One takes place anaerobically and is over in less than two minutes. The other lasts for hours and involves slower, oxygen-sustainable exercise. The sports of flat racing and endurance traditionally have been separate, and previously there's been little to connect the two disciplines.
Moreover, the size and muscle structure of the athletes have always been different. Elite endurance horses are almost all of Arabian breeding, and they tend to be smaller and much thinner than their larger, more muscled Thoroughbred racing counterparts.
The venues have been different, too. Racetracks are usually uniform, and, although there may be some differences in the footing surface, most tracks look pretty much alike from a horse's perspective. Endurance events, however, differ greatly from place to place, as the local topography determines whether it's 100 miles of flat sand (Dubai), steep hills and deep canyon descents (western United States), miles of rolling hills (midwestern U.S.) or forests and mountains (northeastern U.S.).
Training practices, feeding decisions, physiological demands, injuries and many other details always have differed between flat racing and endurance athletes.
Mehmet Salih Guler, T. O’Keefe/PhotoLink/Getty Images
But the gap between these two equine sports has been closing during the past decade. A number of factors have brought many of the conditioning principles from the world of endurance into the world of Thoroughbred flat racing, and some of the speed-training techniques from flat-racing trainers have been accepted and applied to endurance horses. The result, so far, is a blurring of the two sports. Endurance horses are now going faster than ever before, and Thoroughbreds may be starting to get fitter and stronger, with the potential of longer racing careers. There are lessons to be learned in the blurring of these sports, as each discipline has identified and used the best of what the other sport has to offer.