Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

Born To Run, Denied The Fun

Posted by Brian Appleton on November 24, 2009

Curlin

   2007 produced one of the most stellar crops of

Rags To Riches

three year olds ever to grace the track, the lineup of talent included Curlin, Street Sense, Hard Spun, Any Given Saturday, Rags To Riches, Tiago and Nobiz Like Shobiz. All seven of these runners participated in at least one Triple Crown race and, as a result, the 2007 Triple Crown produced historic and exciting renewals. Street Sense became the only Breeders’ Cup Juvenile victor in history to win the Kentucky Derby

the following year. Curlin began his career in February and three months later won the Preakness in record equaling time by a head over Street Sense. Kentucky Oaks winner Rags To Riches became the first filly in over 100 years to win the Belmont Stakes,

Street Sense

beating Curlin in a stretch battle for the ages by a neck. Hard Spun placed second to Street Sense in the Derby, ran third to Curlin and Street Sense in the Preakness, and fourth to Rags To Riches and Curlin in

Hard Spun

the Belmont.  Any Given Saturday defeated Hard Spun and Curlin in the Haskell Invitational later in the year. Hard Spun won the King’s Bishop Stakes, then defeated Street Sense in Kentucky. Street Sense won the Jim Dany and Travers Stakes before running second to Hard Spun. Curlin ran down the

exceptional older horse, Lawyer Ron, in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then defeated Hard Spun, Street Sense, Lawyer Ron and Any Given Saturday in the Breeders’ Cup

Any Given Saturday

Classic. Unfortunately Rags To Riches suffered a fracture while running in the Gazelle and never raced again.

   From this exceptional group of runners, only one was withheld from the breeding barns and returned to racing in 2008, Curlin. All others were retired. This year I have noticed an alarming acceleration in this pattern in  the racing industry. Out of curiosity, I decided to compile a “short” list of the runners retired, or being retired, this year.

  1. Zenyatta
  2. Zensational
  3. Indian Blessing
  4. Music Note
  5. Seventh Street
  6. Einstein
  7. Ventura
  8. Cocoa Beach
  9. Kip Deville
  10. Colonel John
  11. My Pal Charlie
  12. Unbridled Belle
  13. Cowboy Cal
  14. Mint Lane
  15. Cosmonaut
  16. Commentator
  17. Idiot Proof
  18. Pioneerofthe Nile
  19. Champs Elysses
  20. Icon Project
  21. Forever Together
  22. Old Fashioned
  23. Sea the Stars
  24. Conduit
  25. Mastercraftsman

   The last three mentioned are European. Did I miss any? Yes, many, many in fact. While creating this list, I discovered that I was barely scratching the surface and therefore chose only the names that were most recognized this year.

Sea The Stars

   When it was announced that Sea The Stars would be retired after his unmatched 2009 campaign, the general reaction was disappointment from thousands of star-struck fans. Disappointment, but not surprise. We fans have become used to the concept that the most talented, standout horses of the year will be retired to stud after a good three year old campaign, regardless of how badly we, and the industry, want them back for one more year. If they aren’t a filly or a gelding, it’s adios amigo! This year, Sea The Star’s connections said that he was in his element when running and in tip-top shape when they announced his retirement. In the same breath they said that it would be unfair to the horse to continue running him. To think that the fans are stupid enough to buy into that weak excuse is insulting to say the least. If they want to retire the horse fine, but be honest to the public and admit the real reason: money.

   Horses like Zensational barely got a chance to prove their talent, and with

Einstein

the time he was given he showed outstanding skill. If he was allowed to run again next year we could have witnessed a very special older sprinter.  Zenyatta and Einstein are the only two that I’m not averse to seeing retired. Both apparently love running, both are older and in terrific shape, and both have nothing left to prove. Although it would be amazing to see Zenyatta race Rachel Alexandra and face the boys more often, she has had a great career. Einstein will probably be a hot ticket at stud due to his remarkable versatility. He will attempt to go out on a high note in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs this Friday against Macho Again and possibly Bullsbay. He has been one of the most consistent long-term, top-tier runners in recent history. Ventura will also try to end her brilliant career Saturday with a win in the Matriarch Stakes against Diamondrella and Rutherienne.

Jess Jackson

   People like Jess Jackson get a lot of flak from fans and media alike for their methods in racing. When Jackson bought Rachel Alexandra after her record setting Kentucky Oaks win, many considered it a “shortcut” to being a winner in the top echelons of the sport. Regardless of how you feel about his tactics, you must appreciate the fact that he returned Curlin, one of the best horses of the last 25 years, for a second campaign in 2008. He plans on doing the same thing with Rachel Alexandra for next year; she is already beginning her training in New Orleans. If Rachel Alexandra wins Horse of the Year, that will be two very special, not to mention much-loved, Horse of the Year champions that Jess Jackson has kept in training two consecutive years despite lucrative breeding offers. We need many more Jess Jacksons in this sport.

