On Beer, Bourbon, Union Rags, Oscar Pistorius, and Strong Bones
Oh, I needed a drink after an exchange on the Paulick Report this weekend.
First: I live 15min from the Bourbon Capital of the World – a town named Bardstown, KY – yet I just can’t seem to acquire the taste. Additionally, I love cheap watered down American beers and have never enjoyed any type of dark ale. Then the concoction pictured above entered my world a few years back at a pub in Midway, KY after a meeting with one of the area’s major thoroughbred farms. Fast forward 2 years (and a move back to Louisville) and my icebox is never without Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. It’s costly as a 4-pack runs $11, but well worth it as nothing is more enjoyable than watching a race involving a Thoroedge client and knocking back a beer that has been aged in a bourbon barrel – trust me, give it a taste.
But I digress. This weekend there was a post on the Paulick Repot dealing with the retirement of Union Rags due to a tendon injury:
As is typically the case, the pedigree plaudits of the world chimed in the comment section about inbreeding and several other genetic factors leading to the typical unsound American thoroughbred. That is less than half the picture. Sure we breed for speed and fast horses may often possess (and pass on to offspring) lighter lower legs that aid in stride turnover. But the bone density, or lack thereof, that a foal is born with is only the starting point – conditioning at speed can, and does, strengthen these bones to withstand the rigors of racing.
So, it’s quite likely that modern US thoroughbreds do indeed emerge as foals with genetically lighter lower leg bones that are easier for the horse to swing through the stride cycle, but are also pre-destined to become injured. A current bone (no pun intended) of contention during this 2012 Olympic season is the case of amputee 400m runner Oscar Pistorius:
Some postulate, correctly, that the lighter weight of his lower leg appliance allows for a quicker stride turnover during his races. It surely does. But being handicapped also makes pretty much every other physical achievement more difficult. Please note that the brilliant Mr. Pistorius is by far the slowest out of the starting blocks, just one area that he must overcome due to his predicament.
Back to horses.
I’ll concede the fact that selectively bred horses today start their lives with fragile bones. But a commenter on the Paulick Report thread who purports to be a NY-based owner made a remark that drove me to drink Saturday afternoon: ‘bone density is improved with daily work over time, not speed work’. THIS IS CATEGORICALLY WRONG ON EVERY LEVEL.
Click above to enlarge: Group A is a cross-section slice of cannon bone from one apparently trained by Mr. NY Owner above. Note the extra bone growth to the outside of the shin. That is the spongy bone growth from legging up/daily galloping that led to this subject bucking his shins. Now look at the Group D slide. This one breezed at speed 2x weekly, and the new strong dense bone laid down to the inside of the shin is ideal for racing.
The layman’s explanation is that when you gallop daily at 2:30 min/mile paces the cannon bones hit the ground at an angle, but when you breeze at 13sec/f or faster, the cannon bones strike the ground perpendicularly. Each exposes the bones to different types of shearing forces, and each exercise stimulates different bone growth. Likewise, when bones are stressed so are the associated tendons and ligaments. Simply put, gallops develop gallop bone – breezes develop racing bone.
The attitudes and misconceptions of ‘horsemen’ such as this guy on the PR are as damaging to our wonderful horses as anything. Get a clue. When a Union Rags has his breeze work capped at 5F every 7 days, his ability to maximize his bone density and soft tissue strength is also capped. Genetics has very little do to with it at this juncture and loss of calcium due to use of raceday Lasix certainly doesn’t help matters.
Here are a few horses my family owned/race back in the 80’s before Lasix was widespread:
- Starts: 113
- Firsts: 23
- Seconds: 16
- Thirds: 20
- Earnings: $123,169
- Starts: 66
- Firsts: 9
- Seconds: 10
- Thirds: 7
- Earnings: $27,281
- Starts: 80
- Firsts: 6
- Seconds: 5
- Thirds: 7
- Earnings: $18,324
Lots of works, lots of racing on the dirt at Fairmount Park, no Lasix, and no early retirements due to injury.
P.S. Holy cow sometimes I am reminded of just how inferior my writing and research skills are; this is a brilliant analysis of the question above (with amazing video):