LOUISVILLE, KY (JUNE 24, 2017) — Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”
It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?
And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure. Here is our THIRD EDITION:
Maybe Ray Paulick Needs to Borrow Our Binoculars
I recently read — with a tremendous amount of disagreement, and a great degree of laughter — Ray Paulick’s recent commentary that was entitled, “View From the Eighth Pole: Race to the Breeding Shed.” It was published on his website, “The Paulick Report,” on June 12, 2017.
It seems as if Mr. Paulick’s view is blocked, or, at the very least, out of focus and fuzzy. If that truly is the case, we’d be happy to buy him a pair of our binoculars (look at the logo here).
Paulick’s reoccurring theme and point, it seems, is that racehorse owners, syndications, partners and others – who spend their money, whether it be hard-earned or not, to sponsor Thoroughbreds on the racetrack — are lacking in sporting nature and competitiveness these days.
Paulick deducts that if these owners dare decide to retire their horses to the breeding shed rather than continue to race — even if they are being offered untold amounts of money from stallion farms and operations – then these owners are lacking in spirit; in commitment; in guts. In other words, they must be lacking the necessary equipment that it takes to be a stallion in the first place. (Tip: it rhymes with “guts.”)
After all, Paulick contends, don’t those people owe it us to continue to race no matter what?
Never mind, that without these same owners, who are too few in number, already, and too hardy of soul to the liking of their own financial advisors, already, Paulick writes – in critical terms:
“There was a time, not so long ago, that sporting men and women would breed Thoroughbreds to race them. Today, it seems, we have more business people who race to breed.”
He goes on to write:
“Oftentimes when a horse wins a race the stature of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont, his owner becomes an asset manager as much as a sportsman. Stallion deals are drawn up to be announced at an opportune time and farms that buy the breeding rights don’t want to see the value of the horse decline after paying millions of dollars to stand him at stud.”
Wow. Now, that’s a real stretch of thought for someone, who apparently doesn’t know or recognize that economics are a part of every game and every sport – including horse racing – and apparently has never owned a racehorse. If he did own one, he would surely know that you had better enjoy the “fruits,” because there are many labors.
Don’t let history get in the way of a good story there, or your story here, Ray. Let us try to set the record a little straighter.
The truth of the matter is that there always has been, and there always will be an interesting tie between the racing and breeding industries. And, with good reason. The best racehorses normally make some of the best breeding horses — especially when it comes to stallions.
Oh, there is the occasional exception. Every so often, there comes along a stallion prospect that didn’t have a long, or distinguished – or both – career on the racetrack.
On occasion, you will have a Danzig. Or, as it appears this year, there will be an emerging MacLean’s Music. But, for the most part, both stallion managers and prospective buyers look first to those racing individuals that have either an expert pedigree, or a racing resume that catches the eye and attention of those willing to spend money on young and aspiring Thoroughbreds. In the rare circumstance, you will find a horse that displays both of those characteristics and they go to the breeding shed with a book of mares waiting and a book of success to be penned later.
So, it is inevitable that those horses that win the major stakes races – including the Classics – are recruited to the racing afterlife of the breeding farms. And, with the number of breeding operations in competition these days, those recruiting efforts are more intense than ever.
And, for one, I think that is a good thing. Competition brings out the best – whether on the racetrack or at the farm.
Yet, one has to ask the following questions:
Did Secretariat race past his 3-year-old season? Nope. Known as one of the game’s greatest, Secretariat was retired after winning the Canadian International on Oct. 28, 1973 by a whopping 61/2 lengths.
Nobody questioned Penny Chenery’s sportsmanship, or Seth Hancock and Claiborne Farm’s commitment to the game.
Did Storm Cat race past his 3-year-old season? Nope. Known for his superior talent and ferocious temperament, Storm Cat never made it to the races as an older horse and was retired to his owner’s farm for stallion duty.
Yet, nobody questioned W.T. Young’s sportsmanship and commitment to the sport.
What about A.P. Indy? Nope. Won the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Classic in a classic race over Pleasant Tap, and soon retired to the prestigious stallion operation owned and operated by his co-breeder, W. S. Farish, at Lane’s End Farm.
Nobody questioned Mr. Farish, or owner Tomonori Tsurumaki.
What about Alydar? Nope. After an impressive victory in the Grade 1 Travers, beating his arch nemesis and the Triple Crown winner Affirmed, Alydar was retired to his home at Calumet Farm.
What happened to Calumet’s sportsmanship?
The list goes on and on. And, it has gone on and on. In the past. In the present. And, into the future.
