Gray horses have always been a fascination and magnificent phenomena for me to watch at the races. I have always found myself betting on them and it is amazing how many times they came in first over the finish line. Perhaps it is because they are rare in a crowd of bays, chestnuts, and browns or because they stand out with such a definite uniqueness. As I read through the reams of information on them, I didn't find it surprising to find the following myth that was perpetuated about them in the past.
For half a century, renowned as one of most accomplished breeders in history, Federico Tesio, wrote many books on the subject of breeding. His works are considered must-reads for ambitious horse breeders. His idea that grays were diseased was not argued or disputed because of his years of experience. This made the gray horse become an extremely rare sight in the horse racing community for many years.
Being set apart from other horses, the gray-only races prompted the beginning of the race at Newmarket in the UK, The Grey Horse Handicap, which ran for the first time in the early 2000's. It has grown in popularity ever since.
Gray hair is both a sign of an aging horse and also means the pigment has not reached the hair for whatever reason. These handsome horses get their coloring because of two things, a varying amount of black and white hairs and their black skin.
An oddity of the gray horse is that eight out of 10 horses past the age of 15 will develop melanomas, either internally or externally. Most will be benign. About 25% of those will develop into the more serious spreading type of a cancer.
Through the years, grays have shown their ability as racers. Take for instance such greats as Native Dancer who won 21 races out of 22, Skip Away who set 10 track records, and Lady's Secret who was daughter of Secretariat and a member of the Racing Hall of Fame.
These handsome animals have shown themselves to be strong and healthy competitors. Myths are interesting to read about but the truth is also as intriguing to uncover and understand.