Derby thoughts: hearts, spleens, and maternal grandsires

20 05 2006

BarbaroThe odds have been set and poll [sic] positions assigned for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, often called the “most exciting two minutes in sports.”

The big question: Does odds-on favorite Brother Derek (3-1) have a big enough spleen to win?

Or will undefeated and second-ranked Barbaro (4-1) suck in enough oxygen to earn a victory lap? Maybe Flashy Bull, a 50-1 long shot, has already made up his mind to wear the rose blanket awarded in the winner’s circle.

These are the questions Kenneth McKeever ponders when considering the science that separates the winners from the also-rans. Kentucky quarter


There’s also been some fascinating research on heart size (both Eclipse and Secretariat had exceptionally large hearts). The large heart gene is carried on the X chromosome; thus the ideal broodmare would be carrying two copies. It also helps explain the maternal grandsire effect: For years, horsemen have acknowledged a phenomenon called the maternal-grandsire effect, when outstanding males do not immediately reproduce their greatness in the next generation. Instead, they produce daughters who are outstanding dams. An oft-cited example is Secretariat, perhaps the greatest thoroughbred of all time. Secretariat’s achievement was not matched by his direct get, who by and large were unremarkable, but rather was passed on through his daughters, many of whom went on to produce great performers. (Link — note how this works in other species as well)
The x-factor

Also check out the Horse Genome Project.

It’s fascinating to see research bear out the old adage “take the sire to the best blood of his dam”.




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