Buyers sometimes pay six-and-seven figure prices for impeccably-bred and well-conformed yearlings and 2-year-olds, only later to find their blueblood charges bested on the racetrack by a horse that sold for five figures or less…or did not elicit any bids at all at auction.  John Henry, Seattle Slew, and Sunday Silence are examples.

The ostensibly most gifted athletes, human and equine, are not necessarily destined for accomplishment because they may lack the fortitude and drive to succeed up to their natural abilities.  A large-scale project at the United States Military Academy demonstrated the power of what the researchers call “grit.”

A University of Pennsylvania psychologist, Angela Duckworth, led a team that over 10 years’ time studied West Point cadets, 11,258 in all, with the objective to determine what is the most important trait for success.  Success was evaluated over a cadet’s four-year experience at the Academy, an experience that commences with a brutal six-week boot camp.

“Grit” was the personal characteristic most correlated to success, which was defined as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals of personal significance.”  (Grit was measured on a 12-point scale.)  Grit trumped cognitive and physical abilities.  While brain power and physical ability were essential to success, grit was more significant.

When a bloodstock agent and his or her clients bid at an auction on unproven racing talent, what they cannot know is whether a prospect has grit, whether he or she will persevere when bumped during a race or when winded and tired in deep stretch.  A sale catalog has no information whatsoever on potential “true grit.”

That’s what makes horse racing so challenging and gives a buyer without the deep pockets of a sheikh or a hedge-fund manager a shot at the big-time.

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