The Brock Talk

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dear Mr. Horse Racing

In a exclusive interview with The Brock Talk, Mr. Horse Racing discusses the highlights of 2010 and the prospects of the industry in 2011.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What was the best about 2010?

Mr. Horse Racing: Zenyatta was by far the star of the year, if not the star of the decade here in North America. Watching her streak grow to 19 undefeated wins was a great thrill and brought recognition to the sport from such influential media as Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine and 60 Minutes on CBS. Even in defeat, her Breeders’ Cup Classic loss to Blame is one of the greatest races of our generation.

I also think people underestimate the year Quality Road had. He began the year in a starting gate rehab program after his Jerry Springer/Maury Povich performance in which he tried to eat the Santa Anita starting gate and it’s crew before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Quality Road returns to begin the year with three graded races and has the biggest image change since Tom Hanks left Bussom Buddies.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What were the biggest disappointments of 2010?

Mr. Horse Racing: Other than the obvious being Zenyatta’s defeat in the aforementioned Breeders’ Cup Classic, there were four big disappointments in 2010. The other notable disappointment was Rachel Alexandra suffering defeats at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Churchill Downs, Saratoga and thus retiring before the Breeders’ Cup. Number two: We have now gone two years without a Kentucky Derby champion winning a race after the Run For The Roses. Neither Super Saver nor Mine That Bird managed an appearance in the winner’s circle after winning the Derby. Number Three: Zenyatta losing her final race. Some would make this the biggest disappointment of the year, but at least she made it to the big stage with the streak and notched her place in horse racing history among those that brought horse racing to the general public. Difficult to say that her ultimate star power was a disappointment. And finally, number Four: There was no race between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. We had two chances this year. Thanks to Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella and his offer to write a big check if both appeared in the grade 1 Apple Blossom, there was a chance in April. The other missed opportunity came when Zenyatta’s connections decided not to ship to Saratoga for the grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes in August. A decision that cost her a slam dunk as Horse of the Year.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: Will we have a Triple Crown winner this year?

Mr. Horse Racing: Without hope and optimism, there is no horse racing. But I can say two things about the Triple Crown. We have a good group that will represent the class of 2011 including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo, Boys of Toscanova and To Honor and Serve. There are also some 20 others that are on watch lists throughout the industry. From what I’ve heard talking to Santa Claus and others, there were a lot of owners and trainers that had injury-free on the Christmas, Hanaka, and Festivus lists this year.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: We need another female jockey star in the sport. Any chances?

Mr. Horse Racing: First, let's recognize the progress women have made in recent years. Linda Rice won the training title at Saratoga in 2009 and was second to Todd Pletcher in 2010. Among the North America’s leading consignors at thoroughbred auctions are Murray Smith and Meg Levy. Women are becoming more prominent as owners as seen by Jenny Craig, Gretchen Jackson and Maggi Moss. Chantal Sutherland definitely has some star power as a jockey as does Inez Karlsson, a top ten rider at Arlington Park; and Rosemary B. Homeister, Jr., third in the jockey standings during the Churchill Downs winter meeting and a veteran making a courageous comeback after some personal challenges.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: Will thoroughbred racing see a sharp decline in interest after the departure of Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Lookin At Lucky, Blame, Quality Road and the likes?

Mr. Horse Racing: Simply put – No. Horse racing had some the best stars in recent memory carry it through one of the most difficult economic times in our nation’s history. Last year the Kentucky Derby had one of its biggest television ratings with Lookin at Lucky coming off a losing Spring campaign and Super Saver as a marginal favorite. Big crowds and large handles resulted in the New Jersey experiment at Monmouth Park and Churchill is now running on successful Friday night model still popular at Hollywood Park and many other tracks around the country. If the economy shows any hint of rebound, horse racing now has a base to benefit.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What were the worst decisions in 2010 that will have an impact on 2011?

Mr. Horse Racing: The decision of the Churchill Downs stewards not to scratch Life at Ten from the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic may have cost horse racing thousands of marginal fans. Jockey John Velasquez said on national television that he was not comfortable with the way she was warming up – an important pre-race note most likely missed by casual and novice racing fans. I hate to think of the number of sports book players waiting for their pre-empted college football game on ESPN, with open online wagering accounts, who bet on the favorite as a “why not wager”, only to see her break last and not run a jump. Say goodbye to a great number of those proflic gamblers.

I also have to say that retiring 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird was a blunder. He may not have won the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap or Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he is a Kentucky Derby winning gelding that could have created much excitement with a marginal career. I would have given him 30 days vacation in Roswell to relax and hone his flying saucer dodging skills then sent him to one of the most prolific horsemen in the Southwest over the last 40 years, Keith Asmussen in Laredo, for the winter. If the folks at the Asmussen Training Center, known for buying and producing millionaires from California to France, see a sparkle in Mine That Bird, then off to Ron McAnally in California. McAnally has a long history with the Asmussen operation and of course trained one of the greatest geldings of our generation in John Henry. McAnally also trains in Southern California where the new track at Santa Anita is natural dirt and not the synthetic nemesis Mine That Bird so disliked. If McAnally decides that the Santa Anita Handicap is not in the plans, then consider a tour of the nation in popular grade 3 races such as the Razorback in Arkansas, the Lone Star Park Handicap in Texas, the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker in Iowa, the Longacres Mile in Washington, or the Monmouth Cup in New Jersey. Fans in these regional markets would clammer to see a Kentucky Derby winner if marketed properly and if Mine That Bird has a spark left, McAnally and the Asmussens would find it.


Celeste said...

Wonderful piece! I think your plan for Mine That Bird is absolutely brilliant! It is a shame his connections took their marbles and went home like that.

St.Paddy said...

Another well scripted article. Well done.
One thing struck me like a hammer to the head. A gelding wins the Kentucky Derby.
This would be unheard of in Europe where restrictions are in place (No geldings and restricted to colts and fillies that have the ability to reproduce). To think that an horse with no potential to pass on genes of blue blood can win such a race needs surely to be looked at.
A seperate race of significance for geldings needs to be created in my opinion.