I have just returned home from the Keeneland April 2-year-olds in training sale and I am, at the moment, very disturbed about the trends going forward in the 2-year-old sale venue.
My business partner, Jeff Seder, and myself have long been a fan of the 2-year-old sales – since these sales started. We feel that it provides our clients with the opportunity to see a horse in training, see how they move, how they behave under stress and look at a pre-selected group of horses selected by some of the most gifted horse people in our business.
We have many clients who prefer to purchase 2-year-olds for the reasons I listed above. As many of you are aware, we observe the breeze show using a high-speed, high-definition camera at up to 500 pictures per second.
We take very precise measurements ranging from stride lengths, stance time, limb segment velocities, center of gravity deviation, step lengths, etc. Our technique affords us the luxury of understanding how the horse interfaces with the track, and, what happens to a horse's gait as he goes fast. For us, it is not how fast the horses go, it's how each individual goes fast.
The trend, in the last few years in the 2-year-old under tack shows has been to pit each horse against the clock. Historically, the fastest horses have sold for the most money. OBS and Keeneland had, a few years ago, installed artificial surfaces with the idea of becoming a bit less dependent on weather conditions, and in hopes that the new artificial tracks would be safer for the horses training on them. And, perhaps they thought that for auctions, tracks could be groomed so a horse that had less speed, would gain a few ticks, and be easier to sell.
None of us wants catastrophic injuries to happen to our horses, and every seller out there wants to make money. And it certainly seems that these tracks are maintained so that on the breeze show day, even a not-so-fast horse can break the 10-second time barrier (for one furlong) or get near it.
My business partner, Jeff Seder, is the brains of our approach and understands the physics involved in creating a surface that is safer to the horse. However, Jeff will tell you that one of the most dangerous things for a horse to do is go fast. And, when a bad moving horse is given a surface that catapults him along faster than that horse can actually go, bad things can happen.
Jeff believes the forces exerted on a horse's legs can be explained by an equation: the forces that CAN be experienced by the horse are a product of the mass of the horse (his weight) times the SQUARE of the velocity. Hence, as the horse goes faster, forces on his legs can be increased EXPONENTIALLY.
So, with the risk of oversimplifying it, lets say, for example, that one has a 1,000-pound horse going 40 miles per hour (about 11 1/5 second/furlong). His legs are an engineering miracle, with flight patterns (foreleg retraction before stance phase) and a series of anatomical fulcrums and pulleys that reduce the strain on his system going fast. BUT, should something go wrong during that breeze, (a stumble, an uneven training surface, the horse shies, etc.) there is the POTENTIAL of the horse experiencing many tons in ft-lbs/second of force (1,000 pounds x [58.4 ft/sec X 58.4 ft/sec]).
Increase that speed to 45 mph (increase 7.3 ft/sec or about a 12.5 percent increase; i.e., 1.4 seconds a furlong from say 11 1/5 to 9 4/5), and there is an exponentially increased risk of an extra 53.3 times (7.4 squared) ft-lbs/second force from the travelling inertial mass of 1,000 pounds.
That exponential increase in the forces experienced by these young 2-year-olds may be what is creating “outs” and RNAs via X-ray issues for so many of the consignors, since horses risk injury, and can be injured during the breeze show.
If consignors can't sell their horses because agents cannot get veterinary approval, no one is happy. The consignor can't sell the horse, the customers can't buy the horse, and the veterinarians, while being the ONLY ones making money out of this process, get blamed for being honest.
At this last sale at Keeneland, there was a damp, cool Polytrack that had tail wind gusts up to 20 mph. The workout times were literally off the chart. One horse worked an eighth of a mile in 9 2/5 seconds, and there was a quarter-mile work that shaded 20 seconds. The Keeneland breeze show was one that broke many records, and, in the process, probably broke many horses. Our clients vetted a total of a dozen horses, and two managed to pass X-rays. Both of those horses worked with a diminished tail wind, and/or worked slower than 10 flat, hence going just a tad slower than so many.
The 2-year-old sale's dependence on the stop watch, quite simply, seems to have gotten totally out of hand. Tell me please, WHEN will a racehorse EVER have to go an eighth of a mile in 10 flat or less in the rest of its career?
The answer to this problem, may be simple. We need to slow these horses down.
It can be done most simply by slowing the training surface.
A goodtrack superintendent who knows about training surfaces may know how to accomplish this safely, and on big race days perhaps racetracks should do the same thing. SLOW the racetrack down. DON'T spend hours compacting surfaces, etc. Simply just SLOW the surface down.
If the fastest horse goes 11 seconds a furlong, then the buyers will look at that horse. We did when we bought champion sprinter Informed Decision from an 11-second breeze at a 2- year-old sale. When the dust settles, it's not the horse that can barely walk after going an eighth of a mile in less than 10 seconds that wins the big races. It's the horse that can put together 8 to 10 furlongs at an average near 12 seconds a furlong.
A good horse at speed, is also a good horse at 11 seconds a furlong. A bad moving horse moved forward by a fast training surface is at a lot more risk physically and also at more risk of not selling at all, for any price, due to injury.
Overemphasis on the stop watch is overimplification. It may be destroying the welfare of the horses showcased, hurting the livelihoods of the consignors, and ultimately, putting our venue at great risk from PETA type animal rights groups.
Perhaps it isn't that hard of a problem to fix. It is something we can do TODAY.
Every horseman in the 2-year-old market needs to stop battling the stop watch in these breeze shows. And we are fast running out of time to have any control over our destiny.
Patti Miller is vice president of the Pennsylvania-based consulting company EQB.
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