Measuring Future Performance

Buying a racehorse can be a gamble against time, soundness, and better competition, but never more so than when buying yearlings.

But researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University have found a correlation that might help remove some of the mystery in assessing yearling potential.

The team measured the skeletal dimensions of 260 Thoroughbred yearlings born in 1981 and 1982, and followed their performance throughout their racing careers.

It was discovered that while certain body measurements have a strong correlation to performance in stakes races, win percentages and the Standard Starts Index (earnings per start, standardized by year of birth), others had no correlation.

Measurements of body size, including height at the withers and hip, body length (measured from the point of the shoulder to the furthest point of the buttock), and heartgirth (circumference around the body) showed favorable correlations to career success. Tall, big-bodied yearlings were more successful in stakes races than their smaller peers. Larger horses were also more likely to be successful on turf.

The researchers called this finding "not entirely surprising," as a larger horse will often have a longer stride, which has been shown in previous studies to be favorably correlated with a higher win percentage.

Some measurements were found to have no correlation to performance. These measurements include distal limb length (vertical distance form the carpus to the ground), cannon circumference, and chest width.

This study was published in the May 2006 edition of the Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. Researchers include Adriana M Smith, BSc, W. Burton Staniar, PhD, and Rebecca K. Splan, PhD.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care. She owns a portly gray gelding named Duncan and dabbles in several equestrian disciplines, with an emphasis on dressage.

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