The 4th Place Conundrum in Horseracing           


Responsible interrogation of any issue should never be maliciously founded and nor should it carry  an agenda of seeking change for sake of change. It and must aways be on the basis of whether changing the status quo derives an improvement or benefit, which is what we believe may be so here.


In South Africa a 4th place in a horserace is a matter of record.

Should it be as a general rule?

Hidden in the record of a 4th place is often the achieving of 4th place in a small field and so the question arises as to whether this is a rational record or does it have unintended consequences to an unobservant eye to the extent it misinforms/misleads the opinion of the horses racing quality.

Lets look at a real example, which we will call Horse X – it ran in 12 races and has a record of 2 wins and 8 places indicating an decent horse that consistently runs into the money and earns. However 4 of those 4th places were in fields of less than 10 horse – a 6, 7, 8  and a 10 horse field.

It begs the question as to whether the achievement of a 4th place in small fields where 4th means running mid-way or worse down the field is an achievement worth recognising, particularly as the stakes for 4th is low and sometimes absent in small fields. Should the earning of stakes not be linked factor to the recording of a 4th place.

 If we adjust the record of Horse X by eliminating the 4 small field 4th places the record then becomes 12 races – 2 wins – 4 places, which represents a significant shift in the final assessment of the horse’s racing quality. IF Horse X had a record of 0 wins then the impact of reducing 8 places to 4 has a profound effect that substantially changes the assessment of Horse X

Interrogation of these facts informs that the record of 4th place on a horses record should be a matter of concern as it has a direct bearing on the perceived overall rating of a horse.

A supporting and associated argument is as follows – if a horse, lets call it Horse Y, has the same race record of 12 runs 2 wins but only 6 places (incl 4th places) and one compares this record to that of Horse X, it is fair to conclude that Horse X is better given it has 8 places. However, what if Horse Y either:-

(a) achieved all its places no worse than 3rd? OR

(b) ran some of it’s 4th places in fields of 12 plus horses?

OR (c) in its unplaced races ran in a higher division than Horse X?

OR (d) never ran more than 2 lengths behind the winner when running out of the placings?

Who would be the better horse in this scenario? Incorrectly so Horse X to most observers.    

We suggest that a 4th place should only be a matter of record when the field size exceeds a minimum number size and it is our opinion that that minimum field size number should be 12 – i.e. that for a 4th place to count as a matter of record it must be achieved in a field that comprises at least 12 runners in order to maintain a rational balance to its record that is less misleading.  

The lesson is that accepting 4th place in the record of a horse as it is currently recorded carries an undesirable distorting effect on the perceived racing quality/achievement of a horse and therefore that the conditions on which the recording of 4th place  is based requires reconsideration and amending.

In the event that effecting a change as suggested flies in the face of international convention, we would ask the question why SA doesn’t elect to adopt the position of being a Thought Leader and Pioneer on matters such as these in the interests of promoting principle and what is good for the industry. With modern electronic systems it is not difficult to do so and only requires a leadership adoption.

A Journey into the World of Racehorse Breeding

Article 1 in a Series

The Author is ETHANICITY Research, a private South African Research organisation that practices its own method of determining a horses future potential using a probability approach.

Contact info@ethanicity-research or @Ethnacity Research on Facebook


This is the first in a series of articles that attempts to expose the fascinating world of racehorse breeding, in particular what it requires to identify future greatness and success. We start with a general background to understanding the complexity of the task and how it has evolved. Then we will present a true-life example of a horse to reinforce understanding of what we present below and the method we apply. In later articles we will continue to present real examples of horses, past and present, to explore further.

Future Articles will be shorter reads than this.


Brief Background

For decades mankind has toiled for a formula that accurately predicts racehorse champions and has invested unspeakable amounts of money into the search. To discover its secret would be to unlock incredible wealth in monetary terms.

Whilst many have claimed through the passage of time that they have discovered  “method that works very well”, the truth is that as good as each may be there is unlikely to ever be any one method that can universally and accurately get anywhere close to 100% in its predictive ability. There are simply a number of uncontrollable or unforeseeable dynamics that can, and do, come into play along the way especially when assessing unraced horses or contemplating matings. 

Whilst most have their merit ALL have their shortcomings. However the worth of any is based on the ability to predict correctly more times than they are wrong. Another point is that it is performance over the full racing career of a horse that they aim to predict, not individual races.

Arguably the most critical fact to understand about racehorses is that every horse is a unique genetic string of its ancestors and that even full siblings are highly unlikely to possess identical race performance ability simply because their genetic string (formula) can differ greatly. An oft used analogy is “have you ever heard of Mike Tysons brother? or Usain Bolts brother?” 

Another critical fact is that the mere appearance of a successful sire or dams name/s in the pedigree is not any guarantee of a horse being of high potential. It sure does indicate a likely increase in probability, however it requires a far greater consideration than the mere presence of names. You can wear the most expensive Nike Running Shoes available on the planet but does that mean you can run with the best of them?

What are some of the Schools of Thought?

Many today claim racehorse breeding to be a game of pure luck. Mate a sire and a mare and hope for the best outcome.  A slightly more advanced branch of that school of thought says “breed the best to the best and hope for the best”. Both rely on the “law of averages theory” that says if you throw enough money at breeding for long enough you will strike it lucky at some point. Good luck, hope one doesn’t run out of money and/or time.

Others believe that no amount of studying the pedigree is as important as the horses athletic confirmation and that what the human eye sees and perceives is a trustworthy assessment to an experienced eye. The saying is show me the horse and I will tell you if its going to be a champion or not.

