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From The Horse's Mouth
Welcome to our Editor's Blog, an ongoing collection of notes, comments and observations about the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry written by Thoroughbred Information Agency (TIA) and owner Lisa Groothedde. Blog entries dated prior to November 1, 2008 were written by TIA founder and former owner Don Engel.

Do you have an opinion to share about this blog, or any other racing-related topic? We want to hear from you! Join the online discussion in our popular Voices section.

Entries after June 2008.

JUNE 30, 2008

     I am not alone.
     Roger Attfield, a Canadian Hall of Fame trainer, was asked this question by Thoroughbred Daily News: If you could change one thing in our sport, what would it be?
     His answer: "Zero tolerance of all drugs, let's have a level playing field."

JUNE 28, 2008

     I've gotten a few responses to my appeal for help (see June 21 entry below), and I doubt that there will be any more. So here's what I've learned:
     Nobody has provided any answers that I find completely satisfying, though Linda Vetter comes close, but as valid as her statements are, the question still remains: Where is the evidence that breeders who race are, as a group, wiser than buyers, and that they make choices that are different from those of buyers? I seriously doubt that anything approaching a majority of breeders are as rational as Linda is.
     Let me summarize what we're discussing. 
     Some experts have suggested that breakdowns have become more prevalent because more breeders are selling their horses than are keeping them to race themselves.
     In other words, breeders breed for sale horses that are less sound than those they would breed for their own racing stables and buyers buy horses that they think are the best racing prospects and are willing to accept a higher risk of unsoundness in exchange for a higher probability of racing class.
     This appears to bring us to this: For their own racing stables, breeders prefer to produce horses that can't run as well but last longer.
     If you believe that, the question is answered.
     But I don't believe that.
     Some breeders may make such a choice, but it is inconceivable to me that there are enough of them to create a significant difference between the soundness of horses sold at sales and those that are not. Until someone comes up with proof of such a difference, we just don't know and are left with opinions.
     So, in summary, my opinion is that those experts who believe that the cause of widespread racehorse breakdowns has anything to do with breeders breeding to sell rather than to race don't really understand what they're saying.
     Anyway, that's the way it looks to me, so I'll move on, tossing that theory out into that cyberspace where e-mails cluster when they never get where they're supposed to go.
     Now, moving on . . .
     Even though trainer Jack Van Berg, whose career spans several eras, recommended it at the recent Congressional hearing, I'm a little apprehensive about saying what I'd like to see done.
     And that is this: Disqualify any horse that tests positive for anything after a race. In other words, no medications in the horse when it races.
     That would certainly reduce the number of breakdowns by keeping sore horses from running. Medications that relieve pain and temporarily reduce inflammation keep horses racing when they have physical problems that should be treated, usually by rest. When medications keep horses racing, the problems are likely to get worse and in many cases lead to breakdowns.
     These efforts to get one more race out of the horse are a major contributor to breakdowns. If the horse's welfare were the primary consideration, the best thing would be to take him out of training and give him a chance to get well, either by additional treatment or just by rest. Almost all horses that suffer catastrophic injuries have had some earlier injury that contributed to the disaster.
     Putting it another way, a horse that has to be medicated in order to race has no business racing.
     It isn't likely that many people would dispute any of that, but there is one powerful argument against doing it.
     Owners carry a heavy financial burden, and forcing them to take a horse out of training not only removes his opportunity to earn purses but incurs expenses while he's recovering--if he ever does.
     You can argue that when the horse does come back to the track he'll be healthier and probably will run better and last longer, but the added financial burden of that down-time certainly might force some owners out of the game.
     You can also argue that taking such horses out of training will reduce field size, which nobody wants. In the long run, that may not be true, but there would be a lag time while the system waited for those recovered horses to return to the track, if they did.
     There are two sides to this, and both sides have valid arguments in their favor, so it comes down to a choice: Do you protect the horse or do you protect the owner and the track?
     That may be an oversimplification, but if it is, it isn't much of one.

