It has been written off and on in our times that our racing thoroughbred is a weakling and getting weaker by each generation. This is the popular excuse why our modern race horses cannot be trained hard or raced hard. The thoroughbred I knew in the 1970s, who I have personally witnessed was a tough horse when trained to be tough. The thoroughbred time trialers at the Red Mile (harness) track in Lexington, Ky which I saw back then proved to me that a thoroughbred was every bit as tough as a standardbred, presuming he is conditioned for it. They would go out multiple times in one day and match the top speed of the harness horses they were galloping against in their best lifetime efforts. I would guess these thoroughbreds would go out at least 5-10 times in one day. I presume my view can be countered with the opinion that the 1970s thoroughbred is a much different animal than we have in the 2000s—that our current thoroughbreds are innately weak and this has happened in the last 30 years. Wow, that is some major degeneration for a breed that has been around for hundreds of years!
It is the human condition to view the past through some type of skewed prism as some how better or stronger or more moral than the present day. Have you noticed that? The children we were in our day were much stouter, stronger, more robust ambitious, hard working individuals than the current generation of video game playing weaklings. Eh? As far as horses are concerned, the same has always been true, too. The weakness of the thoroughbred has been written about and proclaimed for years, if not centuries. We have just not been around to hear or read it. If we had been, this charge would simply be a “ho-hum” and fall on deaf ears.
As long ago as 1835, this was written in THE LITERARY GAZETTE:
“We often hear it asserted that the British thoroughbred horse has degenerated within the last few years, and is no longer the stout and long enduring animal that he was in the bygone century (1700s), particularly during the last twenty years of it.
“The real truth is–and even careful observers sometimes draw wrong inferences from it–not that we have fewer good horses than our grandfathers, but that we have more bad ones. The number of worthless horses kept in training for a time is legion. We attribute this fact in the majority of cases to the ignorance and avarice of the breeder. Carelessness in the selection of sires and dams, and greediness in filling the pockets with heavy fees at the expense of the strength and vigor of young and promising stallions-these are the reasons why there is so much useless blood-stock in the country, and these are the causes that will, if continued, do more damage to the breed than any amount of two-year-old training and two year-old running.”
This was written in 1869! Sound familiar?
An editorial in the WALLACE MONTHLY of 1889 suggested that thoroughbred was degenerating because of the trend of reduced running distances.
Later in 1899, this was written by James Ewart in his book:
“As a matter of fact, the English race-horse, compared with even the Arab, is like a hothouse plant that only manages to hold its own when forced and nursed with unusual care, and after all, except for covering very short distances at a great speed, the majority of the hundreds annually bred are of comparatively little use. Breeders flatter themselves that thoroughbreds have since 1689 increased on an average eight or nine inches (from 13″2 to nearly 15″3 hands), but they forget this was partly due to the introduction of Arab blood, and that the size of a horse is very much a question of selection, food, and favorable surroundings, If the increase in size and increase of speed have, as is alleged, been accompanied by a diminution in the staying power and general fitness, the gain can hardly be held to compensate for the loss. That there has been a falling off in the thoroughbred may be inferred from “the smallness of the percentage of even tolerably successful horses out of the prodigious number bred at an enormous outlay.”
“Horses are very much lighter now; they have neither the bone nor the substance that thoroughbreds had fifty years ago (1850s). I am certain that the constitution of horses of the present day would not stand such work; the modern breed is neither so robust nor so strong. ”
“Given therefore that, as a special race, the English thoroughbreds of the present day, largely increased in number every year by the all dominating spirit of commercial enterprise, have, for the most part, degenerated from the speed and stamina of their progenitors of the earlier decades of the present century—a postulate that is by no means hypothetical merely, with some of our now few remaining veteran owners of racehorses, among turfites of all denominations, and those of the public who have reminiscences of their performances in the past—then the application to their case of the invigorating re-infusion of the Arab blood, which can alone gradually re-effect that improvement, and which all enlightened hippiasts consider as the solo fountain-head of absolute amelioration for all the Western races, becomes the initiatory step of chiefest import.
“The runner with a relatively long humerus should therefore have a long period of suspension. The length of the arm appears to be diminishing in our present day Thoroughbred.”
“It is consistent to say that the thoroughbred of thirty years ago was an “animal of bone and substance.” Yet the son of that noble animal of only thirty years ago, is today, “blemished in hoofs, bowed in tendons,” etc. Isn’t this decline rather rapid for one or at most two generations? Have men like Major Dangerfield, Mr. John E. Madden (major breeders of the time) and numerous others worked hard and with marvelous ability for the past “thirty years” and more, to change the thoroughbred from an “animal of bone and substance” to “an animal of racing machine, blemished in hoofs, etc.” Isn’t it a pity?”