10/19/2009 9:40AM

U.S. Won't See the Star


As Europeans once again shower a racehorse with superlatives, London's The Guardian had a fascinating article that dared to seek contrarian viewpoints about the legacy of Sea the Stars.

This quote from former champion jockey Joe Mercer: "I remember when Galileo won the King George (in 2001), they were raving about him being the best they'd ever seen.  You can't have a best horse you've ever seen every other year. Half the people who are saying he's the best they've ever seen aren't old enough to have seen the best horses."

    Geoff Greetham, publishing editor of England's esteemed Timeform publication, whose horse ratings are quoted worldwide, said Sea the Stars will not wind up rated as highly as legendary Euro greats Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard.  "It is a shame he won't go to the Breeders' Cup," Greetham was quoted as saying. "I didn't subscribe to the view that he had nothing left to prove. I would like to have seen him in America."

British senior handicapper Phil Smith said he probably will rate Sea the Stars well behind some other English racing greats, but pointed out that although Sea the Stars has been running against "good horses but not great horses," he tended to win his races by short margins and thus "we may not be giving him the full credit he deserves."  Smith could raise his rating of Sea the Stars depending on the performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic of Rip Van Winkle, who Sea the Stars defeated three times.

    Finally, English Channel 4 analyst John McGrath, while praising the ability of Sea the Stars, was quoted as adding, "I couldn't put my hand on my heart and say he's better than Mill Reef and Brigadier Gerard. He's set a wonderful standard and he's a fantastic racehorse but I don't think he's done quite enough."

    On both sides of the pond, we've become inured to the sight of superstar racehorses - or potential superstars, at least - being retired prematurely due to the economic imbalance between racing purses and breeding riches. Even in breeding's current economic slump, Sea the Stars could easily stand for a $75,000 fee and be bred to 150 horses - possibly a conservative estimate - for a net of $11.25 million. Curlin made $10.5 million during his entire racing career.

How do we change that imbalance?  One way is to grow purses to stratospheric levels. In the present form of racing in this country, good luck with that.

    Following back-to-back-to-back early retirements of Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Bernardini, I wrote in 2006 about another way to keep our stars on the racetrack longer. It might be just as much of a longshot, with potential ramifications of its own, but here goes: 

Suppose Jockey Clubs in all major racing countries around the world rewrite their rules to require that in order for a thoroughbred to be registered to race, its sire and dam must have been at least 5 years of age at time of conception.  No exceptions would be made for injuries, regardless of severity. Clearly, the change would have to be worldwide, or top 4-year-old horses in the U.S., for example, could be sent to Ireland or France to stud for a year before returning to this country.

    Interesting food for thought, isn't it?