     Now it's your turn. Send your comments to "Voices." And I'll predict that some of them will begin with this: "I'm all in favor of protecting racehorses, but . . ."

JUNE 22, 2008

     I'm starting to get some help with the problem that I explained in yesterday's posting, and I'm putting them on a separate page rather that try to jam them in here. Click here to read them.
     When it appears that everybody who's going to check in has done so, I'll study them and see whether I have an answer. I have noted, though, some tendency to veer off into the difference between the management of sale horses and those not sent to sales. My question is whether there is a difference in breeders' choice of matings for the two different purposes. 
     If you have ideas, let me hear them.

JUNE 21, 2008

     Before we all get too deep into the multiple aspects of the causes of breakdowns by racehorses, I have a question that I need help with.
     Amid the numerous causes of unsoundness that I have heard assigned blame is this one: Breeders are breeding to sell, not to race.
     That has been offered by some prominent, knowledgeable experts, so I have to take it seriously, even though it seems to me to be nonsense.
     Here's why I'm having trouble with that: I can't understand how there there can be a difference between breeding to sell and breeding to race, because those horses are sold to people who plan to race them. So what would the breeder do different if he were going to race the horse instead of selling it?
     The only way for that to be possible would be for the breeder to believe that he knows more about what makes a racehorse than buyers at sales do. Since many of the most knowledgeable horsemen in the world advise the buyers of those horses, can breeders possibly be so arrogant as to believe that their judgment is better than the judgment of those buyers?
     Those buyers want horses that can win races and earn money. If breeders are producing horses in order to please those buyers, isn't that a pretty good way to produce horses that can win races and earn money?
     If those buyers want unsound horses that run fast, is that then the definition of the ideal Thoroughbred? If it isn't, who gets to write that definition?
     Anyway, I'm not asking rhetorical questions here. I  really want you to explain this for me. I must be missing something important.
     Send me an e-mail. I'll post every response that I get. If you don't want your response posted, don't send it. If you don't want your name posted, tell me and I won't.

JUNE 20, 2008

     Thursday's appearance of racing and breeding moguls before the House Energy and Commerce Committee subcommittee produced testimony that was interesting, candid, and astonishing.
     For one of the few times in human history, rulers of fiefdoms within a kingdom sought to cede their power to a higher authority.
     One after another, industry leaders testified that they were powerless to solve their problems and called for creation of some entity to rule them and and bring order to the land.
     Members of Congress, who have a quest for power embedded in their genes, listened receptively while giving no indication of what they might do to set things right.
     The basic problem with attempts to control the drugging of racehorses is that regulations all are established by states. Nobody has the power to enforce nationwide conformity or uniformity.
     The widespread--some say rampant--administration of legal drugs quickly became the focal point of the hearing, climaxed by the declaration of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg that all horses should have to race with no medications of any sort--just "hay, oats, and water."
     The implication was that if a horse required medication--including lasix and bute--he shouldn't be allowed to race. I don't recall whether anyone put it that bluntly, but someone probably did.
     I guess it wasn't surprising that the only speakers who opposed the idea of a national racing office were the heads of the two leading national organizations, The Jockey Club and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
     They didn't want to surrender power, even though they have not done anything to solve the problems raised at the hearing and, in fact, have no ability to do so.
     Somewhat to my surprise, the members of the subcommittee appeared to know enough to ask the right questions, though one of them edged near to the unreal by suggesting that perhaps The Jockey Club should refuse to register horses inbred closer than a 4 x 4 cross.
     Probably wisely, The Jockey Club's president and CEO, Alan Marzelli, leaped sideways away from that patch of quicksand by pointing out that his organization's rules for registration had to conform with international standards, which would never be changed to comply with such a rule.
     It might have been interesting to hear experts testify about the best way to legislate the breeding of a good horse, but there surely would not have been unanimity that could possibly have led anywhere.
     The hearing covered just about the full range of industry problems, all the way down to testimony by the operator of a horse retirement/retraining facility who got in a good shot about the failure of the industry to provide for its discarded athletes.
     The hearing was called in response to the furor about the fatal breakdown of Eight Belles--and of Barbaro two years earlier--and the subsequent publication of statistics on racehorse mortality.
     The day's events showed that somebody needs to do something and that control--even prohibition--of drugs probably is a good place to start.
     I had feared that any legislation passed by Congress would be ill-considered and ill-conceived, but maybe it won't be. Maybe federal intervention is just what's needed here.

