I think that Race Horses would be a lot heartier, and run a lot wiser (not faster) if they were allowed more time to mature both physically and mentally =) I think its awful that they break them to ride as yearlings... but I have to say I am probably more disgusted with the people who break "Big Lick" TWH as yearlings with the pads on their feet =/ I won't go further into that here, as i'd stray off topic =)
I kinda think that if we let them grow up more, we wouldnt see tragedies like Eight Belles, Barbaro, Ruffian, etc. Furthermore, im not sure if this was true or not.. but I heard that Steroids are "not illegal" in the Race Horse world. That kinda ticks me off (if its true)... so the people who choose to -not- drug their horse probably wont have a winning horse.. either its mandatory, or against the rules in my opinion.
And for those who say "But they LOVE to run!! Just look at Barbaro, he wanted to keep running to finish the race! What heart!" wrong. This is why I believe people are wrong when they say things along those lines.... Horses are prey animals. In the wild, they run in herds. When the herd runs, they run too. Its instinct. And when a member of the herd suddenly breaks his cannon bone and falls behind the pack... he is now the weakest in the herd, and if a predator approaches... chances are he will be killed. So he continues to run and run to try to stay within the safety of his herd. It has nothing to do with Courage, nor Heart... just basic Prey survival instincts. Who knows, maybe there was that one horse out there who got injured and really did run his heart out to try to please his jockey.. but I really doubt it (though I can never disprove it) because I think that the natural instinct outweighs any pride the horse may have. Plus, if I was a race horse, I wouldn't want to please the person who is beating me with a whip, lol!
And another statement i've seen posted about thoroughbreds: "They [thoroughbreds] love to run! So if you say its cruel to race them, you shouldn't allow them to go run and play with the other horses out in the field! Its the same thing!" No. Its really not. Running/turning/bucking/trotting at liberty for 5 minutes while bucking and nipping at other horses is not the same thing as when someone is on their back DEMANDING they run. The horse doesn't have the option to stop, he can't nip and play with the horses he is running with, he can't buck, nor spin and run the other way. He MUST run the circle. Counter-Clockwise. Always. No exceptions. And if he disagrees, just lay that crop into him. He'll get with the picture. So no, its not the same thing as running and playing with friends.
Please correct me if im wrong... but Seabiscuit had awful conformation, not-so-hot breeding, etc.. but wasn't he retired from racing at the age of Seven? (grantid, yes, he died of a heart attack or something like that at the age of Fourteen) but my point being the horses of the past were a heck of a lot heartier, even with bad conformation. :p So.. what has happened since Seabiscuits death in 1949(?) I think a lot of it has to do with people breeding these race horses to be at their peak in the first 5 years of their life. Any years after that is a bonus... especially if they are worthy to stand as stud.
So, all in all, to answer the original question.. I don't agree with breaking these horses to run so hard so young. I think its begging for disaster. But, a lot of the people i've met who breed/buy these race horses don't actually have horse ownership on the brain... just the pursuit of the all mighty dollar.
Im thankful that so many horses can make it off the track and into the hands of people who can give them the care that they so desperately deserve. But it saddens me that a lot of these horses go straight from the track to an auction, then to a slaughter house. It blows me away how in the course of a week, a $200,000 race horse living in a coosh stall with only the best food and care (as far as vet and farrier) to a double decker bus headed for Mexico. One day I hope to rescue one of these fellows and give them a chance to live as a captive horse should :)
I think that's it for now :p My opinions in this post reflect my personal encounters with Thoroughbreds, as well as just watching Races on TV/YouTube and talking with Race Horse Owners back when I worked at a Race Horse Barn in Camden. I meant no offense by any of it, and it is my opinion, so it isnt really right or wrong :p