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As the Cheltenham Festival gets under way researchers reveal that a great racehorse is more than just quick footed

15.03.2006


The first day of racing at the Cheltenham Festival, the Olympics of steeplechasing, gets under way today. There will be many betting tips offered over the next few days, and advice given on how to back a winner. However, Royal Veterinary College researchers reveal that a great racehorse is more than just quick footed - it must also be rather average.



The Royal Veterinary College research reveals the secret to what makes a fast thoroughbred. Some 80 percent of modern thoroughbred racehorses have in their pedigree the undefeated 18th Century horse Eclipse – now a racing legend. Yet, until recently, scientists haven’t been able to figure out what makes some horses faster than others.
The work combined what was known about Eclipse with data on the shape and structure of modern horses to develop mathematical and computer models of their movement.

Using portraits of Eclipse and contemporary accounts of the horse running the researchers reconstructed one of its legs and have discovered that its legendary speed may have been due to its ‘averageness’.



The research involved analysing Eclipse’s skeleton to develop models of horse movement. Using the models the research team built ‘theoretical limbs’ on a computer and tested answers to questions on not only why Eclipse was so fast but also why horses can remain balanced when each leg is off the ground for 80 per cent of the ground during gallop and what limits a horse’s maximum gallop speed.

Dr Alan Wilson of the Royal Veterinary College said: “A horse’s leg resembles a pogo stick that uses energy stored in the muscles and tendons to propel the animal forwards and upwards. Fast horses can bring their legs forward quickly in preparation for the next stride but that this is more difficult and therefore slower for large and long-legged horses.”

Dr Wilson added: “Analysis shows that Eclipse’s body shape and everything about him seems to have been right in the middle of the normal range, suggesting that all the factors for speed were perfectly matched.”

Jenny Murray | alfa
Further information:
http://www.communicationsmangement.co.uk
http://www.rvc.ac.uk

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