Laws of causation and the `code script` – Impact on horses

Article by S.K.SAGAR Posted in Guest Writers
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( Posted on 21/01/2012 )

Some time back there was an International conference on the subject  -“ The 2011 Thoroughbred Pedigree, Genetics and Performance Conference“.

Some of the speakers and their topics were:

 Dr. Ernie Bailey.. Nature and Extent of Genetic Variation Among Thoroughbred Horses

 Dr. Matthew Binns… Improving the Efficiency of Selecting of Thoroughbred Horses Using Molecular Genetics

 Dr. Emmeline Hill …The Equinome Elite Performance Test: Genes Critical to Sprint,

Middle-Distance and Long-Distance Racing

Bill Oppenheim …Myths We Live By: The Data We Use and Its Limitations

Jon Seaman …The Phenotypic Outlier: Why Breeding Type-to-Type is Vital for Success

Dr. Steve Roman… Aptitudinal Type and the American Classic Horse: The Relationship Between Pedigree and Performance in the Racing Thoroughbred

Dr. Dav Doodnauth… Genetic Signatures of Elite and Ordinary Thoroughbred Racehorses

Alan Porter …Looking at the Whole Pie: Examining the Complete Thoroughbred Pedigree as

it Relates to Performance

Bill Pressey… Using Heart Rate, Blood Lactate and GPS Data to Acquire Metabolic Indicators of Thoroughbred Performance

Dr. David Lambert… Genetic Testing: The Benefits and Challenges for the Industry At Large

Byron Rogers… From Theory to Fact: Marrying the Best Practice of Genomics and Pedigree Theory to Optimize Output

These were marathon talks, highly technical, and it can be gauged from the nature of topics given above, with regard to the complexities involved and the extent to which statistical studies and analysis is required in order to decide on `Selective breeding` for optimum success. If I had the time and means, I would have loved to attend this conference – as the subject is enormously interesting to me – and perhaps asked some questions from a philosophical – cause and effect – angle.

Based on a common sense view – when we take the laws of causation seriously enough – we realize that it is the interactions of the world that lead to the arrival of a certain tiny little speck of jelly and it is the same `interactions of the world` phenomena that leads that speck of jelly to go on to become either Hitler, or Einstein, or Gandhi or you and me.The same theory holds good for horses. The contribution of Genes gets over at the speck of jelly stage, thereafter it is the interactions of the world that determine its future. Interactions such as the health of the Mom, the food she eats, and how she looks after the baby inside, the facilities at the stud farm where the first couple of years are spent, the caliber of the trainers, the love and affection of the owners, the preparations, planning and scheduling of the races it runs, the caliber of the jockeys, how the races are run, etc etc.
Being a Structural Engineer, I am inclined to think like this: That there is a certain `Code script` built in inside that speck of jelly that constitutes an architect’s plan (or maybe a structural design) that envisages what the structure should become, and then there are the interactions of the world which constitute the `Builder`s craft` that tries to develop the ultimate structure according to the initial plans, but due to the many uncertainties of these interactions, there is a large variation in the extent to which success is achieved.
Ultimately it boils down to just statistics and probabilities of expectations.

And so If I had attended that conference and happened to be one of the privileged  ones selected to ask a question or two I would have asked one  relating to the `Code script` in the Genes, and the uncertainties brought in by the `Builders craft`. But that is hypothetical, as I was not there. So, I decided to go through the list of topics and see if there is one where the speaker might have talked something on these lines, and sure enough, I found one which looked like having the answers to my questions, viz:

“The Myths we live by…. The Data we use and its limitations“    …..     by Bill Oppenheim 

      I did a Google search and soon learnt that this gentleman `Bill Oppenheim` is one of the World`s leading consultants on `Selective breeding`. I was also able to access the full text of the talk he gave on the subject during the conference. To say that I was deeply impressed would be a gross understatement. It was a marathon talk. I am giving below an extract of a portion of his talk which is related to that uncertainty angle:

