Victor Ludorum, winner of the pedigree games

Written by Andrew Reichard

Nature uses only the longest threads to weave her patterns, so that each small piece of her fabric reveals the organisation of the entire tapestry. - Richard P. Feynman

Patterns abound in nature and in the behaviour of living things. Understanding the patterns that surround us, has been a vital survival tool for all species, but it is left to humans alone to turn the understanding into various ways of altering natural phenomena in order to exert an influence on the future turn of events.

Darley’s Victor Ludorum has a pedigree pattern to satisfy the sternest critic, being inbred to his own third dam Helen Street in a similar manner to Danehill, who is inbred to his own third dam Natalma.

Both stallions have “The Rasmussen Factor” (RF) which has been a common thread in the pedigrees of great sires from time immemorial. To illustrate the point, three of the giants of Australasian breeding in the past century, Star Kingdom, Sir Tristram and Danehill had only one thing in common, the RF.

They were all inbred within five generations to a superior female through different individuals, which is the full technical definition of the RF. Star Kingdom was inbred to Canterbury Pilgrim, Sir Tristram to both Lavendula and Selene (double RF) and Danehill to Natalma.

Of the 205 Great Sires Of The World since 1900 as described in the seminal reference work of that name, fully 25% had the RF which runs at significantly lower percentages in the commercial thoroughbred population generally.

Key foundation sires of the breed that had the RF include Blue Larkspur, Cavaliere d’Arpino, Danehill, Fair Trial, Forli, Hail To Reason, Heroic, Lyphard, Mahmoud, Nasrullah, Nearctic, Nijinsky, Northern Taste, Roberto, Showdown, Sir Tristram, Spearmint, Star Kingdom, The Tetrarch, Tracery and Tudor Minstrel just to name a selection.

Victor Ludorum (Shamardal – Antiquities by Kaldounevees) was an undefeated Gr1 winning 2yo, a Gr1 Classic winner at three and raced with distinction against the best horses in Europe throughout his career, winning five of his 14 starts and placing in another five. 

In appearance he reminds us a lot of his excellent sire Shamardal, sharing the same rich bay coat with black points, minus only the white sock on the near hind. Victor Ludorum emulated his sire by winning the same 3yo Classic, The Poule d’essai des Poulains (French 2000 Guineas) and to complete the similarities he is inbred to Shamardal’s family from which he also descends in direct female line.

Shamardal has emerged as one of the world’s elite stallions with 27 individual Gr1 winners to his credit including Able Friend, Faint Perfume, Maybe Discreet, Delectation and  Captain Sonador all sired from just five seasons on the shuttle. He also left the promising sire, Gr1 placed Puissance De Lune.

His Northern Hemisphere sired son Lope De Vega shuttled for four seasons leaving Australian Gr1 sprint winners Santa Ana Lane and Gytrash, both out of Fastnet Rock mares. Taken altogether this gives a strong indication that sons of Shamardal such as Victor Ludorum, will sire stock which are well suited to Australian conditions.

These are all excellent qualifications for a prospective sire, but what really sets Victor Ludorum apart, is his pedigree pattern. In this aspect he lives up to his name which is Latin for “overall winner of the games”. He has definitely won the “pedigree games” being inbred to the great mare Helen Street in a most interesting fashion. Helen Street is the second dam of both Victor Ludorum’s sire Shamardal and his own dam Antiquities.

Helen Street, by English Derby winner Troy out of the Riverman mare Waterway, was rated among the best of her generation in England and Europe at both two and three. On the 1984 two-year-old International Classification she was rated above Oh So Sharp, Al Bahathri, Coup De Folie and Bella Colora, while at three she had an annual Timeform rating of 123, ahead of such notables as Triptych 121, Fatah Flare 121and Bella Colora 119, but some way behind Oh So Sharp on 131.

Her seven generation tabulated pedigree shows inbreeding to six influential mares (a higher than average total) namely Lady Juror, Mumtaz Mahal, Scapa Flow, Lady Josephine, Gondolette and Plucky Liege. A lot of girl power right there!

At stud she has met all expectations, becoming the dam of the leading sire Street Cry and second dam of Shamardal who both lie very high up in the overall list of leading all time G1 sires with 23 and 27 individual G1 winners respectively. Other notables descended directly from Helen Street include G1 winner Territories, G1 placed Paximadia, G1 placed Thronum and G2 winner Geoffrey Chaucer. By any definition she is a “Blue Hen”.

There are currently 76 runners inbred to Helen Street within five generations, these of course all have the RF with her as the subject mare. They  include six stakes winners ( a healthy 7.9% of runners), with Victor Ludorum the best to date and the G1 VRC Victoria Derby runnerup Southern Moon is among the four stakes placegetters to embellish the statistics.

