Where has all the stamina gone?

A guest blog by Matthew Scott
I have just finished reading the book Bred to Run, by Mike Helm. It is about Mike’s account of a one-week visit to Claiborne Farm in 1992. In a 1:1 interview with Seth Hancock, Helm indirectly asked, why is there no stamina in US bloodstock anymore? 
Seth had some very interesting theories, one of which is there are no US outcrosses for true stamina any longer.  Just about all stallions in the US are speed horses, and those that can prove themselves at 1 ½ miles generally do so due to a “fluke” or not racing other stamina horses.  Seth’s example was Conquistador Cielo, who won the Belmont in the slop with no pace or closers.   
Here’s my follow up question. If only winning the Belmont doesn’t prove stamina in today’s racing, what about gritty horses that prove themselves at 1 ¼ and 1 ½ miles? Since Seth isn’t here to answer, I’ll give it a shot.  Pretty much only the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes combo has this capability anymore.  How many horses in the past 20 years have won both these races?  Thunder Gulch is the only one by my count, and he sired another Belmont winner in Point Given
Lets take a look at Drosselmeyer.  He wins the Belmont and the Breeder’s Cup Classic (A.P. Indy is the only other horse to nail that combo) and commands a 1st year stud fee of $17,500. Whereas, Uncle Mo, never won at anything over 9 furlongs requires a 1st year stud fee of $35,000. Does a higher stud fee imply a better stallion? 
But the saying goes, it takes two to tango, and if there are no stallions to introduce stamina, what about broodmares? Well, fillies and mares are never tested at distances beyond 1 ¼ miles in US racing. That is unless we get a very daring owner/trainer to face the boys in one of the few 10+ furlong stakes races remaining in the US.  After they leave the track, broodmares will likely only produce no more than a dozen or so offspring, compared to top stallions that produce hundreds. It is proven in the business of horse breeding, that the top mares are only bred to the top-producing stallions, which just happen to be speed horses!! This halves our chances for stamina progeny right there… 
In 2010, there where only 11 G1 races on dirt at 10 furlongs or longer in the US, and of those, only 6 where open to horses aged 3+.  It makes sense that a practical businessman would ask why we would breed horses specialized in year’s worth of G1 races that have total purses of $14,050,000 at 10/10+ furlongs when we can breed them for G1 races totaling $36,100,000 at less than 10 furlongs? 
I look at the sires available today, and the one that interests me the most is Afleet Alex.  He won the Belmont in flashy style and his damsire is Hawkster.  He has proven his ability to pass his stamina by siring Alfeet Again, the horse that won this year’s Breeder’s Cup Marathon (14 furlongs). But Afleet Alex never raced after his 12 furlong romp at Belmont, and it can be argued that there were no true distance horses in that race either (see paragraph 2 above).   
So is Afleet Alex our savior of stamina?  Doubtful. But if I owned a 9+ furlong stakes winning broodmare, I would give a second look to Afleet Alex or Drosselmeyer.  14 million dollars is still a lot of G1 money, and with no one focusing on that distance anymore, all it takes is one good 10+ furlong horse to become a leading money earner and maybe the next triple crown winner. 


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Older Comments about Where has all the stamina gone?...

A good start would be to move the Pacific Classic, Santa Anita Handicap, Breeders Cup Classic, and Travers to 12 furlongs; and to make the BC Marathon one of the premier races with a purse of at least 2 million dollars instead of its current status as a freak show novelty race which attracts grade 3 stakes winners and optional claimers.
Simple law of supply and demand. Most of the big-money and big-prestige races are at 10 furlongs or less. The biggest races on the calendar for older horses and late-year 3yo races should be at 12 furlongs or more. That would certainly bring stamina back into the breeding and training philosophy of the sport.
There has not been a chef de race on the professional or stout category added since the 60's
Thanks for all the kind words everyone! I would highly recommend the book Bred to Run, its a very interesting read
I can only hope. It's a far dream, but you can't have a dream come true without a dream.
cocoa2, Are you refering to/meaning 4 mile heats?
I hope that we can once again see a horse go 2 miles like Kelso or maybe extend distance to 4 miles!
Fantastic article...As a horse racing fan, it is sad that entire racing industry seems to point towards speed and not stamina. Like travel_vic mention, what happen to the 2 miles, JCGC? Why isn't organization like the NHRA pushing for more grades race that require horses with stamina? I'm a bit sad to see the direction of today's horse racing. That is why we might never see a MOW, Citation, Secretariat.
The race of the year, most years, was the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 2 miles. Those days are far gone.
Keep shortening the available stakes races and one is surprised that stamina has disappearedÉ
Been buggin the powers that be for years regarding this. OFFER more graded stakes at stamina distances to prove where potential stamina sires come from...Simple as that
Fantastic blog Mr. Scott. So many have asked the same question without really providing a solid answer. The U.S. has certainly gone speed crazy, a fact that is evidenced by the number of speed records being broken on a constant basis. Afleet Alex and Drosselmeyer are very good candidates to potentially help alleviate the lack of stamina. Since Afleet Alex did not race after winning the Belmont, he is a bit of an unknown in that department; but Drosselmeyer's best races have arguably been at 9 furlongs or longer.

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