Are thoroughbreds being bred for speed?

It is widely accepted that thoroughbreds have been selectively bred for speed over the decades. However, there is a lot of debate as to whether thoroughbreds are getting faster or not. One study found that over the past 100 years, winning times in top races have not changed, suggesting that thoroughbreds have not got faster. This could be because we have bred thoroughbreds to go as fast as they possibly can without breeding for other traits which may also improve speed.

Stallions which have a successful racing career often become very popular breeding stallions. However, these stallions may not be the fastest stallions. During a race, horses race against each other and often use tactics to win. It could therefore be argued that the winning horse might not be the fastest horse. So the most successful stallions may not be the fastest, but they will have other (possibly more important) traits which make them successful.

Maybe the racing industry, by selecting successful horses to breed, has been selectively breeding for these other traits all along. There is no doubt that horses like Frankel and Secretariat were faster than their rivals, but they  weren’t just faster. Frankel’s stride is 2 foot longer than the average thoroughbred and Secretariat had a huge heart and 2 moments of suspension in his stride. All of these things would improve their performance and top speeds.

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It is hard to say whether thoroughbreds are getting faster or not. There is not enough good evidence to suggest either way. However, when you look at this years Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh race against Secretariat, Secretariat is considerably faster.

Is this because Secretariat is faster? Or could it be because modern day horses, such as American Pharaoh, lack the motivation to leave the pack behind and reach their top speeds? It would be interesting to see if racehorses were encouraged to race ahead of the pack, if we would see faster winning times or not.

Unless we start racing horses against the clock, it will be almost impossible to find out exactly whether thoroughbreds are getting faster or not. If thoroughbreds are not getting faster, then I’m sure they will begin to improve in other ways.

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5 comments

  1. […] These 4 horses stand out when talking about the American Triple crown because they were true ‘freaks’ of the thoroughbred industry. However, despite being hugely successful, only Man O’ War and War Admiral were able to pass this success onto their offspring. Secretariat was a rather disappointing stallion and American Pharoah is yet to prove himself as a breeding animal. The fact that not all of these champion horses produce great offspring suggests that racing ability is much more than just genetics. (Read more of my thoughts about this here.) […]

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  2. The lengthy drought in Triple Crown winners coincides with upswing in popularity of horse racing as a tax refuge in the 1980’s and more recently to launder dirty money by speculating on unproven stallions and young stock that can be easily ‘discarded’ and sent to slaughter.

    https://saraannon.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/lies-damn-lies-statistics-and-horse-slaughter-3/

    Sharon May-Davis has some articles on the prevalence of hereditary malformations of the bones and ligaments of sport horses that have proliferated due to unscrupulous breeding practices:

    http://www.j-evs.com/action/doSearch?searchType=authorLookUp&author=May-Davis,%20Sharon&prod=HA

    Since I just put my exceptionally TB down due to this problems, I am taking it quite personally! Like hip dysplasia in purebred dogs, the problem can and should be addressed by responsible breeders.

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    • I do think changes need to be made as to what they are bred for. However, I would rather a horse be put down or sent to slaughter than suffer with someone who is trying to do what they think is best for the animal.

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  3. In the US anyway, horse slaughter has allowed unscrupulous breeders not only to over-breed, but to flood the gene pool with carriers of undesirable traits because they can send the obviously suffering animals to slaughter instead of proving their breeding stock and culling carriers. Watching my truly exceptional animal go down literally midstride because of a physical bone malformation I could do nothing about is incredibly frustrating as well as heartbreaking.

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