Who’s Driving American Breeding’s Need For Speed?

by | 12.29.2015 | 4:12pm
Irish-bred Found edged British-bred Golden Horn in this year's mile and one-half Breeders' Cup Turf.

It's an age-old question in racing: Do breeders drive the racing program or does the racing program drive the breeding industry? The answer depends on where you're standing.

According to figures from Equibase, of the 41,574 races run in the United States last year, 25,776 of them were run at distances of seven furlongs or less – 62 percent. Only 377 races were run at distances of 1 1/4 mile or more – not even 1 percent. Of those, only 61 were run at the distance of a mile and a half, a trip considered to be the classic middle distance in Europe.

Across the Atlantic, the picture is radically different: The French racing authority, France Galop, reports that of the 4,908 races run in France last year, only 622 races, or 12 percent of the total, were run at distances of seven furlongs or less. But there were 2,582 races longer than a mile and a quarter, or 52 percent of the total.

How did American racing come to this pass?

“We used to regularly have maiden races of 10 and 12 furlongs in New York and southern California in the 1970s,” said Barry Irwin, a longtime owner and breeder through his Team Valor syndicates. “Then newer racing secretaries and trainers figured it was easier to run a horse shorter than longer. Commercial breeders embraced speed in pedigrees, began to surgically alter the limbs of crooked-legged sons and grandsons of Mr. Prospector and Raise a Native, and we have speedy bred horses that have limbs that flaunt Mother Nature. The perfect storm.”

Under these circumstances, how can the American breeding industry provide a viable number of quality horses for its most important races like the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes, the Breeders' Cup Classic and Turf, the Travers Stakes, the Jockey Club Gold Cup, the Santa Anita Handicap, the Pacific Classic, the Turf Classic and the Arlington Million, etc., almost all of them run at distances of at least 10 furlongs, when it must produce most of its horses to fill sprint races?

The answer is: It can't. The once hallowed pastures of Kentucky have for three decades been churning out an increasing number of sprinters customized to cater to the desires of the contemporary American owner, someone who wants a quick return from his precocious investment. Gone are the days when American owner/breeders had the patience to develop bloodlines that would ultimately produce the likes of Northern Dancer, Mill Reef, Nijinsky, Secratariat, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid and Dancing Brave.

Some may point to American Pharoah to refute this argument, but in rebuttal it can be said that the 2015 Triple Crown winner is the exception to the American rule. After all, it took the American breeding industry 37 years to find a successor to its last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed.

“Commercialism is the culprit,” Irwin said.

And so it would appear that in America, the racing program drives the breeding industry.

In France, probably the least commercial of all the Thoroughbred markets among Europe and North America's four major racing nations, it is a different story, one in which the racing program is determined by the types of horses that are being bred.

Justin Ince, manager of Darley Stud's operations in France, pointed out that most breeders in France breed to race rather than sell.

“Only about 25 percent of the French foal crop ever sees a sales ring,” he said, adding that the French system of premiums, which provide between 43 and 60 percent above published purses to owners and breeders, offers plenty of economic incentive for owner/breeders to race the horses they breed.

Further evidence of the French concern with stamina can be found in an examination of the five stallions that head the 2015 sire lists in that country. The average winning distance this year of the offspring of Dubawi, Cape Cross, Dansili, Galileo and Siyouni is 9.5 furlongs. Meanwhile, America's five leading sires, Tapit, Medaglia d'Oro, Pioneerof the Nile, Candy Ride and Kitten's Joy, produce horses whose average winning distance is just 7.45 furlongs.

With a handful of exceptions, the days of the grand old American breeder/owner families like the Whitneys, the Vanderbilts and Calumet Farm are over. Not so in France, where the Aga Khan, Khalid Abdullah, the Wertheimer brothers and the Niarchos family, among others, continue to patiently supply the most important French races with a substantial number of quality performers. French classic races like the Prix du Jockey-Club and the Prix de Diane at 1 5/16 miles, or the Prix de l'Opera at 1 1/4 miles, the Grand Prix de Paris, the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and the Prix Vermeille at 1 1/2 miles, continue to fill with horses bred with those distances in mind.

Don't think that French horsemen – and Europeans in general – haven't noticed the shift in American breeding. A point in case is the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. In France, all roads lead to the Arc. At the classic distance of a mile and a half, it is the Holy Grail of European racing, and the entire racing calendar is engineered with that championship goal in mind.

During the latter part of the 20th Century, the Arc was virtually dominated by horses bred in the United States. But of late, the Arc serves as the prime example of the growing disregard with which European horsemen view the stamina-depleted American Thoroughbred. From 1971 through 2001, when the USA suffix following a horse's name was a badge of honor in Europe, 14 of the 31 Arc winners were American bred. Since 2001, however, not a single winner of the Arc has been bred in these United States.

Gina Rarick is an American trainer based in Maisons-Laffitte, France, and the former racing correspondent at the International Herald Tribune. Alan Shuback is a former columnist and foreign correspondent at Daily Racing Form and The Sporting Life. 

  • Rachel

    It’s commercial “breeders” and novice owners who have no long term love or understanding of the breed or the sport, or the long term implications of what they’re doing to them.

    • 1 guh-zillion percent correct-a-mundo.

    • Bein

      Extremely broad statement here, so probably nearly 100% wrong.

  • As European horse woman living in the U.S, I can only say: so sad – but so true!

    • Bein

      It is sad. The focus on sprinting essentially puts an entire segment of the Thoroughbred population out of a job. People in racing seem not to understand anymore that routing is a talent too.

  • Roark

    I blame the invasion of the quarter horse cowboys headed by D. Wayne Lukas and his ‘less is more’ conditioning practices. You work a horse at max 4-5F guess what? You develop no stamina. The Hall of Famers of the past worked their horses at race distances and just a few ticks off race speeds. Specificity is the cornerstone of physical conditioning in every sport save US TB racing.

    • LauraS

      Absolutely! As I’ve said before, my daughter ran cross country in high school and college. They would train at six miles five days as week and race the sixth day at only three – making those three miles seem easy. Today’s trainers do it backwards: train to four or five furlongs once a week and then expect the horse to go longer. When they can’t, the races are “too long” so more sprints are carded. We don’t have enough races for our stayers, most of whom are given up on when they can’t sprint. (Case in point: Drosselmeyer. He was outstanding at 10f and above when he had the chance to go that far. I for one wasn’t surprised when he won the Classic – he was the only horse in the race who could truly get the distance. I’m expecting him to be exported soon, when his foals prove to be distance horses too and can’t show :11 speed for the sales.) We call any race at two turns a route while in the rest of the world a race needs to be above 12f to be a route – 8-12f races are middle distance.

      As recently as the 1970s horses no horse who couldn’t get 10f consistently would win year-end awards outside of juvenile or sprinting. Since 2009 only two of the Horses of the Year were able to win at 10f – Zenyatta and California Chrome; Neither Rachel Alexandra nor Havre de Grace ever won at 10f (although both tried the distance) and Wise Dan was the first miler to ever get the honor. (Of course, American Pharoah will win it this year.)

      Unless and until we begin to value 10+furlong horses again – outside of the Triple Crown – (BTW, the Belmont Stakes is the only 12f Grade I dirt race left in the US) the US horse will continue to be less and less significant in international racing.

    • kateharper77

      We might disagree on some things, Roark, but I’m all in with what you wrote. Thank you.

    • Pimlico_Bred

      Bingo. Dead center of the nail. It’s all about ROI these days.

    • Tinky

      While there is something to the conditioning angle, you will never get horses to stay beyond nine furlongs through training alone.

      Without stamina in the pedigree, they simply won’t stay much beyond a mile (except for the odd anomaly) no matter how they are trained.

      • Mark Devereux

        In general, I agree. However, if racing secretaries started putting up more staying races, I think that would be a good transition to getting breeders to breed for them. In the meantime, running horses in those races that aren’t bred for them will simply mean that (at least in the short term) those races will be run more slowly than would otherwise be the case. All horses can run a mile and a half if appropriately trained for that distance, irrespective of their breeding.