JUNE 15, 2008

     Next Thursday a House of Representatives subcommittee is going to hear testimony, under oath, by 12 representatives of the Thoroughbred industry. They're going to testify about the sport's policies regarding the use of anabolic steroids, and maybe other drugs, too.
      I can't imagine what those legislators are going to make of what they hear.
     They'll be told that . . . steroids aren't performance-enchancing, in the sense that a horse gets a shot and then runs faster . . . but, yeah, they probably help a horse to run better . . .  and we know that they're illegal just about everywhere else in the world, and we're really working to make them illegal here, too . . . and we've pretty much figured out how to test for steroids (don't know how they've been taking care of that in those other countries all these years) . . .but, you know, each state makes its own rules, so it's really hard to get all this worked out . . .
     They say that making laws is something like making sausage--something you don't really want to watch because it's so messy. But watching racing laws get made is even harder, because you can go crazy waiting for everybody to agree on the recipe. 
     But it will be even worse if Congress decides to write the cookbook.

JUNE 13, 2008

     The 2008 freshman sire race in California has gotten off to such a slow start that I forgot to provide the promised first-of-the-month report for June.
     So here's the way it stands for racing through June 11: 

     1. Cat Dreams, $53,919. 6 starters, 2 winners.
     2. Momentum, $49,280. 5 starters, 2 winners.
     3. Ancient Art, $5,840. 1 starter, 0 winners.
     4. Marino Marini, $5,760. 1 starter, 0 winners.
     5. Redattore (Brz), $5,040. 1 starter, 0 winners.

     Four of the 20 contest entries listed Cat Dreams as No. 1, and just one of those put Momentum at No. 2. None of the entries named Ancient Art anywhere.
     The most popular selection was Momentum, on top of six entries, with Cat Dreams and Marino Marini picked on four, Redattore (Brz) on three, Popular on two, and Vronsky on one.
     With plenty of 2-year-old stakes races coming up in the next couple of months, someone's due for a breakout.
     But not yet.

JUNE 6, 2008

     It appears that all sorts of people are concerned about the present preference by breeders of speed over soundness. There's an article in the Daily Racing Form and another in the Wall Street Journal
     The article in the Form reports on the explanation of the breeders of Eight Belles of how they did, in fact, breed the ill-fated filly for soundness. At somewhere around the same time, an article by the respected turf writer William Nack explains on the website how she was, in fact, bred to be unsound (though not intentionally, of course).
     I couldn't find a link to that article, but Barbara Lopes of Lakeport sent along a copy and I've transferred it to a Showcase page. The article quotes pedigree guru Ellen Parker, who blames much of the present situation on Native Dancer and his influential sons Raise a Native and Mr. Prospector.
     The best thing about all this is that people are talking and even appear to have decided that there's a problem. That's where you have to start, by identifying a problem. That's being done, so there's hope.
     However, since change will have to be brought about by individual breeders making their individual mating decisions, it will be years before we know whether any progress has been made.

JUNE 5, 2008

     This doesn't quite rise to the zen-like level of the question, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" but a statement quoted in yesterday's notebook does bear examination.
     Our correspondent wrote, "Slow horses = no fans."
     So . . . if all the horses in the race are slow, do fans know that they're slow?

