Dedicated, visionary and opinionated are three words that come to mind when endeavouring to best describe former legendary Australian pedigree guru Mr Gordon Campbell who back in the late 1980's put himself through TAFE night school to study basic computer programming with a vision to create his own fully comprehensive Australian standardbred database.
A colossal challenge if there was ever one but a mighty powerful tool if ever completed.
Over the course of 11 years commencing in 1989 Gordon and his dedicated wife Valerie uploaded more than 350,000 records into their online database which incorporated every horse in Australia's pedigree from 1990 onwards out to 6 generations as well as full statistical data encompassing race performance, earnings and breeding exploits.
It was to easily form Australasia's largest privately-owned standardbred database and to Gordon it provided the trustworthy tool from which he could justify his breeding recommendations to client's in his role as a pedigree consultant.
Now, he possessed the cold hard facts on any breeding cross proposed and could purport this with statistical data on numbers and percentages to either support a proposed mating or to deter from it if the data did not support the likely success of the mating.
A powerful tool indeed and one used prolifically by Gordon in the wake of his own favoured breeding theories and to dispel others.
This whole exercise burst into reality after Gordon had identified that Tarport Low mares' needed Adios blood up as close as possible in a stallion ( the strength of this coming from the stallion's maternal bloodlines ) and having listed manually the pedigrees of some 430 Tarport Low mares plus the stallion's they had been bred to, he then had to go through the tedious exercise of ascertaining percentages in order to define success rates or otherwise.
There had to be a better more expedient way of deriving this data for future exercises and the resultant data mission formed the basis of the foundation of what Gordon named as Computabred Ltd with it's primary function being it's use for bloodline compatibility testing based on factual statistics.
It was from this vast database that Gordon was to substantiate many of his favoured breeding techniques and theories when doing his own writings or stallion recommendations for a client's mare. It also allowed him the flexibility of becoming receptive to new breeding trends the success or otherwise which could easily be identified from his own statistical data.
At the very forefront of his philosophy was a strong belief that maternal lineage is crucial to ongoing success both on the racetrack and in the breeding barn.
He was extremely cautious of the progeny of standout mares from ordinary families just as he was the likely success of sires with poor female families, the latter often being a derivative of Sires Stakes racing of which Gordon was no fan.
As the 'X' chromosome comes from the sire's mother, if this is weak so too will the progeny be weak. Heart size comes from the female which is all important to the athlete in any species.
Allied to this was Gordon's strong belief that one of the very best forms of breeding was to emulate that which occured naturally in the wild. This was centered on the horse being a herd animal and a flight animal, living in fear of predators, characteristics that are still evident today despite human involvement with the horse now stretching to some 3000 years.
A 20 plus year old mare in a natural state could not produce simply because she would most likely have been devoured. Speed was essential to simply exist with nature saying that the first born is vital for the ongoing existence of the species.
Are there not some clues or guidelines here on breeding from young mares with their earliest foals being their best? Much food for thought here including the wisdom or otherwise of breeding from an older mare, all of which could be supported statistically from the Computabred database.
Gordon has also been a staunch advocate for returning the best blood from a mare to the stallion's "bottom ( direct maternal ) line" as sheer speed and stamina is all that has enabled the wild horse to frustrate their would-be predators, and that speed and stamina comes from stallion's " breeding back into the herd" ( BBITH )from which they themselves have come.
We would like to point out that there are two variations here and both can be highly effective in a planned mating.
The first of these is returning is returning the same blood from a mare ( often via a different sibling ) from any position within her pedigree back to the stallion's direct maternal bloodlines ( otherwise known as his "bottom line" ).
This breeding practice has been happening for a long time now and it's success has meant that it has endured in both standardbred and thoroughbred breeding circles as it is looked upon as a highly successful formula for speed enhancement just as Gordon was referring to as occuring in the wild.
The second means of returning the same blood from the mare to the stallion is much more position specific and is known simply as "breeding back into the herd" ( aka BBITH ). This breeding formula features the same female ancestor present in "bottom line" of both the stallion and the mare ( either via the same or a different sibling ).
Once again this simulated that which naturally occured in the wild where the dominant stallion of the herd often covered close relatives or more distant relatives sharing the same maternal family.
Incorporated into this whole returning of the same blood from the mare to the stallion can be another breeding feature known as a Rasmussen Factor. Allegedly founded by Leon Rasmussen, the Rasmussen Factor was defined as "Breeding back to superior female through different individuals( siblings ) within the first 5 generations".
Gordon Campbell was a proponent of this practice offering the comment that "If the Rasmussen Factor is understood, it is on the mark", citing examples such as Surfing Safari and Mazzini Magic. Both of these very good horses are examples that position in pedigree matching is important otherwise there can be no effect at all.
Premier Pedigrees is also a fan of this form of breeding with no better example of it being highly effective in inducing high speed than the template set by the superior mare Blue Horizon ( a grand-daughter of the "Queen of Gait" in Golden Miss ) when she featured in a 3x3 reverse-sexed Rasmussen Factor in the pedigree of the Paul Fitzpatrick trained NSW Derby winner Make Me Smile ( $517,518, 34 wins from 68 starts ) who possessed sizzling top end speed including blistering gate speed.
