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One of the most frequent comments that agents and their buyers make about yearlings is “not big enough.” They frequently will say this about yearlings that are 15.1 or 15.2 hands and, with normal growth, should reach 15.3 or even 16 hands. That, apparently, is not enough horse for the premium market. So, what is “big enough”?

The premium market, from the evidence of the stock that brings the greatest profit, wants a yearling from 15.3 to 16.1 hands. That narrow range is the preferred size for the yearling all buyers want to purchase.

From the point of soundness, most of the horses we have today are too big. Yes, the best of these titans have great ability, but immediately, one hears that this or that horse could have been sounder.

This has not always been the case. In fact, the champions of the past were smaller, raced more often, and had longer careers. They were not inferior horses to the ones we have today.

Just consider Triple Crown winner Whirlaway. As a 4-year-old, he was all of 15.3 hands high, weighed 1,000 pounds, and girthed 74 inches. There was plenty of him, both in scope and mass, but he was not over-tall, nor over-muscled.

The son of English Derby winner Blenheim was top-class at 2, 3, 4, and 5, winning 32 of 60 races.

From the strength of materials in basic physics, as a material increases in length (like the length of a cannon bone), it must increase in diameter at a greater ratio to retain the same strength. But having a horse with heavy cannons slows the animal down.

So, the bitter knot of contradictions faces the breeder with this difficulty: 1) As horses get bigger, they tend to be either slower or (if made with lighter, faster bone) more fragile. 2) To breed a premium commercial yearling, it needs to be big. To breed a sound, long-lived racehorse and top athlete, it needs to be less big. 3) The demands of the commercial marketplace are in conflict with the best practices for producing the most effective racehorses, but only a handful of immensely wealthy breeders have the privilege of ignoring the commercial marketplace.

What needs to change?

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