Three-year-old retirements: Tough choices, sleepless nights

by | 08.22.2012 | 1:05pm

There is a simplistic, sometimes angry – and usually mistaken – assumption among many racing fans that when someone is fortunate enough to breed or purchase the type of Thoroughbred capable of winning at the sport's very highest level, these horse owners see nothing but dollar signs behind the webbing of their trainer's favorite stall. That they don't notice the fiery eyes, the rippling muscles, or the competitive spirit these unique creatures possess.

As soon as these supercharged horses achieve something worthy of note, the theory goes, those money-grubbing owners hustle their steeds off to the breeding shed where they can produce, not more flesh and blood, but mountains of dollars.

If you believe that, if you believe that people become horse owners to make money…well, I have a horse I'd like to sell you.

I dare say that Paul Reddam, Phyllis Wyeth, and Ahmed Zayat do not own horses because they think it's an easy path to riches. Au contraire.

They like to watch their horses run, just as much – no, probably more so – as the most devoted racing fan does. This year, all three of them have experienced indescribable thrills.

I'll Have Another carried Reddam's colors to glorious victories in three consecutive Grade 1 races – the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness. Wyeth won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth with her homebred Union Rags last winter, then watched in bitter disappointment as the colt suffered terrible racing luck in the Kentucky Derby before bouncing back with a hard-fought victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. Zayat, having finished second twice previously in the Kentucky Derby, wound up the bridesmaid again in 2012, this time with Bodemeister, the betting favorite and smashing winner of the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby who was overtaken by I'll Have Another in the shadow of the finish line in both the Derby and Preakness.

But with those incredible highs came some terrible lows…and agonizing decisions. With Tuesday's announcement that Bodemeister would not race again, all three horses are now retired, and all three owners have been subjected to name-calling and second-guessing by people who have never been in their shoes – not for a second.

The retirements were the result of three different kinds of injuries – all of which occurred in training and are the types of maladies that time and patience may have overcome. But I'll Have Another's tendonitis, Union Rags' suspensory ligament lesion, and Bodemeister's nerve condition also could return in a more gruesome way, during the height of competition. Simply put, their risk of further injury is increased. And there is no guarantee that, even with abundant time and patience, any one of the three horses could have been brought back to the level of performance they exhibited previously.

All three owners were confronted with the same choice, and I suspect all three ultimately based their decisions on two things: first and foremost, doing what is right for the horse; and second, managing the significant asset that their prized Thoroughbred had become.

There, I said it. Money is a factor, and it has sent more than a few perfectly healthy and sound horses to the breeding shed after their 3-year-old seasons. In these three cases, however, I am convinced money was not the primary, driving reason the horses had their careers cut short.

Each of these Grade 1 winners is worth millions of dollars. Reddam sold the Flower Alley colt I'll Have Another to Shigeyuki Okada for $10 million to stand at Big Red Farm on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Bodemeister, according to various sources, is valued at close to $13 million, based on the amount Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm is believed to have paid for a significant share in the son of Empire Maker in late June. The stud deal to stand Union Rags at William Farish's Lane's End Farm, I have been led to believe, is somewhat north of $13 million.

To bring those horses back in 2013 would have been expensive. The mortality and fertility insurance would cost in the vicinity of 8-10% of their value. That's about $1 million for each horse, no small sum. But the real financial risk would be in bringing these horses back, only to discover that the recovery from injury was not sufficient for them to return to their previous level of performance. Each of the horse's perceived value would likely plummet.

Yes, it is an asset management issue, but it's more a matter of treating the horse right. No one wants to see a top-class Thoroughbred struggle to beat opponents he previously toyed with. That would open the owners to a whole different level of criticism.

“I don't want to hurt the horse,” Wyeth told her friend and bloodstock adviser Russell Jones when making her decision to retire Union Rags. She wasn't referring to the financial portfolio Union Rags had contributed to.

“I am completely depressed about this,” Ahmed Zayat told me yesterday after Bodemeister was retired, “and I am not talking about the economics of this. I am talking as a fan and a guy who loved this horse from day one. It was never a question about anything other than this: take care of the horse first. Everyone involved said this was the right thing to do.

“I have total trust in Elliott Walden (president and CEO of WinStar),” Zayat added. “He had sleepless nights in talking to all the vets about the horse. We did all the diagnostics, and we found out there was nerve damage and muscle atrophy in the shoulder. That is very serious. Yes, perhaps he could be sound again someday, but it would take a long time for him to ever hope to compete at that level again. You don't do that with horses.”