        • Tinky

          Well, yes, against a field comprised of other sprinters, Usain Bolt would probably do well over 10,000 meters.

          But we are in basic agreement, and let me put a slightly different light on the issue. There are plenty of one-paced horses racing without much success at around a mile throughout the U.S. Their pedigrees range from speedy to “middle-distance” in American terms (the phrase means something different in Europe).

          If races were written from 10-12f. (or even beyond), many of these plodders would find new life, and become more useful and productive. They would also, as a group, almost certainly remain sounder than their speedier counterparts.

          This would, on balance, be very good for the industry, and a new, and ultimately thriving division of runners would be developed, and otherwise depreciating assets could be revitalized.

          The downside would be that it would cannibalize the existing miler division, which, given a declining horse population, could be a real problem.

          Oh, and it’s aldo sheer fantasy, as no racetrack owner or management team would be willing to take the short-term economic hit in order to strengthen the long-term health of the game.

    • Concerned Observer

      I lay a lot of blame on the racing secretaries, 95% just want to fill races.. I am an owner/breeder/trainer and I like distance horses. Most of my horses are fit and ready to go a distance. But I have no place to run them. I am wasting my time and money. The current TP condition book has very very few races at more than a mile.

      Although claiming races are 80% of all races, claiming races at over a mile are rare. So where can an owner run a well breed distance horse that is not quite allowance calibre? no where!

      It is a catch 22 for everyone. The trainers don’t train for them because there are no races in the book. The racing secretary won’t put them in the book because there are no horses for the races and the races won’t fill. This did not happen overnight.

      We are a long way down this road. The lack of any overall vision in American racing rears it’s ugly head again, and in many strange places. This is one.

    • Ruben Flores Diaz

      Those QH guys dominate the classic races and they spend the money to get those classic horses
      , sometimes they buy at 2yo sales but most of the horses are from keenland in september. American pharaoh is a hombred and to get the sire and dam mr Zayat spent a lot of money. I think the problem is cheap sprint races. If horses ran longer distances there would be less injuries and better horses. Another thing how did the american TB became the best breed in the world in the past? Because breeders woul go and buy the best stallions from europe, now it is the other way around

  • LauraS

    We have been developing the American Three-Quarter Horse for the last thirty years. The rest of the world is still breeding Thoroughbreds.

    • Very often using American pedigrees – how do you explain that?

      • Ruben Flores Diaz

        Because during the 80s an 90s american breeders sold the best bloodlines to eurpeans and the sheiks, and american racing started to lose all of the classic distance blood, how often do you see an american horse go a half mile in 46 an finish a mile race in 1:38 whit the last 1/4 mile in 27 seconds, and the thing is it will be vrry difficult for american breeders to get those bloodlines back because eurpeans and arabs breed to race, and when they sell dont offer the best horses, even the japan breeders have better distance horses, then again I think thry dont run 5000 dls claiming races in japan at 4.5 fourlons

        • I doubt very much if overseas sales have damaged things as much as you fear. The horses are the same but the incentives to develop them are not. From that point of view, I quite agree that writing all short races doesn’t help – then again nor does running races that allow poor horses to be profitable [in some hands!].

  • Jay

    Much of this has to do with America’s evolving need for instant gratification. The commercial breeder is only reacting to this.

    • They are capitalizing on it.

      • Jay

        Yes,that too.

  • FourCats

    It comes down to money. The only semi-reasonable way to maybe break even or at least not lose too much in racing in the U.S. is to buy an early-developing horse (read sprinter) and win some purses as a two-year old before the purchase/training costs overwhelm the owner. If the owner is really lucky, his early-developing horse has some stakes talent and can then be retired before the end of the horse’s 3-year old year to breeding.

    As such, distance-loving horses that develop over time are shunned by most purchasers (except those with deep pockets who don’t care if they break even or not). The breeders follow along by breeding sprinters because that’s what the buyers want. The racetracks follow along by carding more sprints because there are not enough distance horses to fill distance races. And the downward cycle continues.

    There is no easy answer to this. Short of a resurgence in the popularity of the sport (and thus the prosperity of the sport), owners will continue to try to minimize their losses. (Unless racing became an elitist sport where only the wealthy own horses.)

    By the way, while I mostly agree with the article, it needs to be pointed out that comparing the distances of races in the U.S. (which are mostly on dirt) with the distances of races in Europe (which are mostly turf) is not an apples to apples comparison.. It has been my experience that horses can generally handle longer distances on turf than on dirt.

    • Tinky

      No, it has nothing to do with the surface. There were many races run at 10f. and beyond (including 2 miles) on dirt for decades in the U.S.

      What is likely confusing you is that more residual stamina remains in American turf pedigrees than dirt.

      • FourCats

        Can’t agree based on my personal experience of watching many thousands of races over the past 5 decades.

        Not sure what the fact that there were many more 10f races and up in the past really has to with the issue of surface.

        • Tinky

          There is zero evidence to support your claim.

          As I mentioned, there is more residual stamina in American turf pedigrees, and also more opportunities to race beyond nine furlongs on grass.

          To answer your question, if racing over longer distances on dirt were somehow intrinsically more difficult than on turf (it isn’t), then how can you explain the fact that such races were not uncommon for the first 75 years or so of the 20th century?

      • Meg Hiers

        However, it should be noted that most of the long distance races in Europe are the field galloping along at a pretty moderate pace before the all-out sprint the last couple of furlongs to the wire.

        • Tinky

          And what percentage of American races run at 10f.+ do you see contested with a fast pace?

          • Meg Hiers

            It seems to me that most longer distance races in US dirt are won by horses that can set or closely follow a decent, but not suicidal pace, since there is very little behind them that can throw down a final quarter in 22 to get up in time.

          • Tinky

            That is true, but I would suggest that the factor that you mention is not the important one.

            First, American dirt surfaces have long been relatively speed-favoring, so racing on or near the pace is broadly advantageous no matter what the distance of the race.

            Secondly, as the pace in races on dirt beyond nine furlongs tends to be relatively slow, that advantage is compounded.

            This is part of the point that I was making when American Pharaoh was being discussed after the BC. Not only was he the superior horse in his races, but in the Belmont and BC he enjoyed huge tactical advantages as well.

          • Alan Shuback

            The prime reason for the suicidal early speed in American racing is the attempt to avoid kickback, a phenomenon that never occurred in Europe, where there was never any dirt racing to begin with.

          • Tinky

            With respect, Alan, that is not remotely accurate.

            I’ve been around American trainers and their horses for over thirty-five years, and it is actually quire rare that the kickback excuse is used for such tactics.

      • LongTimeEconomist

        Some of my fondest memories are of Kelso winning five straight JCGCs at 2 miles. There were lots of races on the dirt on the East Coast for modest horses at nine furlongs or more.

        • Tinky

          It’s all so interesting.

          I just took a look at John Henry’s PPs, and we’re talking about early ’80s now. The Jockey Club Gold Cup was being run at 12f. (having been shortened from 2m!), and these were the names of the top three finishers in ’81, ’82 and ’83:

          John Henry, Peat Moss, Relaxing

          Lemhi Gold, Silver Supreme, Christmas Past

          Slew O’ Gold, Highland Blade, Bounding Basque

          I mention this because while I appreciate that there are other factors involved, anyone who doesn’t think that pedigrees are the primary variable isn’t paying attention. Here are most of the notable male influences in the nine runners above:

          Vaguely Noble, Buckpasser, Princequillo, Herbager, Round Table, Grey Dawn II, Damascus

          Today, a mere 30 years later, there isn’t a single prominent American stallion capable of transmitting anything like the stamina that was typically found in the offspring of those stallions.

          • LongTimeEconomist

            Tink, I note that four of those seven sires were imported and a fifth was the son of an imported sire on the list.

          • Tinky

            Good point!

          • Meg Hiers

            American breeders would be doing themselves a favor by importing a son or three of Monsun. Too bad Japan grabbed Novellist.

