Over the last 50 years, racing has trended towards "speed" to the detriment of "stamina." The obvious casualty of the speed bias is non-sprint race distances. And over the past half-century, we've seen more and more tracks re-defining their signature races by cutting the distance asked of the runners. More insidiously, everyday races -- claiming contests, allowance races, lower level stakes -- are regularly shortened to attract today's sprint-favoring Thoroughbreds.
Now, the "classic" distances of 10 and 12 furlongs haven't disappeared from track schedules. The problem is, most races carded at these distances are written for Classic-quality horses. What about the horses that run a grade or two (or more) below this level of competition? If a horse is bred as a router but doesn't rise to the level of big stakes, trainers have two options: don't run him, or enter him in races that are a poor aptitudinal fit. Raise your hand if you think most trainers choose option "A."
The truth is, simple economics force trainers to run horses in sprints if distance races aren't available. I blame this reality for a lot of the breakdowns and ever-present injuries that plague the sport. Sprints are all-out efforts that are torture on muscles and joints.
The Thoroughbred was developed over several hundred years -- tracing back well beyond the beginnings of the breed as it's known today, to the war horses that are the distant ancestors of even the first names in the Thoroughbred Stud Book -- to combine speed with stamina. Physiologically, that's what they're built to do -- what breeders developed in them over dozens and scores of generations. Now, in the course of a handful of generations, we've changed the rules and have bred Thoroughbreds to be fragile, light-boned animals that combine speed with more speed.
Kudos to tracks that card longer races. Keeneland's ongoing April meet (schedule) actually saw several race distances increase this year. A lot of folks on the ground floor and in the middle echelons of the racing establishment have been grumbling over the past decade. It seems we might have reached a point where those voices are being heard.
Next, I'd like to start seeing $20,000 claiming races run at 11 furlongs, and allowance contests for 4yo+ mares and fillies going 2 miles.
Then, breeders would have a good reason to seek out stamina-oriented and sound bloodlines.