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Why are race horses raced so young?

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  • Why are race horses raced so young?

    I'm not trying to start a flame war here - I was just talking with Mr. RAR about Tigger Too's death at Jersey Fresh, and he mentioned having heard a commentary on NPR about Eight Belles and how "we" are breeding race horses to be fragile.

    *eyeroll* As if that's the purpose of breeding them...

    Anyway, then he asked why horses are raced so young - why not wait until they're 5 or 6?

    Can anyone explain the history of racing horses in terms of horse age? Have young horses always been raced, or is this a relatively recent thing? Clearly, the Kentucky Derby has been around for a long time, but has it always been for 3-year-olds?

    Again, please don't let this become a flame war. I'm curious.
    Approved helmet: Every time; every ride.
    "When a sport gets to be predictable it ceases to be fun." - RAR's wise brother

  • #2
    Classic races (Derby, Oaks etc) are by definition for 3yos, and have been run as such since the the first one in 1779 in England. That's 229 years and counting, so not a new phenomenon.
    The original idea of he Classics was to establish who the top 3yos were and send them to stud so they could start producing (to this day geldings are barred from most classic races worldwide, as they are not breeding stock). So the idea of top 3yos being retired and whisked off to stud is hardly new either, despite the protestations and lack of historical perspective of some people these days.

    I'm not sure exactly when 2yos racing started, but it's been around close to 200 years I believe. In the late 1800s the richest race in the US was a 2yo futurity in New York that was worth over 10 times what the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont were at the time.
    Also, if one thinks 2yos are raced too much nowadays, you should long at old race records from 50, 70 years ago. It was not uncommon to see horses with up to 20 starts in their 2yo season back then.

    Comment


    • #3
      There was a thread about this a couple of days ago. Here's a link:

      http://www.chronicleforums.com/Forum...d.php?t=146352
      www.laurienberenson.com

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      • Original Poster

        #4
        Thanks.

        Mea maxima culpa - I should have tried searching, but I was in a hurry and have had less than optimal results in the past with the COTH search engine.
        Approved helmet: Every time; every ride.
        "When a sport gets to be predictable it ceases to be fun." - RAR's wise brother

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        • #5
          Don't apologize, please - I think it's a good question that those of us who are honestly trying to learn more would like answered. And I missed the linked thread, too, even though I've been reading this forum fairly closely over the past week.

          Anyway, I found Drmv1ggl3's response above very informative on the issue.

          I also thought this (linked on the linked thread) post made a lot of sense.
          http://http://www.chronicleforums.co...=145984&page=6
          I'm not ignoring the rules. I'm interpreting the rules. Tamal, The Great British Baking Show

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          • #6
            They are raced young because if it is not running it is not making $$.

            Sure, there's the "it's the way it's always been" etc argument, but in this age of more veterinary knowlege than there was in the 1700's and so forth, that should probably be revisited.

            BUt the bottom line is the almighty dolllar. Those farms full of mares and foals and training barns have bills that need to be paid, and trainers, vets, and farriers that need to be paid. Someone has to generate some income somewhere.
            "Perhaps the final test of anybody's love of dogs is their willingness to permit them to make a camping ground of the bed" -Henry T. Merwin

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Jaegermonster View Post
              . . . . Sure, there's the "it's the way it's always been" etc argument, but in this age of more veterinary knowlege than there was in the 1700's and so forth, that should probably be revisited. . . .
              Actually, if you would do some research "more veterinary knowledge" SUPPORTS early racing. Research has shown that horses that are carefully conditioned (the so-called "Maryland Shin Program") have, as 2 year olds, the same bone strength & density of 4 year olds. I have also read (but I have not seen the research on this) that horses that race as 2 year olds break down LESS OFTEN than horses that start racing later.

              Any veterinary research that I have personally read supports early riding & racing as actually beneficial. The European beliefs that have come to be applied to warmbloods are not necessarily based on actual veterinary research & conclusions.

              Comment


              • #8
                I have done some "research" but thank you so much for suggesting it. What i have seen supports early training and light riding, but I have not seen much in direct support of early racing.

                I think the key words in your post Evalee are "carefully conditioned".

