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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Where is Our Zenyatta?

For those who don't think having racing stars matter, I give you Zenyatta.

Zenyatta parades at Hollywood Park this Sunday. I expect they will draw a large audience to see Zenyatta as she makes her final public appearance before heading off to her new careers as a broodmare. When was the last time we had a horse that popular that the prospect of seeing him/her being paraded on the track between races was an attendance draw and a media event?

Why is Zenyatta so popular? Longevity. She didn’t stop as a three year old or a four year old. She raced as a five year old. Yes, she is a mare, not a colt so I understand there is less incentive to stop racing earlier with her but the fact remains she was a draw for the runners.

We need to get our racing stars to keep racing past their three year old campaign. I understand the need for the very best of our three year old crop to head to the breeding shed, but we offer so little money for our aged events that we lose many others as well. I am not here to offend any horse owners but there are some three year olds heading to the breeding shed that lack the credentials to do so.

I don't lay the blame for this on horse owners. I dare say if any of us were fortunate to have any of these top horses we would look at the financials and make the same decision to head to the stallion barn. What we need to do is change the equation by dedicating more money for stake races for older horses. How do we do this? Take the added money spent on the major two year old events and move it to stake races for older horses. Let the two year olds learn and earn on sire stakes races and a few minor unrestricted stake races. Do we need a $1 million North America Cup and Meadowlands Pace? A $1.5 million Hambletonian? We could trim purses of our three year old events a little and divert the money to aged events as well.

Yes, breeders are going to argue that this will hurt the yearling market as it will take longer for an owner to earn back their investment. That may be, but what will the yearling market be like if there are no race tracks? Tracks have the power to do this now. It is time for them to do so.

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