The thoroughbred racehorse is the most majestic of animals and there is nothing to match the spectacle and bone-tingling excitement of thoroughbreds in full stride and giving no quarter in a neck-and-neck finish.
The modern thoroughbred represents the collective efforts of countless breeders, who have striven through the centuries to produce the ultimate equine athlete. Fragile and magnificent, the fastest are capable of reaching speeds beyond 60 kilometres an hour over sprint distances like 1000m. Many blend speed with stamina and need 1600m and beyond (middle distances) to display their athletic prowess. The stayers of the breed only come into their own over distances ranging from 2400m to 3200m.
It all begins with a stallion covering a mare in what is usually a carefully selected mating, taking pedigrees, conformation and racing performances of both parents into account.
The mare’s pregnancy averages 11 months and the resultant foal will begin nibbling grass in the first few months of its life and usually be introduced to small amounts of grain feed in the month or so before being weaned or separated from its mother. Thoroughbred foals usually stay with their mothers until they are about six months old.
Many thoroughbreds are sold as yearlings, after which they are sent to pre-training establishments or go into training in fully fledged racing stables. They can only begin racing when they are two. All horses in the Southern Hemisphere celebrate their birthdays on 1 August each year, while those in the Northern Hemisphere officially turn a year older on 1 January.
Thoroughbreds weigh about 500kg and vary in height from about 15 hands to 17 hands. A hand equals slightly more than then 10 cm and the measurement is taken from the ground to the wither (or the top point of the horse's shoulder).
A talented and sound horse will generally run about eight times a year and race until it is four or five years old, occasionally until it is six or seven. By the time a horse is 12 or 13 it is middle aged and at 19 or 20 it is considered old.