BY VIVIAN FARRELL
“She [Eight Belles] ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles.” Blaming the breeders and investors, sports writer Sally Jenkins claimed, “thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it.”
“Our horses are sick. Our thoroughbreds are thoroughly inbred. They are locomotives sitting atop toothpicks. They are fragile and friable, designed to run but not to recover from running. And each time they break down or wear out, we chalk it up to an individual horse’s shortcomings, rather than the decades-long decline of the entire breeding industry”. — Barry Pesky (Deadspin)
“Chemical horses produce chemical babies. Performance-enhancing drugs must be banned if we are going to survive as an industry and if thoroughbreds are going to survive as a robust breed.” — Arthur Hancock, Breeder of Three Kentucky Derby Winners
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AFTER SOME STUDY it seems pretty obvious that American horse racing has bred itself into a situation where racehorses will die and keep dying with no end in sight. We aren’t the only ones who see it, as the above quotes show.
Can it be fixed? Not in the short term. However, from where we sit, no one in horse racing seems very interested in fixing it in any kind of term, long or short — or they would fix it — right? They amazingly have no kind of plan. Just repeating themselves year after year, death after death, accompanied by the wringing of hands.
So on it goes.
BRED FOR RUIN
Here’s the bottom line. It begins in the shed.
The insidious doping of the American racehorse and continuous inbreeding have weakened their structural viability.
What can be done? Perhaps the following.
- By banning the use of drugs proven to be debilitating to the soundness of the American racehorse’s gene pool.
“Drugs can alter gene expression with permanent alteration in the DNA which can be passed onto your offspring.”
Now how about the other side of the deadly breeding coin — the tremendously small gene pool.
- By breeding robustness and durability back into the American racehorse by mating them with sound, healthy racehorses from outside the U.S.
Jane Allin writes in Breeding for Trouble,
“Reminiscent of the eugenics movement during the Hitler regime the development of perilously inbred pedigrees fatefully arose. The influx of vulnerable gene pools began predominantly with the immortal Native Dancer.
“By the time Native Dancer had reached age 4, when he started only three times through August, he had gotten so sore due to a chronic inflammation in his ankles . . . that his owner and breeder, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, was forced to retire him to Sagamore, Vanderbilt’s Maryland farm.
“It was here at Vanderbilt’s Sagamore farm that Native Dancer went on to even greater renown as a stud, emerging as one of the most influential sires in the history of the breed. In particular, his grandson, the Canadian born Northern Dancer, was the founding sire of the most fashionable and prolific sire line in the world.
“After Northern Dancer’s death another Native Dancer grandson called Mr. Prospector — extraordinarily fast but unsound — moved to the top of the commercial market to become the next superstar sire who would continue to infuse the bloodlines with speedy but compromised genes in terms of soundness.”
“As a result of commercialization, market forces and greed the entire global Thoroughbred population is now so inundated with the blood of Native Dancer that any counterbalances that would thwart the passage of these vulnerable genes has virtually been absorbed leading to an escalation in the amount of inbreeding currently present in the racing world.”
EIGHT BELLES — CASE IN POINT
Six generations back takes Eight Belles to Native Dancer (foaled March 1950), along with all 20 of the horses in her Derby, and many horses racing in the United States that same year.
Much opinion has been published in the press stating that there may be a connection between the fact of inbreeding stemming from Native Dancer, with the weak ankles seen in horses today, leading to Eight Belles’ demise.
The Los Angeles Times went so far as to headline its opinion piece that today’s horses are being “bred for death”. Hmmm, that has a familiar ring.
“Stop trying to figure out the differences between these horses. Start thinking about what all these horses have in common. Every competitor is a descendent of a horse named Native Dancer”, opined Jon Weinbach of the Wall Street Journal.
That was 2008. Look where we are now? Still treading the same old dangerous waters.
So where do we go from here?
INFLUX OF NEW BLOOD
• Other racing nations
How about consulting other countries around the world who are able to race sound horses, whose horses do not suffer catastrophic breakdowns as a matter of routine? How about finding out what they are doing. Aren’t they in the same proverbial boat, dealing with the legacies left by Northern Dancer, Native Dancer and Mr Prospector to the modern day racehorse?
Bear in mind, these self same countries do not administer a catalogue of illicit, performance enhancing, bone weakening, calcium leaching drugs as the US does. This means illegal racehorse drugging must be destroyed, as can be humanly possible, before American racing even begins to make any attempt to strengthening the breed.
• Original Origin
Before you go, consider this — the Thoroughbred’s original origin.
The Thoroughbred as it is known today was developed in 17th- and 18th- century England, when native mares were crossbred with imported Oriental stallions of Arabian, Barb, and Turkoman breeding.
This may hold the key to breeding racehorses who would — through good breeding practices and knocking destructive drugs on the head — eventually become sound and beat their brothers and sisters around the world. This would entice other racing nations to strengthen their gene pools as well.
Isn’t it about time American horse racing stopped cowering in the corner like a bunch of cowards and man up on behalf of these horses.
Is it time to think seriously about the appointment of a Racing Commissioner to hold sway over all of horse racing. This idea has been met with such vehemence and resistance in the past, one has to wonder why, but let me make a guess.
Without a chief Commissioner, horse racing venues can go about their daily, deadly drugging business with little to no interference from anyone.
It is clear the various organizations that oversee U.S. horse racing — if you can call it that — are not getting the job done. For all intents and purposes, they simply act as apologists.
California has done such a piss poor job it inspired a ballot initiative ridding the State of horse racing altogether. No. We can’t see any of them having what it takes to make a move and shaking it all up.
Long live racing. Racing is dead.
Edited: 5/29/2019 11:29pm
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Breeding For Trouble
The Chemical Horse
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Historical Aspects
Part 3: The Inception of Drug Testing
Part 4: Drugs and Their Actions
Part 5: Policies and Tactics
Part 6: Class 3 Drugs — Performance Enhancing or Not?
Part 7: Class 4 Drugs — Harmless Therapeutics? » Corticosteroids and Bute
Part 8: The Unclassifieds » Lasix and Milkshakes)
Part 9: The Call for Reform
Part 10: Who Rules?
Forgotten Side Of The Salix Debate: The Calcium Connection
“So Salix leaches calcium from the bones and bute aids and abets the outcome. Great combination if you are Gumby’s sidekick Pokey, the talking red horse with rubber legs.” Go to Report »