Durenberger: Time To Change The Way We Think About The Public And Thoroughbred Welfare

by | 08.09.2017 | 6:10pm
Dr. Jennifer Durenberger

The time has come to get comfortable talking about animal welfare.

That's one of the takeaways from a presentation at the 17th annual Saratoga Institute on Equine, Racing, and Wagering Law in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. this week. Dr. Jennifer Durenberger, attorney, veterinarian, and racing official, suggested racing insiders and fans are in the minority of Americans in the way they view animals because they accept the use of horses in an entertainment-based sport.

It's no secret the modern view of animals is changing. Durenberger presented statistics showing the average American is now four generations removed from an agricultural lifestyle, and the majority have never had physical contact with a non-companion animal. This, in the background of a society with increasing emotional attachments to its pets, has resulted in a bell curve of viewpoints on animals. The short ends of the curve probably house extreme views like animal liberationists, who believe animals should not be possessed by humans and people who are accepting of illegal practices such as cockfighting and horse tripping. In the middle is the majority of the population, which might be accepting of animals as food products but which has increasing concerns about animals' emotional welfare – and that may include their use in entertainment-based industries like racing.

“This is racing's big conundrum: we've got this marketable emotional connection, and along with it comes an increased duty of care. It's not in the law yet, but society demands it of us. Most people see our duty of care as akin to that we show our children,” she said.  

This presents unique challenges when it comes to marketing and regulating racing, according to Durenberger's view. In a world where many people choose an egg or milk carton based on labels designed to advertise ethical animal management, people have welfare concerns about becoming consumers of racing.

“We can use science to measure the risk of injury in certain parts of animal husbandry, and we do this really well,” she said. “But science can't answer the question of what level of risk is acceptable.”

The answer from many industry insiders is often that new fans need to be “educated” about the facts or science behind an issue. But because their concerns are based in emotion, Durenberger said this approach often doesn't work. People expect researchers and veterinarians to be experts in certain arenas, but defining their own emotions doesn't tend to be one of them.

“If most people believe something is wrong, then science is unlikely to change their opinion. We have a perfect example of that when we talk about 2-year-old racing,” she said. “All of us in this room know the science shows that starting a horse who's able at two years, that's beneficial to them long-term. And yet when you look at the stuff floating around social media and floating around, starting now in the legislative chambers, you'll see the argument that they race these horses as babies, and racing 2-year-olds is wrong. And we've out-scienced them on that.”

(See studies on the 2-year-old racing issue here, here, and here.)

One of the knee jerk reactions from racing insiders when encountering viewpoints like these is often to become angry and dismissive of outsiders raising questions about a management practice. Durenberger said this is a mistake that deepens the divide between the groups and does little to bring new fans to the sport.

“We need to be mindful that when people say they're concerned about the welfare of our equine athletes, that is not an accusation that they don't care,” she said. “It's really hard, when you get up at 3:30, 4:00 in the morning, travel, always on the clock, seven days a week, to not take these questions personally. And I think that's where we're making a big mistake. Nobody's asking us, ‘Do we love our horses, do we care about our horses?'

“Together, we must hold each other accountable for putting the horse first in everything we do. They are the counter-argument.”

  • Mindy

    “If most people believe something is wrong, then science is unlikely to change their opinion. We have a perfect example of that when we talk about 2-year-old racing,” she said. “All of us in this room know the science shows that starting a horse who’s able at two years, that’s beneficial to them long-term. And yet when you look at the stuff floating around social media and floating
    around, starting now in the legislative chambers, you’ll see the argument that they race these horses as babies, and racing 2-year-olds is wrong. And we’ve out-scienced them on that.”

    do you not realize that there’s a difference between training a horse, building up their muscles and bones (and their MIND!), at very young ages, and *RACING* them? between jogging them up and down hills or ponying them around the track, or long, slow gallops through fields, and asking them to run at full speed, often first in an under tack show, seeking the sub-10 1/8th, then asking them, again, starting a few months later, to run full-out, while being whipped to the wire? you can be working with a youngster, while they’re still growing, helping to strengthen their bodies for the long-term, without it having to be the ‘real thing’ on a racetrack, in the afternoon

    • Mindy

      so, Doctor, you’re really going to argue that, for instance, 2-year-old in training sales, are GOOD for babies? do you not realize how much babies must do, and how early they must be doing it, to make those sales? if a baby is entered in a 2-year-old-in-training sale, ready to breeze that furlong in March, sometimes even before they’re biologically 2 years old, how early did they have to start being ridden? how accelerated was their conditioning? how young were they, when they were started? when many other yearlings are still out in the field, taking in vitamin D from the sunshine, and learning to get along with their peers in a group, these auction babies are already stuck in stalls nearly all day, being ‘hot-housed,’ to protect them

      please, someone do a study on babies out of the 2-year-old sales, throughout their careers, if they ever even start….when do they make their first starts? on average, how many starts do they make? how many years to they race? how many starts per year? what level of success do they achieve (especially relative to their auction prices)? what are their soundness issues(and can those be traced to their ultra-early start?)? what happens to the ones who never race? of those who can be tracked down, are they able to have meaningful 2nd careers or lives? lastly, is there any measureable difference in racing careers for the babies in sales where they worked under tack shows on synthetic or dirt?

      • Bryan Langlois

        I think you are extrapolating a bit from one quote. I am sure she did not mean racing 2 YO’s in every sense or every circumstance. I do agree with you about the breeze up sales and feel they really should not exist in my opinion, but the money in the industry will, at least currently, continue to allow them to occur.

      • Lehane

        Saying it as it is. Totally agree.

    • McGov

      It is of great benefit to race a horse at 2 …if you are not pushing the animal and they are ready. Some are not ready and must wait until 3 but those that race at 2 have many benefits from experience to bone density….I’d say moderation is key.
      I forget how few Kentucky Derby winners were unraced at 2 in all these years but it’s kind of a good demonstration that even through the generations…..racing at 2 benefits the horse.
      However, some race too much at 2 and the horse’s career is shortened usually.
      Moderation.

