View Full Version : How long have we been recording speeds on horses and are they any faster now? Paper

Nov. 19, 2007, 01:27 PM
Im doing a paper for a science group and I need info on whether or not horses are any faster than they were. I also need to know how long we have been recording their race times? Thanks in advance for all of your help!

Nov. 19, 2007, 01:50 PM
Horses are measurably no faster on average today then they were in the golden era. Keep in mind a lot of the track records are also skewed by weight assignments. The days of the Santa Anita Handicap (for example) aren't likely to ever see a 130lb assignment again.

An older article but worthy of glancing at: Time magazine May 2, 1988 "Does This Make Any Horse Sense?" (http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,967283,00.html)

Yet according to a report in last week's Nature, the British science journal, today's Thoroughbred racehorses do not run much faster than their great-great-grandsires did. What is more, they probably never will.

In terms of measured time/distance I'd dare say that some form of it goes back to the late 1700's. Example, Aa lore would have it the first steeplechase race was in 1752 was over 4-miles distance in Ireland - church steeple to church steeple; it wouldn't be until 1810 that the first formal race on a purpose built track a steeplechase race was held.

Nov. 19, 2007, 02:14 PM
Horses, unlike humans, are physiologically equipped to reach their maximum speed. This is why we don't have a steady decrease in times over the years like we see with humans. Occasionally, you'll have an outstanding individual like Dr. Fager or Secretariat but even then, they don't break records by huge margins.

There is a very good explanation of all the physical mechanisms -- oxygen uptake, the equine spleen, etc. -- in a book by Stephen Budiansky called The Nature of Horses.

mares tails
Nov. 19, 2007, 02:48 PM
Horses are measurably no faster on average today then they were in the golden era.

unless you consider the standardbred & harness racing :winkgrin:


Nov. 19, 2007, 02:55 PM
Just worth saying I never expect in my lifetime any horse to ever beat Spectacular Bid's 1980 1 1/4 mi distance (with 126lbs) in 1:57 4/5 in the Strub Stakes :D One of the most standard distances raced at but try, try again and it still isn't going to happen. Citation, Zev, Man O'War, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed you name 'em all - they raced at that distance and didn't hit that velocity.

An odd side note to Dr. Fager's world record time of 1:32 1/5 for the mile. As has been published, the Tuesday prior to The Strub Stakes, Flying Paster put in a workout at Santa Anita for the mile in 1:33 2/5 which shattered the track record - talk about blowing out your horse before the race. It's amazing he challenged Bid as much as he did days later.

Video: the 1 1/4 mi track American record to this day (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDbOyu5tTF4&feature=related)

(Note how scant the motivation Bill Shoemaker has to give him to set that time)

Nov. 20, 2007, 12:09 AM
Gotta take into account track surface variations too. Polytracks, different grass surfaces, etc can make a difference.

As far as Standardbreds, I think leaving the registry open to all qualifying horses for a number of years helped as well as design modifications to the sulky.

Nov. 20, 2007, 12:15 PM
You should definitely spend a bit of time in the library. Seems to me someone looked at genetic variability in race horses, very small by the way, and correlated it with why we don't see significantly faster times over specific distances. I don't recall the authors, but a search among science journals should come up with a few references for you. A good place to start is Cabi -- science librarian will know.


Nov. 20, 2007, 12:38 PM
Gotta take into account track surface variations too. Polytracks, different grass surfaces, etc can make a difference.

I would think any analysis would automatically discard comparing 1 1/4 mi on grass to 1 1/4 mi dirt. You need to keep apples to apples.

Even within an apples to apples comparison there is natural distortion. The variation between the same track's dirt surfaces from year to year, for example, need to be considered if ever so slight. The volume of water on the track, compression of the soil, the temps, the wind, et al factor into what speed records could be set.

Another article:

Issue 2042 of New Scientist magazine, 10 August 1996, page 29 (http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg15120424.100-dont-bet-on-faster-horses.html)

Don't bet on faster horses


In the past 50 years, the world record in the (human) 1500 metres has been pushed down from 3 minutes 50 seconds to under 3 minutes 28 seconds, and marathon runners have shaved the record from 2 hours 35 minutes to below 2 hours 7 minutes. Virtually every track and field record on the books has been set since 1980, many since 1990.

But horses are another story. Northern Dancer won the Kentucky Derby in 2 minutes in 1964 and the only horse to do better in the years since was Secretariat in 1973, at 1 minute 59 seconds. Average winning times in the British Derby are about the same today as they were in the 1930s, and in the St Leger they are about 3 seconds worse.

And while winning times in 1-mile American harness races have dropped by about 5 seconds in the past three decades, the standardbred horses (an American breed developed principally by crossing Thoroughbreds and Morgan horses) that compete in these events still have shown nowhere near the improvement of human athletes over the same period.

If you plot the maximum metabolic rate of a range of mammals against their size, the horse is way off the curve, with a maximum metabolic rate 3.75 times as high as expected for an animal of its size. The reason horses can't get much better with exercise, in other words, is that nature has already endowed them with a near-perfect balance between lungs, heart and muscle. Unlike human athletes, horses simply don't have much room for improvement.

Nov. 20, 2007, 12:45 PM
Before anyone says "hey that article is wrong with the Kentucky Derby winning times" keep in mind the publication date: 1996

It still remains (with a tip of the cap to Sham and his sub 2 min run in 1973 too) as :

Rank) Horse -- Time -- Year
1) Secretariat -- 1:59 2/5 -- 1973
2) Monarchos -- 1:59 4/5 -- 2001
3 - tied) Northern Dancer -- 2:00 -- 1964
3 - tied) Spend A Buck -- 2:00 -- 1985
3 - Tied) Decidedly -- 2:00 -- 1962
3 - Tied) Proud Clarion -- 2:00 -- 1967

Nov. 20, 2007, 12:49 PM
Okay, here is a website that lists many of the papers through 1998 on genetic variability studies of TBs. Also, it has a short summary of the problem.



Nov. 26, 2007, 11:32 PM
unless you consider the standardbred & harness racing :winkgrin:


I was hoping someone would chime in with that!! They are certainly getting faster ;)

Nov. 27, 2007, 01:10 PM
The standardbred is a newer breed so yes you would expect to see a significant difference in times not only due to better breeding (in part through AI, in part through big farms with more money/better stock replacing the Mom and Pop breeders of yesteryear, in part due to the improvements in sulky, training, etc.) You will see the improvement start to drop though as they too reach their maximum physical potential if they haven't already.

they can breed faster horses but what good are they if they break down (often catastrophically) in a few starts?