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They Smile When They Are Low

The New York Times is in full pre-Derby mode with three feature stories (and more to come); one on Michael Matz and a nicely detailed piece on the road Nobiz Like Shobiz has followed to get to the Derby. It includes some interesting statistics which are probably not news to most hard-core racing fans, but useful to highlight for the more casual fan:

When the colt was born, Jan. 29, 2004, he faced improbable odds of securing one of the 20 post positions for the Derby.

He was, after all, one of 34,642 thoroughbreds foaled in the United States in 2004, and Mrs. Valando was just another owner with the first Saturday in May 2007 circled in her fantasies. By 2006, the colt was one of 10,390 from that crop to make it to the racetrack. Now, as a 3-year-old, he is one of 450 horses, including 27 from outside the United States, nominated for the Triple Crown races: the Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes.

Be sure to check out the sidebar elements in the story, they are also well worth reading and watching. (For comparison on the numbers, bear in mind that the Jockey Club had a total of 1.5 million total names registered in 1972; they did indeed do things differently back then) The story goes on to cover Funny Cide’s latest activities (including working with Nobiz Like Shobiz in the mornings) and mentions how Barclay Tagg still feels his past accomplishments are under-appreciated:

“He won stakes every year of his life except as a 5-year-old,” he said. “He won a graded stake as a 6-year-old. No Kentucky Derby winner has ever done that before. And everybody still knocks him and knocks me.”

Given his recent workouts, Funny Cide still clearly loves training (if not necessarily racing) and it certainly makes sense to run your Derby hopeful alongside a Derby winner given the opportunity. I’m leaning more toward jumping on the Nobiz Like Shobiz bandwagon, but I’ll make that call later this week.

The other very interesting article by Jim Squires (breeder of the under-rated Monarchos) will be fun reading for you Green Monkey watchers — the most expensive horses left in the Derby field are the $1.5 million longshot Cowtown Cat and of course Curlin, who recently changed hands for $3.5 million. Squires notes:

It was in the euphoria in the wake of the last three Triple Crown winners — Secretariat in 1973, Seattle Slew in 1977 and Affirmed in 1978 — that million-dollar yearlings became the norm at public auctions and breeders began producing precisely the wrong kind of horse needed to win three races in five weeks. In 1985, when a half-brother to Seattle Slew named Seattle Dancer set the yearling sales record at $13.1 million, the corresponding record for 2-year-old-in-training horses — known in the industry as juvenile sales — was $800,000.

…[The Green Monkey details omitted here, since the average Superfectablog reader knows them well]…

Yet it is the industry preoccupation with just such horses and the lure of such extravagant prices that has kept breeders from producing in substantial numbers horses physically capable of enduring the Triple Crown grind. And today’s trainers, many of whom weren’t born when Secretariat set the standard, are naturally far more adept at conditioning horses for distances of a mile or less, at which most North American races today are run.

It’s a great article all around — definitely give it a read. It makes me want to wear my Green Monkey t-shirt, which I promise to do in the very near future.

Finally, for those attending the Barbaro festivities at Delaware Park, have a great day! I won’t be able to join you as planned as I’ve been felled by an evil stomach bug thanks to my vector toddler, so please have a drink for me! For others not attending, enjoy this video clip of Barbaro’s latest sibling capering around at Mill Ridge Farm.

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