Extract from Bill Oppenheim`s talk:
“`Every time a breeder signs on the dotted line to breed his or her mare to Distorted Humor, or Unbridled`s   Song, or Giant’s Causeway–and a few others–it’s near enough a $100,000 decision. It should make a difference to those of us who work in the field of evaluating and recommending pedigrees, where percentage plays are so important, that we are speaking from a vantage point of uncertainty, not of certainty. Even from the point of view of the scientists, we’re entitled to ask “how do you even know what to measure?” and “how can we know that what you do measure is significant?” Whatever we do, we’re taking a shot here: the odds in any given case are against
success. It bothers me when I hear someone assert “this or that is absolutely the way to go;” it bothers me when I say it myself. At best it is absolutely the way to go, given the circumstances. I try not to be too militant, above all to be open-minded, to use inductive as well as
deductive reason–let the evidence tell you, not the other way around .An example is the application of dosage to matings planning. Dr. Roman, who will be speaking tomorrow, will be able to explain it much better than me. I don’t have a problem with the theory of dosage, but with the application of it. Here’s what I mean. As I understand it, dosage is a sort of pedigree map, showing the important names in pedigrees and the aptitudes of those named sires. A calculation is then done which shows the distribution of influences in the existing pedigree, from which the idea is that you can predict aptitude, and add certain elements to balance out the pedigree; in some way to produce a good horse.
It seems to me the problem here is an assumption, the assumption that the individual horse on the ground or the prospective individual horse on the ground will resemble the designed pedigree. My experience is that most horses throw back to certain influences in their
pedigrees, except, given the genetic law that populations tend to breed back to the middle, you might find a horse “throws back” to a certain sire, but isn’t as good. If horses throw back to particular influences in their pedigrees, surely a map of a horse’s dosage tells us simply about the opportunity, not the fact, of influence. Like I say, my issue is not with the theory of dosage, but the application of it: the pedigree may be that of a two-mile stayer, but if the horse on the ground looks like a sprinter and stops after five furlongs, I’d be looking for the names in that pedigree of five-furlong horses, and start working from the assumption that’s the horse we’re really dealing with.There are two corollaries to approaching pedigree assessment with an open mind: one is the recognition that, even in science, the development of hypotheses requires a creative ‘spark’–somebody has to think up the right question to ask, the right hypothesis to test. The other corollary is what is called to “think outside the box. Let me give you an example that utilizes both. At the end of 1985, I was hired to make recommendations for the American mares of one of the major international operations. There was a particular mare, a Halo mare, who I was keen to see go to Mr. Prospector. His first foals had raced in 1978, but until then–1985–he had yet to sire a good horse out of a mare from the Hail to Reason sire line. But, expanding the parameters one level, I knew that Mr. Prospector’s sire, Raise a Native–and, in fact, virtually all Native Dancer–really liked Hail to Reason-line mares. So I explained the situation, explained why I thought it would still be worth trying, and they rolled the dice.
They got Machiavellian. From then on, I became a lot less rigid about insisting that this sire had to have worked with that damsire.
The point I’m ultimately driving at is that we are operating in a universe, this universe of Thoroughbred racing and breeding, which is more chaotic than ordered. There is a natural tendency to want things to make sense and be in order. But that path leads to overrating the true, applicable value of the data we are using and the conclusions we reach from that data. It’s the search for the one great formula, or set of formulas: the Philosopher’s Stone, the Magic Wand, the Secret Elixir. I don’t think they exist, not in this pursuit,
breeding racehorses.
Then what?
Then, we have to recognize–to concede–that the pedigree work is only part of the equation; it’s dangerous to make all this that we discuss too big a factor in the decision-making process; at the end of the day, it’s an individual bred to an individual. Let me just reiterate the reservations I have about the assumptions which result in conventional wisdom:
1. Jumping to conclusions based on too small a sample size;
2. By the time we discover a particular cross is really good, it is losing its potency;
3. The assumption that all black-type should count the same as an indicator of class is flawed;
4. The value of measuring opportunity is open to question;
5. A pedigree is a map of opportunity, not a statement of fact. Horses are not blends;
6. Generalizing ‘up one level’ is often more productive than trying to be too specific;
A few final thoughts: the first thing we have to do is: eliminate obvious errors. Then, get ahead of the curve; and do art as well as science. Finally–it’s blindingly obvious that the people who use the services we’re all working to develop want the silver bullet, the Holy Grail, the magic formula. Yes, let’s use all the tools we have and can develop, but let’s also try very hard to make them understand, as we should, the limitations of what we are doing.

Thank you.“`

End of extract

What exactly is the purpose of my posting here, and taking so much of the reader`s time?

It is three fold:

  1. To make accessible to the reader, the text (albeit in part) of Bill Oppenheim`s wonderful speech, as
  2. To understand that while there are uncertainties involved, it cannot be denied that the greater is the strength of the initial `Code script`, the higher will be the expectations of probabilities of success likely to be achieved when the `Builders craft ‘ has taken its toll. And for the initial code script to be strong, it goes without saying that we need to go deeper and deeper and deeper into the statistics to have a greater chance of success. And in my view the measurement of success need not be restricted to `successful performance as a race horse`, perhaps it should also include `successful performance as a Sire or a mare`.
  3. The third one – of far reaching significance – will be discussed later in Part Two – Impact on humans


The Indian Scene:

It will not be out of place here to give a comparison of the standard of thoroughbred race horses in India as against those of the rest of the world. In India the number of race horses of a particular age group that achieve a Time form rating of 100 or more (Corresponding to a rating of 126 or more on the Indian scale) is on the average about 6 or 7, out of nearly 600 to 700 horses of that age group who actually race in the premier race tracks of India – correct me if my figures are wrong – which means not more than one percent success rate, which is far below the World average – which is perhaps 3.5 to 4 percent. Not only that, no Indian race horse has achieved a rating higher than 118, a good 28 points below the World`s best, and neither of the three greats i.e Mystical, Squanderer, or Elusive Pimpernel will figure in the top 500 thoroughbred race horses of all times.   What can be the reason for this?

I do not think inadequacy of `Builders craft` could be the reason. The facilities at some of the leading stud farms are comparable to the best anywhere, the trainers are of reasonably high caliber, and so are the jockeys, not to mention that some of the World’s leading jockeys ride in the winter season at some of the premier race tracks in India.

In my view, the reason for this lack of success is none other than a Weak initial `Code script`.

Two reasons for this:

  1. We do not have high caliber Stallions in India, which accounts for the upper limit of 118 of TF rating achieved so far.
  2. We do not, perhaps, go as deep as required in undertaking  detailed statistical studies and in depth analysis etc before taking decisions on `Selections`, which accounts for the low percentage of horses attaining 100 plus ratings. Perhaps, our breeding establishments should have expert advisers of the caliber of Bill Oppenheim, Steve Roman, or others listed above to guide.


It is my considered view that if these issues are addressed and if India can produce race horses comparable to the best in the world – A reasonable target would be about 25 horses exceeding 100 TF level, about 6 or 7 exceeding 115, and about 2 to 3 exceeding 130 – it would catapult Indian racing to a different level altogether, which in turn will be a substantial impetus towards an all round improvement in nearly every aspect of the game. And if the Government is persuaded to reduce the Betting Tax substantially, and the Tote deductions kept within 14 or 15 percent, as is the case all over the world, it will be the icing on the cake.

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