When Reddam got a telephone call from trainer Doug O'Neill one day before the Belmont Stakes that I'll Have Another had been injured, he was numb. “When I hung up the phone I sat in a chair stunned and trying not to cry,” he wrote in a blog for “My little brother appeared, took one look at me, and asked me if our dad had died.  … He gave me an experience that I would have never dreamed possible, this unbelievable horse with the athleticism, mind, and heart of a creature that few of us ever have touch us face to face. “

And yet, despite the comments from veterinary experts that the likelihood for a complete recovery and return to the same level of competition was questionable, Reddam was subjected to charges of greed. The connections of Union Rags and Bodemeister were attacked in the same – unfair, in my opinion – manner.

In the case of Bodemeister, veterinary surgeon Larry Bramlage who treated the Empire Maker colt at Rood and Riddle said, “Some horses can totally overcome this. If the nerve regenerates and the muscle comes back, they can be normal. But it takes quite a while for that to happen. It's not certain that he recovers. We expect him to resolve this, but there is the possibility he would be left with some diminished muscle function.”

  • Terri Zeitz

    Thanks for a heart wrenching terrific article. I can’t imagine the owner’s pain and anguish over the horse’s injury and their tough decision to retire them.
    And I read the tweats between you and Dr. Hansen. He certainly is looking into all the possibilities for treating Hansen with all of the new modalities.
    But I wonder if more could be done to prevent these injuries. Black Caviar swims every day due to her mulitple injuries and swimming is therapeutic for her. Maybe the tracks should consider having a place for the horses to swim to prevent too much stress on their joints and ligaments. Years ago they used to take the horses to the beach at Gulfstream. And in Australia, the horses have less injury as they are not penned up in stables as much and develope stronger bones from being in the paddock.

  • McGov

    I don’t believe it is monetary greed that drives owners of great horses into the ground. It is the personal ambitions of great men that drive great horses into the ground. In so many cases, minor injuries that need time to heal are not part of the objective, and treated as aggressively as the rules allow. Anyone that has spent enough time in a stall with these beautiful creatures will tell you the real story….you have to listen to the horse.

  • Thegospeltruth

    All of these horse had one thing in common, they all raced with Lasix which led to their physical ailments and retirement, just ask Sheila Lyons, Barry Irwin, Tinky, The Jockey Club, TOBA, etc.

  • S.S.

    Thank you for your article, and the insight into the emotions of the connections of the racehorses. What frustrates me (and Terri Zeitz mentioned it in her comment) is that it seems like racehorses oversears are overall stronger/more durable. I don’t know if that is fact, but that is what it seems after being a horse racing fan for 30 years. Is it a commitment to breeding for confirmation/stamina rather than a fancy name that will bring a lot of money at a sale? Also, does it include that generally more horses are raised/trained on turf instead of our hard dirt (fast times!) tracks? And many other aspects to mention. What I know is that I feel frustrated every year when a slew of U.S. racehorses that I have been following are retired. And it seems like it doesn’t have to always be that way.

  • JP

    Spin it anyway you want but in the near future the condition book for the Travers will be for 3 year olds and upward Geldings.

  • RayPaulick

    Statistics have shown turf racing to be safer, but I don’t blame the racetracks for causing these injuries, since they all occurred on different surfaces (one at Belmont Park, one at Fair Hill training track, one at Del Mar) during training (and many foreign horses train on dirt, sand, or synthetics). The three injuries are all different. The three horses have been handled differently. To me, it’s just rotten bad luck for the connections and the fans.

  • RayPaulick

    Hope you had a good laugh at that. Hilarious.

  • horse racer

    Great article. I am so glad to hear these top quality race horses are retired. I love to watch horse racing and I hate to see or hear about a horse that fell or has to be put down because of a accident on the track.

  • Amy

    Thank you Ray for writing the difficult articles. I totally agree with you here and I know all three of theses owners would rather have a healthy horse on the track racing and winning rather than retired and wondering what may have been had they not been injured.

  • free reign

    Egos have ruined the careers of many horses. Trainers and owners set in their ways, or taking uneccessary risks, with the desired win outweighing risk to rider and horse, is the problem. Trainers who understand and know the mental and physical stress limitations of their charge, are the best horsemen. This does not always go hand-in-hand with win percentage. There are anomalies, but true horseman can really read, listen to, and adjust training to, what a horse “is telling you.” Having owners that can afford to have patience is essential for best case scenario, outcomes.

  • david

    True this has been an extraordinary season, one in which
    owners share the pain of fans. No, it’s
    not solely the result of denigration of the breed, mishandling, medications
    aspects or greed. That said, the trend
    over the past 15 years is pretty stark; the methodology applied to preparing
    prospective Triple Crown runners has changed and, so too possibly, has the type
    of horses. Whether the Triple Crown as
    we know it is still achievable is debatable but one thing is not – awareness
    outside of the core t’bred racing fan base has dropped.