      • whirlaway

        Correct on turf horses and pedigrees which is why I am a turf fan. Not
        as many big fancy stud offers to turf stallions and they remain running longer. I even enjoy turf sprints but who wants to watch 6 or
        6 1/2 furlong dirt races all day long, week after week.

    • Bein

      Distance horses don’t take any more time to develop than sprinters. Running long is their born talent.

      • Kaydee815

        Partially correct. The majority of horses that I’ve seen best suited to routing aren’t precocious types that will be lighting up the track at 2. They need time to develop, and if they don’t get an owner and/or trainer that recognizes that, you’ll never see that horse reach its potential.

  • Tinky

    Interesting post, and eye-opening statistics.

    Good work, Gina and Alan.

  • CheltenhamHill

    One thing I would say about French racing is that they are the only nation in Western Europe with major racing that shortened their Derby and Oaks from twelve furlongs to just over ten. Still not sure why they did it, but I don’t think it’s helped them any.

    • G. Rarick

      That has been a hugely controversial here. It was only the Derby that was shortened – the Prix de Diane, or Oaks, was always 2,100 meters, shorter than the English version. But shortening the Derby (Prix du Jockey Club) is still being criticized here as a very bad idea. With the exception of Le Havre, winners at the new, shortened distance have not been huge champions, on the track or in the breeding shed.

      • ben

        The reason could be that the English Raiders, took the honeurs too frequently at the former distance from the Prix de jockeyclub.

  • David Worley

    This is an interesting and well-written article; kudos to the authors.

    I have posed this question before on the PR, but why do we need so many races in the US? Why do we need to have a 12 month season? Why do we need so many tracks? The answer(s) I usually receive to this is some sort of hostile ‘you try to make it breeding and racing buddy…’ but to that I simply reply that this is a supply-oriented notion in a demand-oriented (entertainment) economy.

    The sport has shrunk in terms of popularity and handle, why not consolidate everyone’s focus on fewer racing days at the best tracks with more televised action with a larger handle. This would enable two really important elements: lower takeout (making betting more enticing) and larger purses. The larger purses would help offset the carrying costs of the TB in training and take the pressure off needing an immediate return from your 2YO (who probably shouldn’t be racing anyway). This also entails that a significant portion of the TBs bred every year need not be and a significant portion of the actors in the industry getting out. This isn’t pleasant, but it is what coherent industries do as they shrink.

    Cue Mom and Pop telling me why I am wrong here…

    • Bein

      How does making horse racing less accessible grow the sport? Race fans become race fans at racetracks, not from stumbling across a handicapping channel on TV.

      As for the sport shrinking in popularity, witness the fan’s response to American Pharoah, California Chrome, Zenyatta, Wise Dan, and so on and so on. When racing remembers that it’s about the horses first, it’s magic and people love it.

      • David Worley

        Re sentence 1/2: Not always, Matt Bernier was watching TVG. Also, having racing at dingy low-budget tracks inspires no one. I asked a friend, who lives in Brooklyn, if she’s ever been to the races. She said ‘yes,’ I went to Aqueduct and found it depressing and never came back; having racing at poor tracks often is counter productive to growing the sport. Re 3, that is the entire notion of franchising — you don’t want over saturation. Re 4, actually a while back Starbucks cut back on locations because they were over saturated for the demand for their product. Re last paragraph, look at total inflation adjusted handle over the years and you will see reality. Nothing you said convinces me otherwise.

        • togahombre

          it’s clear you have some kind of elitist attitude towards racing as it is, if it doesn’t suit you i am sorry

          • LongTimeEconomist

            He’s just being realistic.

          • togahombre

            recommending to cull a track because your friends wont go there appears elitist

          • Ashley Elliott

            And practical.

          • David Worley

            I just want racing to be coherent; I’m far from an elitist.

          • Bein

            Describe “coherent” racing.

        • Bein

          You’re wrong about small tracks. When I was a kid, we hung off the rail at the county fair, then the state fair, then our bigger city track. We loved it and had our horse heroes to follow at those small venues too. Exposure to racing makes fans, fans become handicappers, owners, trainers and breeders..

          Aqueduct runs in the winter, which does have a negative impact on the experience, though your friend remains an exception, not a rule, as far as I’m concerned. Also, the solution to that is simple. Don’t run meets during horrible weather months.

          I live in a small town, less than 10,000 people. We have three Starbucks. Always, as far as I’ve seen, with a line of customers waiting to buy coffee. Your reasoning would close them all and expect customers to visit only the locations in the high rent sections of the major city 30 miles away. No growth going on with that plan, David.

          • David Worley

            Bein, your last paragraph shows you don’t understand my point about supply-oriented versus demand-oriented economics.

          • Bein

            No, I don’t understand your idea of supply oriented economics. I actually don’t even think such a thing exists. I consider all economic activity demand oriented.

          • David Worley

            In your Starbucks example there are three stores in a town of 10K and all of them are busy; thus strong demand for Starbucks in your town. This is a demand-oriented (demand driven) viewpoint.

            But let’s say you had a coffee shop in your town that had been there a hundred years with steadily declining business. The idea that “if we build three more locations so it is easier to people to come” and then you expecting the three new stores to generate truly new business is a supply-oriented (supply driven) viewpoint.

            Your initial response to me was rooted fully in a supply-oriented mindset (if we just have bunches of small tracks racing will grow or be sustained…) Do you understand the fallacy of that form of thinking?

          • Bein

            I’m not talking about building three more racetracks to compete with an existing racetrack. Nor do I think most business people would make a decision that mirrors your scenario of coffee shops.

            Your argument above doesn’t begin to support your notion that racing needs to shrink to grow. It also doesn’t confirm the existence of “supply-oriented” commerce. Can you provide any example at all of a failing business actually building more close by locations “to make it easier for people to come” as you suggest?

          • David Worley

            Bein, you are totally and utterly confused about my core argument. You nearly have it backwards. Go back and read my initial post and it should make sense to you now. Essentially I am talking about consolidation in order to gain efficiencies (lower takeout and better coverage).

          • Bein

            Seems as though I repeated your argument correctly. What do I have backwards?

          • Old Timer

            I’m going to reply to you Bein, and give you a little help as you are on the right track here. All you need to do is look at the monthly pari-mutuel stats on U.S. gross handle comparing about 5 core analytical values. There you will find the validation of what you say.

            Find solitude in your remarks as you read that when there’s less racing on the whole, i.e. less races, HANDLE drops!!! Yeah, its not that difficult to figure out, but David doesn’t have clue one about this industry and how it all comes together to actually produce a real and reasoned answer to the ills that befall this sport, as many on here also seem to be without knowledge, and in many cases a true lack of intellect in what they spew.

            Good luck convincing the masses!!

          • David Worley

            But ‘Old Timer’ handle increasing in aggregate does not necessarily mean growth to the bottom line. It would be like saying that since revenue is increasing in an industry the industry is growing which is obviously false if the costs are also increasing.

            Also I laughed out loud at your comment “how it all comes together to actually produce a real and reasoned answer to the ills that befall the sport;” yep racing is just thriving isn’t it.

            I have neither the time nor the interest in responding any further to you or to Bein. I have other things I need to be doing. That said, I wish both the best.

          • Old Timer

            Sorry to hear you laughed out loud to my comment, because it’s accurate, and instead you didn’t take a second to reflect on the total complexity in which horse racing runs in this nation. It’s so simplistic to try and apply macro economic principles to this, but they don’t hold water in real world micro environments, which is exactly what I was saying in relation to handle.

            Obviously you didn’t do enough review of the handle reports (how could you in less than an hour) to see that over the years handle waxes and wanes primarily based on the number of races offered. It can be offset to some degree by field size, BUT thinking you’re going to get all the horses in the US today to ONLY go to a few spots will not work for many practical reasons and I don’t have the time myself to explain horse racing’s most fundamental elements.

            So your implication of increasing handle by offering less in a real world economic situation does not hold any water at all. This is already proven in the numbers we have on hand.

          • David Worley

            Happy New Year Old Timer, hope it’s a good one. I’m not blowing you off I just have to move along since I have other things I need to be tending to.

          • Bein

            When your argument fails, just say the people opposing it don’t understand what you’re saying. Good choice to drop off if that’s all you’ve got.