Ibrahim More than 1 year ago
Interesting thought.These days,in whatever industry you are competing - Who will dare put the money factor in a position other than position ONE. - Since races outcome are subjected to too many factors,at a certain point in a life cycle,no one is incline to take the future risks. Henceforth,let's rejoice the thrills each champion brings to our senses.
Brittney More than 1 year ago
I don't agree with you. Becaues it does it matter if they are racing or not they should be able to Retire any time that they traniners and owners want them to!
seattleslewfan77 More than 1 year ago
I'm sorry I came quite late to this post. But this is a very interesting idea. One person commented on this affecting the high end of the market, which, and I agree is what is keeping the sport alive. But, could this be off-set by bringing prices down and allowing the more average individual to participate in the sport? More people in the sport means more coverage and interest. By rushing colts off the racetrack to breed at age 3, it smacks of subterfuge. A breeder can artificially increase the stud fee because who really knows how good the colt is? Now, I know that that is not the reason for owner/breeders to start a colfs stud life at three, but in these days of perceptions ruling the thoughts of society, does this not play into the public's mind? Even subtlely?
Medlocke More than 1 year ago
Novemeber 8, 2009. Sitting here at my computer at 3:40 A.M. E.D.T. reflecting back over the weekend's Breeders Cup race's. First let me start by saying, I've seen all of the available footage of Sea The Star's race replay's, and he's truly a very special, phenomenal colt, no question. And even though I would've loved to have seen him in the Classic, it's also nice to see a horse retired on merit instead of injury. That said about Sea The Star's, let me just say I'm almost 47 yrs. old. I go back to watching (with my father as a teenager) Secretariat winning the Triple Crown as the start of my life long passion for racing. When he won the Belmont by 31 length's, the feeling I had was indescribable. I knew I was witnessing perfection, in the presence of greatness. Well after 36 years of waiting, I got that same feeling, that rush, again today watching Zenyatta win the Breeders Cup Classic. Again, I knew I was witnessing perfection. In the presence of greatness. For a race mare, even an undefeated one like her, to 1. Not only race male's for the first time, but dive right into a race that had the very best of both the U.S. and Europe. And 2. To beat the world's best colt's at a distance that she'd never tried before, 1-1/4. What an unbelievable accomplishment. So I'll close by saying, Sea The Star's, as impressive as he is, he could possibly be a horse that could beat Zenyatta, but even he would not have beaten Zenyatta on this day, in this race. jmo.
dan c More than 1 year ago
I completely agree and have been saying that for years. 5 yrs old period to breed. If they retire before they still cannot breed. It is unreal to me how a Smarty Jones can be retired that fast when frankly his breeding was not that strong, he needed to run, Point Given, Bernardini, and a host of Euros, How great would the cup be if See the Stars, Zarkava, Big Brown, etc etc etc would all be running. Older division would actually have a division.... On a side note boys get ready for Connie and Michael, all I can say is I been around a long time and I have never heard a stronger story and witnessed a stronger work and race then hers in all my life. This filly works faster then older horses run and she can run all day.......She out worked House of Grace by 10 lengths..........I will leave it at that........
Mark More than 1 year ago
It makes perfect sense - it's a fabulous idea. The rule just needs to be set to start three years out. Since nobody has potental 3yo stars in 2012 right now, then how can anyone be against it. Someone just needs the guts to get this started.
twodollarbettor More than 1 year ago
Mr. Moss, Thanks for the piece with its even-keel perspective about the legacy of Sea the Stars. I have a suggestion for keeping stars around longer though I don't whether it's scientifically/financially feasible. How about letting owners have sperm and/or eggs of their stars be frozen for future use? If the fertility of these are not adversely affected by cryopreservation, then owners can continue to race their stars without worrying so much about fatal injuries and their bottom line. Also, I wouldn't think owners of freakishly fast 2- and 3-year-olds sprinters should worry about dropping values if by continuing to race them when they're older that their distance limitations become glaring. After all, much of the breeding industry here is pointed at sprinters/milers and lucrative races for fast 2- and 3-year-olds aren't going away.
Chris More than 1 year ago
Randy, I agree with the notion of the age requirement. I would like to see an incentive bonus for the Classic (as when Visa had the 5 million dollar bonus for the horse who would win the Triple Crown.) If the Brass of Breeder's Cup would ponder on this idea, I think it would keep the stars of the track, which is the main focus of the WTC, running in the biggest event for, not only the purse of the 4 mill, but the bonus. And the only horses who would qualify for the bonus would be the Grade 1/Group 1 designated races that these horses in question have won.
