thoroughbred speed (michael nefdt)In pursuit of the “Perfect Equine Athlete”

This is my response to Saturday’s article which suggested that thoroughbreds might have “topped out” in terms of their progression as speedsters. The answer is simply “NO”, they haven’t. The first thing any correspondent on racing has to understand is that, unlike human competition, horseracing is a tactical business, the idea being to get the race to pan out to suit the individual horse’s style of running. Bear in mind, unlike human beings, the horse has no ambition to break records, as he doesn’t understand the subtleties of timing. His instinct is to run, and in the process, to beat his opponent. That’s what his genes have been honed towards throughout his 300 plus years of existence, and so it’s a wonder human beings have been able to teach horses to settle in a race, off the pace, and await their time.

The reality is, with the enormous prize money available to racehorses (human races are run for significantly less), the best tactics are all important, and getting the horse across the line first is the only thing that matters. If a record tumbles on the way, it’s a bonus.

Of course, like every form of endeavour, the closer you get to perfection, the more difficult it becomes to establish new records, and it’s no different in the field of human sports. Throughout history, people have set themselves targets against which to run, yet the biggest increments in human athletics have been in the last 50 years, where special nutrition, enhanced facilities and rigorous training programmes have dominated, even more so in the last twenty years.

In the world of the equine runner, the extent to which horses could be worked was long ago taken beyond where human beings were prepared to stretch themselves, so “topping out” (or reaching a stage closer to perfection) in human athletics. But all of this ignores the remaining opportunities for improvement.

The fact is, at Summerhill, we’ve found several means in the last fifteen years of significantly improving the performance of our own horses, and we’re nowhere near done yet. Our suspicion is, as has been the case with human athletes as they’ve grown bigger and stronger by the decade, is that there are still genetic and nutritional advances which can shape the equine athlete, and take it to levels we’ve yet to explore. That, and the discovery of the latent potential of our own environment, which we still have the daily luxury of exploring.