The Brock Talk

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Rivalry Wishes

Now that we don’t have a Triple Crown winner for the thirty-third consecutive year, what can we hope for from this much maligned crop of 3-year-old thoroughbreds?

One, we can hope for a rivalry to develop between Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Animal Kingdom and Preakness (gr. I) winner Shackleford. It would be wonderful to see both come back in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park June 4. It would be better if the two hooked up at the top of the Belmont stretch and had a good old fashioned ding-dong battle to the wire.

To take our wish a little further, think how special it would be for the two to race together throughout the summer in say the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth in July, then on to the Travers Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga in August. While we’re in the wishing mood, let’s add to the list the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) and full circle back to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

But there are many things that will likely prevent our wish list from happening, not the least of which is owners who may not share our hopes. Animal Kingdom is instead owned by Team Valor International while Michael Lauffer and Bill Cubberdge own Shackleford.

Team Valor International is a syndicate of some 20 owners involved in Animal Kingdom. Controlling that syndicate is the sometimes controversial Barry Irwin, the long time proprietor of Team Valor International. Regardless of how much the racing industry needs stars (i.e. Kentucky Derby winners) to stay in the sport, there will be the lure of further riches in breeding shed for Animal Kingdom. Although his Brazilian/German pedigree may keep him on the track longer than if he had more popular bloodlines, there will be a point of marginal financial return in which Irwin will have to strongly consider the colt’s retirement, regardless of his soundness and/or success on the track.

That decision would not be based solely on greed either. Regardless of Irwin’s perception or lack of popularity among racing fans, he must responsibly answer to the many Team Valor folks who own a piece of Animal Kingdom. Team Valor International has been one of the most accomplished thoroughbred ownership syndicates in the world for more than 20 years. Irwin didn’t build that success by making a bunch of decisions based on emotion and popularity.

Lauffeer and Cubbedge on the other hand, are only responsible to themselves in making decisions about Shackleford. Should they decide to keep the colt on the race track, only injury can derail that plan. But in many ways, the two partners face the same dilemma as Irwin, regardless if they have intentions to keep the colt racing or not.

While Shackleford has more domestic bloodlines, his sire Forestry has had limited success after a decade in the stallion shed. If he doesn’t prove himself as a sire early, Shackleford may have some lean years later in his stud career. Still, with his Preakness credentials and speed, there will be plenty of money to be made during his early years in the stud shed. Of course, like all stallions, if Shackleford is successful producing runners such as himself, those lean years will never come.

Another obvious road block to a rivalry is the racing schedule. The Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) is the New York prep race for the Travers and is run at the same time as the Haskell. One camp could go to the Jim Dandy while the other runs in the Haskell.

Less prestigious Summer and Fall races like the West Virginia Derby, Pennsylvania Derby, Indiana Derby and Louisiana’s Super Derby are sometimes options for Triple Crown race winners as well. Management teams at tracks that host these minor derbies often contrive bonuses at the last minute, specifically targeting Derby, Preakness and/or Belmont winners.

But if both colts stay healthy and the breeding industry can wait, then there is no reason why a rivalry could not be born. The East Coast/West Coast barrier that kept Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra apart during their racing careers does not exist between these two colts. Animal Kingdom trainer Graham Motion is stabled in Maryland during the summer while Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford, is based at Churchill Downs giving both, easy access to the races in our dream schedule.

Now that we have come to the realization that there won’t be another Triple Crown winner in 2011, the best racing fans can hope for now from this crop of 3-year-olds is a rivalry. While neither Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom nor Preakness winner Shackleford have been confirmed for the Belmont Stakes, both camps have said the 1-1/2 mile Test of Champions is a possible next start for both.

Of course, like last year, a different horse could win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont. That would not be optimal for rivalry wanting fans, but as long as Animal Kingdom and Shackleford are competitive, there is nothing wrong with a three-horse rivalry either. It’s just much more difficult keeping three horses on the same path for any extended period of time.

Schedules, injuries and the riches of the breeding shed can – and probably will – keep such a rivalry from developing. Or maybe the racing gods will bless the fans with such a wish. After all, they haven’t given us a Triple Crown winner since 1978. They kinda owe us a little something.


Anonymous said...

Well said Brock. I really liked Shackleford's Preakness win and how well Animal Kingdom was closing, but my gut instinct is that Animal Kingdom is the better of the two at the Classic distance and beyond. If they hook up again in the Belmont I'll be ecstatic, that would be a thrilling rivalry.


mahim2 said...
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