  • Randy

    You use the word great, no way should these very good horses be considered great in the same breath as Forego, Kelso, etc horses that actually were What we don’t see anymore!!!

  • cgriff

    From the Paulick Report on Bodemeister’s retirement – word for word:
    Bodemeister has begun treatment and a full recovery is expected in the coming
    months, but the 3-year-old son of Empire Maker would not have been able to
    return in time for major races at the end of 2012. Bodemeister has a
    peripheral nerve injury which caused atrophy of the infraspinatus muscle in his
    left shoulder,” said Dr. Larry Bramlage, specialist from Rood and Riddle Equine
    Hospital. “Obviously, this made us look at something unusual, rather than a
    normal lameness. His legs are perfect, but he was clinical when jogging to the
    left. After ruling out neck issues with X-rays and a myelogram, we feel
    confident in the diagnosis. It will take approximately 60 days to heal.”

    Key phrases? “Full recovery is expected in the coming months.” “His legs are perfect”. It will take approximately 60 days to heal.”

    Sorry Ray – that is not the diagnosis of a horse incapable of coming back at his best game. This horse could have run at four. IHA – well, from everything I’ve read it was an injury that was terrible in it’s timing and not as likely to heal as he’d already been dealing with issues in that leg. So smart decision there. Union Rags? I think Wyeth was smart to retire him – but not because he was never going to be at the top level again if they rested him, but because he was always a gorgeous, well bred horse who never quite ran as well as he looked. Hansen? Tendons are tough to rehab. But the one that stings me the most is Bodemeister because I think he had the most potential outside of IHA to be a true superstar. And he – of all – had the least to overcome. Your own article said so. I stand by what I said originally – the two parts of this industry are doomed ultimately as long as breeders/owners take our best horses off the track for superfluous physical reasons. That said – if I was facing a $13 million profit on a horse – I’m not sure I wouldn’t do the same.

  • Cubs Stink

    Which is why commercial breeders need to stop breeding to horses with very few starts. I understand they breed to sell and the people buying really don’t care about running at 4 because they want to win the Derby. Either way there needs to be a market correction because there is little hope that this sport will ever see another superstar non-gelding race to the age of 4 or 5.

  • Jon Cohen

    One thing is for sure, IT IS ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT QUESTION ALL ABOUT THE MONEY. Nice spin job though. There might be people out there who will actually believe you. It’s not as if the obstacles regarding rehabilitation, insurance and the possibility of not returning to form are a new phenomenon. All these premature retirements do is help perpetuate the breeders myth of not exposing a horse as ordinary, “damaging their value” by showing their limitations. Attention Stallion managers: Not everyone is stupid, it is easier than ever to judge the merits of a horse’s ability, even through the smokescreen of premature retirement accompanied by a press release.. A glossy advertisement in a magazine proclaiming a particular horse as a star is no longer sufficient proof. Champions are made ON THE RACETRACK. A horse still eligible for a “two other than” allowance race is simply, not a champion.

  • JC Frank

    I don’t think anyone in there right mind thinks that these owners don’t want to see their horses race and race well. But as long as horses are bred from unsound/injury prone horses (Northern Dancer anyone?) and there is a good reason to run a successful colt after 3, we are going to have these issues that are just annoying to watch as a fan of this great game.

  • ManuelB

    I have one question: had Frankel been owned by an American, would he have raced at 4?

  • Tinky

    Again, as long as breeders and consumers at the sales fail to penalize stallions that neither proved durable, nor capable of beating older horses, their owners will play it safe and take the money.

  • Pluckedduck1

    to which stallions do u refer (so that I may avoid them!)?

  • RayPaulick

    Galileo, 8 starts. Good point but you can’t apply this philosophy to all sires.

  • Just Beachy

    The rehab is always possible, if it can be afforded, but it is true, just as in humans, that the “patient” may not be 100% after all the time/money spent on the care.

    It is true that I would not want to see the rehab done, only to later see one of these horses break down and have to be euthanized on the track. Ie, “we tried, but that really didn’t work.”

    It is probably fair to say that it is not all about the money, but absurd to say that money is not a factor. Had money not been a factor, IHA would probably stand in America instead. SOMEBODY was probably willing to stand IHA over here, but not for 10 million dollars.

    Union Rags also had a full brother, Geefour, with the same beautiful pedigree, just not the same race record. Union Rags won one huge-profile race and a lot more money than Geefour, but it could surely be said that Union Rags’ race record was inconsistent at best. And WHERE IS Geefour, who would only be 8 years old at this time? Last I see, via Equibase, he was racing low on the totem pole in PA, and last raced in 2009, three years ago. Someone once wrote in on this blog and said that he wasn’t running for trainers that were well-known for taking care of their horses.

    You “don’t want to hurt the horse”? Or, you don’t want to hurt the horse that WINS, and WINS BIG?!!