Despite his statistical review of the past few years, which demonstrates that more Classic winners are being retired than continue to race on as older horses, Paulick fails to mention or cite “other key statistics,” as well.
Today, horses just run fewer races than they did years; decades; generations ago. It is fact. Todd Pletcher likes to put time in-between his horse’s races. Chad Brown likes to put time in-between his horse’s races. Nearly ever trainer in the world, now, likes to put time in-between their horses races.
As a result, horses just run fewer races. And, as a result, some may go to the breeding shed sooner than they may have years; decades; generations ago.
Has nothing to do with the owner’s devotion to sport. Has more to do with the owner’s recognition of business, and the short shelf life of Thoroughbreds in today’s racing market.
In his fully researched report (sarcasm is emphasized here), Paulick writes this:
“…in Japan, where the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) is that country’s biggest race for 3-year-olds, all but three of the 17 winners since 2000 continued to race at 4 (and many had 5- or 6-year-old campaigns as well) before retiring to stud. The sport is extremely popular in Japan, with great emphasis placed on races for older runners. Breeders there put more stock in horses that have proven themselves over time and distance.”
Really? Breeders there put more stock in horses that have proven themselves over time and distance?
The truth is that Japan has no need for the vast majority of those runners to be stallions. Period.
The number of stallions that reside in that country pales by comparison to the quantity and quality that reside in Kentucky, alone. The number of mares bred in that country doesn’t compare to the number bred in the United States. The number of foals being born doesn’t come close to the number being produced here.
In essence, there is no need to replenish the stallion population in Japan to any degree close to that in the United States. Period.
Get these stats:
In 2016, Japan had a total of 7,824 races. The average number of starts per horse was 5.1. The number of stallions standing in Japan is around 250.
By comparison, there were 37,614 races in North America in 2016. There were 52,049 horses that competed in those races, with an average starts per horse at 6.20. And, by comparison there were 20,850 foals in this country compared to 6,901 in Japan.
So, there is a real simple, mathematical reason why Japan horses race into their “mature years.” There is no need for them at stud. None.
If that’s not enough to bury his arguments, Paulick goes on to write this:
“What’s driving this is the insatiable, and in my opinion, illogical appetite for new stallions. I don’t blame the stallion farm operators; they are merely responding to market forces. Commercial breeders know that the offspring of first-year stallions – for reasons I will never fully understand – are in high demand among yearling buyers, both end users and yearling-to-2-year-old pin-hookers. Stallion farms need to restock their breeding shed annually to keep up with that demand.
“If this counterproductive cycle continues, the blame can be laid squarely at the feet of horse owners and their agents, who pay a premium to buy yearlings and 2-year-olds by unproven first-year studs rather than finding horses sired by proven stallions.
“The sport and its fans, in the long run, are the losers.”
Most of this needs to be left for another debate, but two facts need to be stated for your closure on this issue:
1) Going into this year’s summer stakes schedule, it appears that – yet again – the list of older horses is dominating the rankings and are the top contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Championships.
At last count, Arrogate – a 4YO — is still the No. 1 choice to defend his title in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Gun Runner – a 4YO — has emerged as the top contender after stealing away to an easy victory in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs last weekend.
By the way, congrats to Winchell Thoroughbreds and Three Chimney’s Farm for their sportsmanship and guts in continuing to run Gun Runner. Sarcasm? Yep.
2) Young stallions have been tremendously successful in producing Triple Crown contenders – including many from their respective first crops of 3YOs. Always Dreaming – winner of this year’s Kentucky Derby – is out of Bodemeister’s first crop as a stallion. Cloud Computer – winner of the Preakness Stakes – is out of MacLean’s Music first crop as a stallion. Nyquist – winner of the 2016 Kentucky Derby was from the first crop of Uncle Mo.
Must we go on and on?
Ray: “Commercial breeders know that the offspring of first-year stallions – for reasons I will never fully understand – are in high demand among yearling buyers, both end users and yearling-to-2-year-old pin-hookers.”
Maybe, just maybe, now you will understand why there is such a demand for the offspring of first-year sires. If not, let us explain more:
They run. They run fast. They win. They win big races.
In closing, there is a damn good reason why sportsmen and sportswomen sell their top runners to become stallions. It has nothing to do with a perceived lack of sportsmanship. It has a lot to do with the ton of smarts and money that people in the stallion game have to offer. And, it has a lot to do with the sportsmen and sportswomen, who invest in our industry every year with the dream of making it big.
The game and the industry are better for their collective wisdom – even if it does mean a good one goes to the breeding shed a bit early. It means that good ones are coming along in the future.