A BILL HIRSCH VIGNETTE: AN ARGUMENTATIVE MLB MANAGER AND A HORSE NAMED CIGAR

“My wife Mary Ryan Hirsch and I have been hosting ‘Horsemen’s Dinners’ in south Florida the past several years.  At one of our get-togethers, noted racetrack announcer extraordinaire Larry Collmus got up and told this story from 1996 about Major League Baseball manager ‘Sweet’ Lou Piniella.

At the time Lou was manager of the Seattle Mariners. The club was in Boston to play the Red Sox at Fenway Park.  On the day of a Saturday game, the great racehorse Cigar, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, was running in the Mass Cap at nearby Suffolk Downs just outside Boston. Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey was riding him.

The Mariners/Red Sox game was scheduled to start at 1 p. m.  As is customary before the first pitch, the teams’ managers are required to walk out to the home plate umpire and hand over their respective line-up cards. 

After Piniella walked a few steps away from the umpire, he did an about-face and returned to speak privately to the ump.  He told the ump that sometime in the first inning, when the Mariners were batting, Lou would run out of his dugout and fiercely argue ‘balls and strikes,’ something that is an automatic ejection.  Lou went on to tell the umpire that while he was arguing he wanted to be thrown out of the game.  

In bewilderment, the ump asked Lou, ‘Why are you doing this?’  Lou told the ump that Cigar was running in the Mass Cap at Suffolk and that Lou had arranged a waiting limo to drive him to Suffolk Downs so he could see Cigar run.

‘Sweet’ Lou and MLB umpires mixed like oil and water.

Sure enough, after a close pitch Lou ran out of his dugout and was screaming and flailing his arms and quarreling that the pitch was not a strike on his hitter. He did his customary antic of kicking the dirt at the umpire and soon, as expected, the umpire threw Lou out of the game.

Lou changed clothes in the limo and got to Suffolk Downs in plenty of time to see his beloved Cigar win the Mass Cap.”

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Lou Piniella was ejected from 63 games during his career, placing him at number 12 on the list of most ejected managers in MLB history. Another former MLB manager and racehorse owner, Joe Torre, is number 11 on the list with 66 career ejections.

Bill Hirsch is a retired racehorse trainer and the son and grandson of Hall of Fame trainers William Hirsch and Max Hirsch.

Horse Racing Business 2020

A BILL HIRSCH STORY ABOUT “MONEY TALKS”

“My wife Mary Ryan-Hirsch and I have been hosting ‘Horsemen Dinners’ in south Florida the past several years. Once a month, we gather up a crowd of horsemen and meet at a restaurant near Gulfstream Park and have one of these get togethers. We usually get a crowd of 60-75 guests.

One of the highlights of the evening takes place after dinner when we ask anyone in attendance to get up and tell their favorite racing story. On such a night at the Surf Club on Miami Beach we had one of these dinners and future Hall of Fame jockey Jacinto Vasquez told this story. It brought the house down!

Jacinto was the regular rider of Eclipse Award turf horse Noble Dancer trained by Hall of Famer T. J. ‘Tommy’ Kelly. Tommy was there that night along with another Hall of Fame jockey Don Brumfield and a few stewards who were in the stewards stand the day Noble Dancer was running in the United Nations Handicap at Atlantic City. Noble Dancer was the top-weighted horse in the race and the 3-5 favorite.

After the break Jacinto wound up on the rail in the 1 1/2 mile turf race. Around the far turn he was still trapped on the rail with Brumfield on a longshot lapped alongside Noble Dancer. Jacinto yelled to Brumfield, ‘Let me out, you’re on a dead horse.’ Jacinto offered him $500. Brumfield replied back to Jacinto, ‘I can’t hear you.’

After turning down the initial $500 offer and then another for $1,000, Brumfield began to ease his tiring longshot out when Jacinto raised the offer to $1,500. At $1,500, Brumfield yelled back to Jacinto, ‘Ok, I hear you, now come on through!’

Jacinto and Noble Dancer went on to win the race; our dining room roared with laughter with all the horsemen clapping their hands wildly, even Tommy Kelly and the two stewards. After that, several horsemen asked Brumfield if Vasquez paid him and Don replied, ‘Absolutely, the very next morning.’”

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Bill Hirsch is a retired racehorse trainer and the son and grandson of Hall of Fame trainers William Hirsch and Max Hirsch.

Horse Racing Business 2020

THE GENETICS OF AMERICAN JOCKEY CLUB 140 RULE (BY ROBERT LOSEY, Ph.D. AND THOMAS LAMBERT, Ph.D.)

