Saturday, May 3, 2008

A Tale of Two Posts

My emotions almost couldn't take it today. Somerset Sam made his first start for our group, managed by Star of the North Racing, at Canterbury Park today; we saw a monster horse overcome all obstacles to win the Kentucky Derby; I opened up GRS#1's first track account at Canterbury this morning; and the big, beautiful filly breaks down at the end of the Derby. Just brace yourself, because this'll be a long one so I'll break it down into two parts: Kentucky Derby and Canterbury Park

Kentucky Derby

We'll start with Big Brown. Breaking cleanly from the 20 hole, he sat about 5 wide into the first turn in great stalking position. Sitting sixth down the back stretch well off the rail and out of trouble, Desormeaux made a big move through the turn from home and by the time they straightened out, the race was over. Big Brown was as good as Dutrow advertised all week long. While I didn't dismiss him outright, I did pick him a fading third behind Z Fortune and Colonel John. No way. With a decidedly slimmer field in the Preakness (my sentimental favorite of the Triple Crown races), I don't see any way he can be beaten at Pimlico. So for the 19th year in a row, I was unable to pick the winner of the Derby. How did my picks do:

1. Z Fortune - Tenth
2. Colonel John - Seventh
3. Big Brown - Winner

0-19. I got cocky after my solid Breeder's Cup performance. Apparently Todd Pletcher and I have the same jinx going on.

Sadly, filly Eight Belles, who also had a nice trip but was no match for the winner, broke down after the finish. She had traumatic compound fractures to both front ankles which necessitated her being euthanized on the track. She ran a big race against the boys with a lot of heart. It's always painful to see a horse go down, but it's even harder when the world's eyes are on our sport and for the second time in recent years a star goes down. It makes it hard to explain to the casual fans that will approach me all this week asking about it.

Many folks will use this as an excuse to 'prove' the cruelty of Thoroughbred racing. However I know that the connections at Fox Hill Farms and Larry Jones and the barn staff are inconsolable. Those of us that own and race these fine and noble creatures love them. We love their heart, beauty, speed, courage and distinctive personalities that they enrich our lives with. They've been bred for speed for hundreds of years and when all goes well, there is nothing more beautiful, but it's exactly because of this beauty that make the isolated tragedies so difficult to bear. This had nothing to do with racing against the boys, nor do I personally believe that this has anything to do with the surface - though that will surely be debated. What this is, simply, is a tragedy. A sad ending on a day of celebration that reminds us of the frailty of these animals we love so much.

Canterbury Park

I got to the track early today - about 90 minutes before 1st post. I normally don't get there that early, but I did today knowing that the Derby Day crowd would get larger as the day wore on and I didn't want to be parking a mile away, knowing that I'd be leaving early to watch the Derby at home.

The first thing I did was go downstairs to the horseman's bookkeeper to open up the GRS#1 account. I was fully expecting a line out the door. It was the first day of racing so I figured there would be plenty of folks opening accounts and depositing money. I walked in and right up to the counter. Bookkeeper Terri Hoffrogge and her staff were very helpful in assisting me in opening our account. I deposited an estimated three months worth of expenses with the fervent hope that we don't have to dip into that account this summer.

Fizzy Pop worked yesterday. A scintillating 5 furlong bullet of 59.2. I asked Bernell Rhone, our trainer, how he came back from that. The exact quote - "He couldn't have blown out a candle", meaning he wasn't even winded and did it well within himself. He was very excited with the work or, as the way he put it, the way he did it. I'm going to run over to the barn in the morning and see how he's doing and see how Somerset Sam came back from his debut today.

Somerset Sam looked good in the paddock. There was a large crowd on hand and it was his first start, so I wondered how he would handle the action around him. He did well. He didn't sweat, but he was obviously curious about everything going on around him. As he made his way to the track, I jumped in line to place a couple of bucks on him, knowing full well there were two things stacked against him: he was a first time starter and he is built to go longer. There is something that happens when your horse is running - the tote board doesn't matter and common sense goes out the window. I bet him.

The gate opened and the horses surged out of the gate. All but Sammy. He came out behind the field. It was devastating. I was absolutely crushed. It was, of course, perfectly understandable. Although schooled out of the gate, it was his first time in action and it was a very distinct possibility that he could have some problems. Not only did the poor guy get stuck in the gate, but he got shut off by the two horses on either side of him when he tried to get back involved. With only 5.5 furlongs to work with, Sammy finally got himself back into it and finished an even sixth. He even galloped out beyond the wire strongly and left us with hope for his next start. Ideally they'll write a Minn-bred MSW going a mile or more. That should suit him well. I'm pretty sure that Bernell will be working him from the gate a time or two before that start as well!

Four of the five partners broke down the race immediately after watching the two replays and we all came to the same conclusion: it was a good first outing and Sammy should have learned a lot from the experience. Time will tell if we are right or were just trying to convince ourselves. I think that we are right. We get back on board again tomorrow when Somerset Wish makes her seasonal debut going 5.5 furlongs in Canterbury's fifth race. There's always another race and renewed hope. It's part of the beauty.


Anonymous said...

I have defended horse racing for years. But as of today and yet another "breakdown" of a wonderful animal however, I can NOT and will NOT support it or defend it in the future! Sorry, but this is turning into a mindless and cruel "sport" that needs some serious changes!

Superfecta said...

Great post, Ted - I'm in complete agreement. If there are changes in order, they are longer-term than the surface; it's about breeding and medication standards in my opinion.

Ted G said...


Racehorses, especially high class racehorses, are treated more gingerly now than in any other time in racing history.

Eight Belles came into the Derby with 9 starts: 4 at 2 and 5 at 3. By contrast, in 1919 Man o' War ran 10 times as a 2-year old alone - some starts as close as a week apart. In 1920, Sir Barton ran the Preakness just four days after winning the Derby. This type of race schedule would be unheard of in this day and age.

Also, there are now several different types of synthetic racing surfaces installed around the country that are being marketed as being easier on the horses that run on them (personally I think this needs more data than the year or two they've been around to be determined a success or not).

While calamatious breakdowns are rare, when there is one on national television the incident is magnified. I can understand the reaction, but I would have to ask - what changes to do you have in mind that are not already being tried?


Thanks. I know just enough about breeding to be dangerous, but it does seem that there is a proliferation of breeding with not much thought to the matches and lines involved. David Miller can shed much more light on that than I can for sure.

To medicate or not to medicate - boy is THAT a book all to itself?! But standardization, better testing and less masking of soundness issues with meds and then breeding sound bloodlines would slowly produce a stronger breed of Thoroughbred.

Saw your namesake win at Hollywood today, by the way. It made me doubletake when I heard the call!

Jason said...


I just emailed you a link to a Wall Street Journal article that touches on the impact of such narrow breeding, Native Dancer's genetic dominace on today's crop of horses, and the pitfalls that might have.


Laura said...

This filly had THREE lines of Raise a Native, which is well known to be unsound. I'm not sure if she didn't have a heart attack though, it sure looked strange and I've never heard of one breaking both ankles at once. The breed is now reaching a point where these injuries are going to happen more often, because of people just breeding for money and not planning ahead. Much of our good outcross blood has been sold to Japan and Dubai and this is going to make it harder for Americans to avoid breeding unsoundness.