Friday, June 6, 2008

WHY THINGS ARE

...an ongoing series where we explain stuff.

There has been much discussion in and around horse racing about how to prevent catastrophic injuries and improve the sport via the health and safety of the horses.

A lot of conversation is about how horses are bred and what needs to be changed. Here’s a great example of one of the problems: In breeding.

As breeders world wide have focused on the most successful sire lines – Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer – the gene pool has shrunk. Both of those stallions descend from the same male line. Many other “out crosses” have disappeared over the years as these two sire lines have dominated racing.

Subsequently, like your cousins in West Virginia (Mr. Cheney! – just kidding), inbreeding causes some physical deterioration (not to mention that spooky banjo music) which is the reason horses are more fragile than they were one hundred years ago.

Check out these three specimens…

The pic above is of imported French sire Teddy, and the first Triple Crown winner Sir Barton (right), whose bloodlines have all but disappeared over the years. While all three horses ultimately trace back to the same foundation sire - Eclipse - check out what 90 years of inbreeding will do for you. Note Teddy and Sir Barton’s legs, what we in the biz call “substance.” In laymen’s terms the size and shape of the bones in the legs. They actually have leg bones, not little wispy pool cues or chicken legs or whatever you want to call him.

Simply put, horses of that bygone era had smaller upper bodies and stouter legs. Although, we gotta admit our boy Teddy (who stood in Virginia) was not exactly a looker!

Now check out the photo of Big Brown. His upper body is massive and his legs…well...they’re kinda skinny. Read that: fragile.

Especially, the cannon bone (the bone up front between the knee and the ankle) and the pastern bone (the angled one between the ankle and hoof) where so many injuries now occur. Note how much shorter the pasterns are on the first two as compared to Big Brown. Less bone surface is good. If you don't believe us, ask your physics teacher.

And that is exactly what happens when close relative swap fluids for a hundred years. Right, Bobby?

Solution: A world war in South America. After the first two world wars, a lot of European Thoroughbreds ended up in the good old U.S. of A. This added some stoutness through various out crosses. Now many of the European and Japanese horses are closely related to their American cousins so opening up another can of whoop ass on France, England or the Rising Sun boys isn’t gonna solve the problem.

Now down in South America they have some bigger stouter horses with slightly different bloodlines. Quick call the White House, there is still time for one more war!

Maybe we’ll find some oil while we’re at it…

(Photos by Thoroughbred Heritage, AP and Getty Images)

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