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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Time Passes By and Fine Wine

Is it already fourteen years since Malabar Man won the Hambletonian with amateur driver Malvern Burroughs?  Fourteen years, it seems like it was yesterday when we talked about Malabar Man and what a phenomenon he was.  How Burroughs lucked out in winning that August day as he allowed himself to get locked in and if not for racing luck, he would have been out of the money.

Well, while it seems like it was just yesterday, Malabar Man has died at the age of 17, apparently due to some type of intestinal infection.  When they went to feed Malabar Man in the morning, he was already dead. 

Where does time fly?  This is one of the reasons why I hesitate when I hear about the next great horse.  When Malabar Man retired to stud, he was supposed to be one of the great ones and while he did have success at stud, I dare say no one would call him one of the great ones today.  But this is not a criticism of Malabar Man as much as it is with modern day marketing.  It is the responsibility of the syndicates to 'sex' up the stallion prospects and the racing media is all too willing to drink the kool aid.

The truth is, we can't tell who the next great stallion will be; it is history's job to tell us which stallion was the next great thing and quite honestly, the way all the commercial breeders are trying to produce commercially viable yearlings, I don't know if we will ever have the next great stallion; it seems each year breeders are running to the next hot stallion even if they have had success with prior stallions.    For years, you used to see Albatross, Direct Scooter, Big Towner, and others in the racing programs as sires, years after they raced.  Sure, you may see an older sire listed in the program here and there after a period of time, but these days, you are lucky to see a stallion listed as a sire wholesale in a program for three or four years before they start vanishing from the program pages as sires.

But is this surprising?  Society as a whole has the attention span of a flea.  A celebrity is hot for a year or two and they then become passe, washed up and a has-been.  Is there any surprise this attitude has reached the equine industry?  In the past stallions were revered as fine wine and only a few joined them during their reigns as the best.  Now, if they are out of public's view for a couple of years, they may as well be the actor in the old age home.  Perhaps this is why there is a resentment to Jeff Gural's plan to have stakes limited to off-spring of five year olds and older; the fear being when these stallions race as a four year old, a three year old may become the next great thing and before a horse gets a chance to go to stud, they become passe.

Maybe the answer to that concern is to eliminate the lucrative stakes races for two and three year olds and shift the money to the aged horses where it belongs.  Let's face it, how many times does last year's two year old monster come back as a three year old has been?    It is only when the horses get older do they show their ability over a period of time.  Now with the breeding industry in such flux and slot money available to support earnings, this would be the time for the adjustment away from youth to older horses to take place.  Maybe with the emphasis on older horses, stallions will once again become like fine wine instead of bathtub gin.

It seemed like it was yesterday when.....

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