More modern thinkers say that whilst luck will always be a factor given the uncontrollable and unforeseeable future dynamics, there is a large degree of predictability to be gained through research and study of the pedigree and bloodlines. And in modern times there are substantial compilations of racing breeding and performance facts that can be drawn on to undertake these studies. Most in this group advocate the use of scientific genetic research as a means of identifying potential and there are some fascinating findings in this regard, which are very hard to fault.

What is our method?

At ETHANICITY Research we believe that Probability Theory has a crucial role to play in reducing chance/luck through the systematic extraction of facts and statistics of the pedigree behind the horse to assist identify a reliable future performance. The output of this branch of research is delivered as a Probability Rating of a horse’s future performance potential. The higher the Probability rating the lower the Chance Factor (risk) is considered to be, whilst the converse is true. If one subscribes to the logic of the approach then one clearly accepts that it is better to know the Probability vs Chance Ratio before one decides to execute a mating or buy an unraced horse.

Whilst not our speciality, it is VERY IMPORTANT for us to emphasize that the age-old assessment of a horses physicality, its Confirmation, cannot ever be ignored or overlooked. It has always been crucial and it will continue to be so for evermore no matter how high a Probability of Performance finds.  A horse’s racing performance ability hinges to a very large degree on having the everything in the right place and proportion.

A well Conformed but low Probability horse is at best a chance as is a poorly Conformed but high Probability Horse.

A well Conformed high Probability horse is way better than a chance. We believe that there are 2 crucial ticks one needs to look for, 1 for Conformation (we call this Qualitative Analysis or Qlt) and 1 for Probability (we call this Quantitative Analysis or Qut).

Each of these important assessment factors contain levels – for example in Qlt it is common for a rating of 1 – 5 to apply with a horse rating 5 ticking all the boxes whilst in Qut we apply a rating of 1-10, with 10 being the highest (albeit unlikely to ever be issued because of the uncontrollable future factors at the time of rating).

Therefore a horse that rates 4/5 for Qlt and 7.5/10 for Qut is considered better than a horse rated 4/5 Qlt and 6.0/10 Qut for example. We ONLY provide Qut Ratings and leave Qlt up to the experts that provide that service.

Not convinced? Lets look at a real current example….

MUNDI (Galileo x Meow) is a 3 year old colt who ran his 1st race on 12 April 2024 and won in the UK.

He is a full brother to 6 other horses, all before him. 3 of those were high class Group winners in Churchill, Clemmie and Blenheim Palace. It doesn’t stop there as he is also very closely related to a G3 winner and bred not far off Group 1 winners Gleneagles, Aloof, Happily, Decorated Knight, Ballydoyle, Joan Of Arc and Marvellous as well as a number of other Group winning horses.

So what you might say? Any fool could have said he would be good.

And you would be correct because only a fool would have said otherwise but that is exactly the point.

He was predictably a high probability horse exactly because of the high performance in the family before and near him. And all of those facts raised his Probability rating. So much for “chance” and “luck”.

To prove the point that nothing is perfect, MUNDI is one of 7 full siblings, 3 of which were poor performers. Notwithstanding the 3 of 6 poor performers, the amount of high performance before and close to him is very special. It is uncommon, if not rare, to find a horse that is so well related to high performance of this quality.

To say that MUNDI is a produce of “chance/luck” is an insult to those that orchestrated his existence.  He was planned based purely and solely on the very high probability that he would be good based on the facts/evidence of high performance in 3 of his 6 siblings and the proximity to high performance in the very near pedigree. The Probability is that he will at the very least be a top class performer, if not as good as his 3 high class siblings.

Lets look at real live example on the opposite end of the spectrum, who were equally bred to high quality performance parents.

The incredible racemare BLACK CAVIAR won 25 of her 25 races ever run for earnings of AUS$ 7,953million.

She was mated to Exceed and Excel, a classy multiple Group race winner. The progeny could understandably be expected to out of the top drawer. OSCIETRA only managed 5 runs for 2 wins in minor divisions for a paltry sum. Her next progeny by Sebring, another multiple Group race winner, albeit not of the same class as Exceed and Excel was PRINCE OF CAVIAR who ran 6 races for 1 win and 3 places also for paltry earnings.

The Naysayers might argue, bad example. So lets look at another.

ZENYATTA was an outstanding USA racemare with a record of 20 races for 19 wins and 1 place with earnings of $7.3million. Her first progeny was by Bernardini, a multiple Graded race winner with earnings of $3million. COZMIC ONE was retired after 5 very poor races. Her second progeny, ZICONIC, by top sire Tapit, ran 12 poor races without a single win.

So how is it possible that the outcomes can differ so much between MUNDI and the progeny of BLACK CAVIAR and ZENYATTA? They were all bred in the purple along the lines of “the best to the best” right but the results were poor, which dispels that belief but certainly underlines “hope for the best”.

The logic cannot be a case “chance” and “breed the best to the best?

Here is the logical conclusion.

If one studies the pedigree and the racing performances of the bloodlines behind each of the horses it is conspicuously evident that MUNDI possesses substantially more factual indicators of high performance than the progeny of BLACK CAVIAR and ZENYATTA. Therefore, names aside, the Probability Rating of MUNDI would be high whilst the that of the others would all be substantially lower due to the significant disparity of racing performance behind them despite the quality of the names that produced them. Names are not the causal indicators of potential and only create a often misguided perception of racing potential in the human mind.

Whilst we have only analysed the horses mentioned above from a Quantitative Assessment angle, it is highly unlikely that all of the performers were poorly conformed, so negative Qualitative factors are an unlikely explanation for the sub-par performance. It surely has to do with what has been explained above.

In follow up articles we will look at individual cases and issue Performance Probability Ratings to test ER’s Quantitative Research Method.