    And I wonder about the wisdom of breeding horses who were injured “for good” at only the age of 3. Once again, it looks like America breeds for speed, and not for soundness. And speed will beget speed, and unsoundness will beget unsoundness. But speed will beget money, and unsoundness looks beside the point.

  • Tinky

    It’s a complex topic, and let’s be clear about the fact that some lightly raced stallions that were retired early have been very successful (e.g. Danzig). However, it’s a game of percentages, and patronizing unsound and/or not fully proven (as runners) stallions is a big risk.

    If you, as a breeder and/or owner, are seeking soundness, then look to stallions that have either proven an ability to get durable runners, or younger stallions that displayed that characteristic on the racetrack.

  • Greg Jones

    Well said!

  • Convene

    I have no problem with the horses being retired. Injuries don’t always heal 100%. Tendons rarely do. Nerves? Well, my arabian with radial and median nerve damage healed well enough (but it took a year) to succeed in endurance rides and remain sound – but he did kind of beat the odds. Many just don’t make it. So yes, retirement was probably the best choice because always, always we do have to put the horse first.

    My problem is the sheer number of horses confronting those decisions these days. I have to wonder whether at least some of them could be the result of hereditary weaknesses passed along in the gene pool. I don’t know how we determine whether an injury is just bad racing luck – and probably many of them really are – and which are genetic defects. Hah! I guess if I knew how to do that, I’d be making a fortune, wouldn’t I! All we can do is look at the racing, medication and produce histories of horses with similar parentage and check the percentages – especially when preparing to send a mare to a superhorse who retired early due to injuries.

    As for the owners who made the choice to retire their champions – I have to say you did the right thing. You really did put the horses ahead of the dollars and that’s never a bad thing. Money does drive some people, yes, but I don’t see that motivator in these cases. I think their love and respect for their horses led them to do what was safest for the animals.

  • Stanley inman

    Key phrase dept;
    ” has begun treatment”
    If Larry had shared
    that bit of info;
    There would be zero speculation here.
    Since he didn’t,
    The fan’s demands
    for transparency)
    was Trumped by owner’s need for privacy.
    Privacy ( business) trumps transparency ( what’s best for sport)
    It’s an age-old contest-
    individual vs. Collective

  • Convene

    And Einstein!

  • Pluckedduck1

    Danzig. Yes yes. Mr. Prospector, possibly? Who are the stallions with proven ability to get durable runners Mr. Tinky?

  • Rachel

    Not if he had shoulder nerve atrophy or was on the verge of bowing a tendon…

  • Cliff

    I don’t get the negative fan reaction when these “stars” retire. Several Triple Crown winners continued on in recent seasons and raced before miniscule crowds and television audiences (if TV was even covering the race). Animal Kingdom raced in front of maybe 8,000 people this winter. Shackleford won the prestigious Met Mile in front of maybe another 8,000. Were I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister or Union Rags so much more charismatic they would have garnered much more attention if they returned from injury? Rachel Alexandra drew crowds, but she raced a couple handful of times after the Preakness and left no lasting legacy any more than other “stars” of recent years.
    Quit with the selfishness. Accept that injuries have always stopped some potentially great careers (Count Fleet, Hoist the Flag, Smarty Jones, Rags to Riches). Let’s keep waiting for that next star to rise.

  • Rachel

    Kingmambo, El Prado, Gulch, Quiet American, Rahy, Pleasant Tap, Distorted Humor, Slew City Slew, Silver Deputy…all have A+- ratings on durability

  • Rachel

    If these colts did not come back to be major players, the same people screaming that they should return would be the leaders of the band screaming “I knew they were no good!”
    I think of Funny Cide, thank goodness he was a gelding…he never displayed the same level of winning as his TC run, but he was plagued with major breathing problems that could crop up at any time…all I ever read and heard was “see, see, we knew he was no good…” Hardly anyone credited that little horse for giving his all every time asked…
    …the exact same thing would happen if these colts could not bring back their form as “healed” 4 year-olds.

  • Tinky

    For a start, feel free to take a look at the Jockey Club list linked below. The average American runner races less than 11 times in its career.


  • Pluckedduck1

    Txs. very much Ms. Rachel except that only 3 of those horse raced more than 13 times. this would seem to be contrary to Mr. Tinky’s theory.

  • khambat

    Frankel would have been taken off the racing circuit as soon as the owner’s accountant calculated that he was of more value in a breeding shed measured against his potential future earnings…and the risk that even one loss would have damaged his mystique enough to reduce his stud fees. May have been a retirement, may have been an ‘injury’ but rest assured…he’d be done by September of this three-year-old year.