                I am not saying that horses should be turned out til they are 5, I'm not on that bandwagon by a long shot.
                But I am saying that barely 3 year olds don't need to be training hard enough to be in the KY Derby either.
                Sure, maybe some light works and breezes and early training are beneficial for 2 year olds and other young horses. Definitely agree that light riding and careful conditioning are beneficial. But light riding and careful conditioning don't pay the bills.
                Find me a racehorse trainer that says he lightly rides his 2 year olds because it's good for them but isn't racing them yet so they can grow up and I"ll call him a liar.

                But I don't think 3 or 4 year olds need to be running like they are running today and training hard enough to get there anymore than I think a 4 year old hunter/jumper needs to be showing in the 4' regulars or a 3 or 4 year old QH needs to be at the World Congress.
                But again, it's all about the $$. If they aren't running or showing, they aren't making money for their owners, trainers, etc.
                "Perhaps the final test of anybody's love of dogs is their willingness to permit them to make a camping ground of the bed" -Henry T. Merwin

                Comment


                • #9
                  Jaegermonster,
                  The Maryland Shin Study DID NOT indicate that "light" training is beneficial to 2 year old racehorses in training. The study outright stated that introducing incremental speed to a 2 year old's training regimen improves bone density more so than "light" training or long, slow gallops.

                  I used to have a copy of this study on my computer, but I can't seem to find it at the moment.
                  Don't fall for a girl who fell for a horse just to be number two in her world... ~EFO

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                  • #10
                    Nope, the period of time leading up to a horse's first race is by far the most difficult time of their career. It has to be. It is also why so many horses don't ever make it to their first start, they aren't capable of handling it. If you baby them up to their first race you inevitably end up with a catastrophic failure somewhere which obviously isn't doing a horse any favors. I have seen many horse break down the first time out for this very reason. Of course first time starters aren't famous so no one hears about it and/or cares.
                    I always say if we make it to the races we have it made.
                    McDowell Racing Stables

                    Home Away From Home

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                    • #11
                      I'm definitely not an advocate of "babying" young horses, they are horses after all, but obviously what is being done now is not working so something needs to change.
                      I think it is a combination of the almighty dollar, plus the breeding of these horses.
                      They don't breed racehorses for good feet, soundness or good brains. Sure all those things are a plus, but who cares if it eats grooms for breakfast as long as it can run like hell.

                      Just like eventing, and the hunter/jumper world, something needs to change in the racing world. Horses are being pushed too hard too fast too young.
                      "Perhaps the final test of anybody's love of dogs is their willingness to permit them to make a camping ground of the bed" -Henry T. Merwin

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Jaegermonster View Post
                        I'm definitely not an advocate of "babying" young horses, they are horses after all, but obviously what is being done now is not working so something needs to change.
                        I think it is a combination of the almighty dollar, plus the breeding of these horses.
                        They don't breed racehorses for good feet, soundness or good brains. Sure all those things are a plus, but who cares if it eats grooms for breakfast as long as it can run like hell.

                        Just like eventing, and the hunter/jumper world, something needs to change in the racing world. Horses are being pushed too hard too fast too young.

                        I don't know how many times people can tell you that your opinions have been refuted by veterinary research and scientific study. Clearly you're only hearing what you have to say.

                        By the way, Eight Belles was the first breakdown in the 134 year history of the Kentucky Derby, so I wouldn't necessarily conclude that "what's being done now is not working."

                        I don't know what makes you so sure that breeders don't breed for good feet, soundness, or good brains--except that it's a nice, inflammatory statement to throw around. I know lots of breeders, including myself, and believe it or not many, if not most, of us do think about improving the breed when we plan matings.
                        www.laurienberenson.com

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                        • #13
                          I'm not trying to be inflammatory. Just because you don't like what i have to say or it makes you mad doesn't mean it's inflammatory. I'm glad that you are a caring breeder, the industry needs more like you. And also more caring trainers.