      • Mindy

        you’re referring to the ‘curse of Apollo,’ thought to be one of the few remaining reasons to toss a horse from your Derby choices, if they didn’t race at two, but, please remember how early the Derby is, many of the runners and winners, have only just turned three, in the month or so before (some much earlier, obviously, and, occasionally, some even later, meaning they’re still 2 in the Derby)

        a lot of times, I think, Derby winners, are really just carry-overs of babies with great 2-year-old form, for whom the Derby just happens to come up before they plateau, or regress, or the rest of the crop catches up, and often passes, them…think about all the recent Derby winners who never won another race, and often retired even before the end of that season…I say again, you can help a baby build up his body, without actual parimutuel racing

        • McGov

          Those are valid points. I agree that the actual race itself is not important for a baby. If you can simulate a race on a private training track for example by having a half dozen babies practice race ( not just work in company)….then that would be the PERFECT approach IMO.

          • Mindy

            thank you, training races, absolutely, where there is no pressure of people’s bets, and it’s all about *education* & experience, and they’re not asked for their all

          • Lehane

            Exactly.

          • Lehane

            There’s a huge difference between an actual race for a baby and when a baby is in training. Is the money on in training? Nope. Excessive whipping and abusive riding in training? Nope. High expectations on the baby’s performance? Nope.

          • McGov

            I agree. I think it’s best to bring babies along very slowly and by the end of the year give them the closest thing to a race or two without overloading them. Then a nice couple months break turned out. Then when they are 3 and ready for business they are READY….not worn out or mentally cooked but fresh and with enough experience under their belts to do well early as a 3yr old. I think this approach gives the horse the best chance, all things considered.

      • Condor

        The trouble is some owners and trainers do not know when to quit with a 2 yr old thats crying out to be turned away till next season. Theres been some wonderfully bred horses in all codes that never had the chance of proving there ability because they were wrecked as 2yr olds , im sure of that.

        • W.K.Henry

          Uk harness racing has this very problem, the sport is tiny and they race for peanuts but a well meaning family has started a 2yr old stakes series in memory of a loved one that has gained international sponsership. It has brought a new lease of life to the sport , increased yearling prices, increased breeding numbers and stallion/yearling imports BUT its been terrible for the actual 2yr olds, poor training, poor facilities , poor tracks in some cases and record numbers of horses breaking down before there bodies are mature enough to handle hard training and racing . Bigger prize money for 3yr olds who didnt race at 2 and a change of mindset needed both sides of the pond.

        • Lehane

          Condor, as you say in the USA
          AMEN!

      • Larry sterne

        your talking of successful horse in derby. not the wastage of the others that didn’t make it to 3. It’s my opinion a 2 yr is O K to gallop every other day. from the yearling sale to racing in 6 mos. is not good management of a horse. no wonder they think it’s an exceptional horse that rates . Every polo pony has this skill because people took TIME to teach it.

      • ben

        Bone density is just a part of the whole body. The ligaments, joints etc will be stressed those have to be in tune with the rest.

        Putting the horses at full test under full whip use, will not help them at all. Unless you have the same idee,s about horses and stockmarkets.

        • McGov

          I think the horse benefits IF they are ready and brought along properly. Owners of precocious horses sometimes abuse the advantage and burn out a baby in the process by over racing them.
          Patience is key but there is no doubt in my mind that a baby that starts late in year and gets a couple of starts that are within themselves…..then sits on those experiences until starting training again in late winter….is at a great advantage heading into their 3 yr old campaign.

          • Mindy

            the sad thing, is when you see a baby early in the year, that shows some success, or, at least, promise, then they go away, you hope they’re just being given ‘grow up time,’ and you expect to see them show up later, in the fall or winter, and they never do, and you never find out what happened to them :( and you can’t help but wonder, if they’d been started later or slower…?

          • McGov

            So many times in my life I have thought “what if”…..what if racetracks didn’t write these races so early in the year…..what if there was a maximum number of start rule for babies….what if babies were not ever allowed drugs unless serious issue like infection…..what if baby races were limited in distance to a mile or less ….what if baby races were limited in starters to 10…..
            I could go on and on but PR sees enough of my typed words, I am sure ;)

          • Mindy

            what if we, the fans, were listened to? and I like all your ‘what if’ ideas

          • Michael Castellano

            How often is it that a two year old star fizzles as a three year old? There are of course more than one reason why this happens. One of them is that the competition is still maturing and many precocious horses will be passed by other horses as they mature towards their maximum levels, often at 4 or 5. But the other might be burn out or injuries suffered by giving them too much to accomplish as a two year old. I am under the opinion that ideally competitive racing should start at three. And the Derby should be for 4 year olds. Of course, that will never happen. Economics dictate otherwise.

          • McGov

            There are many reasons IMO that contribute to this problem but the top couple are ….big trainers with hundreds of horses and systematic approach….in any system you either move with the pace of the weakest or the weakest don’t make it…..and the use of drugs on developing horses.
            If horse owners were to consider a 5 yr plan instead of get even asap….then I believe both horse and owner benefit the most.
            Derby breaks more horses in the pursuit of glory then any race in NA. It’s a longstanding shame that is very unlikely to ever change. Without a doubt it is too much, too early.

          • Mindy

            exactly, how many really nice second-half-of-the-year three year olds, or nice older horses, didn’t run in the Derby, for various reasons, and it turns out to have been, ‘a blessing in disguise’?

          • ben

            Now you talk about old school nurseries. Just giving them what to think over during winter time.

          • McGov

            IMO….some babies…probably most….need a break before starting their 3yr old campaigns. A freshening period of a couple months, turned out.
            I realize today that trainers tend to keep it moving through the winter and ship to warm climate tracks etc but I think for babies it’s important to stop completely before getting serious ….important both physically and mentally. It’s quite a bit on a young, developing horse.
            Often people are more interested in their return on investment…..as quickly as possible. It’s a flawed plan IMO. By bringing urgency or less patience to the stall of a developing horse is risking the longevity of the horses career. More races = more opportunities for income. Healthier horse = maximising those opportunities ..ie higher purses.

      • TwoBays

        “….if you are not pushing the animal and they are ready….”
        As if

        • McGov

          I mean, if the horse is training with good energy and achieves a level of fitness and enough skill to start a couple of times…..then why not.
          Gotta say that if you had enough money and patience you’d ideally make the agenda for baby races late in the year that are more about learning than winning.
          From imprinting first week to couple baby races late in year. That should be the education start to finish. Then the real stuff starts at 3 ….IMO

    • Blue Larkspur

      A — MEN!
      Mindy!!

