The general racing public seems obsessed with the idea that one day in the not too distant future genetics will be able to produce a “superhorse.” Putting aside the question of how likely that really is to happen, let us consider some scenarios if it DID happen.
In the first scenario geneticists do come up with the secret to breeding a superhorse. But that secret is very closely kept. As a matter of fact, only one person (or maybe one corporate entity) in the world possesses this secret (the one with the most $$$$$$$$$$$ to fund all the necessary research).
So one person possesses the secret and is able to breed one superhorse per year. Barring injury and other unforeseen circumstances, naturally that one superhorse sweeps the Triple Crown. He wins the Derby by 20, the Preakness by 25, and the Belmont by 45 (by some number larger than 31 anyway). Secretariat????? Who was he?????
The next year another superhorse comes along and repeats the same scenario. How BORING would that be????? There would be no sense of suspense to the Triple Crown at all. It truly would be “a foregone conclusion.”
In the best of all possible worlds these two superhorses would meet on the track sometime after their respective Triple Crowns. Now that might be an interesting race!!!!!!! Except it would never happen.
It would never happen because the Triple Crown is the Holy Grail of racing (feel free to imagine an emoticon for sarcasm at this point). Nothing else matters in the racing year after the Triple Crown. The first superhorse would be retired to stud to sire more superhorses immediately after his Belmont coronation. The same for the second superhorse.
This of course would lead to plenty of discussion as to whether the first one was better than the second one or vice versa, but verbiage is all it would be. “Records live; opinions die.” It would be no substitute for the real thing, seeing the two meet on the track and deciding superiority the old-fashioned way.
Now let us consider the opposite scenario. Geneticists discover the secret to breeding superhorses. Only this time the secret becomes open and available to all. So all of a sudden you would have a slew of superhorses competing against each other.
That might sound exciting, but it would end up being same ole, same ole. Nothing much would change. The times would be faster, but the overall playing field would remain about as level as it ever was. The more things change superficially, the more things remain fundamentally the same.
Now let us consider a third scenario, one between the first two. In this scenario about a half-dozen people (or corporate entities, the ones with the most $$$$$ of course) hold the secret of breeding a superhorse. They each can breed one superhorse a year. So now you have six superhorses per year if all goes well with all of them.
That might sound exciting, but the outcome would be more similar to the first scenario than the second one. Three of the six would be colts; three of the six would be fillies. God forbid that the fillies actually race against the colts!!!!!
Of the three supercolts, one would be a supersprinter, one would be a supermiler, and the third would sweep the Triple Crown (just like in the first scenario). God forbid that any of the three would ever actually meet on the track!!!!! Their human connections would make sure that such a DISASTER (sarcasm emoticon again) never happened. And the same for the three fillies. Yes, you would have six superhorses, but you would have no guarantee that any of them would ever actually compete against each other on the track.
My point is that the existence of one or more superhorses per year would not necessarily make for better racing as a sport (or as a vehicle for gambling). I can easily imagine that such superhorses might make racing LESS appealing both as a sport and as a vehicle for gambling.
Now let us consider the present scenario (without any superhorses at all). Presently just about anyone can breed a good horse or buy a good horse as long as they have enough LUCK (or a certain amount of perspicacity of one sort or another). The odds are definitely stacked in favor of those who can afford to breed or buy only from the “best” sires and “best” dams, but that is as it should be.
The odds are stacked in their favor, but the conclusion is by no means “foregone.” Seabiscuit can still beat War Admiral. David can still slay Goliath with his slingshot. And that is as it should be as well. The uncertainty of actual competition remains the essence of the sport (and of its appeal as a vehicle for wagering as well).
I am definitely NOT saying that we now live in the best of all possible worlds. Far from it. It could be improved in many ways. But the appearance of genetically enhanced superhorses would NOT be an improvement, in my humble opinion.
“Yes, but we might finally have another Triple Crown winner!!!!!!!” I can hear many of you wailing. And if we finally have another Triple Crown winner, the world would turn from shit to gold overnight, I suppose (sarcasm emoticon)?????? And then we can all die happy??????
We may or may not have another Triple Crown winner. If we do, it will be done the old-fashioned way. With plenty of suspense and genuine competition down to the wire, I hope.
Lauren Hillenbrand of Seabiscuit fame wrote in “Waiting for the Next Secretariat”:
“Deserving horses have lost the Triple Crown, but no undeserving horse has ever won it, and none ever will.”
Having considered all these scenarios, the point is actually moot. Because geneticists will never come up with the “secret” for breeding a superhorse. At this point I should bring a geneticist onstage to explain WHY. And geneticists are always willing to try to explain what it is they actually do and what they CAN and can NOT do. The only problem is that the general public mostly finds their explanations incomprehensible. They prefer their own fairy tales instead. Perhaps a small parable would make this clearer.
“Mommy, where do babies come from?” asks Little Suzie.
Mommy, a biologist by trade, obligingly gives Little Suzie an exact biological description of the origin of babies.
Little Suzie is thoroughly confused. She does not understand the explanation at all. “I don’t LIKE that story at all, Mommy,” she pouts. “Tell me the one about the stork.”
Little Suzie is the general public when it comes to understanding genetics. You can explain it until you turn blue in the face, but the explanation still does not get through. When it comes to genetics, the general racing and breeding public prefers fairy tales about the stork to an explanation of how things REALLY work.
“All lies and jests!!!!!
Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”