                          And I also said that there were exceptions. I'm sure there are many caring TB breeders out there, although I have to believe that they are the exception rather than the rule based on my personal experience. All I can speak from is my personal experience and what I have seen in my years being involved in horses and with horses off the track, and being around TB breeders. I can only give my personal experience, and I'm sorry if my personal experience with racing and racehorse people has been less than positive. I don't think that's my fault though. Of course there have been exceptions, but generally they have been less than stellar experiences. But I do have lots of positive experiences rehabbing lots of 2 year olds that broke down in training and never actually made it to the track, but I wonder if they are counted in all those stats people like to quote.
                          And I'm not just on the Eight Belles bandwagon either. She isn't the first horse to break down on the track and she won't be the last, Derby or not. If she had broken down 2 weeks from now in training she would only have been a footnote.
                          But as I also said, the racing industry isn't the only one that has it's issues and it's skeletons.
                          "Perhaps the final test of anybody's love of dogs is their willingness to permit them to make a camping ground of the bed" -Henry T. Merwin

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            As an aside, Texas A & M is embarking on a TB soundness study. They contacted me a couple of months ago and asked if I had any horses that fit the profile they were looking to study. They are trying to find out if "sound" race horses are genetically different than horses that suffer a career or life ending injury. The criteria is 35 starts or more and no career ending injuries. Out of my tiny barn I have two that fit that including my first ever homebred who is now my broodmare.
                            I got an email a couple of weeks ago saying that the sample kits are delayed because they had no idea there were that many horses out there that would qualify and they had to create more kits. I guess someone is doing something right if that is the case.
                            McDowell Racing Stables

                            Home Away From Home

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              In my opinion thoroughbred breeding and racing are dying sports. The fact that the second place horse in the derby broke both legs, and the first place horse needs glue on shoes speaks volumes. It is my understanding that race horses lasted longer years ago because when they got sore they would not run as fast so they got a rest until they were comfortable again. Today if a horse is sore there are lots of drugs and techniques to eliminate the pain. The baby horse runs fast, and the source of the pain goes kaboom. This leads to fragile horses winning more. Thus they breed more, and these expensive genitics end up in the hands of people with deep pockets, who pay to have the horses held together.

                              Comment


                              • #16
                                Well your understanding is vastly incorrect. Horses of yesteryear were ran way more often. It was the norm to run the week leading up to the derby and then run inbetween the derby and the preakness. They also worked them, as in timed workout the morning of the race. If anything we are being way too soft on these horses because they represent such huge sums of money.
                                McDowell Racing Stables

                                Home Away From Home

                                Comment


                                • #17
                                  My point was that "horses of yesteryear" which were fit to run ran plenty. When they had a problem, they rested. Now they represent huge sums of money so the money says "fix the problem quickly and run the horse, or I will take my money elsewhere.

                                  Comment


                                  • #18
                                    Originally posted by LaurieB View Post
                                    By the way, Eight Belles was the first breakdown in the 134 year history of the Kentucky Derby, so I wouldn't necessarily conclude that "what's being done now is not working."
                                    Not trying to refute your valid point- but didn't Timely Writer break down in the Derby? That's my recollection, but I could be a victim of fuzzy memory...

                                    Comment


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Jaegermonster View Post
                                      Find me a racehorse trainer that says he lightly rides his 2 year olds because it's good for them but isn't racing them yet so they can grow up and I"ll call him a liar.
                                      Then you'd have to call my friend's husband a liar.

                                      I looked at a 3 1/2 yr old yesterday who still hasn't gone to the track.

                                      Why?

                                      Because he's been given time to grow up and hopefully last longer IF he IS sent to the track to run. He was first saddled at 18 months, then put back out. At 2 or so, he was put under saddle again for a while, then put back out to grow some more. And now, his knees are closed, he's more mature, has been working for a while, and is ready to try to earn some money.

                                      And he's not an exception for this trainer, either.

                                      We watched a 2 yr old being cooled out by some of the guys working at the ranch & his exact comments were, "They're overcooking that horse & there won't be anything left. It's going to break down early." And he said it more than once.

                                      But you know what? He wasn't running super-expensive horses at big, fancy tracks. Maybe there's a difference. He could afford to kick them back out in the pen to grow up some more and wait for those smaller, steady paychecks they brought home when they were older. There weren't huge sums invested already. These are Joe Lunchbox kind of horses, earning their keep running at a track some people might sniff at, but it's a living.
                                      ~ Horse Box Lovers Clique ~

                                      Comment


                                      • #20
                                        Originally posted by Beverley View Post
                                        Not trying to refute your valid point- but didn't Timely Writer break down in the Derby? That's my recollection, but I could be a victim of fuzzy memory...
                                        I just went back and checked my source (Steve Crist, DRF) and I misquoted. What he actually said was that Eight Belles was the first fatality in the 134 years of the race. So it was my memory that was fuzzy, not yours.
                                        www.laurienberenson.com

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