      • Mindy

        thank you :)

    • Richard Holmes

      You are absolutely correct. Assuming a young horse is sound, it is good for them to be In at least light training. That doesn’t mean they should be running in multiple races as a 2 year old.
      In addition, the numbers don’t prove causality. Sound horses race at 2. Racing didn’t make them sound. They were sound to begin with and that is why they were able to make it to the races at 2. And when you have a unsound horse who didn’t make it to the races until he was 4, it wasn’t his lack of racing that made him unsound. It was his lack of soundness that prevented him from racing. There are practically no owners or trainers who intentionally wait until a horse is 4 years old to make his racing debut. When you see a horse making his debut as a 4 year old, there is a 99.9% chance that the horse was in training as both a 2 year old and 3 year old, but couldn’t stay sound long enough to make it to the races.

      • Lisa Johnson

        There are other ways to get sidelined WITHOUT them being unsound in limb…

      • Mindy

        I agree completely, well (and better than I could do) said :)

    • Tom Trosin

      Wholly Crap Dr. Durenberger was right. Who knew

    • Sue Hooper

      Find the article about the study of 115,000 horses over a period of 10 years that proved racing was not detrimental to two year olds and did not shorten their career. The study was done in Sydney, Australia and was very comprehensive. I don’t know how to add a link or I would put it here for you.

      • Mindy

        all due respect, not sure Australian racing correlates to US racing…they do much more turf, for one, not sure, but I have a feeling that may skew the results, as far as longevity of career

        • Sue Hooper

          It is an interesting point that racing is probably a lot different in Australia but this is not the only such study. There are others but maybe not using such a huge number of horses. The Australian study may not have used every single 2 year old that came along during their testing but they did use 115,000 over a period of 10 years.

          • Lehane

            At the end of the day, racing is really not that different in Australia.

      • longtimehorsewoman

        They do not race in Australia as they do here. It’s an unfair and inaccurate study to begin with, because every 2 year old was not followed. Only the ones who survived well enough to race.

        • Lehane

          Agree. In my opinion it was a flawed study. Dr Natasha Hamilton and Dr Peter Knight have been in the employ of the racing industry for decades. It was not an independent study. Any study funded by the racing industry (which was the case in this Australian study) cannot be taken too seriously and are usually designed for a favourable finding for the racing industry. I remember reading towards the end of this study that the authors recommended that one should proceed with caution with these young horses……?
          I attended a seminar at Sydney University when Natasha spoke of a racehorse that found a good home after racing but about 18 months later ended up being slaughtered. This concern of hers was put to the panel of experts one of whom did his best to respond. I have great respect and admiration for Natasha for raising this.

    • Lehane

      Thank you, Mindy for this excellent comment.

      • Lehane

        This has ended up in the wrong place….. was referring to your first comment at the beginning of this discussion.

  • McGov

    This is an important issue. We must always remember our first responsibility is to protect the animals we purchase. If an owner cannot handle that responsibility for any reason they should immediately find a good home for that animal and move on.
    If the public views our sport as a sport that entertains at the expense of an animal…..or profits at all expense including risk that reaches everyone’s idea of wrong except the profiteers…then we have failed and we should let racecars take our fans and WE should move on.

    • McGov

      In other words….what Mike Smith did was RIGHT. He protected Arrogate because he knows far too well that the greatest risk is in the stretch. Why ask an animal that you know isn’t at his best and you don’t know why? Because somebody bet a million dollars to show?
      You must consider that Mike knows the horse and he knows that IF there was an injury that the injury would be most vulnerable when asked in the stretch drive. That if there was any slight injury that this could become catastrophic if pushed too far etc etc.
      A jockey has seconds to make that decision. As a fan of Arrogate I’m glad a veteran like Mike was up there making that call.

      • Lisa Johnson

        Agree completely

      • Kristine

        ABSOLUTELY, ME TOO!!!

      • Stuart H

        That sounds like Kent D on Big Brown in the Belmont Stakes. He wrapped that horse up before the stretch and would not even let him finish…even though the horse wanted to run…he was spinning his wheels. Turns out his quarter on the hoof was completely torn off. He had pulled the quarter not long out of the gate and it turns out he was nursing that crack the entire week.

        Mike Smith has been there and done that. He had to know right away something was amiss and it was not worth risking the horse to get third or possibly second. There was no way any horse was catching the winner.

        • McGov

          Kent also protected Big Brown on that day. People get upset about riders protecting horses when so much money is bet and perhaps history is on the line….they tend to blame the rider. Ignorance.
          It is their duty and THEY know it and that’s all that really matters. For the jocks that don’t listen as they ride or ignore those unsettling cues…..they are not only risking the horse they are risking themselves and possibly others. It’s not worth it. Like driving 40 miles over speed limit on winter ice because you are running late…..not smart for you or those around you. Unnecessary risk….it takes the young guys a few years to get er ;)

    • Kristine

      TOTALLY AGREED!!!!

  • Manefan

    I find that the comment sections on the articles suggested are far more revelant, and entertaining. But, I like the last sentence of THIS article.

  • gus stewart

    Absolutely right, its not easy to change public perception over night, but there can be more right about the sport then wrong, i think u and others get it. Its 2017, and when u are responsible for animals that are the money making piece of your biz u better do a better job then any other sport in being transparent in how your run your sport. The big cluster…. is the denial of the aging leadership to grasp reality. I love racing more then any other sport and to this day think it can resurrect its viabilty in today’s market, but ur gonna have to get new lesdership to market it, or take the current heads off spin them around, and put them back on in the contemporary world.

    • Lisa Johnson

      funny, we’ve been “trying to change public perception” now for oh, about 40 years….and it’s still sliding downhill. The suits say “perception” but they’re really not dealing with it, at all in my opinion. Before you know it another year is over and NOTHING is going forward.

      • Hamish

        Your comment falls under the category “Actions speak louder than words.” No time better than the present.

