Tag Archives: Kentucky

I’ll Have Another

Barbaro-findagrave-17738583-J-Griffith
Barbaro 2003-2007

This was first posted on my St. Thomas Dog Blog, May 10, 2012. This Saturday, May 7th, 2016, it’s Derby Day again. It feels different this year – it’s the first anniversary of the beginning of American Pharoah’s successful run for the Triple Crown. It’s also the 10th anniversary of Barbaro’s Kentucky Derby win. Sadly, he was injured in the Preakness and he died Jan. 29th 2007. 

coffee mug from Kentucky Derby MuseumThe 1st Saturday in May, this is the mug I pour my first cup of coffee into.  Last Saturday, the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby, I’ll Have Another came from the middle of the pack and passed the frontrunner. At 15-1 odds and in the 19th position, he wasn’t considered a serious contender.

His jockey, Mario Gutierrez, raced at Hastings Raceway in Vancouver, or as the announcer put it, “the small-time circuit up in Canada.”  It was Gutierrez’ first Derby ride.  The owner of I’ll Have Another, J. Paul Reddam, is originally from Windsor, Ont.  As a university student, he got interested in racing by hanging around Windsor Raceway.  Two racing lives honoured in the winner’s circle of the most I'll Have Another at finish line 2012 Kentucky Derbyprestigious race in North America, both nurtured on Canadian tracks.

Tracks that, at least in Ontario, face closure.  Premier McGuinty’s government decided that the long-standing profit-sharing agreement between tracks and the OLG would not be renewed.  Until now, OLG and the track shared the profits, with OLG getting the lion’s share.  Still, the 10% that the tracks get is crucial to their economic survival.  Slot machines and rooms that house them cost far less to maintain than do barns, tracks and horses.

Another side of tracks: history and tourism

All racetracks, including Churchill Downs, rely on slot machines and other forms of gambling for income.  When we toured Churchill Downs, our guide said the only day of the year on which the track 1907 Postcard of bookies at Woodbine Racetrack Torontoactually makes money from racing is Derby Day.

But the pride, prestige and history of Churchill Downs is in the racetrack and barns.  It is a tourism draw, with tours, gift shops and a museum.  Restaurants, motels and stores in Louisville also benefit from the dollars that come with these tourists who come to Horse Mecca and buy a commemorative mug.  Do non-gamblers make a special trip to tour a casino, other than in Las Vegas?

A racetrack is a huge operation, employing many in track and horse maintenance.  Also the breeders and trainers who spend years refining bloodlines and preparing juveniles for the track.  The stars are the horses and they are expensive to maintain.

Amazon link for Northern Dancer Legend and Legacy
Click for Amazon

Meanwhile in Ontario, racehorses are being sent for slaughter.  If the tracks don’t have the slot machines, they likely will close. There will be nowhere to race horses so breeders are getting out of the business.  That means getting rid of living horses.  It is said that newborn foals are being killed before they stand up – that way insurance will cover their “loss”.  Many of those thoroughbred foals and their mothers and fathers have the blood of the great Canadian Northern Dancer in their veins.

Thoroughbred and harness racing are part of our national history.  If Harness racing at Western Fair track London Ontario ca 1934profit sharing with slot machines keeps tracks alive, that also keeps alive our horses and our presence in the sport of kings.  McGuinty’s tinkering with what worked just fine for long before he became premier is now costing the lives of horses and livelihoods of horse people. (*see 2 comments below)

Breeders’ Cup

Saturday was Hallowe’en. A big day. This October 31st was a big day for another reason. The Breeders’ Cup Classic horse race and the chance to see something that’s never happened before. It happened.

breeders' cup classic pharoah-and-victorWire to wire and breaking the track record time, American Pharoah won the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Therefore, he won the grand slam, the four most prestigious Thoroughbred races in North America. He is the 12th horse to win the Triple Crown and the first who had the chance to add a fourth jewel. (Watch it here)

The Breeders’ Cup was started in 1984 by American horse breeders as a showcase for the sport and the bloodstock. Each year, on dirt and turf tracks, the best of the best compete. The Classic is for 3 year old and older horses. It’s a big end to the race meet and the season.

five-length-leadUnlike the Triple Crown races, the Breeders’ Cup moves from track to track each year. This year, for the first time, it was held at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. In light of the history it made, that was especially nice. Keeneland is an old and prestigious track right in the middle of the blue grass and horse farm country.

Breeders cup celebration wave

After the Breeders’ Cup Classic

The day after the Breeders’ Cup, American Pharoah was trailered a few kilometres down the road to his new home, Ashford Stud at Coolmore Farms. It would have been a difficult day for the Zayats, saying goodbye to him.

