Horses "fragile"? You're joking. This is an animal of several hundred kilo that can run at 60-70kph for a significant distance (3-4kilometres), that can sprint at over 85kph for a 1/4mile (a quarter horse) and all the while carrying a human burden. They are an incredibly powerful animal. They survived against every kind of danger for millions of years before domestication. In the Middle Ages they carried knights into battle. The draught horse was the first version of a tractor.
The area where they can be vulnerable is internal infection - as any living creature can be - and sometimes tendon inflammation and stress fractures when pushed to their limits. But that isn't most horses. They are injured far less than we are. They are far better athletes. But breeding has produced a near unimprovable animal. That is the one area we have not employed to produce the best human athletes. So we rely more on training, technique and drugs.
Think about this- in cycling- like the Tour de France, etc time only matters in relation to others. No one really cares what the winning time is for each stage or time trial, just how much the winner won by.
In horse racing- the time is irrelevant to who finished in what place.
Running- the final time matters to people. You can win the 1500 Gold but everyone will talk about how it was the slowest, fastest, whatever winning time ever.
Posters seemed to have missed something. Thoroughbreds have been assiduously bred over generations to produce the fastest possible racing animal of the equine species. Aside from the occasional freak - Secretariat - they haven't got much better, and can't. We have yet to do the same with humans. We look for other ways to improve.
Secretariat was a great race horse, but “freak” compared to all other thoroughbred race horses is a matter of opinion … Opinions differ, but the consensus among various “all-time” thoroughbred ranking polls places Secretariat 2nd behind Man O’War (who raced between 1919-1920) … I don’t have personal opinion on these types of polls.
Secretariat won 16 of his 21 career races (1972-973) … Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973, but he also lost 3 Stakes races in 1973 … The Hall of Fame Trainer Allen Jerkens beat Secretariat with two different horses in two of those Stake races … The real “freak” performance was Secretariat’s win in the Belmont Stakes where he won, by the now-considered, 31 lengths … There are varying opinions on whether this performance has the highest-ever Speed Rating using Beyer’s original method (which I use for cross country performance) or with the current Beyer Speed Figure method used by the Daily Racing Form … It is possible.
A horse named Sham beat Secretariat in the Wood Memorial just weeks before the Kentucky Derby ... Secretariat went on to win the Kentucky Derby, two and a half lengths ahead of Sham.
In an interview with trainer Allen Jerkens in 2011 (he died in 2015), Jerkens stated that Secretariat was a great horse, but he didn’t think he was any better than Citation (1948 winner of the Triple Crown) or Spectacular Bid (winner of the Kentucky Derby & Preakness, but was 3rd in the Belmont Stakes after hurting his hoof before the race).
After the Triple Crown in 1973, Jerken’s horse Onion (5-1 odds) beat Secretariat at the Whitney Handicap in Saratoga (by 1 length) ... four days before the Whitney, Onion broke the track record at Saratoga Race course at 6-1/2 furlongs, and various handicappers gave Onion a change to upset Secretariat … Jerkens noted that Onion was very good, but not as good as Secretariat … Onion’s jockey understood the “track bias” of the Saratoga course (a softer-slower inner rail lane compared to outer positions), and after taking the lead, intentionally let Secretariat try to take the lead coming through the rail position … Onion’s jockey pinned Secretariat close the slower rail position and gained a winning advantage.
In a later race at Belmont Park (Woodward Stakes), Jerkins beat Secretariat again with a horse named Prove Out (16-1 odds) by 4 1/2 lengths … Secretariat was a great horse, but his one freakish “Bob Beamon-type” performance has something to do with his reputation.
Thoroughbred horse breeding is tightly controlled ... Artificial insemination is not permitted which limits the number of mares that can be impregnated by a top stallion each year … However, the notion that “Breed the Best to the Best and Hope for the Best” is common in horse racing … So I agree with those who believe thoroughbreds have already risen to a “peak-type” level overall.
Not sure humans have evolved much since writing was first discovered.
With respect to high school cross country, I see little to no difference in the “average of average performance levels” at the varsity level … This is a range where I suspect little has changed over decades with respect to training, coaching, etc … I have noted an overall increase in performance levels at the “above average to elite" levels which may be due to better training, coaching, and knowledge of the sport implemented by runners & coaches.
The problem is that no one has written a once a runner like book for horses. Without the motivation this instills, horses won't be much interested in training hard, instead chosing to focus on careers in Hollywoo.
