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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, May 6, 2021 —  NTRA national press conferences rarely make national sports news. But that wasn’t the case today.

Teleconference host Jim Gluckson of Breeders’ Cup-NTRA deftly handled the shocking announcement with a reasoned segue after trainer Brad Cox informed media that neither Mandaloun nor Caddo River would run in the Preakness Stakes.

Further, Cox reiterated that the Travers Stakes would be the ultimate summer target for beaten Kentucky Derby favorite Essential Quality, which would reasonably preclude his participation in next month’s Belmont Stakes.

A curiously poor decision will keep Derby runnerup Mandaloun out of the Triple Crown’s second leg, a race which he was perfectly set up to win.

Mandaloun came into the Derby six weeks fresh off a non-effort in Louisiana and, barring the unknown, was sitting on a winning effort. The mini-turnback, a more contested pace, and a great condition-builder would have made him the horse to beat; his Derby trip would play perfectly in Baltimore.

Loyal Thoroughbred fans have complained for years that the Breeders’ Cup championships have suppressed the prestige of traditional Fall events that not only have withstood the test of time but thrived. But his year, it appears that working back from the Breeders’ Cup has hurt the spring classics, too.

That, and the five-week duration of the Triple Crown series have conspired to further minimize the prestige associated with victory in a Classic, but more on that later.

For anyone working in racing media, including industry outlets, advance Preakness content has been dedicated to coverage of the most probable starters with speculation about other possible entrants. The media rightfully treated the Cox horses as Preakness starters.

Racing media deals with more than its fair share of trainer fork-tongued doublespeak from horsemen entrusted with increasing shareholder value. That’s part of the job. But for the media it isn’t “just what we were looking for.”

After the post lunch gut-punch, I had little choice but to take to Twitter:  

“I’ve made a decision. I put so much work and energy trying to pick the Derby winner, didn’t, and have developed an issue. Since my energy level is very low, I will have to bypass handicapping the Preakness on short rest as it is the right thing for me and the bettors #PointedToBelmont.”

Said Cox of Mandaloun: “I don’t want to hurt his chances for winning a Grade 1 the rest of the year two weeks after he’s run so hard. I’m not a big fan of running back in two weeks. We’ll target some other races for later in the year.”

Here’s a 411 for the industry: It’s 2021 and no trainer at this level of the sport wants to run back in two weeks.

Today’s stakeholders have a poor sense of history unless it benefits them and consequently fail to honor tradition. Owners and breeders know they can make a sire in some other race and win a million dollars in the process. And they’re good with that.

In their perfect world, today’s owner probably would set their racing campaigns over/under for their top class animal at 5, hopefully win several important races, accept the trophy, grab the cash and head for the shed.

Of course, this is nothing new. With an assist from HRI regular commentor Dan M, we learn that of the 19 horses which ran in the 2019 Derby, four came back to run in the Preakness.

In the previous five editions of the Classic, the ratio of Derby runners to Preakness starters, from 2018 through 2015, were 20 to four; 20 to five; 20 to three, and 18 to five. Back in 1988’s halcyon days, 16 males chased filly Winning Colors of which seven returned in the Preakness.

Something else that isn’t new–this is the fifth consecutive year we’ve made this suggestion—and which we fully expect to be adopted when I’m lying in state somewhere at Saratoga Race Course:

The Derby on the first Saturday in May is sacrosanct. But the Preakness needs to move to Memorial Day. This year the Derby horses would have returned  30 days later on May 31.

Finally, the Belmont Stakes should be on July 4th weekend, approximately six weeks later, which modern horsemen would consider ideal, given the Lasix ban. Promotionally, why not give America’s sporting public a glimpse at Thoroughbred racing associated with a national holiday?

NBC racing analyst Randy Moss is now on this bandwagon, too, so take it from Randy.

In addition to holding the better Triple Crown horses together longer by eliminating spacing excuses, a small lengthening allows late-developing three-year-olds to enter the last classic dance, indeed making it increasingly difficult to win all three races.