    What does all that have to do with the ‘sport of racing’? Nothing. The business of breeding has surpassed the sport of racing in the horse industry in terms of priority. How difficult is it to draw NEW fans to a sport where it’s equine stars may last six-to-eight starts. Next to impossible. The concerns of the owners, breeders and auction houses trump the needs of the sport. The sport of the kings is now the business of equine future’s investment…

  • wallyhorse

    While some of these retirements are unavoidable, the only way this is going to change is if we do two big things in particular:

    1. Get rid of Lasix in this sport. That has been shown in the eyes of many to shorten careers and cause horses to be not able to run nearly as often as they once did.

    2. The Triple Crown track operators and Breeders’ Cup, :Ltd. need to follow the lead of what Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural is doing for Harness Racing and is being followed by the other leading Harness track operator, Woodbine Entertainment Group for races at Woodbine and Mohawk Raceway: Beginning with the foals of 2014 (two year olds of 2015), horses sired by stallions who were four or younger at the time of conception are no longer eligible to race in major stakes races at The Meadowlands and the other tracks Gural owns (Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs) as well as the WEG tracks. The T-Bred track operators and BC Ltd. need to not only do this, but expand on it by effectively requiring top horses to race through their five year old season.

    The latter in particular, if implemented to age five would require that horses be bred for durability and endurance rather than speed, precociousness and the quick buck. That would force massive, fundamental changes in the way horses are bred as breeders would have to breed horses that have to make AT LEAST 30-40 starts through age five. Over time, we would see more robust horses able to handle the rigors of the game and a better sport overall.

  • khambat

    It is troubling that this article never once addressed the possibility of over-training for a mythical Triple Crown in a three-year-old racing season front-loaded with most of America’s purse money. Or even addressed…that perhaps, just perhaps, something is very wrong with American commercial breeding practices….and three-year-olds pale terribly in durability when compared to horses just two decades ago. Or it might questioned the wisdom of an industry prioritizing breeding & investment returns over it’s actual on-track product. Or it could of asked…how does a sport survive if it’s ‘stars’ run less than ten races in their career…which not one, two, but four three-year-olds have done this year. Four of the five most newsworthy 3yo’s are done…and it’s not September.

    To quote Ray, “it’s just rotten bad luck for the connections and the fans.”


  • Tinky

    Don’t bring them back because their reputations might take a hit? Brilliant!

    Why not just breed to the fastest horses in the 2yo sales? That way they won’t have to risk damage to their reputations by running in an actual race.

  • Cliff

    Please provide the study where Lasix use is a causal link to shortened careers.
    How does keeping the sons and daughters of 4-year-old stallions from racing in the 2018 Hambletonian make the sons and daughters by that same 5-year-old stallion in the 2019 Hambo any more likely to have longer careers?

  • khambat

    And how do you breed for the speed of Bodemeister or the stamina of I’ll Have Another….without getting durability of either.?

  • HappyHarriet

    I had to scroll up to be sure who wrote this. Am I completely schizophrenic or does this article contradict itself? After Ray cautions about a flat, one dimensional attitude concerning “it’s all about the money”, his next paragraph states:

    “To bring those horses back in 2013 would have been expensive. The
    mortality and fertility insurance would cost in the vicinity of 8-10% of
    their value. That’s about $1 million for each horse, no small sum. But
    the real financial risk would be in bringing these horses back, only to
    discover that the recovery from injury was not sufficient for them to
    return to their previous level of performance. Each of the horse’s
    perceived value would likely plummet.”

    WHAT? …excuse me while I make an extra appointment with my therapist… And meanwhile, if any of you know where I can talk out of both sides of my mouth and get paid for it, please let me know right away. I thought that was unethical, but apparently it’s accepted, applauded, and even compensated.

  • khambat

    And if I’ll Have Another, Union Rags, and Bodemeister were geldings….they’d be rested until healed…and racing next season. If they were $10,000 claimers…they’d be racing next week. Of course it’s about the money. Until the sport makes the 4&up Handicap division a priority….with money and exposure…three year olds will run, win and retire. What amazes me is that people in the industry don’t understand that this model will not generate a new fan base. It might even keep the niche one it currently has.

  • Cliff

    I’d make an appointment with an optometrist as well.
    He debunks that “…these horse owners see nothing but dollar signs behind the webbing of their trainer’s favorite stall.”
    And admits: “There, I said it. Money is a factor…however, I am convinced money was not the primary, driving reason the horses had their careers cut short.”
    In other words “It’s not ALL (or always) about the money.” How is that contradictory?

  • Cliff

    Some have tried that. How’s The Green Monkey’s book looking this year?

  • Ray, no doubt the owners are heartsick – I totally believe that. However, until the buyers begin demanding prospects that have been bred for soundness and speed – the beat will continue. Somehow, racing must reinvent itself in order to attrack additional fan base.

