wants to discover the horse who will eventually win the 2014 Kentucky Derby. We
subscribe to theories, some quite logical, others outlandish, to determine
which horse may have the pedigree, lungs and mental fortitude to make it to the
finish line first in America’s greatest race. One theory that some handicappers
ascribe to, especially around Kentucky Derby time, is Dosage.
what, exactly, is Dosage? I found a
sentence that sums it up perfectly in, “Horse
People: Thoroughbred Culture in Lexington and Newmarket,” by Rebecca Louise Cassidy. “Dosage theory attempts to predict ability based upon the analysis of
superior male ancestors in a horse’s pedigree and is used by gamblers and
breeders to forecast the likely distance over which a horse will excel.”
pause for a brief history lesson. Those
who know all this have my permission to skip ahead and I’ll try to keep it
short and sweet for those with attention issues. Way back in the early part of the 20th
century, one of the top pedigree authorities of the day, Lt. Col. J. J. Vuillier, extensively and
laboriously (no computers, remember) researched the pedigrees of major European
stakes winners. One of his key discoveries was that specific stallions, fifteen
to be exact, were present in the majority of pedigrees and that the stallions
passed along certain characteristics. He
stallions the chefs-de-race or
“chiefs of racing.” Vuillier also observed that every fifteen to
twenty years, new chef-de-races evolved and passed along their own set of
focus was on the chefs themselves, their racing history and
abilities as stallions He calculated the importance of each of these sires and
the position in the pedigrees of the stakes winners that he studied, applied a
mathematical formula, and Voilà!, the rudiments of Dosage were
Francesco Varola came along in the mid-20th century. He loved
Vuillier’s work and concentrated on refining the elements of dosage, shifting
the emphasis from the chefs themselves to the attributes (speed, stamina) that these
stallions passed along to their offspring. Varola believed that instead of adding more representation of the chief’s
in the pedigree like a recipe (a little Herrod here, some St. Simon there),
that breeders should strive for a balance of four factors: speed, ability to
carry speed over a distance, the heart to persevere and ability to pass these
traits to the offspring. Instead of giving each chief a dosage number, Varola
classified the chiefs by the traits they passed to their offspring into
aptitudinal groups: transbrilliant, pure brilliant, intermediate, classic,
stout solid, stout rough, and professional.
forward to the late 1970’s. Building on the work created by Vuillier and Varola,
Steven Roman took Dosage calculations a step further. Dr. Roman changed the aptitudinal factions to
Brilliant, Intermediate, Classic, Solid and Professional. Roman then created a numbers system for these
groups. Using a four generation pedigree, Roman assigned number values to each
chef-de-race per generation. A greater
number value to the chefs in the first generation, with descending numbers of
influence to subsequent generations. Adding up these points, Dr. Roman created
the Dosage Index (DI) and Center of Distribution (CD) to measure the speed and
stamina in a horse’s pedigree. The more
speed the horse carries, the higher the DI and CD. In my efforts of keeping this short and
sweet, if you’d like to learn exactly how dosage is calculated, check out Dr.
Roman’s explanation of Dosage: http://www.chef-de-race.com/dosage/review.htm
his Bloodlines column for the Daily
Racing Form in 1981, Leo Rasmussen wrote a three-part
series presenting Dr. Roman’s work and noted that Dr. Roman’s research
showed that no horse had won the Kentucky Derby with a Dosage Index of 4.00 or
greater. Then all the hoopla started. It
seemed as if Steve Roman found the magic key to help figure out which horses
had the greatest shot of wearing the roses.
More on that in a couple of paragraphs.
back to Dosage and handicapping. The
Dosage Theory divides race fans like no other subject in horse racing. You either subscribe to it or you don’t. Heated and sometimes downright nasty debates
and arguments rage between the Believers and Non-Believers. I
have a confession to make. I used to be
I initially started studying breeding theories, I read the works Dr. Varola and
later, the articles spotlighting Dr. Roman’s findings. I explored how dosage worked in regards to
breeding and later, how it applied to handicapping. I can’t say that using Dosage for
handicapping helped my ROI any, but I figured, if these esteemed gentlemen said
that Dosage was the real deal and that it helped predict winners, then that was
good enough for me.
more Kentucky Derby winners broke the 4.00 DI cut off, the Dosage Theory for
predicting Kentucky Derby winners was changed to incorporate a higher Dosage
Index. I was convinced by a friend who
has worked in the breeding industry for many years to take a hard look at using
dosage for handicapping. My friend of
explained it this way:
does not consider the female contributions in a pedigree nor the influences of
non-chief stallions. So right off the
bat, Dosage is at the least 50% flawed, or half wrong. Additionally, when Dosage is used to interpret
a pedigree which has few chef-de-race sires close up (and it happens often),
then using it actually distorts, rather than refines one’s understanding of the
pedigree. Discount the non-chiefs and the ability passed along by the dams, and
you wind up with a skewed perspective of a horse’s pedigree and ability to get
a classic distance, or not.
