Top racehorses are made, not bred

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.