Thoroughbreds with the RF are quite often also inbred to other closely related ancestors, as mares are often sent to the most promising young son of a proven sire they may have visited earlier or to stallions from a similar gene pool. Victor Ludorum is a case in point.

Not only is he inbred 3f x 3f to Helen Street (3 by 3 via two females), but on his sireline Helen Street’s daughter Helsinki is by Machiavellian who has two strains of Almahmoud (Natalma’s dam) close up, while on the female side his second dam Antiquities is out of Helen Street  by Pennekamp who brings in three strains of Almahmoud close up. Victor Ludorum has the Helen Street/Almahmoud mix both top and bottom.

Another strong link in this chain of pedigree reinforcement lies in the fact that Victor Ludorum is inbred to his own female line, which can occur in several ways, but when both the sire and dam of the subject horse descend directly from the same mare it is called “The Formula One Pattern”. Notable thoroughbreds displaying this pattern include Blue Larkspur, Coup De Folie, Numbered Account, Quiet American, Thatching and Wellingtonia.

Victor Ludorum dominating the G1 Prix Jean-Luc Legardere 1600m at two

Much of the world’s cutting-edge science, particularly in physics, is done by analysing the patterns of decay products of high-energy particle collisions. There is no way to see the objects themselves directly, they are too small or too short-lived to observe directly. The patterns of their decay products are the proof of their existence, just as the patterns of thoroughbred pedigrees are the strongest clues to the success of the horses they represent.

Thoroughbred breeding can be a mystery to the uninitiated, it too has its secrets. But over the 300 year history of the breed there have been a number of skilful interpreters of the patterns that led to success. Those patterns come in many forms, whether in sirelines, or female lines, or nicks of pairs of stallions or inbreeding to particular ancestors, they can vary considerably. But in many elite horses a clear pattern is evident.

Designing the pattern for a successful thoroughbred is a considerable challenge, because by its very nature, the thoroughbred industry defines a less than 80% failure rate as a success.

Several reference works have been published over the years analysing the various pedigree patterns that have contributed to the development of the breed. Bluebloods has recently republished two of the most informative among these, Inbreeding To Superior Females (Using The Rasmussen Factor to produce better racehorses) by Rommy Faversham and Leon Rasmussen and Quest For A Classic Winner by Ken McLean, both being readily available at in the shop.

The Rasmussen Factor (RF) is just one of these many recurring patterns in thoroughbred pedigrees. It has the great merit of being easily identifiable because its key markers occur within five generations. The RF was named by Jack Werk after the legendary thoroughbred journalist Leon Rasmussen who was far too modest to name something after himself.

Leon’s “Bloodlines” column was a byword in the American industry, running for some 35 years in The Daily Racing Form. Leon was not the first to realise that inbreeding to superior females through different individuals within five generations seemed to produce disproportionately good results, but he was the first to set the definition within specific precise limits for a particular form of this type of mating which kept cropping up in the five-generation tabulated pedigrees of the elite winners he was writing about.

He described the method as “Inbreeding to Superior Females through different individuals within five generations”. It could equally be described as inbreeding to siblings within four generations.  In the mid-1980s the late great Jack Werk who pioneered commercial computerized nicking analysis along with Roger Lyons at Werk Thoroughbred Consultants, decided he needed a way to promote his newly established Werk Nick Ratings (now Enicks).

In order to achieve this he enticed Leon Rasmussen to become the founding editor of his new publication Owner/Breeder magazine. Jack decided correctly that “Inbreeding To Superior Females Through Different Individuals within five generations” was too much of a mouthful to ever catch on, so he dubbed the method “The Rasmussen Factor” in honour of Leon. It is easily shortened to RF and quite memorable.

By way of brief clarification it is worth pointing out that inbreeding to any female through a different individual is equivalent to inbreeding to siblings, either full or half or three-quarters. The term “superior” is almost redundant because any female that occurs within five generations of a pedigree through different sources top and bottom is likely to be very influential, or “superior”. It is hard to find exceptions to this rule and in practice virtually all the females that are common subjects of the RF are superior by any definition. The “five generations “ is an arbitrary limit imposed by the industry-standard five-generation tabulated pedigree which was available at the time Leon was active.

In strictly scientific terms any horse inbred to an ancestor say 2x6 is more closely inbred than 5x5 but that requires a whole new set of definitions and a different pedigree display, so to keep things relatively simple the “within five generations” is a great shorthand, easily identifiable and consistent within itself.

Darley’s Victor Ludorum brings many fine qualities to the table, among the most interesting of which is his pedigree, which clearly displays the RF, a pattern for greatness.