Racehorses have been getting ever faster in races over all distances, a study of finishing times over the past 162 years has found.
The findings challenge previous research that thoroughbreds had reached the limits of their speed. If anything, the improvement among sprinters is now accelerating.
“Over the past 15 years, sprinters have improved faster than over the previous 150 years,” says Patrick Sharman of the University of Exeter.
Sharman and Alastair Wilson, also at Exeter, analysed 616,084 race times in the UK by 70,388 horses between 1850 and 2012. They then took a closer look at races between 1997 and 2012, for which more extensive and accurate data was available, including the speeds of non-winners inferred from finishing times.
The results show that since 1850, the speeds of winning horses in elite races have improved by 9 – 13 percent, depending on the distance run. Winning horses now run between 1.5- and 2-metres-per-second faster than their counterparts did in 1850.
Patrick Cunningham, from Trinity College Dublin, says that teasing apart genetic and environmental influences will be tricky.
“It’s notoriously difficult to disentangle genetic from management factors in horse racing,” he says. “Inevitably, they are confounded, as better bred horses go to better trainers, for example.”
He thinks much of the improvement is down to selection.
The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: Selection for a ‘speed gene’ behind increase in racehorse speed