      • gus stewart

        They are not dealing with it.and when you say suits, u are correct. Im fairly certain if a few tracks had women running them that were not hard hat’s we may have seen some action already. But since its still ugh, and im older. The good old boys club that run the majotity if not all of our tracks, we have made little progress with this problem. U mentionef 40 years of trying, its really only been maybe 25 or thirty since the public has doomed the sports growth based on the veiw of how they think the biz takes care of its horses, and why its leaders has allowed in their veiw the dopping of these animals. The 2 yr olds running isnt even on thier radar

      • longtimehorsewoman

        Exactly!!!

      • Lehane

        Agree!

      • Bryan Langlois

        It goes to the problem that the sport is contracting and the horsemans groups (and you can’t blame them per se for advocating for their stakeholders) will fight tooth and nail to preserve the status quo as long as they can. There has to be the acceptance of the contracture and how to best deal with it to allow it to again grow. I do believe the sport can grow again (and am likely in the very, very, very, VERY small minority on that) but only if everyone starts playing nice with each other again and just be proactive instead of always reactive. The horseman, tracks, commissions and owner/breeders groups are going to eventually have to reach a point where they are going to have make a decision…help save the sport….or go down with the ship constantly in denial why it happened pointing fingers at each other.

  • Tinky

    Mindy has touched on the important counterpoint to Dr. Durenburger’s argument.

    In fact, this (from the article):

    “All of us in this room know the science shows that starting a horse who’s able at two years, that’s beneficial to them long-term. And yet when you look at the stuff floating around social media and floating around, starting now in the legislative chambers, you’ll see the argument that they race these horses as babies, and racing 2-year-olds is wrong. And we’ve out-scienced them on that.”

    is either a straw man, or disingenuous, as the vast majority of people who express concern about two-year-olds are referring to the breeze-up sales, not actual racing.

    So, I challenge Dr. Durenburger, or anyone else, to cite a single, compelling study, showing that horses that participate in two-year-old in training sales “benefit” from such participation, in terms of health and soundness. And I’d suggest that readers not hold their breath while awaiting a response.

    • Al

      Dr Bramlge has shown that thoroughbreds that train at 2 are building bone mass. Laying up a thoroughbred at 2 creates less bone mass.

      • Tinky

        That is well understood. My point relates specifically to the 2yo in training sales, which on balance are not beneficial.

        • Sue Hooper

          I think I replied to your post in the wrong place! Just saying, I think you are right about two year old in training sales being too early! I think they should wait until summer or fall.

        • Michael Castellano

          Training is not the same as racing. Makes sense to train horses at two. They would have done plenty of running had they been a wild horse for long before being two. But racing requires close to maximum speed and effort. They might never have to run that fast in the wild, horses being much faster than most predators. Endurance was always probably more important in the natural world. I have watched films on the way wolves hunt, and they pursue prey like horses until the weaker ones fall behind and get tired. What I have not seen is data on the percentages of horses that are sound enough and actually have their first start at two as opposed to three and four, or who only start at two and never race again as a three year old or older. Of course, economic factors also play a major role and virtually demand that two year olds race if at all possible.

      • longtimehorsewoman

        Not racing does not mean not training and conditioning. Just because someone is not racing the horse, doesn’t mean the horse isn’t in work, building muscle, bone, balance, strength, etc. A well prepared horse has a far better chance of racing successfully.

      • TwoBays

        Did you read ANY of the responses? Training is fine – running at the top of their young abilities, not so much

      • ben

        That,s only one side of the coin, the negatives might outrule the said so advantage.

    • Mindy

      I find 2-year-old-in-training sales repugnant, especially the earliness of some of them (March!), but I also cringe, when the ‘Spring Keeneland Baby Races’ start in April, leading to May Churchill races, and Stakes in June (or to Royal Ascot, if you’re Wesley Ward)….Rachel Alexandra is the only long-term successful survivor of those June CD Stakes I can think of, most don’t even make it to the Breeders’ Cup, or top-level at 3; on another note, it seemed like, to me, Santa Anita did not run many/any(?) April or May 2 furlong (straightaway) baby races this year, can anyone corroborate this, or say why?

      • Sue Hooper

        I do agree that the two year old in training sales are too early in a colt or filly’s two year old year and much too intense at that time of the year. A lot of them are not even two by then. Looks like they could wait until summer or fall.

        • TwoBays

          or never have to run a :10 for a furlong – they are NOT quarter horses!!!!

      • Stuart H

        I agree with everything you have said Mindy…

        I think Big Drama is one other horse that ran a very fast furlong time in one of those 2 year old auction sales races, and then swept the Florida Stallion Series as a 2 year old, and then as a 4 year old was still racing and won the BC Sprint. He was injured as a 3 year old for a while, however. He won several stakes as a 3 year old. He set several stakes and track records while he was running. Same thing for Jackson Bend. He swept the Florida Stallion Series as a 2 year old. He went on the race until he was 6 years old and did not win a grade 1 until he was 4. I believe those two were exceptions to the rule due to the track they ran at as 2 year olds (and they fact they stayed in restricted company)..

        This was back when Calder Race course was still open, and it had that deep and forgiving racetrack. It actually (I believe) was beneficial to the 2 year olds that would stay there and run in restricted company. When they would go to other tracks as a 3 year old or in the BC Juvie it almost was like a turf to dirt angle (or poly to dirt) because they would be used to running on that deep track. But the benefit was the cushion it provided to the young horses (IMO). Just a theory…but there were more than just those 2. Many 2 year olds would prosper into 3 and 4 year olds with lengthy careers from Calder. So, of course, they closed it. They even referred to them as the Calder Babies.

        But you would be very hard pressed when you looked beyond Calder to find a similar pattern. And I would posit that training is one thing but racing is another. And now that we are left with Gulfstream the parking lot down here in South Florida…I cringe when I see 2 year olds running in open (and closed) stakes competition down here. Even with the early 3 year old season…when is the last time a Florida Derby-Kentucky Derby winner has gone on to win a race after the Kentucky Derby? Big Brown? That was 2008…the Preakness, and he had a bad set of wheels and was a freak anyhow.

        Gulfstream is the anti Calder…I would be extremely cautious about racing any 2 year old at GP. I also think the time for racing 2 year olds, if at all, is late in the year…especially in dirt racing with the constant pounding on those growing bones and joints.

