Commercialization – The Descent of the Thoroughbred
Racing has always been anchored in prestige, money and entertainment merit. Unfortunately, as the desired qualities in the race horse shifted from endurance and robustness in favor of speed and aesthetic allure, the grandiose scale of expansion of the industry developed such that these creatures are now the basis of global financial empires.
The 1970’s and 80’s proved to unearth the establishment of large partnership groups that would control the major proportion of breeding and Thoroughbred ownership on a global basis. Although not the only syndicates, two of the most influential of these organizations are the Coolmore and Sheikh Mohammed’s Darley operations. Together they comprise the world’s biggest marketers of stallions, with breeding bases spread throughout Britain, Ireland, America and Australia. Each of these operations breed heavily from stallions descended from the 1960s North American flat racing champion runner, Northern Dancer – the grandson of Native Dancer.
With such dominance and the inherent and fierce competition that spontaneously arises between economic super powers, the prices for young unproven bloodstock sky rocketed.
“Prices for young, untried horses reached phenomenal levels, with $13.1 million being paid in 1985 for the Nijinsky yearling Seattle Dancer. More extraordinary was the $10.2 million paid for the Northern Dancer yearling, Snaafi Dancer, who – despite the huge price on his head – was never fit or fast enough to race and was found to be infertile when tried at stud.”
With such autonomy and wealth-infused empires governing the racing industry therein lies the inevitable; an influence so formidable that there are few counteractive forces to prevent the disquieting proliferation of an ever-growing narrow gene pool. The control of the most sought after stallions and the financial capacity to outbid anyone but each other lends itself to indeterminate, yet measured compromise of the genetic pool of the modern Thoroughbred.
One need only look at the reigning sires of our times and their profuse liaison with the recurrent Native Dancer genes. The chart below shows the top twelve sires in the world for 2010.
Clearly, the breeding of Native Dancer’s bloodlines plays a critical role in the decline of the diversity of the modern Thoroughbred pedigree and further highlights the excessive narrowing of the gene pool from which the current breeding population is drawn. Historically, thoroughbreds have always been inbred in the quest to produce a better breed however what’s important today is the “relative” inbreeding of the current prototype and the modern obsession with speed, a breeding strategy of greed and failure to recognize the inevitable.
Some experts say that Thoroughbreds are faster than they were 100 years ago but the breed has not seen any measurable increase in speed over the last 30 years or so despite larger foal crops and therefore a large pool from which to draw from. Rather, the sport is producing evermore fragile horses and endangering the long-term health of the breed. Additionally racing fans, especially in NA, have become fixated on shorter, faster, more exciting races such that breeders have turned to producing sprinters as opposed to more robust distance runners.
Although larger at a younger age and more muscular, their bone structures have suffered and appear to be getting lighter and frailer – a recipe for disaster given that the lower parts of a horses legs have no muscle but are composed of a network of bones, tendons and ligaments. With muscle mass concentrated in their upper bodies and massive hind muscles, running on ankles not much bigger than a human puts enormous stress on the lower extremities which has led to higher incidences of catastrophic breakdowns. Built for speed perhaps, but at the expense of strength, stamina and durability.
Renowned American equine specialist Dr. Robert Cook FRCVS PhD in a letter to the Thoroughbred Times states:
“Because of the annual increase in the coefficient of inbreeding that occurs in any population with a closed stud book, the Thoroughbred horse is getting more fragile with every succeeding generation. It will undoubtedly take less stress and less of an impact to break down today’s Thoroughbred than it might have taken 100 years ago. A program of genetic conservation is needed to safeguard the future of this endangered breed.”
To continue reading, click the page numbers below . . . .