental.

Street Sense, last year's 2-year-old champion and current favorite for the Derby, is inbred 5x4 to Natalma, through her daughter Raise the Standard (Hoist the Flag) and son Northern Dancer (Nearctic). Inbreeding to Natalma has resulted in a gaggle of stakes winners, here and in Europe. It is not known if James B. Tafel, the owner and breeder of Street Sense, purposefully chose this mating to get the RF, as inbreeding to Natalma is a common occurrence. When mares with Northern Dancer in their pedigree are mated to stallions with Machiavellian in their pedigree, it creates the RF to Natalma.

Two of last weekend's three big preps for the Derby, the Wood Memorial and the Illinois Derby, were won by RF's.

Cowtown Cat, winner of the Illinois Derby, is inbred to Pocahontas through her two best siblings, 1965 3-year-old champion Tom Rolfe (Ribot) and Chieftain (Bold Ruler), both of whom were bred by Raymond Guest of Powhatan Stable.

Nobiz Like Shobiz, winner of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial Stakes, was clearly no accident.

It was Rasmussen who strongly recommended to Elizabeth Valando several years ago that she breed her mare Nightstorm to Albert the Great. This mating created FFI to stakes winner Swoon's Tune, an influential broodmare bred by C.V. Whitney. Swoon's Tune produced Song Sparrow (Tudor Minstrel), the dam of Cormorant (sire of Albert the Great), and she also produced Lilt (Herbager), the second dam of Nightstorm.

Smokey Stover also has factor

As if that weren't enough last weekend, Smokey Stover, the Sunshine Millions Sprint winner, was brilliant yet again winning the Potrero Grande Breeders' Cup Handicap, firmly establishing himself as the country's leading sprinter. Smokey Stover is inbred 5x5 to the blue hen producer Grand Splendor through her daughters Gonfalon (Francis S.) and Killaloe (Dr. Fager). Gonfalon produced Ogygian and Fair to All (the dam of Honour and Glory), while Killaloe is the dam of Fappiano.

In Europe, much of the success of Sadler's Wells is due to his mating with mares who had Never Bend in their pedigree, mostly through Never Bend's champion son, Mill Reef. The Sadler's Wells/Never Bend cross creates FFI to Lalun - the dam of Never Bend and Bold Reason.

Similarly, in Japan, the extraordinary strike rate of high-class performers by Sunday Silence was largely due to mating him to mares with Northern Dancer in their pedigree, mostly through Japan's former leading stallion, Northern Taste, who was himself an RF. The Sunday Silence/Northern Dancer cross creates FFI to Almahmoud - the dam of Natalma and Cosmah.

FFI has always been fashionable in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand, and with increased success over the last decade, especially the past few years, it appears that it is making a comeback in the United States as well.