Tag Archives: commentary

Plenty to be Thankful For

Happy Thanksgiving!

With all of the craziness in racing, from ADW controversies to breakdowns to auction slumps, it’s good to think about the good things on a day like today.  Also, a list is an easy way to blog on a holiday… now before I get angry e-mails from family & friends, this is just a list of thoroughbred-related things I am thankful for.  I won’t be listing “breakdown-free Breeders’ Cup” at the family dinner tonight!

1) CURLIN!  Though he did not start out as my favorite horse, he has raced and won his way into my heart.  Thanks to sportsman Jess Jackson (and a little help from the jailed part-owners) Curlin got to prove himself over and over again as an older horse.  He broke a legendary earnings record, raced on all surfaces and met all comers.  His retirement ceremony at Churchill on Saturday will mark the end of an extraordinary career.  Thanks for the ride, Curlin!

2) SAUHBR!  Thanks to The Borderland Totalisator (whose blog has mysteriously vanished, humm…) for an awesome summer of handicapping.  The first of many victories in the game, I hope.  I also hope BT gets back online, because he was a great competitor and gracious in defeat.  Thanks!

3) Larry Jones!  Trainer of the ill-fated Eight Belles handled the ultimate tragedy with grace and compassion.  When nutty PETA accused him of all sorts of horrific abuses, his level-headed replies revealed the activists for the slime they really were.  Amid the turmoil, he sent the filly Proud Spell out for an amazing season, as well as the sprinter Kodiak Kowboy. 

4) Breakdown-Free Breeders’ Cup!  Despite all of the questions surrounding the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita this year, the track was successful in its ultimate mission: an injury-free Championship.  Every horse, every race, on poly or turf, came home sound.  This is the first time in several years that no horse was severely injured.  The track also levelled the playing field for the Euro contingent, which is always nice in a so-called “world championship” series.

5) JIM GAFFNEY!  Exercise rider for the Superhorse Secretariat and a close personal friend of this blogger, Mr. Gaffney has been a joy and privelege to know.  I have attended 2 KY Derbies with the man and his lovely wife, Mary, and have gained so much more knowledge of the racing business from him.  Thanks Jim!

6) TVG!  Not a day goes by that I don’t flip channels to TVG.  I love love love watching live racing with the hosts Todd Schrupp and Matt Carothers.  They are an irreverent bunch and their picks are pretty good, too.  I have learned a lot about handicapping watching TVG and am eternally thankful for the first all-racing channel.  Plus, I won an Eclipse Awards official program from them back in January.  Schwag always keeps my attention!

7) At The Races with Steve Byk on SIRIUS!  Every day I listen as Steve chats with the top names in racing, does a little handicapping, and has a good-old time talking to regular Joe horseplayers.  His show is a blessing for a sport that gets so little coverage by the MSM, and when it does, it’s usually dumbed-down *cough*ESPN*cough*  From ATTR, I have learned how top trainers condition their horses (pre-Derby shows) and have gotten a greater appreciation for the Pick 4 ticket and Super High 5 ticket.  Bob Baffert before the Breeders’ Cup was a big treat, too!  Thanks Steve!

8) MY LITTLE CONNOR!  This horse is the best little allowance horse in the world.  I hope he comes back to Oaklawn next year. 

Next up, Santa better be reading my Christmas list!

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Filed under Jim Gaffney, lists, rants, SAUHBR

Thank You, Mr. Bush

Thank You, Sincerely, Mr. Bush

Alysheba, 1987 KY Derby Winner, 88 Breeders Cup Classic winner, will return to the US.

Alysheba, 1987 KY Derby Winner, '88 Breeders' Cup Classic winner, will return to the US.


I thank Mr. Bush every day, believe it or not.  Usually, it is for some dumb thing the government has done, or for the latest war fatality.  But today I learned something that I must sincerely, no joke, thank Mr. Bush for his involvement.

First, some background:

In 2000, ALYSHEBA, ’87 KY Derby and ’88 BC Classic champion , an iron horse of the 80s, was sold to Saudi Arabia to stand at stud.  While his many fans were sad to see him go, it was a quiet journey to a mysterious land.  Not many updates came out of Saudi Arabia, but fans were content that he was getting the best care. 

In 2002, news shocked the racing world that the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand had been murdered in a Japanese slaughterhouse.  The horse was also a Breeders’ Cup classic winner and fan favorite.  No one had been notified that the big red son of Nijinski II (the 1970 English TC winner) had completed his sire career.  Nobody knew that he had been sold for mere pennies to the kill buyers.  His American owners were outraged that they had not been given the opportunity to bring Ferdinand back to the states for a proper retirement.

Fans immediately began checking in with their favorite classic winners standing overseas.  Most of them were doing fine, and the foreign stud farms were put ON NOTICE that any American horse had BETTER be returned to the US.

Many such champions were returned, like Gato Del Sol, or the stable full who have been retired to Old Friends.  But still no word from Alysheba.

Yesterday’s top story was that finally, ALYSHEBA is coming home!!!

And it is all due to President Bush’s state visit to the Middle East.  According to the article linked above, Bush visited King Abdullah’s stables and was shown Alysheba.  Surprisingly, Bush recognized the horse’s name and accomplishment. 

Bush presented the king with an ornate western saddle, which inspired his Highness to return the favor.  It is an awesome gift, and a tribute to all of the fans and friends of the horse. 

Oh yeah, Alysheba will live out his days at the KENTUCKY HORSE PARK, in John Henry’s old stall.

