The Long Run

(By Avalyn Hunter)

Forty years ago, Secretariat blazed his way to one of the milestone performances of American Thoroughbred racing. Those who watched his breathtaking run in the 1973 Belmont Stakes (gr. I), whether live or on TV, could only marvel as the big red horse thundered home all alone. Even on a day on which the track had been playing faster than usual, this was a performance for the ages.

But records are made to be broken, as the old saw goes, and indeed, Secretariat's might well not have stood so long had it not been for two factors. First, there are simply very few challenges to his record in any given year. Even in Secretariat's own time, there were not all that many races written at 12 furlongs on dirt. With the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Woodward Stakes, and the Coaching Club American Oaks (all gr. I) all having been shortened to nine or 10 furlongs, there is now just one race carded on dirt at 12 furlongs likely to attract top-quality horses: the Belmont. Without opportunities for good horses to race at the distance, it is hardly a surprise that the record has not been broken or even seriously challenged; it would be more surprising if it had.

The other factor keeping Secretariat's time unchallenged is a seeming dearth of horses with any real taste for distance, at least on the dirt. While there are still a fair number of long-winded sorts on the grass--where the record for 12 furlongs is now down to 2:22.63, set March 23 by Twilight Eclipse at Gulfstream Park--none of the past four Belmont winners have managed to crack 2:30 for the distance, and we have not seen a horse run the last half-mile in less than 50 seconds since Summer Bird in 2009.

Obviously, when a race is staged, something has to win it. But we might do well to question why recent performances have been no better than they have been. Lack of opportunities for staying stock on dirt certainly creates a disincentive to breed or condition horses to go a distance, but the lack of proven stayers to breed from in turn limits the potential of the available stock. Perhaps the past few years have been merely a statistical fluke, but it would be a relief to once again see a horse that seems to truly relish a distance that not so long ago was truly the "Test of the Champion."

10 Comments

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ThoroGreats

EASY GOER, true stamina to go along with brilliant speed at sprint distances to 8f, and great stamina at 10f and longer.

11 Jun 2013 11:36 PM
LanceS

What's interesting here is that Belmont winners have been arguably better sires as a whole than Derby or Preakness winners.  While any race will be spotty, it's hard to beat the likes of A.P. Indy, Lemon Drop Kid, Birdstone, and Empire Maker among recent prominent sires.

12 Jun 2013 10:19 AM
SOUTHBENDFARM

LanceS hit the nail on the head.  Belmont winners seem to be the ones to sire Derby and Belmont winners yet our breeders dont seem interested in breeding a horse to go 1 1/2 miles.  Which is mind boggling as this means no Triple Crown winner as they have to be able to go 1 1/2 miles in the final race.  We have had several horse who should have won the race...Sunday Silence, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Point Given, were all horses who should have won the Triple Crown, but were either given a bad race in one of the 3, or simply were 2nd best in the Belmont.  I again call on our KY breeders to go to Germany and import 4 or 5 German bred stallions who seem to be replete with stamina.  Animal Kingdom is out of a German Bred mare, and he seems to love going a distance.  Hopefully he will become a top stallion and rejuvenate the Blushing Groom Sire line.

12 Jun 2013 3:19 PM
Lakeway

Totally agree with ThoroGreats, and have to add - and how much better might he have been if he'd only had good ankles...

12 Jun 2013 3:57 PM
Pedigree Ann

Sadler's Wells was a USA-bred. Many current USA-breds handle a distance of ground when trained in Europe. It is not so much the bloodlines as the training methods used. The emphasis on speed training while doing less training total plus long rests between races makes it hard to build the muscle, bone, and hard to run a fast 12f.

13 Jun 2013 9:50 AM
mz

I don't know where I was reading this but someone made a comment about how some fillies and mares were getting set to run a "distance" AND THEY WERE TALKING ABOUT A 1 1/8 MILE RACE!!

Sorry about the capitals but I couldn't believe it!  

As long as they keep cutting down the classic races in distance, who in N. Am. is going to breed for distance?  How come we can't be more like Australia: the Melbourne Cup is 2 miles but even though that is their premier race, they're still able to breed Black Caviar's?  

I think we miss a lot by breeding to the mean of short races and I worry that eventually we'll end up mashing together quarter horse racing and thoroughbred racing.  

(Ok - rant over)

p.s.  I am looking forward to Animal Kingdom at Royal Ascot -- even if he is only going 1 1/4.  First time since Omaha that a K.D. winner is running at Royal Ascot.  Too bad he's retiring soon after --I would have liked to have finally seen a K.D. winner in the Arc.

p.p.s.  Even though I rant, I am also looking forward to the speedy Wesley Ward babies shoot down the track at Royal Ascot.  

13 Jun 2013 12:08 PM
p funchess

The Belmont winner had 5 hits of  Turn To (twice thru Hail To Reason) .....'nuf said.  

13 Jun 2013 1:56 PM
Cassandra.Says

The horses running today do not have different genes from their parents and grandparents. How could they?

There were some splendid staying pedigrees going to the post in the Belmont.

When the service fee of a horse like Dynaformer rises from $5,000 to $150,000 it's hard to maintain that breeders shun stallions who are stamina sources. What Classic winner has not been given a fair shot at stud?

Horses are not so narrowly specialized that we should think it normal that a horse could get 10f on a dead track with the elan Orb showed in the Derby and subsequently be running on fumes and stalling out.

Who will fault Revolutionary's pedigree? Linebred to Hoist the Flag/Tom Rolfe/Ribot through a mare who pressed the pace in the G1 10f Alabama and drew clear in 2:02 1/5.

Observers and connections said Revolutionary characteristically over-ran the finish of his breeze. He never blew out the iconic match.

Let me suggest something: when your horse hasn't done anything in his work he hasn't got anything out of it.

The only change in breeding patterns I can see is the embracing of inbreeding fostered by this generation of pedigree consultants.

Medication, now, there's a change.

If one of the effects of diuretics was a need for a long recovery time between races, what would the Belmont look like? What would training look like?

Points to ponder.

13 Jun 2013 2:57 PM
chucky

Pedigree Ann - Curious about your statement. Who are these current USA bred that are taking europes races? As they say they all get there but are these top group 1 races?

Sure training methods could potentially add a few more yards of distance to a horse running ability but there is no way we can ever train a Black Caviar to win the Melbourne Cup.

MZ - The australians breeds primarily sprinters. They hardly breed for their premier race the Melbourne Cup. Sort of how we do not breed for the triple crown anymore.

BIG QUESTION - chicken or the egg? why were the great prestigious races shortened? Was it the tracks? or was it the connections of the horse knowing the stock couldn't run that far? Me thinks it's the latter.

14 Jun 2013 4:08 PM
predict

southbendfarm,

I would add Big Brown to that list of who should have won the TC.  I agree with Pedigree Ann( is your name Ann or is it a play on "analysis"?), that training is so different between American and European racing, and our constant use of Lasix makes me believe we don't develop the strong bones needed for the stress of distance racing. The type of race training we have shows in our dominance of the Kentucky Derby and Breeder's Cup Classic, where as Europeans dominate the BC Turf. I agree with the German angle, I love to see the presence of Acatenango in a horse's dam side  especially when linked with a sire side showing the speed of Ahonoora as we see in Animal Kingdom.

15 Jun 2013 3:17 PM

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