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As much as I wish it was, there is no quick and easy solution to the problem you present. U.S. racing was set on its current path when the Union Course on Long Island became the first "skinned" track back in 1821, meant to be an all-weather surface vs the traditional turf. So this became the standard surface in America. Then to add insult to injury, our Triple Crown does not match the traditional system used elsewhere.
In most places the series starts with a "2000 Guineas" that is usually 1 mile on a straightaway. Then a month or more later, the "Derby" is a 1 1/2 mile test, preferably with an uphill component. Then after a few months break (when other preps can be run) the "St. Leger" is a 1 3/4 mile marathon. Instead, our series is compressed both in time (2 weeks rest then 3) and distances (between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 miles). I put the names of the races in quotes since they go by different names in different countries, but those are what they're called in the UK and Ireland.
Recall the famous quote by Federico Tesio: The Thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended, not on experts, technicians, or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby. If you base your criteria on anything else, you will get something else, not the Thoroughbred.
On these shores, replace the Epsom Derby (1 1/2 miles turf in early June) not with the Kentucky Derby (1 1/4 miles dirt in early May), but maybe some combination of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (1 1/16 miles dirt in November at 2) and the Arkansas Derby (1 1/8 miles in April at 3). You breed and train a horse for that and you might have a Kentucky Derby/Breeders' Cup Classic winner too, but even if not, you'll make a lot of money in purses AND in the breeding shed after (meaning, let's breed more of these horses that can't get a distance). I might even revise that and say we're trying to breed Met Mile/BC Dirt Mile winners. Great at 1 turn sprints, not much else.
One thing the Union Course had that we don't anymore was FOUR MILE races. We just never continued with that tradition, and instead we have become the 5-7f sprint sport, as you said, quarterhorse racing stretched out. Thank goodness the Triple Crown people didn't listen to DWLukas back in the day and run the Derby at 1 mile, the Preakness at 7f, and the Belmont at 9f... he almost got his wish last year with that joke 9f Belmont.
There's zero incentive to breed for stamina since we do not have a profitable stakes program for older stayers (unlike the UK with the Ascot Gold Cup, Australia with the Melbourne Cup, etc) nor a rich National Hunt program to give older stayers not fast enough for the flat, a place to go (we don't have anything like Cheltenham). Instead we incentivize juvenile racing (a big mistake - and sadly the Breeders' Cup decides to turn a bug into a feature...), dirt racing, and sprinting.
It's easy to blame Bob Baffert (and before him, D. Wayne Lukas) for this, for their "worktab riddled with bullets" training methods. But really, he's just playing the hand that was dealt him. These are the races he has to win, and these are the horses he's given, bred to win those races. If he was training in the UK and expected to win 1 1/2 mile races regularly, he'd have to change his methods in a hurry. I purposely ignored the drugs angle, because even if we were able to catch and banish 100% of cheaters, the above would all still apply.
Wanted to add: here's where you really see American TB racing turning into the AQHA -- what's the biggest/richest event in the AQHA calendar... the $2 million All-American Futurity for TWO YEAR OLDS in the fall.
Not much different from rewarding our speedy juveniles with their $2 million Breeders' Cup Juvenile, right? (and as I pointed out, running five stakes for juveniles on the Friday... no wonder it's called the Breeders' Cup.. the inmates run the asylum).
Baffert isn't afraid to dump one of his jocks for someone better. Mike Smith and Victor Espinoza declined, Cedeno was a part-time jockey so he in brought in Saez, Rosario and Johnny Velazquez.
I know Charleton is active but has Maximum Security been retired. I'm curious how Baffert will juggle his all star line up for the rest of the year.
TexSquared said...There's zero incentive to breed for stamina since we do not have a profitable stakes program for older stayers (unlike the UK with the Ascot Gold Cup, Australia with the Melbourne Cup, etc) nor a rich National Hunt program to give older stayers not fast enough for the flat, a place to go (we don't have anything like Cheltenham). Instead we incentivize juvenile racing (a big mistake - and sadly the Breeders' Cup decides to turn a bug into a feature...), dirt racing, and sprinting.
Your entire post was excellent Tex.
There was a time when many were saying "let's bring some of the stamina bloodlines back over here" .....and at the time I agreed, but now I see it would be a total waste. It would be like trying to pour an entire craffe of wine into a single wine glass. It just overflows and is wasted.
It is what it is. And you're correct, Lukas wanted to turn TB racing into a form of QH racing, and he didn't get his wish, but he got the spirit of it instead.
I'm perfectly content to wait til the Ascot, Epsom Derby, Melbourne Cup etc. and open my wallet as well as study up for those races and skip our TC races which have become a disappointment to me, in terms of the kind of racing I enjoy.
SA surface is souped up like a cement speedway, why not have Churchill, Pimlico, etc. do the same for raceday, to approximate it. SA has benefitted Baffert for many years in this way. I would not want to take food out of his mouth by making it any different or more difficult for him at any other racetrack ROTFL
And they wonder why so many horses break down there and eveyrone keeps playing dumb.
Since I like Rock Your World, one of my concerns is that he will be ruined over there, before his time.
My point still stands and to an extent, goes unanswered: if the Baffert method works so well then why aren't the other trainers just using it? Why isn't Shirreffs, Attfieid, Motion, Mandella, etc. doing it and why don't they just cave and train this way? Inquiring minds want to know.
Maybe I am over simplifying, but the answer seems obvious to me: they actually care about the horse(s).
GioPonti said...Maybe I am over simplifying, but the answer seems obvious to me: they actually care about the horse(s).
That's exactly what I'm saying. You think Mandella or Motion know LESS about training horses than Baffert does? Of course not.
THey are probably just unwilliing to have the entire sport turned into quarterhorse-central, plus they probably want to see their horses last more than a year on the track.
Oh well, we already know we can't do anything about those special human beings who are enabled by others, every step of the way. over and over again, with nary a handslap. We watch and shake our heads but as long as there are synchophants available for that job, (thinking maybe they can stuff their pockets a little in the process, too), it will continue.
"The Times They Are A Changin' "
This is only one aspect of the racing paradigm.
Reality Checks have long been the "Saving Grace" of Thoroughbred Racing In North America.
Remember the introduction of the "Starting Gate?"
"Photo Finish" Photography replaced "Placing Judges."
We must have open ears and eyes to truth and wisdom.
clayjohns said...We must have open ears and eyes to truth and wisdom.
Reality check is that Classic Distance Racing, going the direction of quarterhorse racing, is not wisdom.
If you're talking about accepting change, I'm fine with change. Certainly not like Andy Beyer and many horseplayers who freaked out over synthetic tracks because they couldn't learn to 'cap them.
There is simply no truth and wisdom into turning long distance routers, who have certain body types and conformations, into speed demons or glorified sprinters, who can barely make it thru 1 year on the track. None. And the reality check is that it's not how its done anywhere else on the planet.
Not to mention the Hall of Fame trainers who I admire, and who seem to genuinely care about horses, do not train that way, and they most likely won't, despite that they won't win those $1 million dollar races. Those who wish to go in that direction will though. I won't be following them as a fan or a spectator, and certainly not as a bettor.