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Insider

Top racehorses are made, not bred

5/4/2011

This story appears in the May 16, 2011 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

We're coming up on the first Saturday in May, so it's time for me to reveal a little secret. Ready? The entire sport of horse racing is based on a bogus premise: that you can pay champions to sire champions.

Shocking, I know. As we'll probably hear a few thousand times in the lead-up to this year's Kentucky Derby, one of the bedrock principles of Thoroughbred racing is that bloodlines are destiny. Every railbird and his cousin has a theory about which genetic traits are most important to search for when you're in the business of acquiring and mating horses. (If you've got a week to blow and a bottle of aspirin, google "Rasmussen Factor" to see what I mean.) Owners, trainers and jockeys all compete relentlessly for horses with the most successful ancestors. "Breed the best to the best and hope for the best," an old saying goes.