He’s still their horse but they sold the breeding rights to Coolmore. It’s likely his stud fee will be about $200,000. That will go up or down, depending on what happens when his babies start racing. The fee for the services of Pioneerof the Nile, his dad, jumped way up to $120,000 after American Pharaoh won the Triple Crown. It was evidence of good genes being passed on. So now we wait to see if American Pharoah passes them to his offspring.

classic championI wish American Pharaoh a long and happy life. His name will be a distinguished one in the record books forever. He’ll have a special place in our hearts. A Triple Crown after 37 long years, when it seemed all but impossible. Then the cherry on top – the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But most of all for his heart and personality, for making it look so easy.

 

Track Royalty

Entrance to Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky DerbyThis coming Saturday, May 2nd, is the Run for the Roses, the first leg of the Triple Crown.  The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. The young royals of mainly North American horses will be there. Both connections and horses dream of winning it and going on to win the other two jewels of American Thoroughbred racing.

No horse has done it since Affirmed in 1978. It’s the longest gap ever in Triple Crown history.  I didn’t see Secretariat’s spectacular runs in 1973, but I certainly knew about them. With three Triple Crown winners in the 1970s, I thought it was something that would happen like clockwork every few years. Little did I know.

looking up at twin spires from seating areaChurchill Downs, even without horses there, is magical.  In the tunnel and trackside, you almost see the horses and jockeys. Inside the viewing salons, you feel the money and the excitement. In the betting lounges, the tension and hope for the big win and desperation over the big loss surrounds you.

What’s wrong

There’s a lot wrong with the horse racing industry, just as there is with any sport business that involves animals. Too many horses are bred in order to find that elusive ‘superhorse’. What happens to the foals that don’t make it to the track, and those that do Thoroughbred great Ferdinand racingmake it, but aren’t good enough for the big time?  What happens to those that are good enough but, like any athlete, get past their prime?

The great Ferdinand, 1986 Kentucky Derby and 1987 Breeder’s Cup Classic winner and 1987 Eclipse Horse of the Year, was slaughtered in a Japanese meat-packing plant in 2002 after his career at stud was deemed over. He earned over $3.75 million.  His reward was to become steaks and dogfood.

What’s right

There’s also a lot right. Running faster than the wind is in the blood and bones of a Thoroughbred. Most racing people love horses. They ought to. It’s the horses who run the race and win the glory and the money. The jockey, trainer, groom and exercise rider help the horse, but they are support staff. A jockey can cause a horse to lose a race, but he can’t make a horse win. It’s the horse’s mind and heart that runs the race. And that’s all the people need to remember. Look after Cat at Barbaro memorial stone, Kentucky Horse Park 2007the horse and the horse will look after you. And remember, when that horse no longer wins the big purses, that it was his or her effort that got you where you are.

That’s where owners, owner syndicates, trainers and jockeys can go wrong. They think it’s them – their handling, their business decisions that are key. People who believe in their own centrality in horse racing should instead invest in NASCAR or motorcycle racing. The thrill of speed and winning is the same, and it is solely your care and handling that makes a car or motorcycle win or lose. It might be cherished by you, but it’s inanimate. It will not feel anything if you junk it at the end of its career. If you’ve done well in horse racing, thank the horses that did it for you by treating them right in retirement.

Thoroughbred Retirement

In 2005 NY racing groups began the Ferdinand Fee, a voluntary $2 per race charge with girl petting horse at Old Friends Equine Retirement Farm 2007proceeds going to Thoroughbred retirement farms. Old Friends Equine Retirement Farm near Lexington is the only one that takes stallions. Because of their often-difficult personalities, they can be hard to handle. Most rescue and retirement farms are not equipped for them. Mares and geldings stand a better chance than stallions of having a good post-race life. (Updated from my St. Thomas Dog Blog, May 5, 2011.)

 

Cigar 1990-2014

Champion racehorse Cigar 2007 at Kentucky Horse ParkThe news from the Kentucky Horse Park that Cigar died Tuesday Oct. 7 made me look through photos I have of him.

After retiring in 1999, he lived in the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park. I met him there in December 2007. He was in his stall, watching a stablehand clean it. But when he saw he had visitors, well, over he came. Seeing my camera, he posed.  According to the woman looking after him, he loved putting on a show for the punters.  Outside in the paddock, he’d run and roll for the crowd standing along his fence.  Inside his stall, he’d do what he did with me, come right up and strike poses for as long as a camera clicked.

Cigar died during surgery to relieve his pain from osteoarthritis in his neck and spine. He was 24 years old. He earned nearly $10 million and 19 of his 33 starts. He tied the 1948 Triple Crown winner Citation’s record of 16 consecutive wins. His maternal grandsire was the 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew. His paternal great-grandsire was the great Northern Dancer. Twice voted Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male and inducted racehorse Cigar with stall door open Dec. 2007into the National Museum of Racing and the Hall of Fame, he lived up to the standards of his predecessors.

He thrilled racing fans at the track and, in retirement, he thrilled many more by giving of himself so cheerfully.  You were a gentleman, Cigar, and you will be missed.

He is buried at the Memorial Walk of Champions near his barn and the Horse Park says there will be a public memorial service at a later date.