US Thoroughbreds Are Not Only Slower, But Also Breakdown More Often
What a mess: we are breeding for speed – but not getting it, and simultaneously our horses are getting injured more often while running route races in times similar to those of the 1940s. Unlike the Leonardo da Vinci quote above – some of us are indeed saying something about it.
Dick Jerardi recently wrote about the lower Beyer figures for BC Classic winners these days here:
But, I beat him to the punch just over a year ago when comparing raw winning times in American classics over the past 7 decades:
OK, so we’re not appreciably faster despite 70 years of selective breeding of ‘the best to the best’. With an average foal crop in that time span of 15k or so, that gives us 1 million chances at breeding a faster racehorse.
Back in the 1980s we even decided to help this process along a bit, by legalizing raceday Lasix and Bute in an effort to humanely allow these animals to reach their full potential on the track. Certainly if our horses are no faster – and now benefit from these veterinary treatments during competition – we at least should be seeing fewer fatalities, right? Wrong:
Thoroughbred fatality rates per 1,000 starters:
US – 1992 – 1.6 (http://www.ivis.org/proceedings/aaep/1997/Mundy.pdf)
US – 2010 – 2.0 (dirt = 2.14, turf = 1.74, synthetic = 1.55) according to the Jockey Club
Back in ’92 there was no Polytrack or Tapeta to ‘cushion’ the stats either, or they would be even lower and the current negative trend would be more pronounced.
How about the pace scenario in route races like the Kentucky Derby?
Perhaps our horses are faster through the first few panels these days, and that ends up hurting the final winning times? Not according to Derek Simon at the TwinSpires blog:
Lasix and 1992:
According to the Jockey Club, 1992 was the first year where more than 50% of US racers were administered Lasix. That year the breakdown rate, as noted above, was 20% lower than today’s number where 95% of starters get the drug, and remember, also generally running slower in the process.
Perhaps off topic, perhaps not – this week former WinStar Farm co-owner Bill Casner enlightened us on the objectively measured post-race/recovery effects of Lasix in his string of runners:
My Admittedly Biased Solution:
Condition your horses like the old timers, plain and simple, but do so with an eye towards science and modern technology in order to ‘stack the deck’ in your favor as much as possible.
When one breeds for speed, what one is trying to get is a horse capable of producing a greater force against the ground when sprinting – that is what pure top-end speed boils down to. One manner in which a horse can do so is to possess lighter bone structures in his lower leg, as it gives him less of a weight to swing through his stride cycle.
So if you have a precocious 2 year old who is blazing fast and possesses a certain amount of stamina up to 8F you have two opposites at work: outstanding musculature capable of exerting massive amounts of force on the ground, AND thinner/lighter than average bones in the lower leg that are more prone to injury; both skeletally as well as to the supporting soft tissue systems.
You have to address this problem through progressive conditioning protocols, the polar opposite of never breezing further than 5F once a week. Don’t listen to me, I could very well be an idiot, but listen to the Hall of Famers who were able to race the champions of yesteryear:
“Horses worked a lot harder in those days, the strain on them in the race wasn’t as much as the strain is on them now. They trained almost as hard in the morning as they did when they ran. The best horses would often work the full distance of an upcoming race five or six days before, breeze a half-mile two days out, and maybe even an eighth of a mile the morning of the race.”
“A good horse needs a lot of training. Not only can they take it, they want it, and you’re not doing them any favors if you don’t give them the chance to develop their ability.”
Trainers today universally espouse the ‘less is more’ philosophy, but the speed data and injury rates cited above actually seem to confirm the opposite, that ‘less’ is actually ‘less’ – especially when it comes to producing strong racing bone in fast, sound horses.