  • wallyhorse


    Lasix is only part of it.

    Last year, I wrote on how tracks need to “get tough” to make horses who want to run in the Derby run more often beforehand as I feel the “babying” of horses that we have now is responsible for many of the injuries we have in the sport (no different in my view from the “babying” of pitchers in baseball and the sharp increase in arm injuries over a period of time). I was told by a few at the time the “babying” of horses was largely because horses needed more time to recover from races as a direct result of Lasix because of how Lasix dehydrates horses.

    The real problem is how horses are bred these days. The requirements I would have (again, following the lead of Mr. Gural) would over time strengthen horses as breeders would get away from breeding for sales and the quick buck and return to breeding for stamina, soundness and durability. This is a mess we did not get into overnight and one we won’t get out of overnight either.

  • VGFarrell

    Now I am laughing. American racing no longer knows how to breed a Frankel, train a Frankel or race a Frankel. No doubt you would have missed his excellence, or even more likely ignored it, and drugged him to the eyeballs till he was injured then sent him to the shed at 3. That is American racing.

  • wallyhorse

    Should also note for now the Hambletonian is exempt, but the two biggest races in Harness Racing for pacers, The Meadowlands Pace and North American Cup along with the Cane Pace (a leg of the Triple Crown for Pacers) are NOT exempt and such horses would be ineligible for such events. Applying a similar policy for Thoroughbred racing by barring horses sired by those who were five or younger at the time of conception would serve two purposes: Breed horses who are more robust and also keep the stars of the sport around longer, which on the Harness front is Mr. Gural’s intention.

  • Otis

    Geefour – owned as of last race by Michael Gill & trained by Anthony Adamo.

  • Otis

    Take a good look at Frankel’s 5 cross pedigree and refrain from saying bad things about Northern Dancer.

  • Pluckedduck1

    It seems, Mr. Tinky, that this list is more about age of stallion
    instead of race record of stallion. Older stallions have more and older
    racers and more starts (per racer). And so, obviously, stallions at top
    of link are the older stallions, and those at bottom younger.

    Q of ur OP was of starts per racer. more starts, sounder foals. Less
    starts unsound foals, never mind Danzig, Mr. P, and most of horses on
    Ms. Rachel’s list. genetic connection to injury causation, i.e. are
    there stats to back up such a connection?

  • Tinky

    No, those lists are comprised of stallions that have had enough foals to race to make the comparisons meaningful. That is exactly how such lists should be developed.

    You want clear data? How about this: around 1970, horses started an average of over 30 times during their careers, and the stallions which sired those horses raced, as a group, many more times and to more advanced ages than contemporary stallions. Today, the average lifetime starts is less than 11, and look at the typical race record of stallions.

    It is OBVIOUSLY the case that, as a group, sounder stallions produce sounder offspring.

    Your question about Bodemeister is ignorant, and for obvious reasons.

  • triplecrownquest

    Here is a cheer and a toast to all those claiming horses that run 25+ times! I will watch and bet on them over these 6-8 race flash in the pan horses…no matter how good they were.

  • Just Beachy

    Yes, in 2009–so Gill would have to comment here re: where he is right now. And he is originally bred and owned, but then falls/goes down the claiming ranks and ends up God knows where. I have a lot of respect for people like the Mosses who make strong effort to track and re-claim their horses if necessary. And I have read Mr. Blowen saying he helps them with this, which to me translates that those horses are cared for instead of (probably) ending up in the abbatoir.

  • Just Beachy

    I would say that, sometimes, it’s even more of a “survival of the fittest” overseas and thus you’re seeing more durable horses racing. E.g., over there, no drugs, so if they bleed, or bleed too much, they don’t race. By default, on that score, you can probably consider them more durable from a cardiovascular standpoint, which can result in more ease of conditioning AND more intense conditioning. I would also say that horses like Frankel have probably, from the conditioning standpoint, been brought along more slowly, even if he’s brilliant, which he is. Sir Henry Cecil is nothing if not patient.

    But “survival of the fittest” comes at a steep price, and you can guess what it is

    This is 2006 but I can show you an article from 2011 that is about as bad. I’d encourage people to give to overseas horse rescues too, just as I encourage them to give to American ones. Those horses who can’t cut the mustard in racing should not just become disposable trash, and a lot, possibly most, of them do.

  • McGov

    Agreed, they are not champions. But they all started as potential champtions.

  • Just Beachy

    The fact is the money has an awful lot to do with it, and considering the amount of money involved, that is not a shock. What is disturbing is that they’re getting retired younger and younger. Personally I don’t care what age they get retired at, as long as they are taken care of. But, BREEDING to them, when injured/retired at such a young age, is a different practical and ethical question. And then there’s 3 high-profile 2-year-olds who just came off the track due to injuries–now, they’ll go for treatment and “rehab” because people probably want them to have a 3-year-old season–is that “just about the horse”? An open question…and/or, will it become necessary to retire high-profile 2-year-olds, too? And then you wait around a little while until they can also get sent to the shed? Sometimes, the “exception”, like Vindication, but will it become the general rule?!!

