The expectations for London’s bubble marathon last Sunday were perhaps a little overblown. Maybe that was predictable with world record holders Eliud Kipchoge and Brigid Kosgei headlining the fields. But with each consecutive show of excellence, the odds for a reversal in fortunes increases.
Well, it happened to Eliud. After seven years and ten straight marathon wins and two remarkable time trials, he came home a well-beaten eighth in London.
Yet he wasn’t beaten by his opponents so much as by the conditions. Notwithstanding, his veil of invincibility, at least in terms of wet weather, was at long last lifted. All of which suggests that his next attempt will be even that much more intriguing.
On the women’s side, Brigid Kosgei performed once again as undisputed world #1 to the point where her three-minute (taken for granted?) win was overshadowed by Sara Hall’s thrilling last-ditch sprint to pip World Champion Ruth Chepngetich in the final 200 meters for second place. Sara’s furious final kick (which we have seen unleashed throughout her career) became the story coming out of the women’s race rather than Brigid’s dominating 2:18:58 win (along with the inevitable shoe controversy, which is standard these days, too). In both races, however, the standing world records weren’t threatened as each sex fell four-minutes shy of their world best.
The day before London‘s 40th marathon, horse racing staged the 145th Preakness Stakes at Baltimore‘s Pimlico Park. There the story was how the filly Swiss Skydiver beat all the colts, including Kentucky Derby champion Authentic in a thrilling side-by-side duel down the stretch in the second-fastest time in Preakness history (1:53.28). Second only to the legendary Secretariat’s 1:53-flat win in 1973. It was the sixth time a filly had won the Preakness and 11th Triple Crown win by a female horse. And it got me to thinking.
No matter how good Brigid Kosgei is, no way is she winning the London Marathon against the top men in the world. Why is it, then, that a filly can compete against colts straight up and win in horse racing?
For answers, I went to my old friend and former Chicago Marathon race director Bob Bright who is retired in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Many years ago Bob used to help train thoroughbred horses in New York, then raced sled dogs, including twice in the Iditarod in Alaska, before directing the Chicago Marathon from 1982 to 1989 when it surged into the big-time, competing with New York City for fall marathon preeminence. Bob has long shown a keen eye for racing, whether of the two-legged or four-legged variety.
“In horse racing, there is more human input involved than in running,” said Bob. “Runners are on their own, while in horse racing the jockey makes a huge difference, and Swiss Skydiver (the filly) got a better ride than Authentic.”
Authentic’s Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert agreed.
“I thought he’d be on the lead,” Baffert told the Paulick Report. “The first quarter in 24.48 was the slowest of the race and this is a free-running horse. He wants to be out there and going. And they weren’t really going that fast.”
“It wasn’t that strong a field either,” Bob Bright continued. “I picked Authentic to win, but Swiss Skydiver was the next pick. She was also given a six-pound allowance, meaning she was lighter than the colts. I was still surprised Swiss Skydiver won, but if you look at the last 50 meters, Authentic’s jockey rode high in the saddle and was moving around a lot. Swiss Skydiver’s jockey was way more efficient.”
Seems in America, tracks don’t pit fillies against colts very often. Instead, fillies have their own races. Yet mixing fillies and colts is done all the time in Europe. Yes, male horses, like men, are generally bigger than fillies, stronger, and have more testosterone. And that is often what discriminates in races. But a good-sized filly or mare can race against colts because she’s been specifically bred and trained to race any other horse. Humans, on the other hand, aren’t bred to race. Good runners are discovered from within the population base, then trained to race in same-sex competitions.
I found out a long time ago from Bob Baffert that you can’t train a horse like you can a human. Horses can’t talk back and give you input on how they feel. They also don’t understand, like we humans do, the concept of breaking through what in the marathon we call “the wall”. A horse comes upon such limitations and instinctively back off. On top of which, because of their great overall size but thin lower legs, trainers are afraid of over-training and risking what might be a life-threatening injury.
Accordingly, said Baffert, you train horses to race against other horses. You do not train them to race against the clock. That’s why records are rarely broken and are not the object in horse racing. Perhaps humans should take a lesson from our horse racing brethren.