Two-year-old Thoroughbred horses are still foals in late winter and early spring. Many aren't even fully two years old when they're entered in 2-year-olds in training sales. And then worked faster than most will ever run again.
That's right, at this tender age, we expect our Thoroughbred foals to run a furlong in 10 seconds flat. And lately, that hasn't been good enough. Now, the standard for "excellence" at a juvenile sale is a sub-10-second work.
(Here's Deirdre Biles' notes on the weekend's OBS February works, where a record number of hips ran blisteringly fast works. An amazing 21 runners came in under the 10-second mark, and over 40% of the 2-year-olds scored works of 10 seconds flat or less.)
There's no question why this is the case. Come sale time, one- or two-fifths of a second can add or subtract 50% of a horse's value.
Sadly, that's true. In the absence of good horsemanship -- the failure to recognize potential based on conformation, on a walk-through, or on a gallop -- the all-out work times of 2-year-olds have become a go-to number for today's numbers-giddy buyers. Forget what he looks like... don't worry if she requires daily bute because of all the pounding her joints are taking... completely ignore those things because this hip ran a 9-3/5 furlong!
Frankly, who cares? Who cares if -- on a given day, on a given track -- an immature foal can be slapped and cajoled into running a tick or two off of a "standard" that is set irresponsibly low? What does this actually prove? To me, it says the foal has been denied a chance to develop physically and mentally in order to hurry him into a training regimen way too early in life. It says that the colt or filly has been pushed beyond what such a young foal should ever have to do. It says that the horse is being prepared as a champion in the sales ring, rather than on the racetrack.
All to accomplish a bullet work in one or two furlongs.
The Thoroughbred has been developed over centuries to run from six furlongs to four miles, running against well-matched competitors, with the goal of coming back to do it again in a couple of weeks. NOT to sprint 220 yards against the clock a couple of days before a juvenile sale, with the goal of loosening up an extra $50 grand from the purse strings of a prospective bidder.
I think one of the classiest operations out there is Adena Springs, whose policy has been to gallop its juveniles under tack without the physically- and mentally-damaging fast works. If I were in the market for a young racing prospect, I wouldn't look much further than the Adena roster, or offerings from similarly-responsible sellers. Sadly, the market has punished these sellers with lower sales prices.
What are we thinking?!?