Decline of stamina in our racing program has impact in shed

[Part of the following was extrapolated from my talk at the pedigree symposium in Lexington from earlier this month. They are notes that I used.]

In the 1970s, five North American-breds won the Derby:

’70 Nijinsky (Northern Dancer)

’71 Mill Reef (Never Bend)

’72 Roberto (Hail to Reason)

’76 Empery (Vaguely Noble)

’77 The Minstrel (Northern Dancer)

in the 1980s:

’80 Henbit (Hawaii)

’82 Golden Fleece (Nijinsky)

’83 Teenoso (Youth)

’84 Secreto (Northern Dancer)

’86 Shahrastani (Nijinsky)

’89 Nashwan (Blushing Groom)

in the 1990s:

’94 Erhaab (Chief’s Crown)

’95 Lammtarra (Nijinsky)

’97 Benny the Dip (Silver Hawk)

in the 2000s:

’03 Kris Kin (Kris S)

So, after being responsible for 11 of 20 Epsom Derby winners throughout the 1970s and 1980s, we have only had 4 of the next 22.

Here’s a stark example of what has happened here to our races during the approximate time span from the 1970s—our last Golden Age—to the present. When Graded races first started in the US in the early 1970s, two races were given Grade 1 status at 1 3/4 miles or beyond for older horses: the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at two miles on dirt and the Grade 1 San Juan Capistrano at one and three-quarter miles on turf. At the same time—and can you believe this?!—there were no Grade 1 races at six furlongs for older horses, and the premier sprint in the country–the Vosburgh, at 7F–was originally a Grade 2 before being elevated to G1 status at the beginning of the 1980s. And mind you, the Vosburgh was a race that had been won at that time by such greats as Dr Fager and Ta Wee at the close of the 1960s and by Forego, My Juliet, and Dr. Patches in the 1970s, yet our “culture” back then was still steeped in the American classic distance of 10 furlongs as the elite marker of the breed, so the Vosburgh started as a Grade 2 while the Jockey Club Gold Cup at two miles was a Grade 1.

Now, however, there are no Grade 1 races at those extreme distances—the San Juan Capistrano is no longer a Grade 1 and the Jockey Club Gold Cup is at 10F– but there are 15 Grade 1 races at six and seven furlongs for three and up!, 11 for males and 4 for older fillies.

Additionally, there are 5 Grade 1 races for 3yos alone at sprint distances.

That’s a significant change in culture, and it’s no coincidence that it’s mirrored our production at Epsom and our inability to get true 10-furlong types for our own Derby.

This year, the Kentucky Derby went to a horse by a Brazilian-bred sire from a German-bred dam. And both parents were turf horses!

That’s not as surprising as it should sound, however, because historically we’ve made improvements to our breed importing stamina turf horses, or those by stamina turf lines.

Getting back to our racing programs, most of our G1 races are clustered in the 8-9F range on dirt.

There are ONLY three Grade 1 races on dirt at 10F or up for older horses of all ages in the US: The BC Classic, the Santa Anita Handicap, and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pacific Classic are 10F races on AW.

The ONLY G1 race in the country at 12F on dirt is the Belmont Stakes for 3yos.

Even 10 years ago, in 2001, a hallowed race such as the Coaching Club American Oaks for 3yo fillies—at one time in the 1970s and 1980s considered the “only” classic race for fillies in the US, was held at 12F, instead of the 9F its run at today,  while the 14F San Juan Capistrano—a bellwether—was still a G1 race. For older horses, we still had the Gulfstream Park Handicap at 10F, the Pimlico Special at 9.5F, and for 3yo colts there was the Super Derby at 10F. None of those three now exists, either as a race or as a G1 event.

So, even within the last 10 years, there’s been noticeable change, a drop off in opportunity at a distance at the top level.

‘Nuff said.

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14 thoughts on “Decline of stamina in our racing program has impact in shed”

  1. I know we all sound like geezers, but it does take much of the fun out of racing, losing that typological variety that made the TB such a fundamentally athletic horse that could carry both speed and depth. It’s not just a decline in stamina but a decline in versatility that would make Varola roll over. So to speak.

    Now, I guess, for my senior citizen discount . . .

  2. I would argue that a respect for stamina is more than geezerosity, brethren of the turf. Some of the best traits of the breed are tested by distance racing, including tractability, mental soundness, courage, and durability.

    In addition, there are biological qualities that can be inferred by excellence at distance racing. Included among these are excellent mechanical qualities of stride and high efficiency of the cardiovascular system.