          • Bein

            Thanks, Old Timer. Your support is very welcome. I only have one disagreement with your post and that is your last sentence. The masses sure look convinced to me already as they almost brought down the house at Belmont this year. It’s the elites in racing, who are convinced they are smarter than everyone else, that need to come around.

          • David Worley

            See my response to ‘Old Timer.’

      • kateharper77

        Look at the horses you mentioned. None of which is a sprinter. Racing needs durable horses who last beyond 2 or 3 years. The Mosses demonstrated their patience in letting Zenyatta grow into her large frame. They didn’t start her until late into her 3-year-old year. How many horse owners of today would have been as patient? Sadly, not many.

        • Bein

          Owners let horses grow up everyday. There’s usually no other choice. So, don’t be sad.

          • kateharper77

            I’m not sad about owners letting their horses grow up. But what I meant is there are very few old time owners and trainers who put the horses welfare foremost in their decision making. Racing needs to get back to that basic.

          • togahombre

            actually i believe there are plenty of responsible owners and trainers, it’s just that people like to dwell on the exceptions and this triggers an avalanche of criticism

          • kateharper77

            Horse racing today warrants a lot of criticism. Too much drugs, star horses who are rarely run after they are 3-year-olds and our current breeding standards.

          • togahombre

            the vet work, from foaling on to racing has gotten out of hand, the other two ills you mention come straight down from the mountain

          • kateharper77

            Yes, fortunately, there are owners and trainers who still care about the horse. McAnally, Mandella, Mclaughlin, Kristin Mulhall, Casse, Mott, Chad Brown, Tagg and other trainers. There are also good owners, past and present. I want those owners and trainers to be the rule, not the exception.

          • Bein

            I meant don’t be sad because so few people are as honorable as the Moss’s who let Zenyatta grow up before they ran her. Because there are many, many, many people who let their horses grow up before they run them.

        • whirlaway

          Zenyatta was so fortunate to have been put with the right trainer.
          In the wrong hands the situation would have been very different,
          the worId we live in is i want it and I want it now an attitude not meant for horses, Too many trainers and not enough horseman.
          Slow developing horses like Zenyatta are in deep water without the
          right owners and horseman to guide their careers,

          • kateharper77

            Beautifully said, whirlaway. We are fortunate there still are some of those trainers and owners left in the industry, who will wait for a late-developing TB.

          • whirlaway

            Those who wait will many times be rewarded, I still remember watching Zenyatta on TVG break her maiden in November of 3 yr old year, looking good even that day.

          • kateharper77

            I remember that debut as well. Zenyatta soon became my lifetime horse and I doubt anyone will ever replace her.

          • whirlaway

            She is one of my favorites beautiful to look at, her attitude, her antics before her races and of course her heart stopping stretch runs, after many years of following racing I still can’t pick just one horse but she is up there with me,

        • Susan

          Even then, Zenyatta was raced very sparingly. Compare the number of races she had to John Henry, Cigar, Forego. I remember the uproar when Secretariat was retired having only raced 21 times. It was unheard of to send a horse off to stud with that few races. it is hard for fans to really appreciate the sport if they can’t see the horses run. Why is Ben’s Cat so popular in Maryland? Wise Dan had a strong fan base too. Damascus, Buckpasser, Dr. Fager all ran a lot compared to today’s animals.

      • LongTimeEconomist

        The problem is we are not a growing industry. That ended about 35 years ago when we lost our gambling monopoly.

        Times change. Is Sears growing its locations? K-Mart? When is the last time you saw an Automat?

        We need to adjust to the reality of today.

        • Bein

          You consider horse racing the Sears or K-Mart of gambling choices? Good heavens.

          • Matthew Hood

            Outside of the lottery it is clearly the worst gamble in the business.

          • Bein

            Your opinion.

        • juleswins3

          That’s it exactly! Japan has horse racing, a lottery and pachinko. Of the three, what’s the most interesting? If casino gambling is ever legalized in Japan, lookout horse racing.

      • In racing, less is definitely more. Look at Hong Kong. Look what used happen when there were breaks between the meets in Southern California. Less racing whets the appetite and allows players to regroup their funds. In case nobody told you, NODOBY makes money betting horses and anybody that tells you they do is living in fantasy land. So players need to refresh their bankrolls.

        • Bein

          I couldn’t disagree more.

          Are “players” all there is to racing? No fan, trainer, rider, owner, breeder, race office worker, track operator, hay producer, grain farmer, tractor driver, clocker, chef, kitchen help, janitor, parimutuel clerk, bartender, waitress earns consideration in the production of our show?

          Less is less and that hurts everyone in this business, especially the horses who don’t fit an elite program.

          • Matthew Hood

            All those people who you listed are paid in the end by the bettor, While they are not all to racing, they are by far the most important.

            We know what to expect from a track experience. Try taking someone who has never been to a live race to a track like Mountaineer, Arapahoe Park, or CT. They have visions of the KY Derby or BC in their head, yet get stuck with a track that hasn’t been remodeled in 40 years, smells of old cigarette smoke and stale beer. Grumpy old guys cussing to themselves. More racing is not better.

            Starbucks can open so many locations because the product is consistent. There are really only 6 or 7 good tracks in the US. So 80% of racing is just not a good product. If 80% of the time you went into a SB and the service was rude and the coffee was bad, you would have the current state of horse racing. Contraction would help this game a whole lot.

          • Bein

            Contraction will kill this game. The rest of your comments are exaggerated numbers from your own head, not reality. I won’t argue that some racetracks have used simulcast income as a way to ignore necessary improvements to their own programs though.

            If you want an example of how shrinking racing works, look to Washington state. When Emerald Downs was built, there was a management goal to eliminate competition from Yakima Meadows and Playfair. It wasn’t a less is more will be good for racing notion, but a less is more for Emerald idea.

            Yakima and Playfair did close, and then the little fair meets went away, all but one. Emerald struggled to fill races and still does. The average field size there has been consistently less than 7. It may have improved last year, I haven’t checked.

            Washington proves that “elite” tracks need smaller tracks because they get people in the game. People in the game supply horses to every level of venue.

            Every sport has a minor league. Without them the majors wouldn’t exist.

          • Bellwether

            6/7 good tracks is ABSURD!!!…Period…

          • FourCats

            I agree with you that many tracks are dirty and very unappealing as an entertainment destination. However, that is not because there are too many tracks but rather because the track managements (particularly casino racetrack managements) have no desire to improve their racing customer experience. They hold racing only because the states will not allow them to have casino gambling if they don’t hold racing. Charles Town, which I have gone to many times, has a large and well-maintained casino area. But their racing area is small and dirty and with very little seating unless you want to pay to sit in a room with televisions and no view of the track. Pimlico has long been viewed as needing major upgrades, but track management has always said that they are waiting for improved business to do so. I understand their view because they are afraid that money spent to upgrade their facilities will be wasted because they privately view the sport as dying. However, no industry can thrive (much less survive) with the attitude that management will only promote their industry after the people come. People will come (and continue to come) only if the environment is a pleasant one to come to.

            If more tracks close, and we get down to just a handful of tracks, racing in this country will become minor league (if it survives at all). This view that we will be able to keep the top level racing and just cut out cheap racing is simply a fantasy. Many of our past champions such as John Henry, Seattle Slew and Zenyatta would have never existed in such an environment. There will still be wealthy owners and gamblers, but only horses bred by past champions will be racing. The top sire lines started by modest sires (and there are many of these) won’t even get a chance to succeed.

          • Bein

            Excellent observations, Fourcats.

          • Matthew Hood

            To say champions need the bush tracks to become champions I’m not sure where you are getting that. Americans get so focused on American racing that they say certain things will never work yet have been working just fine for decades over seas. Often more successful than here. Asia and the Middle East do not race cheap tracks and are in general considered better racing than we have here. If these cheap tracks are so great, why are they closing one by one with many more closing soon? It’s because so few want to see that junk racing that it cannot even break even.

        • Bein

          Look at Hong Kong? How does Hong Kong racing relate to USA racing?

