In his response to a recent post on the changing nature of the breed, Tinky wrote:
The “shift towards power,” in my view, had less to do with producing better racehorses than it did producing young horses that caught and filled the eye at sales. Moreover, the more muscular types are far more likely to breeze fast in the two-year-old sales.
In the context of the evolution of the contemporary Thoroughbred, several factors have played a role, including the commercial appeal of the power type, which tends toward greater muscularity and considerable speed.
Power horses have been with us as long as we have bred blooded stock. But most of them were limited. They really could not go a distance; many others could not handle top-class animals because they needed to dominate the beginning of the race, then coast home.
Regardless of the reasons, most power horses couldn’t succeed against good-class stride horses and were shunted aside, but that changed remarkably with Native Dancer. Even more than his sire, Polynesian, Native Dancer was able to translate his power into racing performances that were not limited.
Reading Charlie Hatton’s comments about Native Dancer reminded me of one comment attributed to Wayne Lukas: that the animal he was seeking at the sales was a tall Quarter Horse. And to a very significant degree, that is the power horse in a phrase.
The great majority of such horses, however, are limited (like The Green Monkey, for instance).
But the single fact that made breeders use the increasingly powerful lines associated with Native Dancer is that they kept winning major races.
Then, their good looks with bulging muscles and sharp speed made these stallions and their offspring natural recruits for the commercial vendors, and as yearlings or 2-year-olds in training, they played a major role in the development of the modern commercial market.
One other trait of value to all breeders is that the power horse is predictable (within reason, I mean). If you breed one or buy one that “ticks all the boxes” or otherwise meets the criteria, that horse is likely to have ability. It may not stay sound, it may not be able to race past three furlongs, it may have a speed-crazy mind, or several other faults. But it is very likely to have speed.
In the state of racing for the past 50 years, that is all that’s required to get a lot of winners.
In contrast, the stride horse who flits over the track, uses himself well, is sound for 50 starts, and is sometimes about as wide as my hand may also be unable to win a six-furlong race above maiden $10k or $20k. And where’s a trainer to find a 12-furlong maiden special or 14-furlong allowances and handicaps for horses that really need them?
So the breed has been caught in a conundrum of changing physical types, increasing economic pressures, and altered social inclinations.