Richard Dorfman More than 1 year ago
Sea the Stars was clearly top shelf. Yet, having viewed a majority of his races, I'm absolutely convinced he would never have held off Zarcava and her breathtaking turn of foot had he come along just one year earlier! Great yes, but nowhere close to being among the best of all-time.
Tim Maz More than 1 year ago
I like it, but not sure it'll fly in our free markets. That said we (those that rely on the industry and our wagering dollar) need to do something. Try this out: Ask your casual racing fans how many weeks there are in between the Triple Crown races. I'll guarantee that the answers will stump you. Its either change the breeding standards (good luck) or change the presentation of the product to the fans and would-be fans. There is a chance with the latter.
VSK More than 1 year ago
So, an owner who has invested possibly millions has a very good 3-year-old, wins some huge races, but is injured and has to retire. You're going to tell that owner that he has to sit on that horse, letting him go from hot to warm to cold during the following year when he's neither racing or at stud? How is that fair to the owners who invest so much in the sport, whose only way to make a profit for their stable is through the sale of such horses?
Stephen King More than 1 year ago
I also doubt that Mr. Moss' proposal will ever happen, but its value is that it makes a very important point -- few horses run enough races anymore to consider them champions in relation to the great horses of the past. No conceivable increase in purses will ever be able to compete with the income from breeding. Given the sad state of soundness in the modern racehorse, breeding is a whole lot more attractive from a safety factor as well. What I find so sad about the "Sea the Stars" situation is that the Tsui family does not exactly need the money from breeding seasons in order to provide for their next meal. The real solution to many of the problems that racing faces is a return to the sport of true sportsman and sportswomen. A true sportsman would want to discover how good his horse really is by giving that animal every opportunity to excel to its best ability and only quit when there is nothing left to prove rather than when the best offer comes in. A true sportswoman would want to breed the fastest AND soundest horse to wear her colors rather than a hip number. A true sportsman would not race a horse that needed medication to perform at any level. A true sportswoman would have the goal of improving the breed rather than improving her balance sheet. Where are the Belmont's, Widener's and Vanderbilt's of today? Where is Calument and Belair and Greentree and Rokeby? The influx of money into racing has done nothing to improve the breed or the sport, in fact, both seem to have suffered greatly. Perhaps flat racing could learn a lesson from steeplechasing -- virtually the last vestige of true sporting people left in racing who race mostly for cups and plates, and above all else, a love of the sport and the horse.
Spearmint More than 1 year ago
2 ways that I think are easier to do and maybe more useful: 1) Stallions can't be bred to more than 80 mares a year. 2) Stop giving 3-year olds a four pound weight advantage when racing against older horses in stakes races.
Owen Pennant Jones More than 1 year ago
If it were possible to delay the retirement of horses, there's not a fan of the sport who would be unhappy. But for that to happen, the breeders would have to a) be content with what a horse achieves on the racecourse (and not be put off by a few losses, or loss of reputation) and b) be prepard to wait for those stallions. Both of the above scenarios cost money, and therein lies the problem. This and other ideas along the same lines (abolish weight for age in the top races - let the Breeders' cup Classic be run at level weights) I was shouting about a decade ago back in England (incidentally - it's Jim McGrath, not John) but ultimately the breeders control the industry and are highly unlikely to agree to this. The sad part is that the fan suffers. Remember a year ago when people were saying 'What else does Zarkava have to prove?' And here we are a year later in the Arc with Zarkava already in the breeding paddocks and a showdown with Sea The Stars never takes place. However - if you think that is bad, wait until America does get its next Triple Crown winner, for there is little chance at all the horse will ever race again after the Belmont Stakes.
joe More than 1 year ago
dumb idea. the first time one of these superstars break down on national tv, all the animal rights activists will have a field day. why cant we just enjoy them as long as we can and move on. anyway the quicker theygoon to breed the quicker their progeny hit the track. imaging if medaglia d'oro ran till he was 7. we wouldnt have Rachel Alexander.
Leon More than 1 year ago
To Paul: That is the best idea I have heard so far! You have people in the high-end of the market making gross amounts of money while the sport is agonizing. Sea The Stars will probably command at least a $100,000 stud fee; if bred to 100 mares, that's $10,000,000 in one year. The tax could be something like 40% if they are 3 year-olds, 30% if they are 4, and no tax if they are retired at 5. If this is applied, $4 million would be added to purses in the country in which the stallion is breeding. What about it Randy?
Gibson Carothers More than 1 year ago