    • Ashley Elliott

      I agree with you David. I think more exclusivity (for lack of a better term) may actually increase the demand.

    • Because the political beast needs to be fed.

      • Alan Shuback

        Indeed, Barry! Until American racing can convince state capitols that racing does not exist to supply the incumbent state government with revenue, the entire structure of racing in America will be skewered.

        • Perhaps racing ought to have looked at the length of the spoon when it opted to “sup with the devil” on OTB?

          • Bein

            And simulcast, and racinos in some locations. Coasting along, neglecting our own product.

    • Concerned Observer

      Right! That is why the casinos are only open 3 days a week and Walmart operates 9 to 5 M-F. Huh?

      This is a big nation, most gambling is remote. If a fellow wants to bet on a race at 8PM on Tuesday in December…..just tell him to wait….we will be back next spring.

      • David Worley

        Supply-oriented versus demand-oriented distinction. Go reread my initial post.

        • krankyvet

          Yep, the Lauffer curve sure was…

      • Bein

        Yep, less is more, you know. Or in global warming speak, “It’s so dang cold outside, I’m burning up.”

      • Matthew Hood

        That’s part of the problem. VERY few want to bet said race running on Tues at 8 pm because it’s a crap race, taking place at a crap track. Bad image for racing. Make racing good by running it less.

        • Bein

          People will literally gamble on anything. Even which freakin’ frog jumps the furthest, for crying out loud. Handicapping is the same task, no matter what class of horse is running. You still have to figure out who wins.

          • krankyvet

            I’ve been reading all of these comments with great interest, a lot of good back and forth with a fair amount of totally clueless thrown in. I’m only piping in because I live in Calaveras County, near Angels Camp, home of the famous Frog Jumping contests. They happen every year, and I have seen a fair amount of hard cash pass hands on the outcome of those jumping contests! LOL I’ve also seen real money moved around on cock fights and cockroach fights! People WILL be bet on anything, including the price of sugar. My reason for jumping in is that racing in North America doesn’t present a unified presence, a mistake! Balkanization does not promote unity. The many problems in the industry presented in this commentary should be addressed by a national entity, and the NTRA would be the logical choice, if and when all the local feudal lords would be willing to concede some power for the good of all. Thoroughbred racing has been an integral part of my life since I was 8 years old, I’m now in my 70s. The biggest problem that horse racing has is the continued total disregard of the main support of the industry, the betting public. The takeout in most instances is way too high. Keeneland has show conclusively that when the takeout goes down, the handle goes up. Why this is hard to understand is way beyond me. Short term thinking? A total disregard of market economics? WTF? But the less is more school of though is plainly wrong. In baseball, the minor leagues provide a proving ground for the majors, and an entertaining product along the way. There is absolutely no reason that horse racing can’t do the same thing, but not by running shithole little tracks with suspect actions in just about every race, but with quality oriented operations that answer to a higher authority. As my wine and time run down I’d like to throw in a plug for HANA, who is trying to help everyone in the industry to thrive and progress. And for the guy that says no bettors make money in this great game, speak for yourself…

          • Bein

            Haha! There you have it, folks! From the great Calaveras County! Thanks, Kranky!

            You’ve been the only person I’ve read or listened to that has made an almost convincing argument for centralized control in racing. I still resist the notion, just as I resist centralized government over state’s rights. Fewer minds involved in controlling the future is not a good thing.

          • krankyvet

            How about guidance, instead of control?

          • Bein

            Maybe…just uniform legal medication thresholds.

    • Mark Devereux

      Spot on! There are no certainties, but quality over quantity should always win. The fallout will be that the price of admission to participate in the sport will be higher and that will, as you say, drive people out that can’t afford to be in the game. There are all sorts of consequences but, I’d be hopeful, that there will be a greater likelihood that the welfare of the horse will be improved. When day to day economics are less of a factor driving decisions, we should see horses getting more rest, fewer of them being subjected to drugs to get them back to the races more quickly, etc….

      • Bein

        Spot on? So all of the many, many horses that can’t compete at the highest level of racing go to the slaughterhouse?

        • krankyvet

          Kill all minor leaguers, regardless of the sport, that’ll show em…

  • Anita Carter

    The newbies in racing want instant gratification—instant return on money spent. And the use of drugs has brought U.S. racing downhill. Very sad.

    • Bein

      How are you finding out what newbies want from racing? Are there polls being conducted? I haven’t seen one.

  • SaratogaJ

    I would point to the racing secretaries as the greatest culprits over the past three decades. Racing is about winning purses, winning races with prestige (i.e G1) and for some, going off to the breeders.
    If our major race tracks would card more races at 10 furlongs, 12 furlongs and longer, the entries would follow the purse money. The value of winning horses would increase as would the value of their bloodlines. The value of currently viable horses with moderate sprint breeding would drop as would the production of these short winded wonders. It’s currently so easy to breed and sell cheap speed now because if your horse can’t win higher quality races, there are thousands or races carded for 5 and 5.5 furlongs out there to go after and millions in purses associated with them.
    Further, racing secretaries should move away from the current practice of carding so many middle distance stakes, restore traditional late 20th century conditions and put the money into those stakes. We seem to have an unfathomable number of graded stakes between 8 and 9 furlongs. The stretched out sprinters and milers who win these compile impressive credentials without ever having to show stamina. I’d be very pleased to never see another 8.5 or 9 furlong stake race. (well, almost never).
    Trainers and owners might whine for a few years, but they’ll eventually change the profiles of their stables to include horses with stamina. It’s all about following the purse money and graded stakes titles. The profile of our bloodstock will align with the profile of our purses and hierarchy of races.

    • LongTimeEconomist

      Some of this has to do with the American system’s need for field size in order to maximize wagering per race. It’s far easier to fill a sprint than a route race.

    • I disagree. Racing secretaries write races for the types of horses trainers have on the grounds and what types of races the trainers want. The problem is with the trainers of the new breed who are under the mistaken impression that it is easier on a horse to race shorter than longer.

      • Quinnbt

        24/48/1:13/ 1:40 is certainly easier than 22/45/1:11, numbers tell the story.

    • Quinnbt

      Racing secretaries used to have much more power than they have today.

      • They want runners for OTB. Britain writes about 2,000 handicaps now at a level which was not considered neither necessary nor desirable to in the 1980s. Meanwhile the number of Good Horses [defined as median rating + 55] has fallen from 6 per 1000 individuals to 1 per 1000. No-one wants to face it – especially not the big stables.

    • I suppose you would accept the Arc as a benchmark of stamina – but if you look at the sires only two of the first eight were by stayers , the rest all by milers. I think that the British moves to reward stamina with 10f 2yo races are very ill-advised. They may suit the super stables that are trying to justify their size of intake, but they do nothing to promote or protect the breed: if a horse needs 10f at 2 years he is not a racehorse [IMO!!]

      • Alan Shuback

        It should be noted that 12 of the 18 runners in this year’s Arc descended directly from the Northern Dancer male line, while nine of the 18 descended directly from the Northern Dancer male line on the dam side, yet none of the 18 Arc runners was a USA-bred. There were six French-breds, six British-breds and six Irish-breds.

        • I was just making the point that milers are the most popular stallions – and, by and large, the best stallions over any trip.

  • kateharper77

    Thank you, Mr Paulick, for posting this article. I have been a fan of horse racing since the 1960’s. I was privileged to have had a wonderful grandmother who was a TB breeder and owner and grew up alongside her 3 separate ranches. One was for her broodmares, another for yearlings and the 3rd was devoted to her retired horses. I always respected the way she bred her horses, for stamina and durability. She died in 1984. But she did witness what the two of us did in the late ’70’s when the quarter horse trainers moved their tack over to thoroughbred racing. The beginning of the end for the Sport of Kings. The emphasis was only speed, regardless of genetic faults and confirmation. Breeders were out for the quick buck, not concerned with the quality or durability of their horses. Until or unless racing opens its eyes to breeding for all the wrong reasons along with the rampant misuse and overuse of drugs, horse racing is doomed.