JUNE 4, 2008

     A breeder whom I have found to be an astute, insightful observer of our industry sends along comments relating to my proposal for redirecting breeders' choices from speed toward stamina.
     He writes, "Admittedly I have no direct experience with the breakdown of any horse I bred. That's because I have excelled at breeding slow horses. It really is all about speed. Among the reasons why claimers generally and other slow horses can make so many starts is that they are slow. In a nutshell, they don't run fast enough to hurt themselves.
      "In this sport the fastest horses win the prize. As usual, Don, you hit the nail on the head: unless through the almighty prescience of Congress the industry somehow successfully reorients toward rewarding slow runners, breeders and owners will continue to covet stock with speed.
     "Slow horses = no fans. Ain't gonna' happen." 
     His comments made me realize that in my earlier (May 30) Notebook entry on the subject I had neglected to make clear that I wasn't proposing that breeders seek stamina without speed. There's a word for horses with stamina and no speed: plodders.
     I'm certainly not recommending that everybody should aspire to produce plodders, though I guess if a plodder was faster than all the other plodders, he'd be a valuable horse . . . well, I don't think I want to get into that. What I would like to see is breeders sending their mares to stallions who had shown both speed and stamina.
     As I said in my earlier piece, I am assuming that there's a correlation between soundness and the ability to race at longer distances. If you don't agree with that assumption, you can tell me about that, too.
     In his comments, my friend appears to be making his own assumption, that horses that can get a distance of ground are necessarily slow. But the goal, after all, is to produce a horse that has speed and can carry it over a distance of ground.
     Those stallions certainly exist. I don't think it was too far back in the dark ages when breeders looked for a stallion that had stamina and was sound but had performed well at 2. Right now, many breeders are happy to settle for precocity and speed without stamina and soundness.
     Certainly there are stallions with speed, soundness, and stamina. They should be treasured.
     My correspondent followed not long after with a second e-mail, making a salient point:
     "I don't think it is genetic at all. It is how we train race horses to compete.
Establishing a series of distance races wouldn't alter the gene pool in any way, but it would force trainers to alter their approaches to training.
     "The fact that Kenyans dominate international marathon racing is not genetic. It is the way they train, where they train (up and down Kenyan mountains) and discipline."
     I can't quarrel with that observation, which shifts the responsibility from breeders to trainers (and owners, of course). But we wind up in the same place. If trainers train horses to go a distance, they still want a horse that can get that distance faster than his competition.
     In that case, they want horses that run fast and don't break down early. That's not their preference when so much money is available for horses that run fast and break down early and so little for horses that don't run quite as fast but can run farther and last longer.

JUNE 3, 2008

     Mary Forte of Solana Beach suggests that this article in the New York Times may help explain why there's a movement toward banning the use of steroids in racehorses, and I agree.

MAY 31, 2008

     The tension between horse retirement and horse slaughter will be with us for a long time, I fear. It even relates to the problem of racehorse unsoundness, since a horse too badly injured to be useful but not badly injured enough to be euthanized is a prime candidate for slaughter.
     For an insightful analysis of all this, click here.

MAY 30, 2008

     If anybody has any ideas about how to get breeders to shift from seeking speed rather than soundness, I haven't heard them.
     Now, to my surprise, I've found someone with an idea.
     My plan assumes that there's a correlation between soundness and the ability to race at longer distances. Can there be any doubt that there is?
     The idea was triggered by this item from the Australian Breeding and Racing Magazine's website:

Callander Blasts Racing NSW For Lack Of Staying Races

     Leading turf columnist Ken Callander served it up to Racing NSW programmers in The Daily Telegraph, branding them "our weak racing administrators" who "do not have the guts" to program more staying races. Callander declared: "What is needed is for Racing NSW to announce a 5-year plan for a dedicated build-up of staying races guaranteeing a certain number of staying events & adding extra prize-money for these races. Coolmore Stud has tried to improve the staying influence in Australia by standing horses such as Montjeu & Galileo, but it is discouraged by Racing NSW continuously catering for speedy squibs. Don't laugh, but before long we will be calling 1400m races staying tests."

