The recent breakdowns of horses in high-profile races have raised questions about the soundness of the Thoroughbred. How many breeders consider soundness to be an important actor when planning the matings for their horses? Apparently, not many.
Here's what prominent equine surgeon Larry Bramlage had to say about the situation:
"We (equine surgeons) probably do perpetuate some stallions' careers by improving the number of their horses that run by correcting their conformation. But ee (in the Thoroughbred industry) know who those stallions (with conformation defects) are, and we breed to them anyway. Every horseman can tell you which horses get offset knees, which horses get knock knees, and which horses tend to get bow-legged conformation.
"This is something that isn't only the case with racehorses, which was proven in a study of OCDs in Europe, where they have to approve the stallions for the Warmblood breeds. They have information to show genetically that some stallions are prone to producing (offspring with) OCDs, but people bred to them anyway. It had no effect of the popularity of the horses breeding. The only thing it had an effect on was how many of their offspring were performing well."
As Thoroughbred breeding has become more commercially-oriented over the years, it has become increasingly difficult for horsemen to put soundness ahead of such considerations as speed, precociousness, and the popularity with buyers of certain sires whose offspring are known for their brilliance but not their durability.
Unless The Jockey Club makes rules that prohibit the use of some animals with soundness and conformation issues as breeding stock, the hardiness of the Thoroughbred won't improve much, even with crackdowns on medication and improved racing surfaces.