What has happened to racehorses in the last 50 years or so is actually quite unfortunate. Theres even an argument that they are worse than they were (as in less durable, less robust and no greater speed endurance).
But remember that racehorses are basically middle distance athletes. 300 years ago, they raced over 2 miles or 4 miles frequently but that became unfashionable quite quickly and people wanted horses racing over one and a half miles. Then at some point in the twentieth century they began to prefer horses running over one and a quarter miles, or just one mile and now there is even a preference for sprinters over 5 or 6 furlongs. This is all over the world, not just the US. The French Derby was reduced in distance from a mile and a half to a mile and a quarter, the Irish Derby is open to older horses now, the longer distance races confine a horse to a zero career as a stallion and a recent Epsom Derby winner was gelded once it was sent to Australia because it was considered too much a long distance athlete to have any appeal at stud.
Because they are relatively fragile, with 4 thin legs supporting a heavy body and neck and bones which fracture relatively easily due to repeated stress or tendons and ligaments that fail due to strain, racehorses have always done middle distance training. Intervals, and not many of them. Or short fast runs. If you train them too much, modern racehorses break down.
The reason for this is that its big business. Investors need a quick return on their money. A stallion which can produce foals which can win races as two years olds over 5 or 6 furlongs will make money quicker than one who produces mile and a half horses. And then it evolved some more, and people are breeding horses that will excel in the sales ring, and bring in high prices, because their breeding is fashionable.
All this has led to terrible inbreeding, mainly to Northern Dancer and Nearctic. Those fast horses over 2 miles and 4 miles, who could go on to a different career in the showjumping ring don't really exist any more. Their bloodlines have been lost. And they are becoming ever more inbred, since few outcrosses are available.
This is Dr. Fager's world-record mile from 1968. The record still stands.
Dr. Fager regularly carried the highest weight (130+ lbs) in the field. He was a fearsome racehorse and had some a rivalry with the great miler Buckpasser. (Buckpasser had to be ridden very carefully because he would pull himself up when he got to the front - you had to time your move for the finish line. This is horses.)
It would be interesting to monitor human and horse brain activity during competition and training. Our brains allow us to unlock higher levels of performance during a race vs a workout…like how it feels way easier coming through the mile in a 5k vs running a mile interval at 5k race pace. Would be curious if horses experience this or they’re just always running at the same effort level.
He may "know more than you..", but that doesn't mean he's not an idiot. All those horses ran on the same track as Secretariat, he destroyed them. He destroyed older horses later in the year. His records still stand. He was a freak horse. Would other great horses have been able to hang with Secretariat and occasionally bet him? Probably, but the numbers don't lie, Secretariat would come out on top in these dream races for more than any other of the super horses. PS: I don't think he knows more than you, most of what he says is BS.
Although the explanation in this interesting article never seemed completely clear to me (why one heart beat per stride absolutely limits speed - e.g. why some extraordinary horse could not have more distance per stride), the interesting thing is it is from 1996, and it seems to have gotten it right... (Ooops, I see LetsRun will not let me paste the scan I have of the paper copy of the article - I looked online, and it is on their website, but most of it behind a paywall...)
Once again, records tumbled at the Olympics and one could be forgiven for thinking that the human body's capabilities are limitless. But although Olympic athletes of the human kind break records with regular monotony, horses...
Actually, "Beamonesque" would be a pretty apt description of Secretariat's Belmont. Since the international rankings began (began in 1977, but US included since mid 1990s) the two highest rated horses are the European, Frankel (generally accepted as the best horse ever to run in Europe) and Flightline, a US runner who was undefeated, never fully extended, and who retired last year.
Beyer does use track variants (accounting for whether the track is faster or slower than standard).
For Flightline, he had a top figure of 126 (equates to carrying 126 lbs) the second highest this century behind another great horse, Ghostzapper (128).
Beyer wasn't calculating figures when Secretariat won the Belmont, but he did make a retrospective figure for Secretariat, which came out to 139. That's worth about six lengths, a long way in a horse race (say 20 yards).
Looking at the Timeform Rankings (English system which has run since the late 1940s) Frankel is top all-time at 147, with Flightline at 143. Converting various other numbers to TImeform figures would make Secretariat's Belmont Stakes worth in the low 150s.
There is little doubt that Secretariat's Belmont is the single greatest performance by a thoroughbred, and that no horse would have come within a couple of lengths of him on the conditions of the race that day (1 1/2 miles on dirt).