Tuesday, December 11, 2012


Hijack the Derby


Written by Brendan O'Meara

Part of what columnists do to fill space and poke sticks at the ribs of establishment is come up with schemes to improve the sport of horse racing. It’s like the Algonquin Table with less intelligent and poorly dressed writers. The latest in his effort to exact a polarizing and, quite frankly, practical option to the Kentucky Derby is New York Post writer Ed Fountaine. I love it. And here’s why: the Kentucky Derby Machine has leveraged its tradition to hijack the three-year-olds for close to 50 percent of the entire racing calendar.

Rehash: Fountaine suggests taking the superior influx of casino money to make an Empire State Triathlon to rival the classic Triple Crown. His plan would have a derby—the New York City Invitational—run at a 1 ¼ miles at Belmont Park, purse $4 million. Then the Belmont Stakes, then the Travers, with bonuses that would give Gordon Gekko a stroke.

So often a three-year-old’s career is done after running through that perilous mill. Just look at the trainers who condition most of the three-year-olds. Where are their horses? Nick Kling wrote a good piece about Pletcher’s horses. Do the Google.

The Kentucky Derby should be the richest purse in America. Tradition only carries you so far. To think the Pennsylvania Derby and the Haskell Invitational are only $1 million behind the Derby strikes me as cause for the Derby to up its hand.

I’ve maintained—and so have others—that the 20-horse field in the Derby messes up horses, causes too much chaos and serves only to 1.) Increase betting handle and 2.) Make for a good television product. Both serve Churchill Downs Inc. and NBC at the expense of horses.

Fountaine’s plan limits the field to 14 horses—an awesome spectacle nonetheless. I might change the distance of the race. I’d make it 1 1/8th miles, run it out of the chute to make it less physically taxing. This modern-day thoroughbred doesn’t handle 10 furlongs the way it used to. A lack-of-a-better-winner crosses the line first in the Derby, but does he really “get” 10 furlongs? Relative to his peers, yes, but in the grand scheme of the breed? Not really.

Perhaps the modern day three-year-old should only run nine furlongs, leaving races <10 furlongs to older horses who are better developed. But that could be the topic of another post. Onward!

Fountaine writes, “The NYC Invitational would be the first leg of a three-race series, together with the Belmont Stakes — still run at 1 ½ miles, but pushed back a week — and the Travers, both of which have their purses increased to $2 million. Call it the “Empire State Triathlon.” Any horse that wins two of the three gets a $1 million bonus. Win all three, the bonus is $2 million.”

This is how you make it rain! He also says that it only takes one or two star horses for this to catch fire and I already know of one New York owner who would likely welcome this: Mike Repole.

Love him or hate him, he loves his New York racing and if the money’s there, he’ll bring his horse talent. He skipped the Breeders’ Cup with his best horses this year and only won the Cigar Mile and a slew of juvenile races.

Eventually he’ll have more Uncle Mo and Stay Thirsty-calibre talent and if you tell him he can race him or her for $4 million at Belmont Park in a field limited to 14 horses who ran at New York tracks, my feeling is he’ll say, “Yes.” No wait, “Hell, yes!”

Written by Brendan O'Meara

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