     I don't know how they would go about making that happen in Australia, but in California, at least, that could be accomplished by fiat. The CHRB could pass a rule requiring a certain percentage of stakes races be run at a mile and a quarter and farther. There would certainly be a hail of criticism if they tried to do that, and it may even be illegal. But it's an idea.
     If that isn't possible, the CTBA could do something. After all, if the problem lies with breeders, a breeders' association logically should be taking the lead in looking for a solution.
     The CTBA could require that a specified number of stakes races restricted to California-breds be run at distances longer than those being written at present.
     It would have to be done over a period of several years, with the distances for all Cal-bred stakes gradually increased. There would be a time lag, of course, between booking a mare to a stallion and having a racehorse ready to run a distance of ground, but we could wait.
     Is anybody serious about trying to solve the problem?  Or is the answer, "Gee, yes, but not if we have to do something that radical."
     Or will we hear the standard knee-jerk response to any new idea in this industry: An explanation of why it can't be done.

MAY 29, 2008

     A long-time California breeder whom I've known for many years but doesn't want to be identified here has responded to my comments on plans for a Congressional committee to step in to deal with the problem of racehorse breakdowns. I want to pass those comments on to you, probably because I agree with almost all of what follows:
     "Just read your editorial on breakdowns and that Congress is going to get involved. The real problem is not so much that Congress is getting involved, which is bad enough, but that our industry cannot do anything for itself to keep itself from drowning.
     "As you know, any time you get the government involved, it is a dangerous thing. First, they do not know anything about the industry, especially the breeding end of it, and they will just about believe anything that they are told and go from there.
     "What they do not realize is that the industry does not want to change a thing. As long as the sales run the show, everything is just fine. Band-aids like synthetic tracks will not save the breed. All it does is allow for more breeding of unsoundness; it's just being used as a safety net,
     "As you well know, just about all of the sound bloodlines are gone. So-called popular (but unsound) ones continue to proliferate. The industry is doing it to themselves and cannot or will not see the light. They have now brought on the government, which is the worse thing that can happen. After being in the industry for 53 years, I can say that we are seeing the industry destroying itself."
     I don't have quite that apocalyptic a vision, but I certainly agree that we are in bad shape and things are not getting any better. 
     I'm going to write more about this whole problem in the next week or two. You're invited to write, too. 
     (Some of you are already writing.)

MAY 26, 2008

     Just about every expert in the Thoroughbred industry has weighed in on the question of racehorse fatalities since the breakdown and death of Eight Belles in the Preakness Stakes earlier this month.
     And now the federal government is going to do its part.
     The United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection has served notice that it's going to move in and straighten things out.
     Good luck. 
     The Subcommittee wants the Association of Racing Commissioners International to provide information, and soon--by June 2, less than two weeks from the time of the request. The legislators want to know about breakdowns, drug use, and breeding.
     Most of the industry people who have offered opinions as to the cause of breakdowns have included drug use and breeding on their lists of possible causes, along with 2-year-old racing, excessive numbers of starts, running females against males, excessive whipping by jockeys, and dangerous racing surfaces.
     For the moment, let's put aside all those except breeding, which may well be the most likely cause of breakdowns.
     Just about everybody agrees that breeders have abandoned soundness as a requirement and gone overwhelmingly for speed. A fast horse can win a lot of money before breaking down. That pretty much sums it up. Everybody mourns when they break down so badly that they lose their lives, but, hey, that's just part of the sport.
     So let's agree that breeders ought to try to breed sounder horses. How are you going to get them to do that? As long as both buyers of racing prospects and breeders who race their own value speed more than soundness, horses are going to be bred for speed, regardless of soundness.
     Certainly there are ways to reduce the incidence of breakdowns and the committee should explore those.
     But there is just no way that breeders can be coerced into doing what they think isn't in their best financial interest, not as long as free enterprise exists. Maybe education could convince them, but what would that additional knowledge tell them? That there's more money to be made by valuing speed over soundness.
     So I'm eager to see just what Congress does with that problem. Maybe after a lot of expert testimony they'll find that sound horses break down less frequently (that's why they're called "sound") and that breeders value speed more than they value soundness.
     If they can devise a law that fixes that, they can devise laws to fix global warming, worldwide hunger, AIDS, malaria, high oil prices, education, racial and gender bias, and all those other troublesome problems. Maybe even tornadoes, floods, and earthquakes, too.