So taken were we with Make Me Smile's dazzling speed that when Southland's Debbie Scarlett ( now Smith ) emailed Premier Pedigrees a short time later looking for a mate for her Panorama mare Sly Shard we had little hesitation recommending Grinfromeartoear. The template had been set and hence the beginnings of what was to become Smiling Shard.
Ironically, I was working at Geoff Small's barn sometime later when Cran Dalgety walked in looking for Geoff. It was just after the Karaka PGG Standardbred Yearling Sales and I made the comment to Cran in passing that he had purchased the best breed yearling in the Sales. I recall vividly his response "Oh, I don't know about that, the little squib, and I paid too much for him" knowing he had secured him for $42,000 and hastily showing me in his Sales Catalogue that he had him marked down as a $30,000 yearling.
The rest is history as they say as the " little squib" ( alias Smiling Shard ) won the Tabcorp Breeders Crown 2YO Colts and Geldings Final amongst his 17 wins from 50 starts with lifetime earnings of $1,089,831.
Whilst things like Rasmussen Factors were seen as real strengths in the pedigrees of top horses, Gordon Campbell remained open to the fact that genes further back in pedigrees could also have an influential effect on a foal.
This is something that has been more widely exploited in thoroughbred breeding circles particularly with regard to ascertaining patterns in a mare's pedigree and whether these carried through into the pedigrees of a likely consort.
Gordon was also not afraid to make a call on matters close to his heart and it was such bravery to "put it out there" which gave him his at times controversial reputation. These were often voiced through his regular Datapace columns that he wrote in the bi-monthly Harness Racing International magazine. I recall one particular phrase that he espoused time and again "Never believe every thing you read" often targetted at a glossy advertising brochure of a new offshore stallion arrival.
When In The Pocket was beginning to create a breed-shaping ripple with his first crops in New Zealand, Gordon was of the opinion that most Australian mares did not have the genetic make-up to click with him.
We tended to be in agreement with Gordon on this one as the Australian broodmare genepool carried a massive Adios influence as opposed to the New Zealand genepool that was heavily skewed towards Meadow Skipper and his sons and grandsons.
One of the prime factors supporting our opinions was "position in a pedigree" with a lot ( and there were numerous ) of the grand-daughters of Meadow Skipper producing foals bred on a 4x4 reverse-sex cross to Meadow Skipper which proved an overwhelming success ( often to the point of lethal ) and featured in the pedigrees of most of In The Pocket's best sons and daughters led by the likes of Christian Cullen, Courage Under Fire and Under Cover Lover.
There may have been another factor at play here as well. Adios was well-gaited allowing for speed maximisation. Meadow Skipper on the other hand had imperfect gait and so the injection of Direct Scooter ( refined gait ) attributes via In The Pocket may have been far more breed shaping in New Zealand than it would have been in Australia.
This all appeared to make good sense but there is also a school of thought that Adios was in fact the catalyst that In The Pocket required to produce his best horses . With no Adios blood of his own, In the Pocket's two best performers in North America in Sanabelle Island and All I Ask both carry a double dose of Adios on their dam's side as do the three New Zealand performers we have identified above in Christian Cullen, Courage Under Fire and Under Cover Lover.
Gordon was also of the belief that Christian Cullen may have struggled as a sire on the grounds that he did not descend from a particularly strong maternal family and certainly not from a sire producing family up until that time, Tiger Jones and Julius Caesar following on but of no real consequence.
I guess there is always an anomaly to be found somewhere in any situation and when you are dealing with a freak the old adage " expect the unexpected" surfaces as Christian Cullen went on to become a dominant sire in New Zealand.
When Premier Pedigrees officially launched in 2001 and released extensive advertising into the Australian ( as well as New Zealand ) market to establish a new client base particularly through the excellent magazines Harness Racing International as well as Track Bred, little were we to know that in a very short time we would be inundated with breeding match requests from new Australian clients, many of whom were former Computabred clients.
Upon the passing of his treasured mother Elsie at the grand old age of 98 in 2001, and being an only child, Gordon and his loving and supporting wife Valerie, suddenly determined that there were other priorities in life and up-anchored to the central Northern Coast of New South Wales to go fishing and play lawn bowls.
Very few persons would know what happened to that great database that the couple developed, whether it is still in existence somewhere and still being privately maintained or whether it was left to simply expire but there has been no talk or evidence of it resurfacing in the two decades that have since elapsed.
Back in 1999 in a Datapace column for Harness Racing International, Gordon did make a comment, perhaps a little " tongue in cheek " and with thoughts of retirement obviously beckoning, that he may release a book "The Campbell Factors" in 22 years time.
Well, if that is the case and the thought has come to fruition, then Premier Pedigrees will be the first in the queue when it is set to go to print in 2021.
Premier Pedigrees was born out of Ken Mackay's passion for horse pedigrees to offer a very affordable pedigree matching service and valuable recommendations to new and existing Australian and New Zealand clients for both thoroughbred and standardbred mares.