ThoroEdge in ESPN The Magazine: Is I’ll Have Another Born or Made?
Mainstream, baby! I was interviewed by Peter Keating for ESPN The Magazine just last week, and the issue hit the newsstands today in central Kentucky. Look to Page 10 for the article, where Mr. Keating helps me to address the cause of our potential Triple Crown champ’s success: nature or nurture? (Not a public piece, so you have to have the actual magazine to read the entire work, I can’t link to it.)
For not being a horseracing writer, Keating did a great job of illustrating several points that have been detailed in this blog over the past several years:
1. Speed is overvalued in the marketplace, stamina wins classic races.
2. Harness racing has improved their 1 mile race times by 12sec in the past 70 years, while thoroughbreds are only 2sec faster at the 1.25 mile Derby distance. Trotters and pacers train for stamina.
3. Doug O’Neill breezed I’ll Have Another 7F+ 3 times in the Spring, while no other TC contenders did it once. (Dullahan added a 8F work last week at CD, quite possibly the first that Dale Romans has ever ordered for a 3yo colt.)
4. I’ll Have Another has completed dozens of miles at 2:00 pace or a bit faster in the past 6 weeks, while all others continue to gallop at 2:15-2:30 paces.
Back to the nature vs nurture question, or breeding vs conditioning. You know my position, but let’s go to academia for some hard data:
‘Performance heritability estimates in racing and equestrian sports are: 0.15–0.55 for flat gallop racing, 0.17–0.26 for trot or pace racing, 0.05–0.28 for showjumping and 3-day eventing and 0.11 for dressage (Hintz 1980; Langlois 1980; Ricard et al. 2000).’ – http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.2042-3306.2010.00299.x/pdf
Here the influence of nature/breeding is quantified: a range of 15-55% for US racing on the flat. Let’s split the difference for simplicity’s sake: only 35% of demonstrated athletic ability in US thoroughbred racing is due to genetic influence. The rest is nurture/conditioning/diet/equipment/etc.
So, when every single trainer sticks to 1.5 mile gallops at 2:15 pace and weekly 4/5F breezes – he/she puts limits on what can be achieved through conditioning – and genetics dictates who crosses the finish line first.
The I’ll Have Another team has bucked that trend this year – and should be rewarded handsomely as an$11,000 purchase is 12F away from being worth $13,000,000 (or more).
EDIT: Let me qualify my position somewhat. In an animal of prey such as a horse, peak ‘speed’ is likely quite inheritable and difficult to improve via conditioning, but ‘stamina’ is much more largely impacted by exercise decisions.