MAY 22, 2008

     Jockeys all over the world suffer serious injuries. From the Australian Breeding and Racing Magazine's website there's another report of a jockey badly hurt in a fall.
     This rider was hurt in a way that American jockeys usually aren't. Here's the report: 
     "New Zealand's top jockey, Michael Walker, remained in a critical condition, in a coma with head injuries, in Auckland Hospital last night following his fall down a cliff while pig hunting in Taranaki bush on Monday."
     There's a lesson here for all of us, not just for jockeys: Be careful walking on the edge of cliffs when you go pig hunting. Especially in the Taranaki bush.
     As unusual as it was, Walker's fall is no less serious and potentially tragic as a bad fall in a horse race. It's just different.

MAY 18, 2008

     Many of the stories about our sport/industry that appear in the mainstream press aren't worth reading, but yesterday, on one morning, two major newspapers offered articles that I think you'll find of interest.
    One was in the Washington Post, the other in the New York Times. Take a look.

MAY 15, 2008

     The Thoroughbred Timesstory on Tuesday's Barretts May sale of 2-year-olds in training contained these two paragraphs:

From the 328 juveniles originally cataloged for the 2008 auction, Barretts reported 147 horses as sold for total receipts of $7,816,400, a 31% decrease compared with last year's record total of $11,331,300 from 181 horses sold. Average price dropped 15.1%, from the 2007 record of $62,604 to $53,173. Median dipped 4%, from $25,000 last year to $24,000. The buy-back rate increased from 31.7% in 2007 to 33.5%.

"There was a lot of money for the good horses, but weakness in the middle and lower ends," said Jerry McMahon, president and general manager of Barretts.

The first paragraph provides the statistical background for the second. The second, as you can see, is a quote from Barretts president Jerry McMahon.

I'll bet you could go back one, two, three, or maybe even more years and find an identical quote from McMahon, maybe even verbatim. That is no criticism of McMahon, who is always upfront and honest. What it does tell you is that the market is continuing, year after year, to punish the great majority of sale horses that are just good, solid racing prospects.
     It rewards the favored few who have that extra whatever-it-is that buyers at top of the market are looking for.
     Over and over it has been shown that hardly any of those desperately desired prospects run as well as a great many of those who were rejected by the big-money buyers.
     Something is seriously wrong when a horse has to have that Certain Something in order to bring that big money. Pedigree helps, though it's not necessary. But something is wrong, because there's no way to breed for that Certain Something. It just happens. The horse moves "athletically," he has a "great attitude," etc. Or even, heaven forbid, he "looks like a runner." 
     What's a breeder to do?

MAY 13, 2008

     I don't know whether to bid my tearful goodbye to Bay Meadows now or to wait until the last race is run on August 18.
     Sunday's racing program was the last that will be run as part of a Bay Meadows meeting. The San Mateo County Fair meeting--usually known as the Bay Meadows Fair--will provide a two-week curtain call in August as the concluding event of the Northern California fair racing season.
     That, I guess, will be the funeral for the 74-year-old track, which will be demolished to make way for commercial development. It was pronounced dead as night drew near Sunday.
     That development has been in the works for several years, but the track had continued to operate, one year at a time. The CHRB's decision to require that California's major tracks would have to install artificial surfaces disconnected the track's life-support systems.
     The track's management got a one-year waiver on the requirement that enabled them to race this year, but clearly the end was near. There was no way that the track's owners were going to spend millions and millions to install an artificial surface that would be used for only a year or two.
     Now that Bay Meadows has been pronounced dead, everybody can get on with the too-long delayed business of deciding where to race those dates that no longer have a home. That project requires immediate attention.
     The death of Bay Meadows marks the first time in 44 years that a major California racetrack has been lost. The last time that one closed, forever, was on July 31, 1964, when 65-year-old Tanforan, located in nearby San Bruno, was destroyed by fire.
     Bay Meadows won't be granted such a spectacular death. It will just be euthanized, cold-bloodedly.

