Bill Finley won his first Eclipse writing award today for a long piece titled Do We Need a Sturdier Racehorse? that was published in Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN) last month. A well thought out and researched article whose premise is that horses now make significantly
less fewer starts than 50 years ago, it explored in-depth many of the usual suspects that have been associated with a decline in “durability,” including drugs, track surfaces, and modern management techniques.
Two related issues that Finley didn’t touch upon that are culprits, too, are: the evolution of the sport from a significant home-breeding model to a greater commercially breeding model; and, hand in hand, the rise of foal crops and racing populations vs. those of eras when more starts were made.
Homebreeders in various eras such as Calumet, King Ranch, Wheatley, Elmendorf, Rokeby, Greentree, etc., defined the top of the sport, but the model—which frequently included standing stallions or patronizing homebred sires, too—was utilized at all levels of the game, down to the mom and pop operations at the bottom in places such as Massachusetts, with the Kirbys, and West Virgina, with the Caseys, to name two. This “vesting” guaranteed more starts because owners were willing to give the progeny of their mares and stallions as much time as necessary to bring them to the races—and to keep them racing.
As homebreeders started to go the way of dinosaurs, the commercial game expanded with newer owners demanding quicker returns on investments. One result: breeders went more to the faster horses in the breeding sheds. At the same time, an increase in sheer volume of horses produced also meant that the best of the crops were facing overall better horses in competition more frequently, at shorter distances, leading to more wear and tear.
That’s my addendum, anyway, to Bill’s thought-provoking piece. Click on the link above to read his article.