        • Stuart H

          Big Drama set the 6 furlong track record at GP 1/15/2011 1:108.12 in the Mr. Prospector Stakes (120 Beyer). 5 years old.
          Big Drama set the 7 furlong track record at GP 3/30/09 1:20.88 in the Swale Stakes (DQ)
          Big Drama won the BC Sprint 11/10/10 4 years old and wins Eclipse Award and Champion Sprinter.
          Big Drama set Stakes Record in Delta Downs Jackpot as 2 year old at 8.5 f.

          Obviously, Big Drama did not slow down as he got older…he is one of many Calder 2 year olds that went on to a long career racing. Unfortunately, we may never see this again because that track surface will be hard to duplicate and GP which took on Calder’s card is the exact opposite, where you will get some fast times but not many 2 year olds will go on to long careers.

          But the point remains, Big Drama and Jackson Bend ran often as 2 year olds at Calder. They won grade 1s or set track records as a 5 year old. That hardly makes a case for it being bad for them to race as 2 year olds.

          Neither was purchased at the 2 year old training sales.

    • Robert Millis

      You miss two key words in her first sentence: “who’s able”…..
      In other words, she is not pressing for each and every 2yo to get–or try to get– to the races. Some are ready, others need to grow into their larger bodies, some have setbacks, etc.

      But the data DOES show that THOSE THAT DO get to the races at 2 benefit from doing such.
      Furthermore< i am not reading her suggest that these 2yo's be raced heavily, like may are suggesting she is. Nor is she (I dont think) advocating for 2yo sales-breezes early in the calendar.

      It seems to me that 2yo's are raced LESS today than decades back. Look at the stats from some Hall of Fame horses from days long ago: you'll see 15, 20, 20+ 2yo starts sometimes! Nowadays, your August 2yo Gr1's are basically NW1x races for those with 1 or 2 starts under their belt .

      • Mindy

        regarding those in the ‘old days’ racing so much more at two…and, let’s face it, some of those raced more at two, than many ‘top’ horses, especially studs with promise, race in their whole careers!…anyway, a lot of things were done in ‘the old days,’ that we now regard as wrong, cruel, etc., just because they did that then, and some horses held up to it, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea now

        • Robert Millis

          my point was that:

          * many (here and elsewhere) are calling for less 2yo racing. I am arguing that such a wish is being granted — that there IS less 2yo racing now then in days past. Trend=Downward Slope’

          * hence, if we observe ‘Trend-Upward Slope’ for certain problems (fatalities, etc) occurring during that same time period; then basic Data Analysis would lead us to conclude that ‘racing 2yo’s” is not the cause.

      • Tinky

        Apparently you failed to read my post carefully. I have nothing at all against racing horses at two, but too many of them are wound-up for the sales, and suffer as a result. Dr. Durenburger disingenuously, or ignorantly, suggested that critics focus on racing, when it is the sales that the vast majority focus on.

        • Robert Millis

          actually I wasnt replying to your points.
          but, that said: I agree with your points on the problems created by early-season sales.
          but, your venom toward the Dr is incorrectly spewn: the critics ARE focusing on racing — despite the agreement we have that their focus might be better directed elsewhere

        • Robert Millis

          You’re saying that the vast majority of critics are view sales as being the problem and not on 2yo racing? I think you are dead wrong there

          That said, we agree that the sales/ sales-breezes / sales steroids ARE a problem ; one that can be quickly & easily remedied without widespread economic harm across the industry

          • Tinky

            Please provide some examples of serious criticism of 2yo racing. I am unaware of them, and have worked in the industry for 35 years.

          • Robert Millis

            methinks that your “worked in the industry for 35 years” highlights the problem here: the ole VACUUM SYNDROME

            The “industry” will not put the “2yo’s” issue on their plate because eliminating or reducing 2yo’s severely impacts their own financial interests.

            But if one points their ears towards the grandstand (fans) or — more importantly — towards the general public — he/she will tune in to chorus that has been singing this tune for a long, long time.

            Example? I posted many links on the other comment line on here. Check them out, If this thread does not accept links, then just do what I did: use a GOOGLE search…there they be

            All of this begs the larger need: to get said “industry” out of the decision-making of the big issues. Whats the definition of insanity?

    • Lehane

      I completely disagree with Dr Durenburger’s statement
      “And we’ve out-scienced them on that”.
      Totally agree with you Tinky.

      • Bryan Langlois

        Can either of you point to where she was specifically talking about the 2 Year Old breeze up sales. I think you guys are trying to extrapolate something from a quote that was not said. I agree with everyone on the breeze up sales and think they should not exist, but she was merely talking about 2 YO’s who were able to race safely. The science does show that properly racing a 2YO does improve their health and soundness long term.

        • Lehane

          Bryan, can you cite an independent study (not funded by the racing industry either fully or partially) that proves that 2 year old (and younger) horses who are put into training, is in these juveniles’ best interests in relation to their overall health?
          In my personal experience, I’m appalled at the high number of babies that are either ruined, injured or die from the abnormal stresses placed on them from when they’re broken in at 13-15 months of age and onwards into the training, prepping and management for their debut on raceday.

          • Bryan Langlois

            An independent study such as that likely does not exist, and obviously needs the proper funding to carry out. I am not disagreeing with you on that point and feel there should be independent studies on these things. On that same line of thinking though, your personal experience does not equal the validity of an independent scientific study either. Getting truly independent studies done in todays world can be hard, because the funding has to come from somewhere, and it likely comes either from an industry itself or those looking to prove that an industry is not what it claims to be. Bias exists everywhere and you can almost make any set of data tell you what you want it to tell you based on how you analyze it.
            I personally feel that if 2YO’s are brought along the right way and started later in the year than they currently are, then you can have positive health effects. Does that mean there needs to be some standardized set of rules or tests or evaluations on a 2YO that they would have to clear before being allowed to race?? Probably, but that likely will never happen. Again, you are dealing with two diametrically opposed forces in the racing world. What the tracks and horseman want, and what the welfare folks want. There can be common ground achieved here, but only if both groups are willing to give, and right now, that willingness is growing less and less in some ways.