MAY 2, 2008

     Sorry to interrupt the buildup to the Kentucky Derby, but there's nothing new to report and it's time for the monthly report on the 2008 California Freshman Sire competition.
     Right now just one of the entrants in our contest has a winning ticket, having picked Momentum, Cat Dreams, and Redattore (Brz) to finish 1-2-3, which is exactly the way they stood at the end of April.
     Momentum, with earnings of $28,480, and Cat Dreams, with $8,767, didn't add a dollar in April. Redattore, with $5,040, displaced Slew's Prince in the No. 3 spot.
     Only Momentum  has sent a runner to the winner's circle so far, but the action will heat up when the Hollywood Park juvenile program gets rolling, especially when the money from 2-year-old stakes races is distributed.
     Now my attention returns to Louisville, where I'm hoping that Bob Black Jack shows the world what real California speed looks like. And if he doesn't, maybe Gayego will provide a consolation prize. He's not a Cal-bred, but all his connections are Californians, and that sure beats an empty stall in the starting gate..

APRIL 29, 2008

     Well, unless something bad happens to Bob Black Jack in the next few days, there will be a California-bred in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.
     At No. 20, the speedy son of Stormy Jack was at the tail end of the list of eligibles for the big race based on earnings in graded stakes races. But first Proud Spell (No. 2) and then Behindatthebar (No. 19) opted out, so Bob Black Jack has moved up to No. 18 and is eligible to enter the starting gate Saturday.
     If you want to see that he really is entered, you can watch the draw for post positions at 2 p.m. today on ESPN2.

APRIL 27, 2008

     In telling the story of Black Jack Attack (see the April 26 entry below) and ending with the report that he'd been slaughtered, I carelessly created the impression that he is dead and that the search has ended.
     I concluded with that notation for dramatic effect but didn't point out that  whoever added that death notice couldn't possibly have known what happened to the horse.
     I thought it was puzzling that someone had added that to his pedigree entry, and I suppose that my publishing it without expressing skepticism revealed my belief that the horse will never be found. 
     The fact is that the search is continuing without slowing, so if you have any clue as to the whereabouts of Black Jack Attack (or to, sadly, his fate), please let me know and I'll advise the Glenneys.

APRIL 26, 2008

     A touching, and depressing, report that landed in my e-mailbox a few days ago illustrates the complexity and difficulty of saving from slaughter or lives of misery the many, many racehorses whose competitive careers end each year.
     Unlike the usual stories of uncaring owners who turn their backs on the horses that have brought them pleasure--and sometimes profit--this tale related in painful detail the efforts of a Mr. and Mrs. John Glenney, the breeders of one of those runners, to do the right thing.
     They wanted to make sure that the horse, a 7-year-old gelding by Carson City that they bred in Kentucky, had a comfortable retirement, and they were ready to provide it.
     He'd gotten away from them in a claiming race, but they weren't concerned, because they believed that when his racing career ended they could just repurchase him and give him a proper home.
     When it became apparent that the horse, whose name was Black Jack Attack, was approaching the end of a hardscrabble career in which he'd won twice in 29 starts over five seasons for earnings of $136,990, they contacted his trainer at Bay Meadows.
     Too late.
     According to the report that I received, the trainer treated their inquiry "in a dismissive manner." They finally were told that the trainer had given the horse to a groom, who'd sent him on to a sister in Mexico.
     The Glenneys called back, this time offering a substantial reward for information leading to the return of the horse, and the trainer, memory refreshed, told them that he'd given the horse to a pony boy, not a groom, after all, though he really couldn't remember, because he always "just gave them to whoever would take them and give them a home."
     I won't go into the considerable detail that the e-mail related about the Glenneys' efforts to find Black Jack Attack, but you could safely say that they've tried everything,including seeking information from a New Mexico operation known for sending horses to Mexico for slaughter.
     No success, but they're still trying.
     Though the search continues, the fate of Black Jack Attack may have been summed up by this entry on his page in the online Thoroughbred Pedigree Database: "As of April 2008: Presumed SLAUGHTERED IN MEXICO R.I.P."

