This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Michael Veitch of The Saratogian…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!
Could breeding be making today’s horses weaker?
Are modern racehorses weaker than their counterparts of past generations?
This issue has been hotly debated in racing circles for quite some time, and for me it takes on added significance during the Triple Crown season.
Last year’s Derby winner Animal Kingdom sustained an injury in the Belmont Stakes that ended his season, which consisted of only five starts.
Smarty Jones, winner of the Derby and Preakness in 2004 and unbeaten to that point, never raced after his loss to Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes.
Ditto for Afleet Alex in 2005, who never raced after winning the Belmont to go with victories in the Preakness and Arkansas Derby.
Grindstone won the Kentucky Derby in 1996 in just his sixth lifetime start.
A few days later, he was retired due to knee problems.
Statistics compiled by The Jockey Club show that the average number of starts made in a career by each horse in the United States and Canada was 11.31 in 1960.
Fifty years later, in 2011, the number has fallen to 6.20.
Of the 20 horses that started in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, 17 of them made three or less starts this year as 3-year-olds.
It does seem that that many stars of decades past were tougher than those of today, although I hasten to add that past greats such as Artful, Regret, and Commando had brief careers.
If I were writing this column in 1919, I could have had worries about Sir Barton, who made his 3-year-old debut in the Kentucky Derby.
However, America’s first Triple Crown winner broke his maiden in the Derby.
Sir Barton then won the Preakness on three days rest, the Withers ten days after that, and the Belmont 18 days after the Withers.
Citation, the Triple Crown winner in 1948, made his 3-year-old debut with a victory over older horses on Feb. 2.
He made his seventh start of the year with a win in the Derby Trial on Tuesday, April 27, and won the Kentucky Derby four days later on May 1.
Speaking of the Derby Trial, no less than six horses in the 1950’s raced in it on Tuesday and won the Derby four
days later on Saturday.
They were Middleground (1950), Hill Gail (1952), Dark Star (1953), Determine (1954), Iron Liege (1957) and Tim Tam (1958).
Dark Star is famous for handing the great Native Dancer his only career defeat in the Kentucky Derby.
Bold Forbes won the Kentucky Derby in 1976 in his sixth start that year.
Spectacular Bid also won the Kentucky Derby in his sixth start as a 3-year-old.
“The Bid” won the Hutcheson, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, Flamingo and Blue Grass on the way to Louisville.
Today, you hear trainers talk about using only one or two of those races before the Derby.
I’ll Have Another made only two starts this year prior to his Derby victory last Saturday, and was making only his sixth lifetime start.
Bodemeister made four career starts before his second-place finish, all of them this year, and once again the history of unraced 2-year-olds not winning the Derby held up.
So, what is at work here?
I do think that speed in the breed, coupled with a generation of stallion syndications that causes early retirement of top horses, have not helped racing in this regard.
The creation of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984, as a very rich series to end the season in November, certainly changed both the spacing and number of races for many trainers.
To its credit, the Breeders’ Cup has a Marathon, worth $500,000 at 1 ¾ miles.
However, the Breeders’ Cup in my view has too many rich sprints.
There are the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint, the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint, the $1.5 million Sprint, and the $1 million Turf Sprint.
If the 1 ¼- mile Classic went to 1 ½ miles, you would see more distance racing in this country.
If I could change one thing, though, it would be track condition.
Tracks have been too hard for decades.
What is wrong with the best horse winning at six furlongs in 1:10 instead of 1:07, or seven furlongs in 1:24 instead of 1:20?
Surfaces that produce those kinds of times must be taking a toll.
WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?