What about incentives? What about a $5 million bonus for repeat Breeders' Cup winners and a $10 million bonus for a BC threepeat? Although I'm intrigued by Randy's proposal and Paul's taxation approach, the risk of scaring off weathly new owners may be too great.
Cangamble More than 1 year ago
Randy, you stole my idea. Actually, my idea is to not allow a horse stand until he is six, mares five: http://cangamble.blogspot.com/2008/05/how-to-fix-breeding-and-help-horse.html
Barry More than 1 year ago
Nice idea but I can already see the lawsuits. Violation of the Commerce clause and whatnot.
Ed Kane, Ph.D. More than 1 year ago
Hi Randy, You most always have some excellent ideas and thought re Thoroughbred racing, but that idea is ridiculous. Let's take Sea the Stars as an example, he won the Epsom Derby, the 2000 Guineas, the Coral Eclipse, the Arc, and in the process defeated some of the best horses within the EU, what is the advantage of continuing to run him? Regardless of any safety issues, it's strictly makes good sport sense to retire him and breed him. Not only his racing record, but his pedigree tells you he should be a producer. There is no advantage to continue to run him. It's like any athlete at the pinnicle of his/her sport, Sea The Stars accomplished it all, and re a breeding potential, if he continues to compete and loses, his value can only decrease. Surely, as a fan, I agree, I'd love to see such "Stars" continue to perform, but horses such as Lava Man, Cigar, and John Henry come about only so often. If he was mine, I too would thoughtfully retire him - and they say he's worth $100 Million - I'll take it. Lastly, let's take your idea at face value - wait till 5 to breed - that would eliminate so many potential breedings, and it just doesn't make sense. A blanket number be it any number is absolutely ridiculous - each horse, mare or stallion, must be evaluated on a case by case basis.
preston More than 1 year ago
I like the idea of "Suppose Jockey Clubs in all major racing countries around the world rewrite their rules to require that in order for a thoroughbred to be registered to race, its sire and dam must have been at least 5 years of age at time of conception." The question is why the 5yo and not 6yo or older. It would be great to see a horse race for four years (2yo - 5yo). Its like college football players going pro before their senior year. I think that it is more fun watching Tim Tebow in his 4th season than imagining him having gone to the NFL early.
Tinky More than 1 year ago
Randy, Your idea, aside from being utterly impractical, is hilarious, given that we would never have seen Sea The Stars (and countless other brilliant runners) had such a rule been in place when Danzig was retired!
Rob More than 1 year ago
Though I really like your idea, I realize it could never happen. Money runs the sport and the country. In fact, another comment like that and they'll brand you a Socialist! Unfortunately, I don't have an answer to the problem. All I know is that as soon as a potential star is born, he is gone. Instead of thousands of fans lining the apron screaming, you have just one, the owner/breeder. Of course, they are yelling the same thing. "Get him up there, get him up there!"
Ryan More than 1 year ago
That idea sounds good to me. The point is that something needs to be done if horse racing wants to save itself. Horse racing is similar to boxing in that both rely very heavily on star power. There is no star power in heavyweight boxing anymore and we all know where that sport has gone. Horse racing does produce stars but obviously they are not around long enough for the casual sports fan to really care. The one problem I see with your plan is that why not just sit the horse out for the four year old campaign? Financially speaking, having a horse win an extra couple million for their four year old campaign still means nothing to their breeding value. Basically, I am saying that even if you take away their four year old breeding season, the financial justification is still there to avoid the risk of injury in a potential four year old racing season. I would like to see your plan but add another year to make the requirement 6 years old. That being said, I will agree to whatever rule can be made to keep horses racing for their four year old and hopefully in some cases five year old seasons. If we had the likes of street sense, curlin, hard spun and any given saturday going at it for three straight years, the sport could be revived to amazing heights. The other important thing to realize is that most racing fans today probably grew up in the 70s. They were exposed to racing greatness in that decade and they learned to love the sport. Once those fans are gone, who is going to carry the sport? The way things stand right now it certainly wont be my generation (22 yrs old). The thing that my generation is especially attracted to are stars and you are spot on in saying, Randy, that we need a plan to keep these stars in the game. Otherwise, I would seriously fear the future for the sport.
Chuck More than 1 year ago
I agree that saying any horse is one of the "best" after a career of ten starts or so does not do justice to the champs of by gone years who raced 25 to 50 times in their careers. Certainly the competition they faced should also be taken into consideration. I, myself, always have felt that CIGAR never faced top horses. I believe in Chicago the horse who finished second was a high priced claimer.