Updated: Feb 17
In 2021, investment & participation in Thoroughbred racing continues but the statistics point to the fact that today’s thoroughbred does not ‘show up’ like his peers of 1960. The real question is not will he/she achieve on the track but rather 'why' in this time of advanced knowledge and support is the modern thoroughbred not producing the performances of his ancestors. What has happened in the space of 60 years? Then, the US Jockey Club statistics documented 12 ‘starts’ versus the average of 3 ‘starts’ noted by leading US Trainers in 2020 (www.ownerview.com). Simply put, today’s owner needs four racehorses to enjoy what one racehorse was doing in 1960*.
With the arrival of equine compounded feed stuffs in 1957, horse owners and trainers gradually ceded away the nutritional care of their horses to others. Today, feeds are mixed centrally and distributed widely to end users for the purpose of convenience. Where originally the thoroughbred had a low starch/high fiber diet of oats and Omega 3 (through flaxseed supplementation), the modern regime has shifted the diet towards high starch/low fiber convenience feeds. The result has been a steady increase in hind gut lactic acidosis (Sarah Ralston, Equine Practice, July/August 1994) in our equine athletes. The increased acidity in the bloodstream also yields to subsequent calcium excretion in the urine and consequential bone fractures.
Today. soya (with one fifth of the Omega 3 content of flaxseed) has practically replaced flaxseed as the protein source in equine nutrition. This small change has seen a significant drop in Omega-3 & 6 (needed for prostaglandins) in the diet with consequential gastro-intestinal and joint issues. Other dietary changes include those recommended by the
National Research Council (NRC) in 1978, who suggested doubling the recommended calcium levels for horses with a subsequential increase in levels of Osteochondrosis (OCD) and Osteopetrosis in the equine population (Krook & Maylin, 1989, Racehorses at risk: Over nutrition, drugs, breakdowns , Cornell University Press). Additional moisture in the diet too has lead to excess mould formation in convenience feeds and with severe exposure causes liver damage (Buckley, Creighton & Fogerty. Irish Veterinary Journal, Vol 60, No 4).
The solution to having thoroughbreds who run more often is to feed the way the notable Trainers of 1960’s did. Recall the successes of USA ‘Hall of Fame’ Trainer Frank Whitely (1915-2008), who ran the legendary stallion Damascus 32 times and won 26 or the UK Training Dynasty of H.S. ‘Atty’ Persse (1869–1960) Trainer of the Tetrarch and UK Champion Trainer (1930), his pupil/assistant Captain Sir Cecil Boyd–Rochfort (1887 – 1983) 5 times UK Champion Trainer and his pupil/assistant Sir Henry Cecil (1943– 2013) 10 times UK Champion Trainer. These legendary trainers were particular about feeding their horses correctly with Atty Persse being one of the first UK based trainers in the 1920’s to import Canadian oats due to their superior quality and low moisture content.
A relatively low starch diet, such as oats with the correct level of vitamins, minerals and supplemental (properly sourced) Omega’s is the key. In the opinion of this author, not only will sounder horses evolve but as ingredients are added by the end user, at the point of use, there will be less issues with contamination (with prohibited substances) along the food chain ........... a problem that is not going away anytime soon.
Author: Dr. Richard. J. McCormick, M.V.B, Dip.Eq.St, M.R.C.V.S.
Licensed Veterinarian (Kentucky, USA, Ireland & United Kingdom)
*Breed average: Starts per Starter – Lifetime
(Cecil Seaman, 2020 provided by kind permission)