There is an always interesting conversation regarding the reduction in starts for thoroughbreds on the Interwebs today. Sid Fernando wrote a blog post which looked at a few numbers.
When a business goes through a sea-change in culture, demand and management, you can pretty much find a statistic to explain just about anything. They all have to be looked at in totality (with a good dose of common sense).
The way horses are raced seems to have changed a great deal since the 1950's, in both the thoroughbred and standardbred game. In harness, even in the 1980's the great Cam Fella raced and won 28 races in a row; all in top classes at dozens of racetracks across North America. Today the top three year olds might get behind the gate only 18 times. As Tinkster's comment says on Sid's piece, the average lifetime start for a thoroughbred in the 1970's was 30, while now it's 11.
One area that stands out to me in this discussion is horsemanship, and the culture change in it.
I had an old time horseman as my trainer in the 1990's while I was dabbling in the game. When lameness occurred, which is inevitable in most cases, the response was usually:
"No worries, we'll fix him up and bring him back in awhile"
The "awhile" might be a few months or more, but sure enough the horse would be back racing, sound. The most interesting thing was that I would get a vet bill and it would be peanuts. Fixing a lame horse up for peanuts? That was the horsemanship of the 1950's and beyond.
Now I tend to see vet work being substituted for horsemanship. Inject the lameness, medicate it, and race. The funny thing is that at times it doesn't even seem to work. I've seen lame horses in a race be back in three weeks with a huge vet bill who are still lame. We don't give them time, we throw money at them.
Then, the response that we see so often with factory stables and the commoditization of the animal: Drop him and get rid of him. The horse is lucky to last one or two more starts before disappearing.
These stables (who are a relatively new phenomenon), depend on turnover as part of their business model. There's no place in the stable for horses who take up space. When you cast off a horse, you cast him off and make him someone else's problem. It's "business".
Commoditization seems to happen in the yearling game too. Buy ten, put them all on the same rigorous training program for stakes riches, and hope one or two last to grab the brass ring in the breeding shed.
I don't profess to say how much of the above happens, which hurts the average starts per year number, but I think it's a part of it.
Read Sid's piece if you are interested in the topic. Again, it's here.
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