    • Some people suspect that what the quarter horse trainer’s invasion brought was not simply an emphasis on speed.

      • kateharper77

        Yes, you are right on that as well.

    • CarolinaJude

      You hit the nail right on the head, Kate! I, too, have followed horse racing since the 1960’s and right after Majestic Prince and Arts and Letters fought it out in the 1969 TC series the change BEGAN but it’s full impact wasn’t felt until after Slew and Affirmed. Once the need-for-speed breeding was firmly in place, one only had to watch classic late summer races (The Jockey Club Gold Cup is a prime example) have their distances shortened because there wasn’t a U.S.-bred horse that was still on the track (i.e. not retired after the Triple Crown races) that could run a two mile race on the dirt to prove it.

      P.S. I envy that you grew up in the environment that you did with the wise woman that your Grandmother surely was!

      • kateharper77

        Thank you, CarolinaJude. Majestic Prince was the 1st thoroughbred I truly loved. He was so magnificent, I still have a wonderful photo of him as a 2 year old at Bay Meadows, in his brilliant chestnut coat. MP’s owner was basically bullied in running his colt in the Belmont despite Johnny Longden, the trainer, telling him the colt was injured. The East Coast media implied MP’s connections were chicken if they bowed out of the third leg of the TC. Geez, where have I heard that before?
        Your points about cutting back in distance are also very true. A recognition of our modern day fragile, not-bred-for-durability American racehorse. American Pharoah is an anomaly in today’s breeding.

        • Susan

          He is not an anomaly at all. He has hardly raced, wrapped in bubble wrap really. He also ran against horses that were produced from the same need for speed operations. If everyone else has no stamina, then you have to be able to hang on just a little longer than the rest, I think that is somewhat reflective in his lack of record times or near record times. Even his Beyers figures have not bee exceptional. Add lasix to the mix, and we can now race horses that have no stamina. And we wonder why the sport is in decline.

      • Michael Castellano

        Remember the great Kelso, who won the JGC 5 years in a row, when it was 2 miles. The average American horse today can’t even run a mile. They have ruined that classic race, reducing the distance to 1 1/4. Note that average times for 1 1/4 races have dropped measurably. Back in the 60s and even 70s, the better horses outside of the souped up tracks used to break 2:00 or come close to it. Today, outside of CA, it almost never happens. The Triple Crown races are becoming a farce with increasingly slower times being run. The breed is going backwards. Many track records of horses like Kelso, Secretariat and Dr. Fager, made 40 – 50 years ago, still stand.

        • Kelso5timeHOTY

          Well said.

    • Northern Dancer

      For starters, a total BAN on ALL drugs on race day including Lasix. Second, 3 strikes your out for trainers caught with any positive. No exceptions. Get rid of the multiple drug violating Trainers. Finally, take care of the wagering public, and racehorses when their racing days are over. All of this is Totally obtainable, but never done.

  • Jocke Muth

    Don’t forget the speed freak A. Beyer when assigning blaim for the “NEED FOR SPEED” syndrom of US racing.

    • Alan Shuback

      The only people who make money off speed figures are the people who make speed figures.

      • “No-one ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the public”.

      • Alan, with all due respect, this is a quip you should take back. There are good uses for speed figures, both in handicapping, managing a stable and in evaluating horses for purchase. Just because somebody has labeled them “speed” figures does not mean that they relate to speed as it is being used in this thread. Speed figures are not made just for sprints, but for longer races as well.

        • Alan Shuback

          Barry, speed figures were introduced to American racing in the eighties. If they were so good, racetracks would be bursting at the seams with winning bettors filling their pockets with cash. Instead, we have seen a steady decline in interest in racing, although obviously for many other reasons. As you posted elsewhere: Nobody makes money betting on horses. If potential buyers need speed figures to determine the value of a horse, they don’t know how to read either the form or a pedigree.

          • Alan, my friend, speed figures have been around since the 19th century for crying out loud! If you think that Andy Beyer is responsible for the introduction of speed figures, you don’t know your history. What about Ragozin, whose figures predate those of Beyer’s just in our modern era? If you want to say that speed figures were popularized and/or made available to the general horse-playing public in the 1980s, this would be more accurate. But private handicappers have been generating and selling speed figures for more than 125 years.

            As for the reliance or use of speed figures by students of form, they are quite essential. People that make their living booking their riders on mounts and buying horses for stables can read the form as well as anybody in the nation, yet they would be considerably less effective without numbers.

            Spend some time in the trenches and you will know whereof I speak.

          • Tinky

            I would add that the argument that “no one makes money off of speed figures” falls flat.

            Countless bettors achieve better results using figures than they would (or could) without them. Whether they lose money overall is irrelevant.

            And for the record, I have always de-emphasized figures for my own purposes, as, like Alan, I prefer to focus on more traditional variables.

          • kyle

            Alan, I don’t think you know how parimutuel wagering works.

  • Imagine how much better the Paulick Report would be better without comments. Please Ray hide them so I do not get tempted!!!

    • Craig Brogden

      It will only get better when Ray pulls the mask off the experts hiding behind the wall throwing grenades (I mean Tinky)

      • Hugh Wilson

        Expert? More like a fifty year old unemployed man living in his mother’s basement, spending all day in front of his computer while TVG plays in the background, and hoping his Social Security disability check arrives on time this month. Simple rule – ignore anything he posts, and you’ll be better informed for it.

        • Rather a sweeping statement. At least Tinky always provides the reasoning behind his thoughts. For a supposedly serious forum that is depressingly rare.

        • Tinky

          One of the interesting things about people who resort to ad hominem attacks, like Wilson and Brogden, is that they tend to be completely blind to the irony of such attacks.

          This very thread provides a perfect illustration, as rather than responding to my multiple, substantial, fact-based posts, just look at what they have written above.

          The crowning irony is that such attacks reflect much more poorly on them than on their intended target.

          • LongTimeEconomist

            Ad hominem attacks serve only to point up the small mindedness of the people who make them.

          • Are you going to at least invoke the “straw man” somewhere in here? Please, make my day! Gimme some entertainment.

          • LongTimeEconomist

            Barry, the only Straw Man I ever knew was Ray Bolger.

          • Hi-yoooooooo!

          • Alan Shuback

            Hang in there, Tinky. Gina and I love you.

          • Tinky

            Thanks very much!

            You two should collaborate more often, as this type of post is a valuable addition to the conversation.

          • Bellwether

            Me too Tinky!!!…

  • Craig Brogden

    The interesting fact missing in this whole article is that European and Japanese breeders have been plundering the American bloodstock sales looking for speed to inject back into their breeding programs.
    A look through the Keeneland and Fasig Tipton sales results over the past 10 years will show the exodus of fast mares to these major breeding programs.
    When a stallion program is devoid of speed there needs to be a source and that is currently the North American Thoroughbred. Typical of the ebb and flow of bloodstock over decades, it will shift back again, just when that is nobody knows.

  • Tinky

    It’s a mystery to me how those French horses can race so regularly at 10f. and beyond without Lasix. Especially given the that awful, progressive EIPH causes so much trouble for older runners.

    Really perplexing.

    • Tink, this is a wasted post – they’ll take it at face value!

  • youcantmakeitup

    A very well written article I would say but just another fact of life why racing is trending down and hasn`t bottomed out yet. Articles have pointed out the problems of racing, drugs, breeding, too much racing, bad promotional habits etc. but talk isn’t going to get anything done. The world has changed but this game is reluctant to.

  • Apparently no-one here remembers the “old” Aga Khan’s {he exported Epsom Derby winners *Blenheim, *Bahram and *Mahmoud to America} motto that the most important thing is speed. Or Tom Iver’s remark that Secretariat was a sprinter that happened to stay 12f. Look at the Australian experience for the overall improvement since the Golden Slipper 2yo series was invented [obviously shuttle stallions have played a big part too].

    • G. Rarick

      Yes, but it’s also worth noting that the Australians are now huge buyers of European bloodstock because they are having more and more trouble breeding “Cup” horses. They’ve sacrificed their staying lines, and now they are coming here to get them back.

