May 02, 2012



For instance, Hansen’s pedigree is documented back more than 20 generations to legendary forefathers such as the Darley Arabian and the Byerley Turk, whom Captain Byerley rode at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Hansen’s bloodline includes Native Dancer, the “€œGrey Ghost,”€ who became racing’s first television-era icon because he stood out on 1950s black-and-white TVs. His ancestry includes the famous 18th-century gray Alcock’s Arabian.

But Hansen’s darker progenitors are even better-known to casual fans. One of his great-great-grandfathers is Seattle Slew, the next-to-last horse to win racing’s Triple Crown. Secretariat, the supreme champion of recent times, fills two of the sixteen slots for great-great-great-grandfathers on Hansen’s inbred family tree, as does the leading modern sire, Northern Dancer, who fathered 635 registered foals. (Secretariat broke Northern Dancer’s Kentucky Derby speed record in 1973.)

A 2012 study by Irish geneticists suggests that a “€œspeed gene“€ (C type myostatin gene variant) originated with an 18th century English mare and has proliferated among Northern Dancer’s progeny.

This doesn”€™t mean that Hansen is genetically fated to win on Saturday. The current co-favorites at 9 to 2, Union Rags and Bodemeister, share many of the same famous names in their pedigrees. They”€™re all distant cousins of each other by multiple genealogical pathways.

Americans tend to be freaked out by any thought of inbreeding, but it’s inevitable in any family tree, even one not officially closed like that of thoroughbreds. Just go back 40 generations in your own family tree, and you”€™ll find over a trillion slots to fill. Presumably, more than a few of your own precursors did double duty.

And that suggests the most efficient definition of race: A racial group is a partly inbred extended family. The inbreeding gives races more coherence and persistence than typical extended families. 

Thoroughbreds comprise a breed, which is a particular kind of race: an extended family that is becoming wholly inbred due to artificial selection.

Every human, in contrast, belongs to multiple races of varying sizes. This won”€™t satisfy the absolutists who say that Race Can”€™t Exist because people can”€™t belong to more than one race. In truth, when it comes to who your relatives are, it’s all relative.



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