   People in racing, mainly owners, are in a huge hurry to rush their horses off to stud. They state the reasons that they believe their horse(s) will greatly contribute their stamina, strength, and speed to the gene pool. If the only reason they breed is to find another horse to breed, then what’s the point? Are they born to run, or breed? The real race nowadays is done in the breeding shed, not on the track. It needs to be brought back to the track.

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16 Responses to “Born To Run, Denied The Fun”

  1. B,

    Amen to that final sentence…it’s called RACING and that’s not done in the breeding shed. You’d think that the down economy could have kept a few of these horses in training at least one more year. MUSIC NOTE stands out…she was sound as far as I know, would come back as a 5y.o. another year older and stronger, and we know what that did for ZENYATTA.

    ZENSATIONAL was a real surprise to see retired…he would have been a compelling 4y.o. and I’d have loved to see him run 6f on a traditional dirt course. We never saw his best.

    As for SEA THE STARS, wouldn’t if have been nice to see him try the Tapeta Footings at Meydan in Dubai next year? Then give him the summer off, a prep, then try for another Arc?

    Again, I’m with you…residual value means little to a horse RACING fan! Good stuff.

    • Amateurcapper-Thank you, I’m glad you agree.
      You would think the owners would learn by observation right? Curlin, Indian Blessing, Music Note, Zenyatta, Einstein, Fabulous Strike, Gio Ponti and a whole bunch of others all paid off big time by keeping them in training after their 3 year old years. Just goes to prove that 3 is not the peak of a horses physical condition, they’re still maturing at that age.
      I totally agree with your Zensational take. He was brilliant, and I was really looking forward to seeing him continue running.

  2. Steve m. said

    Brian,
    Great article – this is a huge problem. Getting horses to race until at least age 5 when they are fully mature (assuming they’re healthy) would be a good way to grow the fan base. This is especially important for horses that competed in the Triple Crown as they likely have mainstream name recognition and may build a following over time.

    Unfortunately, there’s more money in breeding than racing which is a fundamental economic flaw. And though it’s hard to blame individual owners for making sound business decisions, collectively these decisions are ruinous to the effective marketing of the sport.

    A possible solution would be for the Jockey Club to not register any thoroughbred horse bred to a stallion and/or foaled by a mare at less than 5, maybe even 6, years of age. This would create short-term impacts to the breeding and auction companies, but would help grow the sport over the long run.

    And yes, racing could use a few more people like Jess Jackson.

    • Steve,
      It would be great to see some of our better three year olds stay around untill their five year old years. Your absoltely right, Triple Crown standouts are what give racing it’s biggest publicity boost every single year. Especially the Kentucky Derby winner, that is unless you happen to be a filly like Rachel Alexandra and beat the boys in the Preakness! (: The only Triple Crown standouts that go on racing seem to be the geldings like Funny Cide and now Mine That Bird. Both good horses, but neither had/has the consistency to remain in the publics eye.
      Hopefully Mine that Bird, Summer Bird, Rachel Alexandra and Quality Road can come back very strong next year and put on a rousing show. When was the last time all three Triple Crown race winners ran into their four year old years?
      Thanks for stopping by and adding your thoughts!

  3. PEM said

    Brian–the business end of racing keeps crying “we can’t generate any young fans!” yet effectively retires it’s Evan Longorias and Ryan Howards at age 25. Would people go to see visiting baseball teams if all the players shipping in were .270 hitting, weak armed, powerless Triple-A quality ham-and-eggers? Don’t think so…..

    You know I go to Saratoga a couple of times every summer–and the best week is closing week-because you’re going to see one older horse in the Woodward or one of all the other great races that weekend. Book the trip-reserve the hotel-because you’ll see a Curlin or a Lawyer Ron or a Ghostzapper-maybe their last season-but you’ll see them knocking heads against the best older horses that weekend.

    Oh yeah and it’s the end of the meet-all the fancy clothes are at the dry cleaners-everyone kind of lets loose. And that 3PM post on Friday–whew man everybody in town is honked that day!!

    Best,
    PEM

    • I agree completely! I went to Saratoga for the first time last year and saw Curlin win the Woodward Stakes. It was an amazing place not just for the great racing, but the atmosphere was terrific.
      Good Baseball analogy too. Can you imagine what would happen if baseball players (any “ball” players for that reason) retired after just two or three years playing? The sport would be in shambles.

  4. PEM -

    I’m so glad Eva Longoria didn’t retire at 25. ;-)

    But one of the reasons I feel these marquee horses are being retired early on is that these owners are human beings too. They have feelings just like you and I.

    To risk racing when they know the horses can break down would be a mistake they’re unwilling to make. Perhaps they don’t need the money as much as the typical claiming horsemen but I’m sure they’re attached to these horses more than we give them credit for.

