Paul Moran

For 30 years, more than 22 at Newsday, in New York, Paul Moran has covered thoroughbred racing on its highest level. During that time, he has covered 30 Triple Crown series, every running of the Breeders' Cup Championships, 23 race meetings at Saratoga, won two Eclipse Awards, a Red Smith Award for coverage of the Kentucky Derby and other writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Editors, Long Island Press Club, Society of Silurians (the oldest press club in New York), Long Island Veterinary Medical Association, Florida Magazine Publishers Association.

In 2002, he was named New York's best thoroughbred handicapper by the New York Press in its annual "Best of Manhattan" edition. His work has appeared in virtually every racing publication published in the United States and most major American newspapers. He is a licensed owner of thoroughbreds in New York Contact:

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

In defense of dirt

The fatal breakdown of the Irish miler George Washington in the Breeders Cup Classic on Saturday at Monmouth Park has triggered an irrational wave of support for Polytrack from Europeans.

Irish trainer Jim Bolger, who was nowhere near Monmouth Park on Saturday, said this in an interview with the Racing Post (UK): George Washington's legacy, apart from being a very exciting champion, will be that from now on Breeders' Cups will only be run on Polytrack. The sooner they're all Polytrack and they cut out the drugs, it will be a better competition. If they [the Breeders' Cup] had Polytrack and turf tracks without the drugs, it would sort the men from the boys.

Bolger may be right about the drugs, but not about Polytrack. The conditions at Monmouth on Saturday were less than ideal and the breakdown of an accomplished horse is unfortunate, but begs the question: Why was a European miler in a 10-furlong race on dirt? Clearly George Washingtons effort in the 2006 Classic at Churchill Downs indicated that he was a better horse on grass and his European record suggests that he was unsuited to the distance.

The British-born, Maryland-based trainer Michael Dickinson told the Sporting Life (UK) that he believes that the Breeders Cup should never again be run on a dirt surface, not an unexpected reaction from a person whose company developed yet another synthetic surface, Tapeta.

The in-vogue artificial surfaces, Polytrack, Cushion Track and Tapeta, may be a fine for training, but not for racing and two of the three the core tracks in the Breeders Cup rotation Belmont Park and Churchill Downs will remain dirt surfaces for the foreseeable future. The other, Santa Anita, has the synthetic surface, Cushion Track, as a result of the knee-jerk reaction to the injury suffered by Barbaro in the 2006 Preakness by California authorities who ordered all surfaces at the states major tracks to be converted. Solomon did not live in California.

In the first race ever run over the Tapeta surface at Presque Isle Downs, in Pennsylvania, during September, a horse broke down near the half-mile pole. On Monday, another horse trained by Aidan OBrien, Scorpion, pulled up lame after a work in Australia, where he was to have run in the Melbourne Cup, and was immediately retired. OBrien, who trained George Washington, is on a negative roll at the moment but the breakdown of another of his starts illustrates the bare face that horses break down on synthetic surfaces and grass and in the mud at Monmouth Park.

Good horses, cheap horses, sound horses and infirm horses break down. They break down in training, while racing and while galloping free in a pasture. It is a matter of physics. A half-ton, highly strung animal with ankles and underpinnings no bigger or more durable than a humans leg running at full speed is a recipe for injury. Perhaps George Washington, fatigued from his efforts in unfamiliar circumstances at a distance beyond his range, took an awkward step and broke his leg. This is more a function of improper management of the horse than the surface over which he raced on Saturday. Barbaros injury to the left-hind leg suffered in the first 100 yards of the Preakness was freakish but was not caused by the racing surface at Pimlico.

The belief that synthetic surfaces are a panacea is fallacious and their installation at tracks hosting the most important races of the American season is a disservice to the sport. George Washington was the first European horse to suffer a fatal injury while running on dirt in 24 runnings of the Breeders Cup. It was tragic. It was upsetting. But it had nothing to do with the racing surface at Monmouth Park on Saturday.

Yet, injuries to high-profile horses in major races often result in profoundly questionable human decisions. Ruffians death more than 30 years ago led New York Racing Association officials to abandon the 10-furlong chute at Belmont Park irrational and unfortunate because every race at that distance run since 1975 has begun on the first turn, a terrible place to position a starting gate. Weather-sensitive and quirky, Polytrack has profoundly changed the dynamic of racing wherever it has been installed and not for the better. Some claim that Cushion Track is a fair surface, but the body of evidence remains incomplete and there has been little learned about Tapeta. So far, they all seem fine for training.

The first Breeders Cup run on an artificial surface will be the next, at Santa Anita, and Monmouth, which in the main did not deliver a particularly good performance over the weekend albeit under adverse conditions, may be the last small venue to host the event. So perhaps this George Washington-propelled discussion will be short lived.

The nature of a tracks surface is a reflection of the procedures employed those charged with its maintenance, a group that seems generally lacking in the skills of those who have groomed racetracks in the past before the days of sealing and rolling the ground until it becomes hard and unforgiving, before anyone considered souping-up surfaces to produce fast running times on big racing days.

