We are pleased to introduce a new weekly feature today, the Paulick Report Forum brought to you by Breeders' Cup. Every Wednesday, we'll talk with a Thoroughbred industry player about the game we all love, trying to get a better understanding of where we've been and where we may be headed. One thing I've learned throughout my years in this industry is that nothing comes easy. We are a sport and a business fraught with divisiveness, incoherence and confusion. But at the same time we are blessed to have many participants with great intelligence, insights and dedication. In short, we never know where the next good idea may come from.
We hope you will read each week's Forum, offer your thoughts on the subject being discussed, and suggest to us other areas where we can advance the discussions that need to take place to get our industry moving in the right direction once again. Thanks to the Breeders' Cup for their sponsorship of this process.
It surprised me when Christophe Clement said that he has spent half of his 44 years in the United States. Maybe it's the heavy French accent he still retains, or simply the blur of the years going by so quickly. But the third-generation horseman has made America his permanent home since 1991. He'd spent a couple of years here in the 1980s, working for Taylor Made Farm and trainer Shug McGaughey, before returning to Europe, where he served for four years as assistant to Luca Cumani in Newmarket, England. Earlier in his life, he had apprenticed for the master horseman Alec Head in Chantilly.
Clement, coming off an outstanding year when Gio Ponti won two Eclipse Awards for the Ryan family's Castleton Lyons as turf male and older male champion, is preparing the 5-year-old son of Tale of the Cat for a possible run at the $10-million Dubai World Cup. He's looking at a prep race at Tampa Bay Downs on turf in February prior to taking on the world's best over the Tapeta Footings surface at the new Meydan racetrack in Dubai. Gio Ponti is coming off a second-place finish to Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic over the Pro-Ride synthetic track at Santa Anita.
In this, our first Paulick Report Forum brought to you by Breeders' Cup, Clement provided some insights about the sport of Thoroughbred racing and how it's changed during his lifetime.
What is it about international racing that is important to you?
First of all, with the Dubai race I can give you 10 million reasons. If it was a million-dollar race, I wouldn't be going. I would be going instead to the Santa Anita Handicap. In the case of the Dubai World Cup, the purse has a lot to do with it.
But international racing is important. I'm just a trainer, but if I was a breeder or an owner, I would say it is very important for the breed to know which horse is the best and which sires are better. I saw an article in the TDN that said, as recently as 20 years ago, 80% of the world's leading stallions stood in the United States. Today that number is 50%. The United States does not permeate world breeding the way it was 20 years ago.
From a personal standpoint, I don't get as many fillies or mares sent from Europe to race here and then be bred to American stallions. Their owners are keeping them in Europe.
Why the shift?
A couple of things. First there is medication. People refuse to talk about it, but a lot of people in Europe still don't want to breed to U.S. sires because those horses raced on medication. A lot of Europeans do not understand why we continue to allow medication while the rest of the world is doing OK without it.
That's one of the factors. It is an issue for some people. There are two things I would like to see changed. I am convinced Grade 1 races should not be handicaps. It's not healthy to use weight to try and beat the best horses. Allowance conditions are fine. This is something Bobby Frankel and I talked about, and Bobby was against handicaps in Grade 1s. I also believe there should be no medication in Grade 1s because we use these races to improve the breed.
So why do we continue to permit it?
I don't know. Every track is different. There is no federal authority. No racing commissioner. The Graded Stakes Committee took grades away from Pennsylvania because they failed to do the proper testing, but there is limited means to enforce national rules. I'm just a trainer. These are some of my thoughts. I'm trying to win a race tomorrow.
You said there were two major reasons for the shift in stallion power away from the U.S.
Right. Secondly, the two groups, the Maktoums and Coolmore, have given European breeders access to some very good stallions because they are retaining some of the best racehorses. Twenty or 30 years ago the world's best horses came to Gainesway—horses like Lyphard, Riverman, and Blushing Groom. This year, apparently no American farms bid for Sea the Stars. 20 years ago an American farm would have. Aside from Giant's Causeway and Kingmambo, it's been quite a while since an exciting European horse came to the United States as a sire. The top milers in Europe are no longer coming here, either.
What training methods have you adapted from your European background?
I am more American than European. I'm 44 and have spent more time in this country than anywhere else. But I'll say this. When Sir Michael Stoute or Andre Fabre wake up in the morning they have a choice of tracks on which to train their horses. Here it's the main track or the training track. Those guys have a much wider choice for their horses.
We should have access to all surfaces: dirt, turf and Polytrack. If you have a good dirt track, like in New York, a good turf course, and a good Polytrack surface to race or train over on days when it's very wet, it would be very popular. But the problem is who pays? It would be very expensive. In an ideal world, that's the way it would be. A dirt track should be safe if maintained the right way. Turf is safe, and off the turf races could be run on a Polytrack.
You recently cut back on the number of horses you have in California. Is it because of the problems with Santa Anita's surface?
It's Mother Nature. I'm not against Santa Anita. They did everything they could. Wherever you are, you have to deal with Mother Nature. It's been very wet out there. One reason Gio Ponti came back East is I found that the flight to Dubai will be easier from Florida than California.
In the United States all trainers think they are track superintendents, but the track superintendents know their job. There is no ideal surface 365 days a year. Bob Baffert was really negative on Polytrack, but he's such a smart guy and a good trainer he's really adapted. He's doing great on that surface.
What can American trainers learn from others around the world?
When you work for the people I've worked for, you learn that change is not always negative. People in racing don't like change. Change is not always a bad thing. We should be more open minded about change. A typical thing is the synthetic tracks: trainers should be more open minded. Of course it will not be perfect from day one, but it is ridiculous to be so against it, just as it is ridiculous to be against dirt racing. It doesn't have to be one or the other. The Kentucky Derby is on dirt and should remain on dirt, and the Belmont Stakes is on dirt and should remain on dirt. But we shouldn't exclude Polytrack from our racing because it represents change.
Finally, how do you feel about Rachel Alexandra's owner Jess Jackson's recent comments that the field for the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic was not nearly as good as the 2008 race when his Curlin was defeated?
I think it's just another reason that he should have participated in the race.
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