Breeding for Speed: Where are the fast horses?

Recently on Horse Racing Nation, Averie Levanti lamented about the dearth of top sprinters in American racing on her blog 31 Lengths. You can read Averie’s interesting take on our current sprinters here: Is the Male Sprint Division Losing its Luster?

While certainly not a positive spin on the state of sprinting in the United States, it is an opinion with which I agree. A quick peek at recent Eclipse Award winners shows; Benny the Bull, Kodiak Kowboy, Big Drama, Amazombie, Trinniberg, and Points Offthebench. Nice enough horses, but an honest evaluation of the past half dozen male sprint champions falls a good deal short of past champions such as Midnight Lute, Artax, Housebuster, and Groovy. Mere mention of a monster like Dr. Fager makes our current crew of top sprinters look all the more sad. And as Averie pointed out, it does not look like we are heading for any better in 2014.


OK, so our current and recent sprinters are not as good as they used to be. It only makes sense. As a nation that values stamina over speed, it only makes sense that our breeding practices would shortchange the quality pool of our sprinters. Wait a minute … that’s not right.


It’s funny that this time of a lack of outstanding sprinters comes simultaneously with a move in the last few decades of breeding for speed. It all forces me to ask … If United States breeders are indeed ruining our racing stock domestically by breeding for speed … where are all the fast horses?


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Older Comments about Breeding for Speed: Where are the fast horses?...

there is NO single correlate to speed. I used to marvel at an odl claimer who owned part of the 6 furlong track record and IN HIS CASE it was due mostly to his low slung body, and his swayback giving him a longer stride..
  • · Very likely. Possible speed would include a lot of things that would have to work together. Never had physics, but I'm looking up a lot of theories lately. Length of the long bones, length of the short bones, how they're tied together, and how they work together would all figure in. And even if everything is in place, the horse has to want to go fast - some don't. · 1231 days ago
Brian, I think Clearly Now read your blog.
My comment tried to post twice??
Buckpasser - I agree with what you are saying, also about the hard tracks, about trying to get as many races as possible into the younger horses. Also added to all that - the very thing that make some horses faster is the length of the pasterns and the way everything is connected. One of the big problems that I see is that the same thing that makes a horse fast also leans toward unsoundness. I never had physics, but its all levers and folcrums and how it interacts. Muscles can break the bones [like a drunk in a car accident]. Add some steroids to get the extra little something for the sale ring, and it's a breakdown looking for a place to happen. One thing I've noticed is that horses on a sealed, wet track - I don't know the proper term - seem to expend very little effort - I don't know why. This whole topic is one of my areas of interest, and pretty much the basis for my handicapping.
Buds. One last big change is the rise of the public stable where a top trainer like Pletcher etc. has many clients with deep pockets. Years ago racing stables had a contract trainer and many times a main jockey who rode their runners. Thinking say of Eddie Neloy for Ogden Phipps and Baeza as the jockey or Wheatley Stable with Sunny Jim as the trainer etc.
Cocoa. I understand what your saying, but in fairness to Vosburgh's statement, he is speaking about an age alien from our time when 20 plus starts for two yr olds was common and even carrying weight well in excess of 126 was also common. I'm not sure what Vosburgh would make of many of our top horses having 20 starts for an entire career is the norm not just a season.
But the JCGC was one of the races that decided racing honors and was considered the test of champions at 2 miles. The main change I have seen is the breakdown of the old time racing stable and breeding farms where you bred your runners and not purchased them at sales. I think the high prices paid for yearlings has helped fuel the race to breed mentality over the breed to race that was prevalent before because of the need to recoup the monies expended for the horse's purchase. Of course in this context, the changes in IRS rules in the 1980's didn't help either here.
If you breed for a miler don't be surprised if you get a miler. The horses are one of the least of U.S. racing's problems, IMO.
Buds. I think the biggest changes I have seen are the large number of race day meds, particularly LASIx, the fewer starts -- I remember Kelso and many others racing pretty much every other week when they were racing fit. Someone that is not done now with many weeks between starts. Also the year round racing which didn't come into usage until you had OTB in the 1970's. Prior to that horses started their campaigns in Florida or CA around March and finished off in December, where they went to the farms for turn out etc. for several weeks. I also think the shortening of top races has been a mistake. As Walt gekko points out above so many top races have been drastically shortened or discontinued like the Display. As a small aside, the Display Handicap which was the last stakes race in NY before racing closed for the season was not well subscribed in many renewals.
Ok, Buckpasser, I can agree with that. I just get mad when I hear people on here complain about how American Racing this or American Horse Racing that. We have no stamina, no speed, cant run on turf, can only run on synthetics, over-run horses blah, blah, blah. Can anyone on here show PROOF of any of this. NOPE! I welcome everyones opinion, but people state their opinion like facts, and its usually just smoke blowing out of their Ace. Buckpasser, I respect your opinion, im guessing you have seen a lot change in your time. Have horses gotten weaker and less durable? Or is social media and the internet so powerful that when a horse is put down on a small track like Emerald Downs, we all hear about it in 30 minutes? Are horses slower? Faster? More stamina, less? I think as a general rule horses have gotten faster at the 8-9 furlong distance, this seems to be the optimum distance for the American Bred Thoroughbred.
Thank you for the quote, buckpasser, though it is being taken out of context I do not think that its meaning is changed
Buds. Vosburgh's comments are being taken out the context. Alexander's usage of Vosburgh's comment is within a discussion of increasing a higher scale of weights for jockeys to try and prevent severe health issues for jockeys because of excessive dieting. Any proposal to increase the scale of weights for horses to carry was bitterly opposed by owners and trainers because of the fear of breakdowns of young horses when carrying increased weights. Hence Vosburgh's comment which was meant to refute the argument that an increase in jockey's weight would see a corresponding increase in horse breakdowns. Alexander goes on to discuss how our most durable horses have also been the best weight carriers.
So according to Vosburgh, racing might be better for young horses if the went slow, on soft turf, and raced 2-3 times a year. My 5 year old figured that out as well, maybe he should write a book.
I don’t really get this argument. Im sure all Thoroughbreds are bred for speed. Unless your introducing completely new blood lines (Stamina Genes), which we are not, then all horses are bred to run faster, speed. To think otherwise seems asinine. Our horses nowadays simply can run faster longer, than they used to. So now our fast horse can go 8-9 furlongs, instead of 6-8 furlongs. So really we are breeding in stamina along with the no brainer speed.
Here is the quotation from David Alexander's A Sound of Horses: p 165-166. "The greatest of all American racing officials, Walter S. Vosburgh, believed that it was high speed, hard tracks and too much racing which were responsible for breakdowns, especially of young horses. That view is shared by one of the greatest of all American trainers, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons ...."
's book "A Sound of Horses". Although I lack my copy I am sure you can either find it yourself in the Woodbine library you hold so highly (which if it lacks such an integral book is nothing but an incomplete shelf), or perhaps buckpasser would be kind enough to bring the quote up. Of course should he decide not to, that is no reflection on his kindness.
I am working on Martha's Vineyard but it is in David Alexander
wouldn't want to produce ANY evidence that old Walter said that would you???
tracks in Vosburg's day were UNEVEN, did not drain well, and the maintenance was superficial At best....what a bunch of hooey filtered through fantasy and ignorance.

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