Alysheba broke old John’s earnings record with his ’88 BC Classic win, and he was ridden by Chris McCarron. 

The ’88 Classic was the 2nd one in which Alysheba competed.  He was 2nd in the 1987 Classic as a 3yo – the older horse who beat him was Ferdinand.

Thank you, Mr. Bush.

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Filed under Breeders' Cup, retirements

CURLIN & PEPPERS PRIDE: The New Benchmarks

Two venerated records fell in the past 7 days, and the horses that now hold them are curious opposites.

CURLIN easily handled the slop at Belmont last Saturday to capture his second consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cup and surpass the $10 million mark in earnings.  The previous record money winner was the legendary Cigar, whose $9.9+ million kept him at the top for a decade.  Cigar amassed his bankroll during a thrilling sixteen-win streak, which tied him for the most consecutive wins with Citation.

Over the years, a few other horses matched Cigar’s win record (but nowhere near his earnings), most recently Hallowed Dreams, a Louisiana-bred filly who raced mostly in Louisiana and at Lone Star Park, and mostly in allowance and state-bred stakes during her win streak.  Yesterday, a filly named PEPPERS PRIDE did what Cigar, Citation, Mister Frisky and Hallowed Dreams could not.  PEPPERS PRIDE won her 17th race in a row, remaining undefeated in her career.

PEPPERS PRIDE, like Hallowed Dreams, comes from a humble family and races in allowance and state-bred stakes in NEw Mexico.   PP’s 17th start had been pushed back five months due to poor track conditions, but the tough mare was in fine form and put away Silver Expression in an AOC at Zia Park.

There they are, folks, the new benchmarks.  It says a lot about the sport that the horse with the longest win streak has only $861,000 in earnings, while the horse with the biggest bankroll has only raced 15 times (and won 11).  The horses with longevity are not our “superstars” – but the top-level performers are the ones who get on TV (at least when ESPN feels like it). 

There may not be a solution to the discrepancy.  Grade 1 winners and Classic winners are the horses that start lifelong fans, but they are like the pro sports athletes in other leagues- larger than life and unapproachable to the average fan, protected and pampered between brief appearances on-track to thousands of spectators.  Each time they run is risky to their health and potential breeding value. 

Small-scale leagues and tracks have the most loyal fans because they know the players intimately.  The farm league pitcher goes to church with you.  The local point guard’s daughter is in the same class with your son.  Peppers Pride is the hometown girl done very, very good.

With cable racing networks, these smaller tracks are getting coverage unknown in the past.  More people can be “local fans” of Pepper, or of My Little COnnor or Mr. Franks.  They’re no Big Brown, but at least they have raced a few years so people can enjoy them.

The last benchmark standing is the one least likely to ever be attained.  The way young, top-class colts are handled these days, it will take an incredible horse to capture that elusive Triple Crown.

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Filed under curlin, rants

11 Grade 1 Races This Weekend…Only ONE on ESPN

Last week, at the NTRA’s marketing summit, a lot of talk centered on how to attract and keep the next generation of fans.  The first part would be having horses stay around long enough for us to enjoy them.  The second part would be broadcasting the races where these stars are competing!!!

This weekend are the PLAYOFFS of Breeders’ Cup!  *11 GRADE ONE RACES* on both coasts, on all surfaces will feature many championship hopefuls.  Most of them will be on TVG-the Belmont ones.  HRTV takes up the Santa Anita races.  Most people do not have TVG or HRTV (*I* don’t even have HRTV…sigh).  Our fearless leaders in racing have quickly thrown together some TV time for the Jockey Club Gold Cup on ESPN because Curlin is entered.  The brief pre-race coverage will be completely irrelevant.  There are few serious handicappers on ESPN (at least few who are allowed to be serious on the air.  Mayne always appeared to know his stuff but his irreverence got in the way; Moss is solid but has to dumb it down too much).  There will probably be no post parade, no discussion of the other horses in the field (“they’re all running for second”) or interviews with connections not named Asumussen or Jackson. 

Most people I know only know about the race as a singular event – the preps for the Derby go unnoticed, the idea of peaking or rounding into form or the fact that there is even any tactical theory involved in a race is news to the casual observer.  We have to promote the “thinking” side of the game more.  It’s not just a mad dash to the wire (not talking Quarters here).  Get people interested in Beyer numbers or ThoroGraph sheets; pit the 2 sides against each other.  The trip handicappers against the pedigree people.   SPotlight and involve this specialized side of the sport on national TV, and there will be more people interested in the game as a Game.  Not everyone loves horses like I do, but when I talk about the splits and figs and stuff, people (guys) take more interest. 

The Internet is a godsend for this infoporn: I can get boatloads of info for free or really, really cheap.  Discussion forums are everywhere.  And the race replays are online, too!  It is a perfect sport for the snack culture-the entire thing is only 2 minutes.  And if you know enough, make smart bets and play responsibly, you will win a lot more often than simply dropping a coin into a slot machine.

 The only show that does everything I have mentioned above is At The Races with Steve Byk on Sirius.  The man is a godsend – smart commentary, great guests who Byk is not afraid to question, a lot of good history buffs and pedigree experts, interviews with a wide range of handicappers, jockeys, trainers, even VETS!  Live calls of feature races that he, his guests and average-Joe call-ins handicap.  It is the Racing Equivalent of Sportscenter.  I only wish more people could listen to it.

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Filed under Breeders' Cup, Handicapping, rants