Relative to the Lasix issue, this is what two-time Derby-winning trainer Doug O’Neill said in the Derby teleconference when asked about its impact on America’s Race: “Less is more. To win it, horses need fresh legs, a good mind, be light on their feet, and have their tanks full.

“It’s an individual thing. In an ideal world [without Lasix], horses come out of their races with more energy and recover quicker.

“I was apprehensive but the longer we’ve done it, we’ve been able to adjust. A little different diet, thoughtful of not having too much in their stomach, train differently, go a little lighter in their works and their races.”

Now that would be in the best interests of the modern Thoroughbred which are more athletic, sleeker, faster but less sturdy. Today’s horses need more time, it’s that simple.

Just maybe the Preakness-146 bombshell will give the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act Board of Directors, who were appointed this week, something to think about. If the industry won’t act, maybe some of the adults will.

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15 Responses

  1. I’m good with your proposal of Memorial Day/July 4th. But obviously that means the Met Mile is returned to Memorial Day weekend as well. Fine with me if it is run on the Saturday and then Black Eyed Susan/Preakness cards run Sunday/Monday. Gives the top trainers and jockeys the chance to run all 3 cards and top jocks don’t have to sacrifice their MetMile mount in order to ride on the Preakness card.

    1. Good points, Doc. I did not reference and other races and schedules. If I had, I would have noted the later dater doesn’t severely damage the positioning of Haskell and Travers, which could be the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, the last hurrah. I’m a believer that a race meet should build to their natural signature event. Another story, another day. But let’s help these horses and by extension, the historic Triple Crown. Dates of those three races have been changed before!

      1. Yeah everyone else can adjust off of it. And to be honest, my bitterness is so strong with how downstate racing has had to sacrifice so many stakes races to Saratoga, that I don’t really give a damn if it is inconvenient to the Travers. Too bad. If it makes the timing crunch a little tight, then there is a pretty simple solution……move the Travers to Belmont in the early fall. Let’s see how they feel when it happens to them.

        1. You are angry Doc! The Travers is going nowhere, of course, and if the Haskell and Travers have to move back a week, so be it, for the greater good. But I won’t be holding my breath for common sense to take hold. But something, for the good of the horses and the Triple Crown, needs to be lengthened.

  2. The further I look, the more depressing the data:

    19 horses ran in the 1999 Kentucky Derby, 10 of them (53%) went on to run in the Preakness.

    13 horses ran in the 1999 Preakness. The 10 Kentucky Derby horses were 77% of the field.

      1. I will continue to post (with your approval, of course) brief interesting relevant data tidbits about the Triple Crown races. What I have uncovered so far is an indictment of breeding practices. Durability in the North American thoroughbred appears to be a thing of the past.

        In 1979, only 5 horses ran in the Preakness, but all 5 had run in the Kentucky Derby. (Spectacular Bid, Golden Act, Screen King, Flying Paster, General Assembly).

          1. Yes for sure – I definitely enjoy reading the data. Please keep posting that stuff Dan.

  3. TTT

    Dear DanM:

    Could you give us the figures using only horses finishing in the first 4 positions? My opinion would be that this would have far greater relevancy.

    Thank you.

  4. Looks like I unwittingly hired an assignment editor. Perhaps you might find the time and share with us what you discovered, a la Dan M.

    Thanks for your input…

  5. Thank you Dan M for the stats very helpful, the Preakness should be three weeks out from the Derby and Belmont four weeks from that, I think that is reasonable. Kat Price

    1. Kate, you’re headed in right direction, but don’t believe one more week will move trainers off their “fresh” tendencies with respect to the Preakness. Let’s see if the industry even talks about it…

  6. Forgot to say Brad Cox sounds like a cry baby and should run Mandaloun in the Preakness. Kat Price

    1. Kate, it might not be his call and also we don’t know if a physical issue coming out of the race that surfaced and mum was the word on that. Hope not, but the truth comes out eventually.

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