    • I agree with you to an extent and completely understand your points. I’m sure many, many owners are concerned about the condition of their horses and want to make sure that they take every precaution not to push them too far and risk injury. The Mosses come to mind.

      Others, like Sheikh Mohammed, are (in my opinion) more concerned with breeding the perfect race horse, than with keeping the horses risk-safe thru out their racing career. Not that he doesn’t care about their safety, but I think he’s more concerned about rushing them off to the breeding shed in hopes of gaining that extra prestige. And we all know that money is all about prestige.

  5. PEM said

    Tough call guys but while I’d have to say virtually all Grade 1 owners make their living at businesses far removed from the race track, and while the breeding money could turn out to be a nice extra seven digits on a Schedule C, the primary business of selling cars/Budweiser/canned tuna/denim pants/etc. Guys who own or buy these class of horse aren’t really worried about purse money-they’re more into “Look at me I got the best!”.

    So therefore-they retire their animals after effectively the “60 homer” season, not even considering the fact it could be 75 homers the next year. Now don’t get me wrong all these animals have issues that get worse with time–and I couldn’t even imagine send out a horse with a known problem like a slab fracture, but I believe in most cases they simply want to retire the horse with the gaudy record, rest on their laurels, and in effect cheat the fans.

    Sure there’s a risk out on the track-there’s also an inherent risk of something bad happening every time I step over my front door threshold. I say let them race to 4 or 5, let the FANS SEE THEM, maybe you could generate the interest you keep crying has been lost by the American public.

    Best,
    PEM

  6. Carla Ruth said

    I am also okay with the retirements of Zenyatta and Einstein, especially Einstein. He has done enough and he’s eight years old. I think the only reason he raced this long was because his former owners are in jail. I wish that Einstein could have had a crack at HOY because he’s proven that he can win on any surface. We need more race horses like him. He will be a great addition to the breeding shed!

    • Carla Ruth,

      Amen to EINSTEIN in the breeding shed…those that will breed to him will believe he was a sturdy horse and his progeny will need time to be at their best. That means, debuts later and longer racing careers. I’m so glad they kept him intact…if not for the legal trouble of his former owners, they may have gelded the warrior long ago.

      Speaking of breeding, how do you think the offspring of a EINSTEIN and ZENYATTA mating would do? I’m thinking the first three time BC Classic winner ;-)?!?!?!

    • Carla-I agree, Einstein is a throwback to the tough racehorses of yester-year. He and Curlin would be my first choices in the breeding shed becuase of their extreme soundness and durability.

      Amateurcapper-Love the Einstein Zenyatta idea. It that foal inherited traits from both parents it would be a monster on the track. Or should I say tracks (dirt, grass and synthetics). (:

  7. I’d agree with you, completely. Can’t help but think that all the fans Zenyatta earned in this year’s Classic, even if in retrospect, will never see her run again. Stars fade quickly when they are replaced by new champions. In time, folks won’t even remember our beloved Curlin, Zenyatta, or Rachel – it will be some other newcomer who has wowed and turned heads and is, most importantly, racing – and therefore relevant.

    Part of the problem though, it has to be said, is that for the bigger named horses, it’s not really economically feasible to keep them in racing. Wasn’t Curlin’s insurance premium for 2008 about $4 million? That’s a pretty big gamble for one to take. Obviously he capped off a $10 million career in 2008, but it’s hard to expect to be able to earn any profit if it costs that much to stay in the game. Now, clearly other horses wouldn’t cost as much, but if we’re talking “star power”, then the bigger names will be something comparable.

    I guess that’s why they say it’s a rich man’s game. I’d love to see that change though, it’d just take a reshuffling of everything to make it happen, and even then could conceivably wind up exactly as it is now. :-)

    • Excellent Kevin! I love your insight, it’s always fresh, new ideas and angles.
      Curlin’s insurance was incredibly high, but for a person like Jess Jackson that’s “peanuts”. Curlin was worth well over an $100 million in 2008, so it would be a huge risk, I agree. Then again the money he garners at stud will more than make up for any lost on the track and that’s a pretty good investement. Of course you could try being a rogue and just not insure your horse at all and save money on the premiums. Talk about a real risk, that’s not going to happen! (:
      As always, thanks for coming by!

  8. Carla Ruth said

    Amateurcapper and Brian,

    I also vote for the Einstein and Zenyatta mating. The result would be a super horse! Also Amateurcapper, I wish so much emphasis wasn’t placed on 2yos. I think it’s possible that part of the reason Einstein, Zenyatta and Curlin stayed sound so long was because they weren’t racing at two. (Actually, I’m not sure whether or not Einstein raced at two, but I never heard of him until he was at least a 4yo.)

    Brian,

    I agree that Curlin and Einstein would be great choices in the breeding shed. I would also like to add Hard Spun to that list, he was extremely versatile and sound.

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