OK, so next Saturday sees Winx going for an historic seventeenth win at Group 1 Level. If she does that, she passes the world record of 16 Group 1 wins currently held by the great American gelding, John Henry. That will be some feat!
But it set me to thinking that, if I was asked to name the truly dominant racehorses of the last, say 15 years or so, I’d come up with pretty much the same top 4 list as almost any racing fan – Sunline, Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx. I know that leaves Lohnro out, but brilliant as he was, would you really put him above any of the others in terms of longevity of career and consistency?
The thing is, though, that all four of these champions were, or are, mares.
If you are old enough to remember Professor Julius Sumner Miller on television, you will recall that the good professor posed a science question, and then asked his audience – “Why is it so?” It’s worth asking the same question in this context.
Here are some ideas.
Back in the days before 2000, most colts were gelded quite early in their careers. To put it brutally bluntly, unless a colt had impeccable breeding, and impeccable stable manners to match, it was a lot easier for everyone to “lighten his load”. Geldings are much more tractable than colts, and having a stable full of testosterone-ridden colts was simply a pain. There had to be a real reason to bear that pain level, and often there just wasn’t. But a gelding operation doesn’t just quieten a horse down. It also means that the horse can no longer produce testosterone, and will, over the months following the gelding process, lose his stallion-like physical characteristics and develop a less muscled conformation than he would have otherwise achieved had he been kept as a stallion.
Back then, this physical change was compensated for by dosing the gelding with anabolic steroids and or male hormones, all muscle-bulking agents. Those things were restricted in 2004, and totally banned not long thereafter, leaving the trainers to rely on feeding and training techniques to bring the geldings to peak fitness.
The thing is, though, that mares stay completely natural in terms of hormone production. No need for artificial steroids here. So, a big mare like Makybe Diva and Black Caviar – Winx too, for that matter – or a particularly athletic mare like Sunline, can sometimes have a significant natural advantage over the geldings they race against.
Add to that, the fact that the modern thing seems to be to race colts only until they have ticked the black type box, and it’s pretty easy to understand why our top horses have been mares. The colts just don’t stick around long enough to build the winning lists of the mares. It’s also easy to understand why. If a colt has a black type win to his credit, the financial risk associated with continuing to race him is just too great. His reputation is only as good as his last win, and, if he has cracked the Golden Slipper, and by doing that become a multi-million dollar stallion prospect, then risking a loss in the next Group 1 he tackles just isn’t good thinking. A subsequent loss, or even worse, losses, discounts his value as a stallion by too much for owners to even contemplate the risk.
These thoughts were all provoked by it being Golden Slipper week, and by the hype that always surrounds what is really a mad scramble of a race. Sure, it’s worth a mozza, and the winner will go into the record books, but, if the winner is a colt, it is highly unlikely that he will put together a list of wins that will rival those of the mighty mares. Put more accurately, it is very unlikely that he will be given the chance to do that.
So, get used to it. Girls rule! And are likely to continue to do so.
(note: Winx image thanks to Winx Fan Website)