Recently, I read about the current societal controversy over biological males being allowed to compete against biological females in organized athletic events.  The irrefutable statistics cited–pertaining to documented performance records of male and female athletes–got me thinking about how and why top-tier female racehorses are better able to compete with males than are their human counterparts.

Consider the following facts about human athletes:

In 2018, 275 high school boys bested the world-record time (for a female) of Allyson Felix in the 400-meter sprint.

In 2017, thousands of men ran 400 meters faster than any of the world’s three fastest female Olympic champions. 

In all, male athletes routinely attain performance records that are 10% to 20% better than comparably trained women athletes.  The percentages are even greater in endurance and strength events.

Now consider racehorses:

As a rule of thumb, the vast majority of male racehorses are faster than the preponderance of fillies and mares.  But, historically, many of the very best fillies and mares have convincingly demonstrated that they can compete with the very best colts and stallions/geldings, even at endurance distances of 1 1/4 and 1 ½ miles.

Indeed, top-level fillies and mares can be quite competitive in Grade 1 and Group 1 open races.  For example, the filly Swiss Skydiver won the 2020 Preakness Stakes, defeating Authentic, who won the Kentucky Derby, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Horse of the Year.  Many examples abound: Zenyatta, Found, Tarnawa, Treve, Enable, Winning Colors, Goldikova, Peebles…

Why is it that several hundred teenage boy high-school track stars can turn in times that exceed the world-record mark for a female athlete at 400 meters (and in other events as well), while top-flight female racehorses can win in open company in Grade 1 and Group 1 races?

I don’t have a solid data-based answer for this question.  My working hypothesis is that generation-after-generation of selective breeding occasionally produces a super filly with the ability to win against top-caliber male racehorses.  Another thought is that certain European trainers are very skilled in preparing such gifted female animals to compete with their male counterparts on turf.

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