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.
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 sport’s 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.