    And then there are horses like Zenyatta, racing as much as she did, as far as I know, without significant, premature, career-ending injuries. I’d say her pedigree and/or training practices need to be carefully studied, because what is needed is more durable horses like her.

  • Otis

    Search The Paulick Report for the articles about Gill and his methods.

  • Samantha Jenkins

    The sad reality is that what these owners decided and why is none of the general public’s business. NONE. Sitting in judgement, like YOU wouldnt be about the money and would have this purely altruistic approach in the same situation is a joke. When YOU own a Bode or a Rags or a horse that does better than 3rd in allowance race OR if you are buying major shares in these stallions, then you can talk and maybe then someone will actually care what you have to say. Some of you are the same people that would be calling for these owners heads on a platter if they returned the horses to racing and something tragic happened. Get over yourselves and off your pathetic soap boxes and do something for our industry to better it besides sitting behind a computer screen and making calls about situations and people you know nothing about and never will.

  • Samantha Jenkins

    Frankel just happens to be owned by a Sheihk that can take some different financial risks than the average owner. How anyone can attempt to say for a fact what another owner would do in a hypothetical situation is beyond me. How would you know??? Also, fact, European horses are MORE SOUND THAN OURS!!!!!!

  • Cliff

    Walt…Please tell me the year…or the decade…or even an era, where the bloodstock market collectively said “let’s stop breeding to get a Derby winner or a Triple Crown winner” and said, “you know, all these millions and I’m never gonna get one…might as well go for the quick buck and punt on the whole Derby thing.”
    That’s part of Ray’s point. Zayat didn’t say “Eff this…Empire Maker had a short career, so I’m probably wasting money buying Bodemeister.” He said “Look at that gorgeous son of A BELMONT WINNER!”
    And as far as Lasix goes, all you have is what you “feel” and what you’ve been “told.” Forgive me if I rely on something a bit more scientific for guidance on how we should pilot the next few decades of racing.

  • anita

    To put the welfare of the horse is paramont—and that is what these owners did. They hurt because their horses hurt. thank you for putting the horses first.

  • Just Beachy

    You have no idea what we may do or not do to “better *your* industry”. There’s a lot of people here who might buy some of the horses you breed and the general betting public helps keep you in the manner to which you’ve become accustomed. Empty tracks would probably not be a pretty sight for you. And if you don’t like reading others’ opinions, why visit a blog?

  • Just Beachy

    Yes, thank you, I had seen some of those before. Were I an owner/breeder and I figured out(key phrase, I know, but most owners are connected and not stupid) that people like this had claimed one of my horses, I’d crawl across cut glass to get the horse back. The world doesn’t revolve around me and my opinions; but, that’s me. :-/

  • pres

    Actually you are right! it’s none of the general public’s business
    because most of the them wouldn’t know horse racing from bowling. Heck,
    most of them don’t even know there is still horse racing. This is a
    dying niche sport and the general public and those posting here DOES NOT
    HAVE TO DO ANYTHING. It’s those inside who have to get the general
    public’s interest by creating a product the general public wants to
    consume. Those on top are just squeezing what they can get before they
    turn off the lights. Just don’t forget to close the door behind you.

  • Hindoo

    Money is definitely a factor. I have little or no sympathy for the owners and/or trainers involved in these early and, one might ask, premature retirements. Be as philosophical and understanding as you want … it’s killing the sport.

  • wallyhorse


    The dynamics of breeding changed over time as many of the older breeders passed away and were replaced by people who were more concerned about the quick buck, and even more so in this era of instant gratification.
    The way horses are bred now with regard for the quick buck and instant gratification is something that would have to change if the rules being implemented by Mr. Gural on the Harness front were implemented and expanded on by the Triple Crown track operators to where top horses have to race through age five (or face having their progeny declared ineligible for ALL Graded stakes races).

    The irony is, in 1979 when Spectacular Bid was going for the Triple Crown in the Belmont, a sportswriter actually wrote that the Triple Crown had become “too easy” as “The Bid” was trying to become the third consecutive TC winner in as many years at the time. After Pleasant Colony in 1981, we would have just two horses alive for the Triple Crown over the next 15 years (1982-’96) in the Belmont Stakes. That likely would also change if the new rules were implemented since horses would have to be bred for durability and stamina the way older breeders used to do it as opposed to the commercial breeders of this day.

