The Brock Talk

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Returning Stars Help Fill Zenyatta Void

Zenyatta, as she always does – present or not – stole the show again Monday night at the Eclipse Awards held at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach Hotel ballroom in Florida as she was named Horse of the Year, and Champion Older Female. Her ownership, training, management and daily care team was also recognized with a Special Eclipse Award for managing her historic 2010 campaign and making her so accessible to her fans.

It was her third attempt at Horse of the Year after being a finalist in both 2008 when losing to Curlin and last year when Rachel Alexandra took home the golden Eclipse Award. At age six, she is the oldest Horse of Year honoree since Cigar in 1996. Only Exterminator in 1922, Kelso in 1964 (both age seven) and John Henry in 1984 at age nine, have been older. Zenyatta is only the 11th female to be named North American Horse of the Year since the award was first given to Hanover in 1887.

Although there were cries from the audience to owner Jerry Moss to “bring her back,” Moss assured the crowd and racing that she was very comfortable in her new home at Lane’s End Farm in Kentucky. Moss later told TVG’s Christine Olivares that no decision has yet been made on who Zenyatta will be bred to this year, but a decision will be coming soon.

There will be a large gap left in racing with the departure of Zenyatta, but there was much encouraging news from the camps of other Eclipse Award winners.

Shane Ryan of Castleton Lyons, the owner of the owner of Champion Male Turf Horse Gio Ponti, said they are “looking forward to 2011 [with Gio Ponti] and maybe we can get that Breeders’ Cup victory eventually.” Gio Ponti finished second to Zenyatta in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic and again second to Goldikova this year in the Breeder’s Cup Turf Mile.

Trainer Todd Pletcher accepted the Eclipse Award for Goldikova and mentioned that she will soon return to training and a possible run at her fourth consecutive Breeders’ Cup Mile. Only ten horses have won two Breeders’ Cup races.

Perhaps the best rivalry of 2009 came from the 3-year-old filly division headed by Eclipse Award winner Blind Luck. The other two divisional finalist, Evening Jewel and Havre de Grace, each finished second twice behind Blind Luck. Evening Jewel lost by a nose both times. Havre de Grace lost by a nose and a neck but came back to defeat Blind Luck in the Fitz Dixon Cotillion Stakes.

Facing older mares for the first time in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, Blind Luck was second and Havre de Grace third behind winner Unrivaled Bell.

But the good news is that all three, Blind Luck, Evening Jewel and Havre de Grace, will be back again in 2011 to resume their rivalries.

Even in the long term, there seems to be promise. Michael Repole, owner of Champion 2-Year-Old Male Uncle Mo directed some of his acceptance speech comments directly to racing fans saying, “If Uncle Mo lives up to my dreams, I promise you. he will live up to yours.” While Uncle Mo has the rugged trail to and possibly through the Triple Crown season ahead of him, here’s hoping Repole was hinting that early retirement of his promising star would not be in the plans if the success continues for Uncle Mo.

Of course the financial incentives once offered by the breeding industry to entice early retirement are certainly not at the level they were some five or ten years ago. The most expensive stallions to retire this year are Blame, Lookin at Lucky and Quality Road, all with $35,000 stud fees. It has not been that long since those caliber of horses stood in the $50,000 - $75,000 range and at times higher.

Last year Blame won $3.7 million on the track and will have to breed 108 mares this season to match that income. However, approaching that number will be no challenge, even in the current economic environment in the breeding industry.

Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver will have to breed just 85 mares at his 2011 stud fee of $20,000 to reach his 2010 income of $1.7 million while Lookin at Lucky will have to breed just 58 mares at $35,000 each to reach his more than $2 million in earnings last year.

For fillies and mares, the numbers are much more defining. Zenyatta made $1.2 million last year and more than $7.4 million in her three year racing career. Any significant earning potential as a broodmare for her is more than two years away in the summer yearling sales. Although it is doubtful owners Jerry and Ann Moss have any concern about her current earning power.

Last year Blind Luck made some $1.7 million on the track, so there is little financial incentive from the breeders to entice her off the race track and into retirement or for her current owners to switch careers.

Whether it is the lull in the breeding industry economics or a genuine commitment to fans that keeps more thoroughbred stars on the track, I’m not sure there is a clear cut answer – as naïve as that may seem. But for the time, I am grateful we have so many of last year’s Eclipse Award winners coming back 2012. With the departure of Zenyatta, we going to need all of them.


Roseann said...

I can't wait to see Blind Luck and Gracie race each other again this probably does have something to do with the economy that some will stay and race before being retired to the breeding shed..but i would rather have them around anyway..

Brock Sheridan said...

Can't wait as well Roseann. These are some great female stars that are looking to fill the big shoes of Rachel and Zenyatta. They may not achieve that level, but the sure look to have the talent and charisma to shine among 2011 racing.