The host, Joe Donahue, (who I think is the best interviewer on the air anywhere, just listen to how natural he is), prompted the discussion that horses don’t run as much as they used to. To which I quickly added that Rachel Alexandra’s three-year-old year was more of a throwback since she ran eight times (has it really come to that that eight times is considered a “throwback”?)
I didn’t get to say what I’ve always thought about this on the air, so I’ll write it here: the incentive structure needs an overhaul.
As it stands, we’re not so much rewarding horses for winning, but penalizing them for losing. Think if the incentive structure stuck to the positive: reward winning. That’s it. Do you think Sham is a mule? Alydar? In fact, Alydar proved the better sire than his rival Affirmed; this from a “loser."
What it will also encourage is more races, more of a track record (pardon the pun), to see how well the animal is holding up to a race schedule loaded with physical demands. If he or she comes out of an eight, nine, ten-race year its suspensorys intact and hooves crack free, you have yourself a durable horse, one that can further propagate a sound species capable of captivating a crowd.
I’m not suggesting grinding the animal to the ground for the sake of it, but with the careful horsemanship exhibited by most trainers there’s no reason why the best can’t square off again, again, and again.
I visited Monmouth Park for the first time and loved how swanky-old it felt, yet still peppered with youth and commotion. It’s racetrack USA. I met a woman who said, “Doesn’t she look great?” I had to agree.
It was a 14-race card with the Haskell Invitational sitting chilly in the twelfth spot. It had the Preakness winner, Shackleford. It had the Belmont winner, Ruler on Ice. The field was incredibly accomplished and a win by either Shackleford or Ruler on Ice would have vaulted them to the top of the three-year-old division.
Then along came the Bob Baffert-trained Coil.
Coil catapulted down the center of the track and looked to be heading to a 6-length win, but Shackleford battled back only to lose by a neck. Ruler on Ice took third.
Baffert won his record fifth Haskell having won it with Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), Roman Ruler (2005), and Lookin at Lucky (2010).
The top three contenders from the Haskell are likely Travers starters. These sophomores need to show up at the big races. If they don’t, they might lose an Eclipse Award come the end of the year.
Stay Thirsty’s romp in the Jim Dandy gives him some juice and if Uncle Mo comes back in impressive fashion in the King’s Bishop he’ll be in the conversation depending on how the rest of the year unfolds.
The Travers could have a big field with no horse lower than 3-1.
Mid-Summer Derby, indeed.
Brendan O'Meara is the author of Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Filly Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. It is available for at SUNY Press. Read about narrative nonfiction at The Blog Itself, more horse racing at The Carryover Classic, follow him on Twitter, or "like" his book on Facebook. His website is http://www.brendanomeara.com.