  • Pluckedduck1

    Mr. Tinky i am unable to see any “obviously” about it, and fail to follow this line of thought. My understanding of the premise: Lightly raced stallions tend to produce unsound foals and stallions that survived many races produce sounder presumably injury free foals. The list fails to include the race record of the stallions, which would seem ur original point–a stallion with a volume of races also produces the sound foal. In my limited experience some equine traits seem highly inheritable. I’d be curious which specific traits u refer to in terms of “soundness” are heritable, or is this just a general vague supposition on ur part?

  • Tinky

    Well, it should be obvious to anyone that the primary reason that racehorses two-thirds fewer lifetime starts now than they did 40-50 years ago is breeding, and not “environmental” factors.

    Back then, the commercial market had not become supercharged, and there were far more stables that bred to race. So soundness was highly emphasized, for obvious reasons.

    One doesn’t need to be a geneticist to understand that Unbridled’s Song, for example, got unsound horses. Stallions pass on both desirable and undesirable traits. The ones that tend to get less sound stock often pass on certain physical traits that lead to abbreviated careers. Storm Cat typically got horses with offset knees and bad throats. The combination of those flaws, often compounded by hot temperaments, meant that it was quite clear why his runners did not, as a group, prove to be durable.

    There are, of course, other variables at play, including how horses are managed, etc. But there is no doubt that stallions which proved durable as runners are more likely, as a group, to get sound stock, than those which broke down early in their careers.

  • Kris

    On the one hand, I try not to begrudge an owner selling their horse for an early retirement. On the other hand, some of these folks are incredibly wealthy and certainly aren’t selling their horses in order to ‘save the farm.’ My opinion is predicated on the horse being healthy and sound at the time of retirement.

  • Pluckedduck1

    my take is that u continue to play to old wives tales and rumors. I had a double storm cat with none of those problems. there was an actual geneticist posting on this site that it is impossible to change genetics in 10 or 12 generations much less 4 or 5.

  • Tinky

    Ah, so you had a horse with Storm Cat blood that had none of those problems, therefore they weren’t prevalent in his offspring?


    Any claims made by geneticists along the lines that you suggest are completely nonsensical. Stallions that are prepotent have an immediate impact on the breed through hundreds of horses, many of which pass on similar characteristics.

  • If you are in this business for the money you better find another business and FAST! For every successful horse that these owners have they probably have at least 5 or 6 that they paid a lot of money for that are either on the sidelines with injuries or will never win enough to pay for themselves.

    What an owner does with a horse who has been injured is a VERY tough decision. Any owner worth his/her salt will ALWAYS do whats best for the HORSE. Many times that means if you are going to make a mistake you do so by being overly cautious, not by taking unnecessary risks. No matter how bad or how slight an injury may be, the public will be watching very closely as to what an owner does. If they take the retirement route they are criticized for being greedy. If they come back to the races and the horse suffers a more traumatic injury or worse a complete breakdown the owner is blamed for being not only greedy but cruel and heartless for making the horse continue to race.

    For 98% of horse owners money is ALWAYS an issue. But it’s not an issue of greed but an issue of survival. It costs just as much to own a 5k claimer as it does for a Grade I winner and those costs add up FAST. In case you haven’t noticed VERY few owners stay on top for a long time. So maximizing your profits when you can is important and must be considered in these decisions. You must consider if a horse has been successful at 3 and has a very high value placed on him, how much more will he be worth successfully running at 4? Is it worth the risks of injury, the possibility of lowering his value due to losses and the high costs of insurance? In fact given the money he may be running for at 4, unless he has an undefeated season (highly unlikely) he may not win enough purse money to make it worth the risk let alone covering his high cost of insurance.

    While these early retirements are disappointing there are sound reasons for them and greed really is not one of them.

    On the breeding issues that have been raised, I would look more towards the quality of the mares being bred as the problem more than the sires at stud. In years past the type of mares being breed today would have never gotten close to a breeding shed.

  • sandy

    Has anyone ever noticed that Bob Baffert’s trainees seldom race as four-year-olds or older? His horses are pointed to the classic races for three-year-olds and raced hard at two and trained hard all the time. Their training times are as fast as full-out race times. His business is winning the Kentucky Derby, the Triple Crown if lucky and the prep races leading up to them. If you want the Kentucky Derby trophy, he’s got a good record and a proven plan but the horses are used up.

  • RayPaulick

    Sandy…While I’m sure there are many examples to support your contention, don’t forget that Bob Baffert’s Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm raced until five and Real Quiet well into his 4-year-old campaign. Also, note that three of the older horses competing in today’s Pacific Classic have been with Baffert the majority of their careers.

    I wouldn’t single out Baffert or trainers in this area. Owners are the ones who want to win the Kentucky Derby and trainers like Baffert, or Todd Pletcher, or Nick Zito facilitate what the owners want.

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