          • Lehane

            It’s not just my personal experience, it’s that of racehorse owners, trainers, jockeys, trackwork riders, grooms, stable hands, vets, breeders, racetrack workers, racing officials, etc., etc.
            It’s common knowledge in the racing industry and the public are hearing more about it. For example, a well known successful ex-jockey was on the commentary panel for a big race meeting here in Australia. 2 year old racing was being discussed and he most certainly let it be known that an unacceptable percentage of these 2 years and younger horses in training, never make it to the racetrack for raceday.
            There was a study by the Keeper of the Stud Book of Australia over a period of 15 years which found that about 48% of the foal crop never made it to the racetrack for raceday. That is a shocking statistic.
            About a year ago, a 2 year old superbly bred colt owned by Coolmore broke down in training, he never got to race. At this point in time, for legal reasons, I cannot name him, but coming from a family that has been racing horses since racing began in Australia, I’m making progress into my investigation of his death and I don’t like what I’ve discovered so far.

        • Mindy

          the point of the 2 year old in training sales, is to offer ‘race ready’ babies, aimed at the earliest-of-the-early races at Keeneland, Gulfstream, in NY & CA, to get a quick ROI on your purchase, and give them winners to tout on the cover of the next year’s book

  • Big G

    the great hall of fame trainer P.G. Johnson who always said from day one.. it is never good to get these speed crazy 2 years olds from the the sales. all they the know is go, go, go, never learning how to relax and respond the right way ,, P.G. always said you need to get inside the mind of the horse and make them work in a positive manner in which they preform to their capability. but lets not forget what drives owners to race and push their horses to race as babies, the purse’s are very lucrative for 2 year old’s and if you have one that develop’s fast , you can make a lot of money very quickly , and as owners will tell you the bottom line is money,, it’s very costly to own and race thoroughbreds, and as far as after care of the thoroughbred I feel their should be a part of the overall money that the states receives from the racing handle,, make it go to a after care program in the state where that horse has raced, so these horses can live the rest of their lives on a farm, without the fear of Ending up going to the killers , or air france as they say, I could never understand how this animal the horse could be treated with such disdain after it’s racing career is over just behooves me, and on another note these after care facilities could also become revenue generating streams to the facility operator with horse riding lessons , carriage driving, pleasure riding, and possible adoption to other horse lovers, Everybody wins … big G .

    • Kristine

      Could NOT agree with you more, you NAILED it!!!

  • Hamish

    I hope this well prepared and from the heart article by Dr. Durenberger is read and considered by all her veterinarian colleagues. That group of industry professionals could then take the lead in assisting regulators in rolling back the number of approved therapeutic drugs to just a few, with longer times between treatment and racing/training. They could then eliminate anabolic steroids from race horses, outlaw from horse racing anyone that is found to possess or has purchased pig or cattle steroids intended to be used on horses, or any illegal growth hormones or blood oxygenation agent. Meaningful acts like this, with appropriate enforcement and lifetime bans that are sanctioned by vets, owners, trainers and racetracks, will prove to today’s animal lover that we all are truly concerned about the welfare of our beloved equine friends. Perhaps then, if we actually do what we say, horse racing will get another chance from the disenfranchised former fan, or maybe even the potential first time fan that has heard and is concerned about our “horses for entertainment” platform, won’t be so reluctant to give us a try?

    • Kristine

      WOW, just like Big G above, you NAILED it!!!

    • gus stewart

      Spot on, as many on this blog have agreed with your opinion. Only thing thats missing is anyone who heads our racetracks responding or reading the pr report, to give us why u and others are not correct on your assessment . They just refuse to do the obvious, which only means ego or ignorance your choice.

  • Dave Astar Astar Thoroughbreds

    Funny stuff if the real comparative issues were revealed. Instead, horse racing measures fatalities as a factor per 1000 starts, which is not comparable. Translate “the reported” 1.54 fatalities per 1000 to an annual mortality rate. Then utilize a controlled study population, not silly surveys or opinions, against both a farm and wild horse population annual mortality rates.

    Based upon my analysis of survey based farm populations, and biologist estimated wild horse populations, racetrack horse population fatality rates seem to be “much better” than wild horse populations, but “clearly worse” than farm horse populations for the typical racing age group. I think these results are reasonable based on my view of risks but not provable because only racing tries to track fatalities effectively. Nevertheless, racing’s per start race horse factors are super select because certain tracks (likely higher fatality tracks) fail to report consistently.

    As a guy who spent a lifetime understanding human mortality and health, I know there is a way to answer the risk issues properly if racing really wanted to. The first step? Involve statistical scientists instead of statistically hilarious and deficient, racing executives, accountants, horsemen, horsewomen, racing commissioners and vets.

    FYI , in healthcare doctors, nurses, executives, accountants, hospitals, clinics and insurance commissioners were also statistically hilarious and deficient. However, healthcare executives were smart enough to hire actuaries, underwriters and statistical scientists to discover the truth. Racing folks want to talk a good game but I’m not so sure racing they really want to know the truth.

  • [email protected]$k¡

    Those two year old stats are being looked at all wrong. Horses who start as two year olds are racing because they don’t have physical issues. If a horse didn’t race as a two year old it’s because they’ve had physical setbacks. So the horses who start out at two are probably better off physically than those who don’t.

    Simply put, horses race because they are sound. They aren’t sound because they race.

    People eat ice cream because it’s hot. It’s not hot because people are eating ice cream.

    These two year old stats have been looked at wrong for years.

  • Mindy

    just for a real-life reference, here are three babies, 2 have 7 races each, one has run 6 times…it’s just now August, 6 or 7 times…only one of them even has any workouts listed, they just race, they don’t even workout, because they’re racing so frequently
    all made their first starts in April
    Anna Kate
    Chateau
    Minaj
    only 1 win between them, many minor placings
    first 2 were very inexpensive auction buys, the third hasn’t been sold at auction
    none has what I’d call a terribly ‘flashy,’ or commercial pedigree
    …wonder what will become of them?

  • Robert Millis

    I usually get snarked-on when I present this POV @ this matter, but here we go:

    Kids–of the human variety — are also “still developing” and have yet to fully develop their bone structure’, etc, etc—-just like all the arguments we hear about 2uo “baby” race horses….right?

    The why are we letting them (the human variety) play baseball / soccer / track?