Had there have been a formal debate among equine geneticists on the Jockey Club’s proposal to limit the book size of Thoroughbred stallions, geneticists would likely have formed “selective breeding” and “mutational load” camps.  Selective breeding occurs when a stallion is chosen for a mare with the goal of producing a foal with an advantageous combination of genes.

But equine geneticists agree that mutational load has the potential to counter the positive effects of selective breeding.  Mutational load refers to the accumulation of gene mutations in populations over time, increasing the risk that succeeding generations show decreased vigor.  The negative effects of mutational load are more likely to occur when horses are inbred, as serious negative traits can appear when two mutations pair up, which occurs more frequently in inbred foals. The Jockey Club’s public statement that it was “…concerned with the narrowing of the diversity of the Thoroughbred gene pool….” implies that they are especially sympathetic to this “mutational load” argument. 

The Jockey Club proposal motivated the authors of this note (1) to research the Jockey Club’s contention that genetic diversity had decreased, and (2) to review recent scholarly analyses regarding the merits of the Jockey Club’s concerns. We analyzed degrees of incremental inbreeding for mid- and upper-tier stallions by comparing pedigrees from the 2000 and 2020 BloodHorse Stallion Registers.  Based on analyses of five-cross pedigrees, the average stallion in our 2020 sample was more inbred.  The average stallion in 2020 was slightly less inbred than Maclean’s Music, whose only inbreeding arises from the appearance of Mr. Prospector in his third, fourth, and fifth generations (a 3 by 4 by 5 cross). 

We doubt that a veterinarian would view this degree of inbreeding with trepidation, though we expect that many observers would be somewhat concerned about the smaller group of stallions that exhibited significantly higher degrees of incremental inbreeding.  But increased incremental inbreeding does not necessarily mean that modern Thoroughbreds are at increased risk genetically.  To shed light on this question, we reviewed recent scholarly publications regarding the genetics of selective breeding and mutational load.

One of the earliest genomic analyses of inbreeding in Thoroughbreds was Binns et al’sInbreeding in the Thoroughbred Horse” (2011).  These researchers focused on the “big book” era beginning in 1996.  Their results regarding incremental inbreeding mirror our own findings.  The authors label the inbreeding trend as “…not excessive, (but) worrisome.”  They temper this concern by pointing out that the Thoroughbred breed has been highly inbred from its founding.

Evelyn Todd et al’sFounder Specific Inbreeding Depression…”  analyzed a large sample of Australian Thoroughbred runners using pedigree analysis and was among the earliest research to analyze (a much smaller sample) using genomic analysis.  They contributed useful discussions pertaining to “gene purging” (using selective breeding to rid a population of unwanted genes), but their findings did not definitively support either the selective breeding or mutational load camps.

More recent analyses of geneticists provide the most cogent discussions of trends in inbreeding in Thoroughbreds.  In February of 2020, a genome-based study authored by McGivney et al reported results on trends in inbreeding complementary to our and Binns’ analyses.  The McGivney paper is more reliable than either our paper or the Binns’ analysis for three reasons.

  • It uses a much larger sample.
  • It is based solely on genomic analysis. Because gene transmission is somewhat random and pedigree-based analysis cannot adequately assess random transmission, genome-based analysis of inbreeding better measures degrees of inbreeding.
  • Genome-based analysis considers the cumulative effects of inbreeding rather than focusing only on recent incremental inbreeding.

The McGivney study was especially interesting because most of its authors had connections to PlusVital, the equine genetics firm commissioned in 2019 to provide “expert genomics advice” to the Jockey Cub.  The McGivney paper definitively confirmed the consensus of industry observers that inbreeding has been increasing in the Thoroughbred breed and expressed concern about that trend.  However, the Jockey Club’s decision to impose a 140-mare limit on stallions was almost certainly viewed by PlusVital as a “blunt instrument” solution not at the top of PlusVital’s recommendations.

While the McGivney paper can perhaps be characterized as viewing selective breeding uninformed by genomic analysis and as a “blunt instrument” in trying to guide breeding decisions, the contributions of Dr. Ernest Bailey and his co-authors are more optimistic that selective breeding can lead to good breeding decisions.  Bailey says that “…inbreeding is actually the process of selective breeding…for good genes…and against bad genes, and so the process results in a steady increase in inbreeding and a steady decrease in genetic diversity.  That’s how you end up with an improved population.”

For a detailed discussion of this topic, access https://ir.library.louisville.edu/faculty/446/https://ir.library.louisville.edu/faculty/446/

Robert L. Losey can be contacted at rllosey@gmail.com

Horse Racing Business 2020