Written and Researched
by JANE ALLIN
INSIDE THIS REPORT
Part 1: Introduction
It has been nearly six years since Barbaro’s ill-fated breakdown during the 2006 Preakness and almost four years ago that Eight Belles was euthanized on the track after her epic race at Churchill Downs during the 2008 Kentucky Derby.
These and other high profile incidents have added fuel to the debate as to whether racing two-year old horses is a prudent decision.
In light of all the other factors involved - drugs, inbreeding, slaughter reality and overall exploitation of the Thoroughbred - what then is the answer to this controversial topic?
Much of the literature cites a proper training regimen as the key to reducing injury and catastrophic breakdowns in two and three year old horses although there is no defined consensus on what that should entail.
Indeed the science of bone growth and remodeling is well understood however the degree to which immature musculoskeletal systems can be pushed to extreme limits as experienced during a racing event is less than explicit.
Clearly there is much needed research to lend insight to the high incidence of lameness in the young horse and the causal relationship between injury and training methods.
What is unambiguous is that the duress the young Thoroughbred is subject to on the racetrack requires soundness that can only be achieved through appropriate training and conditioning.
And to be clear, there is no question that exercise builds a robust skeletal structure, just as in humans, but let’s face it, this argument gets pretty stale after a while.
Years ago horses did not race at the age of two but rather trained for celebrated three year old venues; catastrophic breakdowns and injuries were fewer and the typical horse made significantly more starts than horses today.
Of course, especially in North America, this stems primarily from breeding for speed rather than soundness and stamina together with the emphasis on “futurity” racing – races typically for two-year-olds, in which the entrants are selected long before the race is run, sometimes before the birth of the foal.
Moreover, most jurisdictions in the US require that a horse “break maiden” (i.e. win a race) before their fourth birthday such that virtually all Thoroughbreds are training and racing long before they are physically mature.
Nonetheless, statistics aside, it is not whether some Thoroughbreds race from the time they are two until they reach the age of five but more so the amount of “wastage” that equates to those who don’t. These statistics are far and few between. Today more than ever money is the name of the game.
While “old-time trainers” may send horses to their home stables for breaks during the racing season, some trainers will race horses year-round, he said. “Because of the cost of maintaining race horses and buying yearlings, owners want them to race.” 
In retrospect the answer seems crystal clear - the fundamental cause of lameness and high wastage rates in the young Thoroughbred is over-training by unscrupulous trainers.
In any case, the sad reality of the horse racing industry is the profoundly loathsome and sobering fact that the average life span of the horse is upwards of 25 years yet the average racehorse is lucky to survive until the age of 7; prematurely entering and finishing a short career, often euthanized or worse, the grim certainty of the slaughter pipeline.
However, racing authorities would like the public to believe otherwise as it is in their best interest to convince us all of their seemingly good intentions. This includes the notion that the demanding training and racing regimens are a necessity of conditioning when in fact it seems a pretense for the exploitation of young horses all in the name of money and return on investment.
As much as most would love to see racing return to the glory it once was, there are simply too many flaws that have paved the way to its tarnished reputation – drugs, over breeding, inbreeding and zealous greed embodying realms of wealth so removed from the norm it befits sin.
The horse racing industry seems to struggle in their quest to explain the rash of life-ending injuries and until they face the dilemma into which they have so intricately wound themselves how possibly can they continue to defend such immeasurable feats they have asked of their athletes?
Racing babies - fitting or detrimental?
It is exceptionally sad that we need even entertain the idea.
Part 1: Introduction | Part 2: Stages of Bone Growth in the Horse | Part 3: Effects of Training and Racing on the Immature Musculoskeletal System | Part 4: What Racing People Say: Fact or Fiction? | Part 5: The Verdict: Training Regimens - Too Much, Too Soon?