There are no plans to install an artificial surface at Churchill Downs or Belmont. The idea of running the Kentucky Derby, the Belmont Stakes or the Breeders Cup races over recycled rubber and wax is not acceptable to the American purist. The classic game here is played on dirt and has endured decade upon decade for well more than a century and while there is vast room for improvement in maintenance technique, should be preserved.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Of course it’s about the money

This is the point at which lamenting the short careers of top-class horses will begin to gather momentum. Street Sense and Hard Spun are already in residence at Darley Stud, the Kentucky farm that is part of the Maktoum Empire. Curlin, who will be Horse of the Year, may follow. Two of his owners, Jess Jackson and Satish Sanan, are breeders and have quite likely already heard from those who represent the Maktoum family in such matters.

The result will be felt next year, when the erosive effect of the absence of these horses will be reflected in the competition, or lack thereof, in the handicap division, which has suffered this trend for years. What shape and form would the 2007 racing season have taken had the Maktoums elected to keep Bernardini, the leading three-year-old of 2006, in training?

There is nothing easier that casting those who sell top horses to Arab interests in the light of greed, but the criticism comes only from those who have never owned a horse or been presented with an eight-figure proposal.

Though details of these transactions are never made public, it has been reported and not denied that the Grade I Forego Handicap at Saratoga alone was worth an additional $15 million to Rick Porter, owner of Hard Spun, under terms of his agreement with Darley. If Smarty Jones was worth about $60 million when retired to stud, Street Sense would likely be worth a sum in that vicinity. When bidding enters the realm of eight figures, there is little chance that the offer will be declined. Lets get real here. What the Maktoum family or Coolmore wants, they will buy.

Criticizing those who seize incredible opportunity is ludicrous. Never been there, never done that does not meet the minimum qualification. In the main, racing horses is not a profitable enterprise and yes, it is always about the money. This is not a philanthropic endeavor.

The Maktoum family and Coolmore, the other mightily armed global force in the breeding industry, have an entirely different set of objectives and sensibilities, more European than American. In Europe, classic winners are retired almost immediately. Since these almost ubiquitous entities have the wherewithal to collect classic winners like ordinary people collect Kentucky Derby glasses, American racing will continue to see its three-year-old stars vanish into the bluegrass before their fourth birthdays.

Still, it is also undeniable that the premature, almost unanimous retirement of the best three-year-olds of every season is detrimental to the sports mainstream public appeal.

The core racing audience will turn toward the renewed chase toward the Triple Crown shortly after the holidays. Those with no more than a casual interest will take not take notice until the spring, by which time the new cast of Kentucky Derby contenders will have been defined. This is a large group with a short span of attention. When the three-year-old stars that have become the focus of attention disappear into the esoteric realm of the breeding world, interest wanes, then fades entirely.

The end of this trend is not yet in sight but like all trends dictated by the precepts set forth in Economics 101, this, like all pendulums, will eventually find itself at the other extreme.

Still, when that happens when the Maktoum family and Coolmore own so many high-end stallions that the market becomes diluted; when the sons of stallions already in service with years of productive life still ahead are the leading figures of their generations and immediate demand for these bloodlines among the most financially capable breeders wanes, then horses will remain in competition for longer periods. That will take awhile. But even then, it will still be about the money.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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Monday, October 29, 2007

Broadway at the Breeders’ Cup

The 24th Breeders Cup decided every issue in the wind on Saturday, which is its purpose. (More on this at ) Quite unintentionally, it illustrated the growing chasm between the strength of racing in New York and elsewhere.

With the event on neutral ground, though Monmouth Park is only 70 miles, two bridges and four traffic jams from Belmont Park, the longstanding Jersey Short speed bias absent and every horse in every race on both days facing the same adverse, muddy, sloppy and soft conditions, nine of 11 winners in the newly expanded two-day format made their most recent starts at either Belmont or Saratoga. Two others made their final stops before the Breeders Cup out of town, but Mile winner Kip Deville is based in New York and Juvenile Turf winner Nownownow spent most of the season here.

While the industry is being pulling in several directions by various political factions, prosecuted and bankrupted by the states off-track betting structure and under siege by many who have sought to seize control of the soon-to-expire franchise, the core product the thing that happens between the white rails remains the bulwark of American racing, perhaps more so than at any point in history.

What happened at Monmouth Park on Saturday may appear at first glance to be coincidence, but the racing in New York between spring and autumn attracts the best horses in training. The old, if I can make it here theory applies. At the same time, this Breeders Cup is illustrative of the decline of racing in California. Of those sent to Monmouth from the West Coast, only Hystericalady, who tested Ginger Punch in the Distaff, was a factor. Idiot Proof was runner-up in the Sprint, but that race was a one-horse show starring Midnight Lute.

On Monday, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association will issue its weekly poll, in which I am a participant. My ballot:

English Channel
Midnight Lute
War Pass
Indian Blessing
Street Sense

With the exceptions of Street Sense and the retired Invasor, the top eight are either based or raced primarily in New York prior to the Breeders Cup. This is not an accident.

Written by Paul Moran

Check out Paul Moran on Blogspot At the Races
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