Just to be clear, I am not anti-horse racing. Nor am I anti-Three Day Eventing. Both require an artistic approach to management of bloodlines, training and preparation, not to mention an entourage of knowledgeable assistants behind the barn.
As others have said, you cannot force a horse to race; indeed, the typical healthy Thoroughbred seems possessed of a need for speed. However, while Thoroughbreds seem to instinctively want to run, I would counter that's because "we" have bred them for centuries to do just that. It's sort of the same reason why Border Collies want to herd other animals and Jack Russell terriers want to tunnel their way into burrows: they've been genetically programmed to do that.
What we have to do as our horses' caretakers is make certain that they are physically up to the challenge of high stakes competition, whether that's on the track or on the cross country course. Steps are certainly being taken by the USEF to examine-- and improve-- the problems recently encountered in Three Day Eventing.
Horse racing, on the other hand, is seemingly caught in a quandary. The fastest, most prolific bloodlines (Native Dancer being one of them) also happen to be bloodlines that produce large, lanky, slow to mature youngsters. But our classic races are conducted when these Baby Hueys are barely 3 years old. And then there is the whole controversy over the actual racing surfaces. Churchill Downs-- home of the Kentucky Derby-- still has the traditional loamy dirt track while Santa Anita and several other upper echelon tracks have switched to a synthetic surface which is believed to be safer for the horses' legs.
Horse racing is an industry that brings millions of dollars into the coffers of states that sanction meets thanks to income from wagering and all the related businesses. Horse racing is not going to end, but the general public-- the fan base-- is falling out of love with a sport that brought North America some of the most memorable horses to life. Man O' War, Citation, Seabiscuit, Kelso, Native Diver, John Henry, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Smarty Jones... The lives of horse lovers have been enriched by the courage and heart and class of such grand horses. At its best, horse racing is a celebration of the spirit of the Thoroughbred. But at its most tragic moments, we mourn the loss of Go for Wand, Ruffian, Barbaro, Eight Belles and others who ran their hearts out until their fragile legs could not bear the stress.
Some of the suggestions you offered in comments and emails have been echoed by other horse lovers across the continent. One idea that continues to crop up is to schedule our classic races, like the Triple Crown, for four-year-olds, when the horses are more physically mature. I'm afraid that a sport so steeped in tradition will be loathe to make such a drastic alteration. But something needs to be done because the Sport of Kings is quickly losing its regal luster.
Next blog post will be something happy, I promise.