07/06/2012 3:20PM

Crist: So You Think certainly one for the books

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Tom Keyser
So You Think earned $8.6 million in 23 starts.

The retirement last week of So You Think closed the book on one of the most extraordinary racing careers in recent years, one that is likely to look remarkably ambitious and sporting a generation from now when other, more conventionally campaigned champions have been virtually forgotten.

So You Think, a New Zealand-bred son of two-time Breeders’ Cup Turf winner High Chapparral, won 14 of his 23 starts and earned $8.69 million. Among all racehorses who have made at least one start in North America, that bankroll ranks sixth behind only Curlin ($10.5 million), Cigar ($9.9 million), Skip Away ($9.6 million), Gloria de Campeao ($9.2 million) and Espoir City ($8.9 million). The top four on that list all won the Dubai World Cup, and Espoir City’s victories all came in rich Japanese races.

So You Think won 10 Group 1 races but only two of them carried purses of $1 million or more – consecutive runnings of Australia’s Cox Plate at Moonee Valley, worth $2.7 million in 2009 and $2.9 million in 2010. You could argue, however, that he ran in more of the world’s most famous races than any horse of his era: His nine defeats include respectable performances in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington in Australia, the World Cup at Meydan in Dubai, the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France, the Champion Stakes at Ascot in England, and the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs in the United States.

He spanned the globe in a career that technically lasted 37 months but actually played out in concentrated bursts of activity unlike anything we have seen in recent years. As a 3-year-old in 2009, he raced five times in seven weeks from Sept. 5 to Nov. 7. As a 4-year-old, his entire six-race season lasted just three months, including three Group 1 victories in 21 days from Oct. 9 through Oct. 30.

Last fall as a 5-year-old, having already won four Group 1 races in Ireland and England, he attempted an unprecedented triple. Because of a scheduling dispute between Ascot and Longchamp, the two biggest days on the European fall calendar were just two weeks apart, with the Arc de Triomphe card Oct. 2 and British Champions Day on Oct. 16. Europeans complained bitterly about the timing, saying no horse would now run on both days, much less be able to compete in the Breeders’ Cup just three weeks later.

Only one horse on the planet ran on all three cards: So You Think, who was beaten 5 3/4 lengths (fourth behind a runaway five-length winner) in the Arc; ran second by three-quarters of a length to Cirrus des Aigles in the Champion, and sixth by 3 1/2 lengths after being within a length of the lead at the furlong pole in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

So You Think was scheduled to race only the first half of this year as a 6-year-old before being retired to stud at Coolmore Australia, where the Southern Hemisphere breeding season begins in late summer. After three defeats last fall and an indifferent fourth in the Dubai race to start 2012, So You Think was widely considered something of a disappointment, albeit a gallant one, on the world stage. He regained much of his stature with daylight victories in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh on May 27 and the Prince of Wales’s at Royal Ascot on June 20, after which trainer Aidan O’Brien made one of the most remarkable statements ever uttered by a member of his profession: He apologized to Australia and New Zealand for the way he had trained and campaigned So You Think since taking over his training from Australia’s legendary Bart Cummings when the horse went to Europe last year.

“I’m sorry, because if you do the wrong things with a horse, it shows how long you can stifle their progress,” O’Brien told The Daily Telegraph of England. “Basically, it’s taken me a year and a half to learn how to train him properly, and up to now I’ve made a right dog’s dinner of it. What was I doing wrong? Working him too long, too often, and too hard. Yes, three big ones.

“There’s loads of horses we destroy as trainers,” he continued, “but with such a high-profile horse, we were rightly getting a hammering from Australia. He had turned into a fantasy horse over there, and when so many people think you’re getting it wrong, they can’t all be wrong.”

It’s debatable which we’ll see happen again first – a horse who runs in so many of the world’s greatest races or a world-class trainer saying he has made a “right dog’s dinner” out of training such an extraordinary horse.