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Want to Fix US Racing?

No, not that sort of fix. It’s an unfortunate fact that many top level race horses have brief careers. While it is something of a universal, I believe the problem is much worse in North America compared to the rest of the world. A random comparison of a few top horses in training (excluding geldings) shows quite a difference:

Dylan Thomas – 15 starts, 8 Wins, 3 Places, 1 Show; Career Earnings: £2,040,775 (GBP)
Miss Andretti – 25 Starts, 16 Wins, 3 Places, 2 Shows; Career Earnings: $2,122,600 (AUD)
Curlin – 7 Starts, 4 Wins, 1 Places, 2 Shows; Career Earnings: $1,952,800 (USD)

Granted, it’s a bit unfair of me to pick a three-year-old, but frankly, I couldn’t think of an older horse in training in the US who is near the same caliber (and I’m certainly not convinced Curlin is either).

Indeed, it would seem that American racing is being downgraded by the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities, and I cannot say that I blame them. My evidence for this is that until 1995, the names of the winners of the Derby, Preakness, Belmont, and Jockey Club Gold Cup automatically became ‘protected names‘ — meaning that no, you cannot name your horse Fenelon, since he won the JCGC in 1940 and his name remains on the list. From 1995 onward, the rules changed: now the name only becomes protected if the horse in question wins one ‘of the following 11 most important international races for 3 y.o. and upwards’ — and the full list of those races is:

South America
Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini
Grande Premio Brazil

Melbourne Cup
Dubai World Cup
Hong Kong Cup
Japan Cup

Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes
Irish Champion Stakes

Breeders’ Cup Classic
Breeders’ Cup Turf

It’s a sad state of affairs when the nation’s premier race for three-year-olds doesn’t even make the list (nor does it really attract international interest particularly often these days) — but given that the horse who wins is likely to retire after perhaps 2 more races, there is no real logic in worrying about it; short of a Triple Crown victory, there’s no reason to think that a Derby winner is necessarily a great horse worth remembering, and it is highly unlikely that horse will ever get the chance to prove otherwise.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic also gives North American-based horses something of a home field advantage, but that doesn’t seem to help very often in the Turf — and I cannot imagine most US horses being able to go against the best in the world at most of the international events listed above. Can you remember the last well-known American horse who competed at Royal Ascot or in the Melbourne Cup?

Part of the problem is that for the top eschelon of horses (i.e. those with stud prospects), there is no reason to compete — breeders are (for some reason) willing to take a relatively unblemished record consisting of a few wins in big races over a record of consistent finishes in top level races and so those horses are raced accordingly (and bred accordingly, creating a vicious circle).

Rather than sit back and accept that state of affairs, you can go here to add your support to the notion that the American Graded Stakes Committee needs to make changes that foster competition, so that a win in one Grade I race is not simply a rubber stamp to retire to stud.

3 comments to Want to Fix US Racing?

  • Nancyb

    A brilliant thought just came to me – at least I think it’s good. The longest race I know of, in NA, is 1 5/8 miles. Why not add a lot of long races and encourage breeding for genuine stamina. I would dearly love to watch 2 or 3 mile races. It might save the lives of many horses by breeding for denser bone and a more natural running style. Nancy B

  • Michael

    Not only is it unfair to use a 3-year-old, but you picked Curlin of all horses, who didn’t race at two.

    I think the obvious horse for comparison is Lawyer Ron.

    Lawyer Ron — 24 starts 12 wins, 3 place, 4 shows; Career Earnigns: $2,640,008.

  • Superfecta

    I was originally going to use Lawyer Ron (and I do like him, he’s had a respectable career and may just now be coming into his own), but I don’t really seem him in the same world class company.

    I’d be happy for him to prove me wrong!

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