Stallion Timelines: Brief Introduction to Distribution Overviews

Author: Jana Nemeckova, published: 9th October 2018

A graphic comparison of thoroughbred sirelines in time was something I always wanted to create. No matter how many years I devoted to research of the thoroughbred pedigrees, and no matter how many similar people I met, I've never found anyone who has the exact knowledge which sires were active during the same period. Teddy "met" Black Toney and narrowly missed Peter Pan, and Nasrullah was a contemporary of Bimelech and Stymie. Who knows all these connections back to the beginning of the 20th century, for all sirelines? As I stated, I've never met such a person.

And the same is true for sirelines. Many thoroughbred enthusiasts are aware which sires belonged to which lines, but this is where it ends. A few people can think about the thoroughbred history in terms of competition between sirelines. We all know that Northern Dancer dominates the modern era and Mr. Prospector follows somewhere behind him. But what do we know about history, except some superficial facts? We know when St. Simon's descendants began to rule the world, and when were Man o'War and Hyperion born. But the actual thickness of their lines and competition between them remains a mystery to the most of people.

To me, this is one of the most fascinating aspects of thoroughbred history. As I said somewhere else, every sireline depends on the other ones, which act as suppliers of quality broodmares. But it also needs to be strong enough to dominate over them. Mutual dynamics of sirelines, as well as of particular breed-shaping sires, is something we should learn from. Because let us not be mistaken: records from our times will constitute the same tables, which we created from the historical ones. Only names will be different.

My original intent on the creation and publishing of this work was to put full charts from the timelines' articles together. After the fourth sireline, I realized it doesn't work at all. There were too many names, as well as the too wide range of data in one place. The final result was completely unusable for any analysis.

When I tried to solve this situation, I realized I am trying to make two different things at the same time. The first, to overview the development and condition of the whole sirelines in particular eras. And the second, to point out their top sires. The subsequent resolution was a matter of moment: I divided these two tasks.

I reduced our standard timelines only to top stallions' names. Now they can reveal rivalries and sequences of the most influential thoroughbred sires. And then I took the same standard timelines again and transformed them into a 'no text' version. This step enabled a subsequent graphic reduction of the charts, and thus a real comparison of the whole lines. This second and wholly new type of file was named the 'distribution overviews.' Now, this new combination finally works.

There's no need to explain timelines of the top sires because they don't differ from sirelines. But distribution overviews are a little more difficult. As I mentioned, they are based on the full timeline charts, but there are no names in tables. It gives a fast overview of both "shape" and "thickness" of each sireline, and it also enables a quick comparison of all sirelines together. However, I understand the purely graphic concept can be confusing to many readers. Therefore I made a brief introduction with examples, to explain how to 'read' these overviews.

Each sireline has all its major members presented. Each sireline also has its own designated color. In the following scheme, there are two lines present, with three and five members, respectively.

You should keep in mind that the exact number of members doesn't mean anything special. Every row belongs to a sire who had several G1 horses somewhere among his progeny. It doesn't say whether this sire was a top one, a good one, or only average stallion. It also doesn't mean he left a male successor, and thus whether he had any further contribution to his sireline. It doesn't even say whether he had five breed-shaping grandsons and great-grandsons, or none of them.

Let's put it in a non-standard, but simple way. They are just sires who had the potential to produce top horses. A 'potential' is a much more appropriate word here than 'quality' when considering the thickness of each sireline.

We could engage in a discussion whether this was a right approach or not. I'll try to explain my point of view here. Let's take Poker, a son of Round Table, who spent almost 20 years at stud. His best daughter was a G1 winner Poker Night, and his best son was a G1-placed colt named Waterway Drive. And his third G1 descendant was his grandson Seattle Slew, who turned out to be one of the foundation sires of today's thoroughbred.

And this is what I mean. Poker maybe lacked qualities, but as a member of Princequillo's sireline, he was a source of potential for the whole breed. I have to emphasize that few sires in our schemes are as polarised as Poker himself. But his case illustrates very well why this attitude is probably better than setting some firm criteria.

You may not be able to judge quality, but some characteristics are estimable. The number or rather 'amount' of sires doesn't imply quality, but it can indicate the viability and strength of each sireline in a certain period. Especially when compared to other lines:

However, it's only a start. Overviews can indicate much more about the life cycle of a sireline. Of course, it's not hard to identify an extinction of a line or a start of a new one:

A shape of a sireline can also tell you more information. It's not easy to define a standard and healthy line. But it can look, approximately, like this:

The previous scheme deserves a little note. You can 'read' this scheme as a sire, who had six sons or grandsons able to produce top horses. You can think it's not good at first sight, but be aware of a fact this is strictly a modern perspective. We are now used to see tens of sons of Northern Dancer or Sadler's Wells, but it was not always this way. For most of the history, top thoroughbred sires had up to 40 mares in one season. Somewhen back in the 1930s, to have six successors at one time was not a bad achievement at all.

That's why I present this type of chart as an example of a standard sireline. Young and growing lines often have this appearance in historical schemes. Be careful about how you judge a thickness of a sireline, and always try to relate to the era you're studying.

I can reveal the following scheme shows Nasrullah's sireline in the 1970s, which means it contains mostly sons, and also several grandsons of Bold Ruler. In other words, this type of scheme can be a sign of really progressive and successful sire in a modern sireline.

Many lines have several distinctive branches. The abovementioned Nasrullah had, for example, branches of Grey Sovereign, Bold Ruler, Red God, or Never Bend. I did my best to distinguish these branches in full timelines, and they remain well recognizable in distribution overviews. In this scheme, you can see four of them:

And one more type of charts deserves a presentation. Ideally, a sire stands at stud alongside his sons or even grandsons. In a non-ideal situation, a stallion or his son dies untimely or leaves the country. These situations can cause fragmentation of a sireline:

Graphic timelines can reveal a lot in mutual dynamics of sirelines. They always depend on personal interpretation, but I believe they can be a great help to pedigree researchers.