Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Year of the Five Year Old

The week and a half from now until The Belmont Stakes tends to be one of those lull periods in racing. Most of the news will be about which horses worked,when and how fast and second guessing if the timing was right to have the horse in peak form for the race.

This year we also have Big Brown's front foot to occupy our thoughts. Dutrow has been and continues to downplay the crack but he certainly can't feel good about it. And Ian McKinlay has had more press than he's likely to receive during the rest of his career. The horse hasn't said much. He did go for a mile and a half jog Tuesday to let off some of the pent up energy building in his system and I'm sure to alleviate some of the nerves of the connections.

If I were training BB I would be worried with every step he took. While he's shown he's so much better than the rest that it seems he could beat the others coming right off the farm we know it's not that easy. So he's going to have to work and the connections are going to have to sweat it out.

Big Brown has been battling these cracks since he began training. This makes me wonder about the wisdom of the breeding business. Reportedly Three Chimney's paid somewhere between $50 - $60 million for him. That means that they will try to make that back in the next three years before his first crop hits the track. Foot problems are hereditary. Knowing this would you, if you had a mare that pairs well, send her to Big Brown for a fee that will probably be between $125-$150k? Or would you try to find some value in the myriad stallions available that may result in a more sturdy, better racehorse? The question is somewhat rhetorical. Most commercial breeders would likely opt to breed to him - the new fashion for 2009 - and take a chance at hitting a homerun. How many homeruns there will be is any one's guess but the number is not going to be large. This means that there is likely a lot of losses that will result from breeding to the new guy in cell block number nine. I just don't understand the thought process. Wouldn't it be better to have a stallion prove his value in the breeding shed as they should have to on the track. This is another instance where the industry gets it backwards but there is no way to fix the problem. Perhaps the only way for anything to change is that breeders would have to change their habits. But everyone is out for that pot of gold at the end of the triple crown rainbow; the owners, the stallion station, trainer, breeders etc... I'm certain they would all say they are helping to serve to the sport but I think we all know better.

Looking at BB's pedigree if I had a mare from the predominant line out there (Mr. P.) I would have my concerns about breeding to Big Brown. Weakness to weakness or at least fragility to fragility. I certainly wouldn't think that I am strengthening the breed. I would feel more certain that I was creating a more fragile horse. What can be done about this flaw in the system? Like most problems in the industry probably nothing. I know that it is impossible to change the system, however, if I could here is a rule I would like to see the industry impose upon itself: No horse can stand until he is a horse (5 year old). I think this would have a positive ripple effect throughout the industry and here's how.

It would have the positive effect of horses having longer campaigns. This in turn will have several positive consequences. First, a horse will have to prove his durability and superiority on the track for more than a season. It will nurture new fans because they will be able to follow and root for a horse for several years. It would also create rivalries, so rare these days outside of the triple crown events, further nurturing fan interest.

What about a horse that breaks down? Implement a standard that makes the horse sit out one year after it's mishap before standing. So, for example, a horse that breaks down at 2 would have to wait until its' fourth year to stand. I think this would be a propitious standard because it would forestall the mysterious rash of injuries that would almost certainly occur for most successful three years olds! Certainly it would not benefit anyone to feign injury and sit out a year therefore taking a chance that the shine may fade from the star. It would also have the further effect of allowing time to impose its' propensity to allow clearer vision of value.

To do this would not curtail business one iota. I'm certain bidding for future stallions would be just as heated as ever. However, I think it would have some positive effects. One being somewhat reduced prices paid for a future stallions -with a ripple down effect through the industry - because to buy a colt at three would now carry more risk. The risks are manifold. The most obvious risk is that a colt does not continue to be as dominating a runner as it matures. Also there is risk that a colt from the next year's crop may become the shiny new gem outshining the previous year's model. And of course with every start that proves durability comes the risk of disaster. It will also result in something that we rarely see in racing anymore, it would oblige the best horses from different crops to compete against each other to prove superiority. So if the connections of a colt risk racing a horse into his fourth year before selling its' rights and it does prove to be dominant that huge payday will still be there. But the difference would be that we could be more certain a horse is worth the price. This year we may have an example of how this would play out if Big Brown and Curlin meet in the B.C. Classic. If Big Brown did win the race he would, in my mind, be absolutely the best horse running. If he loses to Curlin but runs well it would hardly diminish his value. However, next year we would be able to see if BB would maintain his dominance when he ran against the best of the next crop at year's end as well as maturing horses of his own crop. We would also get to see if his inbred traits would be his undoing or not. In turn the answers to these questions would truly inform us of his value as a stallion to promote the well being of the breed.

I could enumerate many more positive scenarios that would come out of this simply imposed rule but those listed are more than enough reasons to consider this idea. It could all be accomplished without anyone ever missing a beat in the industry. It would not cause one problem if the next crop of new stars of the breeding industry had to wait an extra year to start their service. There are enough stars in that universe already, no void would occur. Somewhere along the line someone is going to have to take financial hit to straighten things out. This idea limits and possibly eliminates the need for anyone to lose. It may just cause a one year delay.

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