Dosage Theory for handicapping is always hauled out and dusted off around
Kentucky Derby time, let's take a look at some of those "speed-bred"
horses that have won the Derby in recent years:
Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold didn’t fit the theory that only horses
with a Dosage Index under 4.00 could win the Kentucky Derby. Strike the Gold is by Alydar (an obvious
stamina influence ignored by Dosage) out of a Hatchet Man mare (ditto): His
dosage index was a 4.20. AFTER Strike the Gold won the Kentucky Derby,
Dr. Roman added Alydar as a Classic chief-de-race. Eureka! Strike the Gold now
has a dosage index of 2.60. The formula
was wrong? Ok, we’ll fix it to fit the facts and announce that Kentucky Derby
winners can now have Dosage Index of 4.00.
it makes sense to change the dosage rules now since horses are more
speed-oriented than in the past, so 4.00 seems like a reasonable change. But wait – seven years later, Real Quiet snuck
onto the scene.
1998 was the closest we’ve come to having another Triple Crown winner. Real Quiet is by Quiet American, who is a
sturdy 1 ¼ mile influence. Real Quiet
has a whopping 5.33 dosage index, yet came within a heartbreaking nose of
winning the Triple Crown. Do we switch the formula again to fit the facts?
Surely, Real Quiet was an anomaly, right?
After all, that happens in horse racing all of the time. Not so fast.
Seven years later Giacomo lumbers into the Kentucky Derby picture with a
dosage index of 4.33. If we were to
follow Giacomo dosage numbers, his sire, second and third tail sire (grandpas
on dad’s side) plus his first three damsires would all be ignored. Oh, and his
second dam is a blue hen. She doesn’t count, either.
only had to wait another four years for Mine That Bird to come along with – you
guessed it – a 4.33 Dosage Index. So, True Believers in using Dosage for
handicapping would have you accept that the numbers have to be changed again
to fit the facts. That isn’t how a
“scientific theory” is supposed to work.
You can’t keep changing the numbers after the fact. As a predictive tool
for the Kentucky Derby, Dosage has become useless.
Dosage really can’t be used to help figure out who will win the Kentucky
Derby. It’s a weird race with too many
factors, anyway. But we can use Dosage
to handicap races can’t we? Umm, not so
fast. Here’s another way to look at Dosage. Take a look at Indian Charlie’s dosage index,
a fine, low number of 2.43. Pay no attention to the fact that the Chief-de-races
in his pedigree are three and four generations back. He was bred to mares by the chef-de-races
A.P. Indy (Intermediate/Classic), Alydar (Classic), Halo (Brilliant/Classic),
Caro, Danzig, Gone West (all Intermediate/Classic), Giant’s Causeway (Classic),
Kingmambo (Classic/Solid), plus non-classic stallions, who are certainly
influences – Victory Gallop, Quiet American, Awesome Again, Ascot Knight, you
get the picture.
Now, how many of Indian Charlie’s 78 starters
won a stakes race at 1 ¼ miles?
One. That’s a 1.28% of winners at
classic distances. The filly who won at
the distance, Fleet Indian, had a Dosage Index of 5.00, by the way. She won twice at 1 ¼ miles, the Delaware
Handicap and Beldame, crossing the wire in 2:02 and 2:03. Given the low dosage indexes of
Indian Charlie and all of the classic chief-de-race daughters to whom he was
bred, shouldn’t we have seen more stakes winners at classic distances since
their dosages were low? If using Dosage
for handicapping was correct, we should have seen a lot more classic winners.
realizing that using Dosage to deduce the Kentucky Derby wasn’t sound, Dr.
Roman completely changed course at the 2011 at the Thoroughbred Pedigree,
Genetics, and Performance Conference. Steve
Roman gave a lecture on Dosage. He stated that, “Contemporary Dosage Methodology
is NOT a breeding theory, NOR a handicapping system or a betting scheme for the
Kentucky Derby. He defined dosage as a methodology applied to large populations
of Thoroughbreds for classifying pedigrees by aptitudinal type, and as a
research tool correlating type with real world performance.” (Added emphasis). Hey, he’s allowed to change his mind. It
takes an intelligent person to admit that their estimate was incorrect. Trust
me, I have to do it quite often.
the above, Dosage doesn’t appear to be a
reliable handicapping tool, does it? Yet, what’s interesting, is that Dr.
Roman, who stated in 2011 that Dosage ISN’T a handicapping tool, encourages
dosage for exactly that same use on his website. So what are we to
believe? It reminds me of the
politicians who say “no higher taxes,” as they grin and wink.
An estimated 25% of the Derby starters will not meet
the 4.00 dosage maximum. Currently 27% of the stakes winners of the 2014
Kentucky Derby prep races don’t fit the 4.00 profile. So, if Dosage is more than half wrong and yet
only disqualifies 25% of the Derby
starters, how good is it anyway?
Flipping a coin at least gives a true 50% probability. Still holding fast to
that Dosage Theory for handicapping? I’d
rather flip a One Dollar coin and then use it to bet on the winner.