      • Craig Brogden

        As an Australian I can attest to the fact that there is no breeder in Australia who makes any effort to breed a Cups stayer. Breeders import mares to upgrade and provide some diversity not breed slow stayers.
        The sportsmen who want to compete in The Cups go to Europe to buy ready made stayers to participate in the big distance races not for breeding purposes.

        • Craig another aspect of Australian racing that many people here and everyone in America ignores is how quick a horse runs back and the diversity of trips a horse will be competitive at. I like both those things – but I do fear that nowadays Australia may not be too far behind America in its chemical enthusiasm.

          • LongTimeEconomist

            We had a GSW with Colin Hayes years ago. He would run her (successfully) three straight Saturdays and then “spell” her for a while before doing it again.

      • That’s certainly true Gina, however it’s likely driven as much by fashion as anything else. Some of the middlemen are doing OK!

    • Alan Shuback

      Blenheim, Bahram and Mahmoud, followed by Princequillo, Nasrullah and Vaguely Noble. But since 1980 top European racehorses standing at stud in America have been thin on the ground, the Kentucky-bred re-import Giant’s Causeway a rare exception. It is part of what Isaiah Berlin has described as “the closing of the American mind.”

      • It’s amazing that when so many imported runners do well that no-one takes the hint and goes for outside pollinators.

  • I blame the commercial breeders, the auction companies and the media. Commercial breeders have chosen the bloodlines. Commercial farms have supplied and promoted the bloodlines. Sales companies have promoted 2-year-old sales that have gone from a place where a horseman could see a horse in motion to an equine version of Track & Field’s Olympic Trials. And media have supported the entire mess by promoting the crap out of these stallions and horse sales. I remember a time when Luke McKathan used to brag about how fast his juveniles breezed at the sales. At the time, he was a joke and few paid him any mind, realizing that those horses with the fast works rarely if ever made it. Today, the sales companies should erect a full-sized statue of Mr. McKathan in honor of his impact at the sales.

    • Apart from OTB, I blame the war in Lebanon. Without that we may not have had the Middle Eastern influx, as they rich tended to disport them selves there. {That’s why they like big horses, the winners in Lebanon were not – as advertised – Arabs}

    • kcbca1

      Really? We are a nation built on freedom with a capitalistic economy based on the laws of supply and demand. If the breeders and the auction companies are giving the buyers what they want how is it their fault? And everyone is always happy to jump on the media when essentially they are just doing the same thing by giving the customer what they want.

      If you really feel the US is breeding an inferior product then you should not be working from the top down but from the bottom to the top. The fundamentals of racing need changing and it appears at this point that would take an intervention from our Supreme Creator.

      • If commercial breeders are giving the public what it wants, then why is this thread so freaking active? Commercial breeders are not what they once were. The proof is in the pudding. By any measure, based on the number of foals produced in the U. S. compared to other places, the best racing and breeding takes place in the British Isles.

        • kcbca1

          Your missing the point. Firstly, how many buyers are on this site complaining of the quality of what they are purchasing? And how many people are on this particular comment site vs let’s say an NFL site discussing the upcoming playoffs. I would not call reading comments from you, Bill, and Tinky on a daily basis an “active thread”. Please, get real.

          Secondly, my point was that in order to create the demand the game needs changing. If your building a US racing stables your not going out to purchase horses that go long on the turf.

          Thirdly, I don’t know if you have been paying any attention the last 30 or 40 years but horseracing is in a steep decline in this country. Might that have something to do with commercial breeders not being what they use to be? We, thankfully, are not the British Isles. The industries failure to innovate and modernize has led to that decline.

          • Ouch!

          • Concerned Observer

            Your last sentence says it all. Gambling in America is bigger than ever….but not on the “ponies”. You said “the industries failure to innovate and modernize has led to that decline”. You are spot on!

            Or per another author… the most famous Pogo quotation is “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

          • Why keep confusing gambling with racing – one is [at the very least] a weakness, the other [ought to be] a sport. When the only safe way to indulge the weakness was to pay to watch the sport things went reasonably well. Then the tail started wagging the dog.

          • Concerned Observer

            For some reason you do not think gambling is the financial basis for racing…but it is. Casinos have restaurants and floor shows but gambling is the profit that keeps the doors open. Racing in America is nearly free to watch…free parking, often free admission, dollar hot dogs and dollar beer and still too few attendees. If they won’t come when it’s free…..how are you going to get them to pay $200 a seat? And…. Thats what it would cost (minimum) to match the dollars of takeout.

          • You will agree that we often see posts bewailing the present cost of attending the track. My point is that it turned out to be short-sighted to give the gambling industry the keys to the car with OTB. The relentless expansion that took place was also misguided, although with the development of simulcasting and then racinos it seemed a good idea. Unfortunately there no longer seems to be enough money generated to pay for everyone’s expectations – including the managerial and executive classes. I do quite agree that there is no chance of funding the present behemoth through gate money, however that is not to say that a drastically pruned boutique version might not succeed and also build a genuine fan base interested in the sport itself. Show jumping, eventing, hunt racing and polo seem to manage without gambling albeit without having to support such a massive “industry” – but for racing to get back to a similar reality will involve a lot of blood on the carpet I’m afraid.

          • Old Timer

            That is an interesting statement you propose about Casinos, but there’s a caveat that changes it. Las Vegas 30 years ago was 2/3 profit on gaming, now its 1/3 profit gaming, the other 2/3 comes from the very restaurants and floor shows you think are only for the gaming. The model has completely flipped there, and Vegas embraced it.

            The key is to simply get people in the door by showing them there is value in what they are doing period. Whether the show is the value, lure of gaming is the value, or the god forsaken all you can eat buffet with crab legs is the value, but get them in the door and experience the facility and EVERYTHING, the facility has to offer.

          • Bein

            Forgetting here that racing has always had a show. A show with beautiful, honest and gallant horses to boot.

          • Bein

            The industry thought the horseplayers that were cultivated 30 years ago would live forever and simulcast dollars would always make it possible to ignore the necessity of attracting new fans and handicappers to their businesses.

            Wrong. Just as wrong as thinking you’ll wind up with more customers and revenue if you make it more difficult for people to see your product.

        • krankyvet

          Really cheap gas is good for the long term conditions on the planet, so the cheaper the better for the planet. Pump more oil, get cheaper gas, good for now….

    • Lonestar95

      Barry Irwin , always right on target. You are one of the most intelligent and thoughtful men I have ever listened to . Thank you for all you have done for The Sport.

    • juleswins3

      I don’t know if that’s true, either, but I’ll take that reasoning over racing’s decline all being the fault of D. Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert. I haven’t read that much bigotry since Mein Kampf.

  • David Stevenson

    A very interesting statistical piece that needed answering 35 years ago when the meaning of racing and breeding horses was understood in North America. “Do we breed to race or race to breed.” Before it was a fractured plethora of alphabet groups; before it was trending toward 85% claiming races, including the top tier tracks; before the pic 6 dictated the quality of presentations; before maiden claimers warmed up graded stakes on 12 and 14 race cards. When pedigree had “national” pride. When “system” and structure was in concert with vision. Before condition books were dominated by “beaten” state-breds and claimers. North American race tracks have diverted to the “grist mill” system where percentages and categories have little meaning in the development of “stakes level” events that establish pedigree. NA horse racing has come a long way, the wrong way and is quickly developing it own version of a welfare state that has lost its original intention while losing the attention of the general population by the misconception of our existence. Seedy and shoddy has become the norm! We must redefine “why we race” in any attempt to bring the levels of pedigree to an international group or graded status.

    • Before OTB.

      • Bein

        Does anyone else notice that in almost everyone’s memory here the decline in racing dates back to around 35 years ago? Simulcast was introduced in 1985, or so. I don’t know when OTBs were started. Bill?

        • It was 1962 in Britain, probably around the same time in America. Our prizemoney in real terms was better in 1961 than it is now [cheapest race £170 to winner, training £10 p.w.] – actually [on the flat] it was far better in 1880 [“no race to be less than £100 gross”, training £2 p.w] than today [MSW £2,500 to the winner and £300- £500 p.w.] Still think of all the morons with high paid administrative jobs and all the extra opportunities for the public to bet their SS money. Happy New Year!

