EQUUS - - Special Report -

cen­tury, the mantra of breed­ers has been “breed the best to the best and hope for the best.” The win­ners of pres­ti­gious, high-dol­lar purses are al­most al­ways re­tired to stud, where they at­tract mares who have them­selves been win­ners or are dams or sis­ters of win­ners. In my pre­vi­ous EQUUS ar­ti­cles on the breed, which ran in 2014 and early 2015, I fol­lowed sig­nif­i­cant changes in the Thor­ough­bred in­dus­try through its 350-year history. The per­for­mance test that King Charles II de­signed in the 17th cen­tury---the rac­ing con­di­tions that de­fined the Thor­ough­bred and made it the world’s great­est equine ath­lete---orig­i­nally put far more em­pha­sis upon stamina (“stayer” ca­pa­bil­ity or “bot­tom”) than upon speed. Nonethe­less, in Europe be­gin­ning in the lat­ter quar­ter of the 18th cen­tury and in Amer­ica about 50 years later, long-dis­tance heat rac­ing be­gan to go out of fash­ion. The test that the horses faced no longer con­sisted of four-mile cour­ses, which they were orig­i­nally re­quired to run some­times up to four times in a sin­gle day. The horses who ran the long cour­ses had, of ne­ces­sity, been al­lowed time to achieve phys­i­cal ma­tu­rity; it was rare in older times to see a horse at the flat track less than 5 years old, but at the same time com­mon to find cham­pi­ons who be­gan their ca­reers at age 6 or 7 com­pet­ing suc­cess­fully well up into their teens.

Ev­ery­thing changed when fu­tu­rity rac­ing came into vogue. By def­i­ni­tion, a “fu­tu­rity” is a race open only to phys­i­cally im­ma­ture horses---2-, 3- or 4-yearolds. The Ken­tucky Derby is prob­a­bly the world’s most fa­mous fu­tu­rity con­test, although be­ing Amer­i­can, it is not the old­est; that honor goes to races such as the Bri­tish St. Leger Stakes, in­au­gu­rated in 1776. A race of two miles---half the dis­tance that had been man­dated


for heat-rac­ers---was orig­i­nally con­sid­ered short enough to be a suit­able and hu­mane test for young horses. How­ever, that dis­tance was soon short­ened even fur­ther, in part be­cause of in­juries, but also to cre­ate a more ex­cit­ing race that could be run closer to the grand­stand. By the time of Sir Bar­ton’s 1919 Triple Crown vic­tory, the con­cept of “clas­sic” dis­tance had be­come firmly fixed as be­tween 1 and 1 ½ miles.



Bi­ol­o­gists speak of this kind of al­ter­ation of the rules as a “change in se­lec­tive con­di­tions.” The bi­ol­ogy term “se­lec­tion” im­plies a win­ner---in na­ture,

The chart above shows the 26 sires ref­er­enced in the seven-gen­er­a­tion pedi­grees of Triple Crown win­ners from 1919 to 2015. Pink tones show the ma­jor branches of the Eclipse fam­ily, with Matchem shown in or­ange and Herod in yel­low. At right is a chart...

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