    But we do; with one primary condition: that they compete vs kids their own age.

    Sound familiar?

    • Tinky

      Why are you buttressing the straw man in the original post? Where are the serious criticisms of 2yo racing, as opposed to sales?

      • Robert Millis

        Geez Loiuse, get out of the house now and then, Tink!

        • Tinky

          I’ll take that as a “No, I can’t produce any.”

          • Robert Millis

            Google it..i posted 10 such links…apparently this system does not accept links,

            Get yourself out of the backstretch and into the general public. As I suggested elsewhere on here; we have an industry/sport that is on its death bed. Why do people like you insist on continuing to rely on the “experts” (i.e. horse industry participants) that go it to this point?

            Insanity = doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result

            The sport/industry is crying for a Turnaround expert…one from outside with a fresh set of eyes and who is not afraid to throw away the ‘assumptions’ and ‘givens” that have been written in stone by the insiders over the decades.

            Look at NETFLIX. Their CEO read the writing on the wall and threw out their old business model (delivering DVDs by mail) even while it was producing good cash flow.
            The result? Bingo!

            Anyone know if that guy is available?

          • Tinky

            You are apparently completely unfamiliar with my views, which have been expressed regularly on the PR since its inception.

      • ToppysMom

        Really? Do you not go on Facebook and other social media? Read articles by animal rights folks? Read the critical reporting done by the mainstream media? Really?

        Because if you did, you’d see that the great majority of average **horse** people, let alone the general public, thinks racing itself is awful, and don’t get them started on running 2-year-olds. (These people have little to no knowledge of 2-year-old sales, other than to shake their heads in wonder at how much money people pay for an untried animal.)

        Heck, most of them think horses shouldn’t be racing until they’re 5, and the Triple Crown should be for 4-year-olds, at the very earliest. (And again, I’m talking people who compete in other equine sports, not just those who have shelves of model horses. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

        Most believe that pretty much every racehorse (but especially 2-year-olds) dies a gruesome death, and the ones who don’t get “overbred until they can’t reproduce anymore and then they go to slaughter.”

        **Those** are the people Dr. Durenberger is talking about. And they far, far outnumber the folks who get their news from horse-racing sites.

        • Tinky

          Apparently you don’t read very carefully. I said “serious criticisms”, not those offered by completely uninformed people on social media.

          Durenberger claims that “you’ll see the argument that they race these horses as babies, and racing 2-year-olds is wrong.”

          Really? Where are the serious “arguments”? There aren’t any, and there shouldn’t be any great concern the possibility of them appearing, as they could be easily won. Except for one problem: the two-year-old sales, which is precisely why I took her to task for failing to address that issue.

          • ToppysMom

            You are missing her point and mine. It doesn’t HAVE to be a serious criticism or argument to **your** mind, the fact is, it is to theirs, and they have a lot more voices and lobbyists than racing does.

            As the doctor said, you’re not going to change their emotional response, which they will back up with their own reports and studies, with science that says otherwise. You’re not going to win it by saying, “sales are bad, racing is good,” because it’s all the same to them.

            So either you (as in the generic “you”) don’t care what these people think, and they are growing in numbers, and will, ostrich-like, watch racing die. Or you figure out how to convert those people to fans. Those are really the only two options.

          • Tinky

            Ridiculous! How on earth do you suggest that the industry counter ignorant, emotional complaints, if not with rational, fact-based arguments?

            Furthermore, on a list of concerns expressed by uneducated fans, 2yo racing would be close to the bottom. Integrity/cheating, drugs, breakdowns (only a tiny fraction of “concerned” outsiders believe that they break down simply because they start at two), whipping, high takeout, etc.

        • Michael Shea

          I have a feeling that those people are unreachable. And there is nothing that either a scientist or a lover of horse racing could say that would change the opinion of the unreachable.

          • Mindy

            exactly, I’ve tried, they don’t believe anything anyone outside of their circle-jerk says, no word of a horse’s fate from an owner or trainer is credible to them, no amount of reasonable argument can penetrate their hate

    • Mindy

      I kid can tell you when he or she is hurting, and much more is probably done to diagnose and rehab injuries, or injuries-in-the-making, than with a young horse…also, a kid can quit their chosen sport, not really the same with a horse

  • Ida Lee

    TBs were bred to run….if they can’t run, what can they do? The show horses must learn to do “tricks” ….people don’t want to see animals doing tricks either…..or we’d still have the circus…..that’s not “normal” behavior…..they can’t become “beasts of burden” and work the farm… not with those spaghetti legs….so we have horse racing….we love the sport, we love the TBs….so we try to make it as safe as possible for them and their connections…. I’ve believed that 2 is too young to race….I love the juveniles but if it hurts their development, then I can’t see why they can’t start actually racing at 3….the TB was born to run….watching the new foals trying to run hours after they’re born is such a joy to see and always brings a smile to my face…. so let’s make it as safe as possible and enjoy these most precious animals ….As an aside, I know this sport is not for the weak of heart….I’ve spent a lot of hours, along with many of you on this site, crying our eyes over the loss of an adored horse….so I’ll just close with Gretchen Jackson’s words when we lost Barbaro….”grief is the price we pay for love”….

    • Mindy

      all horses (and other equine species, as well as many other species) run within hours of their birth, if they’re able, if not, they might be eaten by a predator, it has nothing to do with being a TB…and many TBs have talents that lie other-than on the racetrack, they’re innate, just awaiting a trainer to refine it…look at Icabad Crane, not bad at racing, apparently thriving at Eventing…Touch of Class (JC name: Stillaspill), total failure on the track, Olympic Gold Medal winner at Show Jumping

      • Ida Lee

        Thank you for your comment….love Icabad Crane by the way ….if you don’t like horse racing, then why would you find Dressage or other exhibition sports acceptable……There are plenty of reports and videos of the abuse done to so-called show horses….the TB wasn’t bred to prance around looking pretty with curly manes and tail extensions either…..but, if you believe your statement that TBs were not bred to run and run fast, then there’s nothing I can say except we’ll have to agree to disagree…But, I want to say this….I do appreciate that there are people like you who think enough of the welfare of animals to contribute to forums such as the PR…again thank you for your contribution…BTW…I agree that 2-year-olds probably should not be racing…got a lot of information on that from a friend of mine who was a VP for the USHS in charge of horse welfare….