    And the qualities of the top staying Thoroughbred are vibrant within the breed and only need a fulsome canvas to be writ large for all to see. That requires a racing program that allows staying stock to have plenty of opportunity, not just a handful of races at a couple of tracks, and a training program that respects their great qualities, rather than trying to cram square pegs into round holes, wrecking most of them.

    Evening gentlemen,
    Frank
    (http://fmitchell07.wordpress.com)

  3. Excellent observations indeed!!

    What we need is the Breeders’ Cup to take the bull by the horns and announce that beginning with 2012 or ’13, the Breeders’ Cup Classic is being lengthened to a mile and five-eighths (with the Marathon lengthened to two and a quarter miles). That change all by itself would force major changes in the way horses are bred as it would force trainers to suddenly learn how to properly train horses to go the longer distances while at the same time also have major residual effects, including:

    The Jockey Club Gold Cup being returned to 1 1/2 Miles, with other major stakes likely following suit in being lengthened to 12 or 13 furlongs in the process.

  4. I remark on this issue of “bone, blood, and bottom” at Frank Mitchells blog, 29 May 11, commenting on the Iroquois Chase, three miles, twice around the weeds, and across eighty feet of altitude change, won by a Dynaformer gelding this year. While the bell curve in population genetics will make it all but impossible for the breeders of sprinters to eliminate stamina and bone from the breed, as indicated above, the frequency of these genes are decreasing to the point that producing a router of class already seems to mean picking through slow sprinters with the predictable result.
    We have seen the same shift in racing pigeons; high $ youngbird futurities, racing and training expenses, and rampant medication have all but eliminated the old Mark I Model 0 signal pigeons that would deliver the mail through storms of fire, lead, and steel, regardless of weather. The same thing has happened to every domesticated breed of working stock once it became a toy, including the cavalry mounts that carried full sized men, best three out of five, in four mile heats. The final indignity is not sprint races, but “Instant Racing;” do you suppose they figure that if they get drunk enough, the losing plug they bet will win in the video? I am more at home discussing “heirloom corn” with the new micro whiskey distilleries here abouts. Instant racing! Gawd Almighty, perhaps I should forget thoroughbreds and take up drinking “Tennessee Tanglefoot” or whatever Frank accussed me of imbibbing when I announced that I was rooting for Animal Kingdom in the derby.

  5. Am I pushing a hot button or merely making a connection everyone else here has already made in their heads when I say this is why the US is engaging in such a knock-down, drag-out fight over eliminating Lasix? Breeding bleeders is clearly part of the issue, but I suspect the overwhelming proportion of training focused on sprints plays a bigger role. Advocates for the discontinuation of furosemide point to the absence of its use in Europe, but until Americans start training the way they do there (and subsequently adding more races of distance), the argument for the necessity of the drug will be hard to contend. I worry that racing in the US will have a difficult situation forced upon it in within a few years, if it does not have the foresight to look across the pond. And for what it’s worth, Animal Kingdom was my choice for the Derby, based almost exclusively on stamina.

  6. Speaking of Animal Kingdom, I think that enough of us are finally coming
    to our senses. We got destroyed in the Kentucky Derby and realized that if we support the Mineshaft’s, Dynaformer’s and Henrythenavigtor’s then we’ll be okay..I guess the problem is that it’s a big if.

  7. Well said, Sid (and everybody else). Sad to think that it’s been 22 years since we saw a horse win 2 graded stakes going 12f on dirt in one year: Easy Goer.

    Also, please allow me to point to what I’ve written on this subject:

  8. Noting the opinion of “Thoroedge” about american vs european training, I checked to see if any american trained colts had placed in the derby. None. Mostly I found lines of Northern Dancer.

  9. Don’t forget to throw in the extinction of handicapping. When was the last time you saw a grade one horse in North America tote more than 126 pounds to post?

    Ever since the majority of farms started breeding to sell instead of breeding to race, the quality of horse racing has gone down. Instead of demanding better quality stock, the industry has adapted to the inferior stock by shortening the distances, lightening the weights, abusing medicines and using less strenuous training regimens.

    It’s all about the money $$$

  10. The only way that the culture for speed would change is if a foreign bred routing horse wins the Triple Crown. Shame is the only tool.

  11. To Mark Walker: the last horse to tote more than 126 lbs was Zenyatta @ 129 lbs. Funny that I consider her the last great routing horse. Yes, she didn’t run too many 10 furlong races but how many female in history ever ran 2 open grade 1 race @ 10 furlongs and twice in arguably the toughest race in North America.

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