Not that he loses any sleep over it, but Martin Panza and I did not get off on the good foot. It was some philosophical difference or another, so trivial it appears that I’ve completely forgotten what the tiff was about.
Today, that’s ancient history. Time has come to give a racing executive his due, for his vision, the thinking behind the idea, an idea which makes good sense considering that by helping yourself you can also serve the sport, too. All can agree that’s a good thing.
Some will still find some controversy but, hey, this is Thoroughbred racing, yes?
Many racetrackers and fans are averse when racetracks offer exorbitant purses in the hope of attracting the best horses to its event. The objection is that that means fewer dollars for the locals, from everyday horses to graded stakes winners, all levels, an argument not without some merit.
But to improve something requires change, a notion racing has never been comfortable with. Panzer’s idea may not have been that novel in a historical context and the grand scale of it was.
Yes, that’s been done, too. But not in this part of the calendar when all in racing are laying in wait for Saratoga. Yes, there’s Santa Anita and Ellis in the Midwest and all can achieve success. Good for them. But they never can be Saratoga.
In a interview with America’s Day at the Races, Panza explained the genesis of what would, yesterday anyway, become the most successful international day of sport presented at an American racetrack. For our part, the only events to top it could come on Million Day, or for sure in the Breeders’ Cup championships.
As Panza expounded, I recalled the American Oaks at Hollywood Park, first run as a Grade 1 in 2004. His intent was make the race into an international event, but a West Coast trip in summertime is a long way for Europeans and is doesn’t fit neatly into their peak summer and fall schedules.
The July event attracted grass specialists from all over the world. The field for the inaugural running was exciting and meaningful and field size was huge by North American standards.
With turf racing’s burgeoning popularity in the U.S. along with the growth of international scheduling of glam events, New York’s relative proximity to Europe, Belmont’s expansive turf courses and monetary wherewithal, were a good fit. Why not try it here, the timing is now?
So New York Racing Association’s Senior Vice-President of Racing created the Belmont Derby and Belmont Oaks, The 2014 Belmont was the first to feature a seven-figure purse. Since then, Europeans have won only two editions—Aidan O’Brien twice.
On Saturday at Belmont Park, O’Brien doubled that output by sweeping the Derby and Oaks with two horses that were beaten favorites in the G1 Epsom Derby and G1 Pretty Polly, respectively. Bolshoi Ballet and Santa Barbara overcame their trips and ground that did not suit either of them. Class told!
As most HRI Faithful know, yesterday’s races were part of an international turf series for racing’s glamour division–whichever side of the Atlantic one calls home: The Spa will host the Saratoga Derby and Oaks and Belmont Fall will complete the triad with the Jockey Club Derby and Oaks.
It was a genuine treat to see racing class on display, even if it was on video and not live in person. Cheap analogy alert: Class in Thoroughbreds is analogous to pornography in that you know it when you see it, and by seeing it you can tell the difference.
Panza knows the advantages he has thanks to NYRA’s considerable resources. It’s one thing to know what one has but another to execute it with style and substance. Therein lies a lesson to all racetrack executives: Good management matters.
Speaking of Turf…
Not only did Bolshoi Ballet have the talent to overcome trip obstacles to earn the lion’s share of the purse Saturday but it turned out he was winning it for his daddy, renowned champion racehorse and sire, Galileo, humanely euthanized at 23 owing to a chronic, non-responsive injury to his left fore.
Since I’ve become hooked on grass racing, I’ve noticed with each passing European handicapping session, how often the name of Galileo shows up as both sire and grandsire of many top horses. What I didn’t realize until Sunday morning just how many there were.
Galileo, unlike his son, won the Epsom Derby along with many of the great races of Europe, and why not? Galileo was a son of the great race horse and sire, Sadler’s Wells, from a Prix l’Arc de Triomphe winner, the mare Urban Sea.
Upon entering stud, Galileo sired a Group 1 winner in his first crop. No one could have dreamed that there would be 90 more Group 1s while an equally astounding 20 of his sons have followed suit. If that doesn’t put you in the conversation for greatest sire of all-time, I shudder to think what would.