        • Mindy

          I love how an Olympic winning rider saw that there was eventing potential in IC, and took him on, as other equestrian performance trainers do all the time, when they comb through all the OTTB ads and rescue organization websites (something I also do, looking for familiar faces, hoping they find a safe, happy post-racing forever home)…I respectfully beg to differ that, while the TB was obviously initially bred to race, they have, for a long time, shown great talent for everything from jumping, to barrel racing, to ranch work (who knew a TB could have ‘cow sense’?!)…before the ‘Warmblood invasion,’ they were the main mount for hunter/jumper, show jumping, dressage, and eventing in the US

          there’s even a ‘bloodline brag’ on one of the rescue sites, where people can note what their OTTB is best at, so people can maybe start to track which ‘lines’ of racing horses are best at which 2nd career sports, as a guide for selecting an OTTB, if they’re looking to get a horse for a certain sport

          I do love horse racing, as well as some equestrian performance sports (jumping’s my favorite), but all have their bad apples, and abusive practices, and not at all limited to TBs (familiar with TWHs & ‘The Big Lick’?), eliminating racing & other performance sports would simply put a lot of horses out of work, and onto foreign dinner plates, the solution isn’t to eliminate, but to work hard to ensure welfare, punish/ban bad actors, and have transparency of this process, across all horse-related endeavors, unfortunately, it seems like TPTB in most horse-sport, and racing, organizations, can’t, or don’t want to, get their acts together

          thank you for your kind words

          • Ida Lee

            We may have a few different views Mindy but I can see where we believe exactly alike when it comes to protecting equine sport and the equine athlete….I have seen changes for the better in the last few years but, you know what, we can’t even totally protect human beings from some of the nastiness of life but we keep trying because all living things should be given a chance to be healthy and happy ….

          • Mindy

            agree completely, we especially owe to, I believe, the horses, because we create(breed) them, they wouldn’t exist, but for us, we bring them into these endeavors, they don’t get to choose, like human athletes do, we need to do everything we can, to eliminate every eliminate-able, obvious danger, and institute precautions, where danger can’t be eliminated (such as the safety rails in racing, and the flexible thingies along the inside of harness tracks); I am, in general, a traditionalist, but, IMHO, nothing should stay the same simply because ‘we’ve always done it that way,’ if a better, safer(for man &/or beast) way(or technology) can be utilized

          • Ida Lee

            Bingo !! 100% Agree….

  • Michael Castellano

    I find it hard to accept that the “scientific” argument that racing is “good” for two year olds and that this is a proven issue. Certainly training can and should begin at that age, but racing in competitive events that push them to the max is another question. They are not anywhere near their maximum in development as far as speed and strength. This is even recognized by racing itself, which schedules shorter races for them and does not allow competition against older horses. But when pushed in a race, they come quite close to the times older horses run. That is because of the evolutionary reality that horses sometimes needed to run for long stretches to escape predators and that the younger horses had to keep up, even from almost the time they are born. Except for one fact, that endurance was likely more important than speed, as horses were much faster than the predators. So the pack of horses would run sometimes for long distance at 25 – 30 mph, but were rarely pushed to run 40 mph + as they all would tire quickly except over a short distance to escape an ambush predator. So I take the view that economics is pushing the so-called “science” that “proves” two year old racing is good for them. The problem is that there is no way, in the face of economic pressures, to be objective about what age to begin racing horses. Having the Derby for 3 year olds and winning it’s huge economic value also lends pressure to start them at two. This has nothing to do with science.

  • Mary (M.R.) Perdue

    But isn’t pinhooking a big part of this too? Horses get sold and resold so many times and so early now, I don’t believe it was like that back in the 60s and 70s, when horses were bought and sold mostly to race, and they didn’t change hands a million times before they got to the starting gate. And lo and behold they raced more and longer. They weren’t being pumped up with steroids as yearlings and they weren’t being asked to work 10 second furlongs under tack. If you are the owner at the end of the pyramid you want to make money the same as everybody else did before you on the same horse, and the only way to do that is race them as soon as you can at 2. If we’re going to keep two year old races, they need to be even fewer and even later in the year so that more time is spent developing them and less time racing them, as Mindy so eloquently points out. BTW I’m reading “Headless Horsemen” by Jim Squires, great read, and it addresses the issue from a breeder’s point of view.

  • Linda Horn

    I’d like some honest input from trainers on when they know they have a TB or QH who isn’t going to make it as a runner. I bet over half would be considered more suited to a different career before they even step foot on a training track. That’s when to find them a home that will value them. It would not only avoid the “downward spiral”, but also eliminate the re-training necessary for a successful transition.

  • Noelle

    The article also has implications for the horse slaughter issue.

    While it is true that most in the middle (me included) eat meat, I doubt that anyone in the middle eats horses, or wants to eat them.

    Given that emotion rules American attitudes toward animals, it is hardly likely that racing will be able to attract new fans to come watch and follow the “equine athletes” knowing those athletes may be sent to slaughter one day and knowing that many “racing insiders” want to be able to slaughter them at will.

    Even if the vast majority of horses currently being transported for slaughter are not Thoroughbreds, a horse is a horse is a horse to many people. The general public, reading gruesome accounts of kill pens and foreign slaughterhouses, is not likely to think – oh, well – only a few of them are racehorses.

    • Mindy

      yeah, the focus of the horror of kill pens and slaughterhouses seems to be TBs, since they’re the ones with (sometimes) the easiest path-to-death to trace, but, how about we look at, for instance, the horses (both plow(Draft) and buggy(often off-the-track Standardbreds) dumped there by the Amish? often after *years* of faithful service

      • Noelle

        Mindy, couldn’t agree more. As I said, a horse is a horse. Either we eat horses or we don’t. Either we allow horse slaughter or we don’t. Either we regard horses as creatures worthy of regard – or we don’t.

        • Mindy

          agree completely, I think most Americans do not think of horses as a food animal, and most are okay with the use of horses for sport or work, at least to a point, to not go past a line to abusiveness…where that line is, may be moving, and changing, and debatable

  • Mindy

    I wonder if Dr. Durenberger has read any of our comments?

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