  • Jerry

    ALSO, DON’T FORGET “BREAKDOWN” BOB BAFFERT………………….

  • Cory Martinez

    If you want to bring back the traditional thoroughbred that can run classic distances, over multiple surfaces, carrying large weights, and do so without bleeding……then you have to find a way to make it more profitable than sprinting.

  • Jack Frazier

    The culprit is money. Unless one has deep pockets the desire to have a quick return on an investment dictates a horses career. It takes a lot more talent as a trainer, to condition a horse to route rather than sprint and, this is just an opinion, there are few conditioners who know how to develop a route horse. I also believe there is a direct correlation between injuries because it is harder on a horse to sprint than route. When a horse runs long, they have time to get into a rhythm and then accelerate the final 3/8 or 1/4 mile to the finish. It takes longer to get a horse ready to route so the investment in training becomes incremental. I don’t agree that working horses 1/2 or 5/8 is wrong either. Citation, according to what I have read, never worked beyond a 1/2 and he could race all day, of course he had a great foundation and his trainer knew how to train for the classic distances.

    • A lot of sense here – and by implication the breed itself has not suffered, just the environment.

    • Bein

      Statistics show that running long produces more injuries than sprinting.

    • Bein

      90%of actual racehorse trainers don’t agree that working horses a half or five eighths is wrong too. John Nerud didn’t have a problem with it either. He did OK.

      • Working a fit horse with a sound base in him over 5f is a very different matter to that being his only achievement.

        • Bein

          You will notice that most people on comments sections complaining about how far horses work are talking about horses that are in the news. Horses that are in the middle of their season, who have been running races. Fit horses staying in tune, in other words. Besides, the same horses are galloping between those 5F works, with maybe a big, open gallop of over a mile thrown in too.

          • Most of the haven’t had much bottom put into them – the ones that don’t hurt themselves probably race themselves into fitness. You may [or may not!!] be interested to go to the racinghorsesbook site and see [my] more detailed thoughts on it [p.160]

          • Bein

            I would be interested in reading your site, Bill. I think I’ve looked you up before. Thank you for the invitation.

            You should check out the work tabs at the bigger tracks. Trainers train the hair off those horses. Works every 5 to 7 days for literally months as big spans of time pass between races. I would say elite horses run off of works and are not raced fit at all. Racing to fitness requires more than running every 2 or three months.

          • I have never spent enough time in America to give a first hand opinion on the work. However I have had lots of conversations regarding horses that I’ve exported and very often come away thinking “well that’s the end of that” – although they won A Lot of Graded St.s, which makes me think that in the Kingdom of the blind …. Two of my offspring have spent some time there and [although no-one thinks that their father has a clue!] they were surprised at the lack of continuity in the work -“a strange mixture of hand walking, hack cantering, and flat out” was the opinion. I liked Ross Staaden’s book “Winning Trainers” in which are published a lot of DWL charts, and they looked very easy to me. It’s well worth finding a copy, because the section on NZ trainer Fred Kersley is very interesting.

          • AngelaFromAbilene

            Pardon me for jumping in your conversation but I’ve found your book recommendations better than the Times. And yes, “a strange mixture of hand walking, hack cantering, and flat out” is pretty accurate. I know 12 year old girls whose trail horses get more work than I see at the track.

  • Ida Lee

    wow

  • martinzl

    Americans lack the attention span to watch a race that goes beyond 10 furlongs.

    • Bein

      Such extreme BS. Self loathing seems all the rage in some sections of American society.

    • Bein

      Hardly. Wouldn’t NFL games be defunct by now if that were the case?

  • UKBlue

    There are so many people to blame for this it’s where do you begin. One thing that needs to happen but won’t: US breeders need to desperately bring in fresh blood from Europe the way the old families (Wright/Calumet & Phipps & others) used to do that built the foundation of US breeding. Calumet Farm wouldn’t have become Calumet if it didn’t bring in bloodstock from Europe.

    • Alan Shuback

      You’re so right, UKBlue. Introducing a foreign bloodline into any national breeding program can be golden. Look at the effect Mill Reef had in Britain, and, best example of all, Sunday Silence’s very deep impact in Japan.

  • Figless

    Interesting article but where is the apples to apples comparison of American racing distances in the 70’s, for instance. That would be way more meaningful than comparing to France, could not find two more disparate breeding programs. How about comparing to Australia where sprints are quite common?

    Regarding cause and effect, the advent of two year old sales is the primary cause. Commercial breeders create sprinters so that the pin hookers will purchase, end of story. Breed a horse to run 10-12f and there will be few interested at the yearling sales.

  • Meg Hiers

    Thank you for stating what plenty of people know. The Good Old Days weren’t drug-free at all.

    • Old Timer

      Yes, I know it sound redundant to say, but at times it seems to get completely left out of the equation when people want to compare now to the past, and it simply isn’t or will ever be an apples to apples comparison.

      If I could run a horse today on the same stuff that we did 75 years ago, HOLY cow bar the door because racing would look a whole lot different. We would get those horses running longer distances again, and back within a few days like they used to as well, I guarantee it!

      • Bein

        Shush. A lot of people on comments sections refer to the days before drug testing as the good old days of pure hay, oats and water, and great horsemen, not druggists. They are blissfully unaware of the reality.

  • David Stevenson

    we are discussing values here at every level of the sport. France is a very good comparison as an example of class and endurance as should be the goal of any breeding program;( sports program) and the stakes races that incentivise the goal line for that pattern.

  • David

    A part of what has driven the need for speed breeding is blood doping. The drugs of old referenced in a post to this story masked pain and cranked horses up but they did not directly increase the ability of a horse to carry their speed longer. Blood doping on the other hand greatly delays the onset of fatigue in a horse thus the speed of a horse is much more important because blood doping allows a fast horse to carry its speed further. This may explain why in modern times we’ve seen horses run a 22, 45 and 1:09 and change in the Kentucky Derby almost win (which horse ran one more time in the Preakness where it ran 2nd but never ran again and was retired after only 6 starts). With blood doping it doesn’t make a slow horse fast but it sure allows a fast horse to carry its speed much further. This in turn also contributes greatly to the shortened careers of today’s racehorses because horses aren’t physically and structurally meant to carry their speed as far as they do now.

    • Bein

      Interesting information.

  • Mary Moore

    I have an answer or two of my own-

    “Do breeders drive the racing program or does the racing program drive the breeding industry?” I say a happy medium between the two. It depends on the viewpoint and the situation.

    “What’s driving the need for speed?” The lack of good distance races.

  • David Stevenson

    Mary, while your opinion is valid to some degree, race tracks and racing operations have now allowed a “random” approach to programing races and offerings. The encroachment of claiming races, with a plethora of categories forces the elimination of allowance conditions. The allowances categories have historically been the conduit for creating stakes participants. The diminution of allowance races has destroyed the categorical advancement of young horses and the ability of the public to follow that advancement to its pinnacle. As any conditioner or trainer of athletes understands, a gradual ascendency or progression is necessary to allow pedigree and ability to evolve.

  • Racingwithbruno

    The two-year-old in training sales and the 10 flat breeze has a lot to do with the mentality of breeders, consignors and buyers. Breeders understand 2yo consignors desire to buy, quick, fast juveniles for their consignment because that’s what sells. Breed speed for two-year-old training sales because that seems to be the only thing that most people want and that is 10 flat in March and April of two-year-old season. I don’t blame breeders or consignors in catering to the demand of the buyer. I blame the shortsightedness of the buyers who go after such horses and in return get what they pay for.

  • Racingwithbruno

    For example, most of the stock I buy is not for 2yo sales. I had a ‘bloodstock agent’ look at our stock, and didn’t like it because they weren’t going to be racing in June of 2yo season. It didn’t matter if they were going to be worth it later on. He was reacting to his clients, who wanted to race NOW, not later, but then again in a bizarre twist of irony ”they want to win THE Derby’.

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