APRIL 25, 2008

     The 2008 Kentucky Derby may or may not turn out to be a close race, but the battle for the last place in the anticipated 20-horse field is going right down to the wire, with the lone California-bred contender fighting to the end.
    That Cal-bred is, of course, Bob Black Jack, the Cinderella son of Stormy Jack.
     The field for the big race is limited to 20 horses, and priority for entry is given to the horses with the greatest earnings in graded stakes races. Bob Black Jack has earned $180,000 in those races, thanks in considerable part to his $50,000 purse for running second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby.
     Bob Black Jack had been hanging onto 20th place in graded stakes earnings among horses that are planning to run on May 3, but now he isn't. The latest list that I've seen appeared in Wednesday's edition of the online Thoroughbred Daily News, and it had Bob Black Jack a notch lower, at No. 21.
     That demotion was the result of the addition of Behindatthebar to the roster of likely entrants. He has graded earnings of $201,500, which lands him 19th on the list, shoving Big Truck ($194,500) back to 20th and Bob Black Jack to 21st.
     So unless one of the 20 now in front of the Cal-bred opts out--or is taken out by injury or, better yet, an untimely cough--our state will be represented only by Gayego (No. 5, with graded earnings of $640,000). He's a Kentucky-bred, but he's been racing in Southern California, is owned by Southern Californians, is trained by a Southern Californian, and was selected for purchase in a Keeneland yearling sale by Southern California bloodstock consultant Suzanne Cardiff.
     That's not as good as his being a Cal-bred, but it may have to do. A surrogate, sort of, as they say in political circles these days.
     Speaking of yearling sales, TDNprinted a list of auction sale prices of those Derby contenders, and Gayego and Bob Black Jack were two of the bottom three. Gayego was bought for $24,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale and Bob Black Jack for $4,500 in last year's Barretts January mixed sale. Gayego has earned $723,420 and Bob Black Jack $442,925.
     Both of them were prime bargains, especially considering that 12 of the other contenders cost $100,000 or more, all the way up to $375,000. (And where are all those $1,000,000-plus sale-toppers?)

APRIL 18, 2008

     One of the features of our now-discontinued newsletter was a list of pinhook prices for California sales, showing what horses cost in earlier sales, who bought them, and where they were bought.
     We continued that with this year's Barretts March sale, posting the results of our research as a Special Report on this website. But it was a lot of work and I decided not to do it any more.
     I've had calls from former newsletter subscribers asking about such a list for the Barretts May sale, and I've had to disappoint them.
     That prompted me to see if I could find some way for them to get that information, and I succeeded. Thoroughbred Times publishes Buyer's Guides for any number of sales, including this one, and it includes pinhook prices in addition to lots of other information.
     If you want one and are willing to pay $75 for it, you can call Wendy Young at the Times and place your order. Her telephone number is (859) 260-9800, extension 199. You can pay by credit card, of course; the price includes two-day delivery.

APRIL 15, 2008

     You don't often open a magazine and have your first reaction be: Oh, no! That is wrong!
     In this case, I didn't even have to open the magazine. When I unwrapped my April California Thoroughbred, it was back side up and on the back cover was an ad for In Excess (Ire), beyond question one of California's premier sires.
     In a prominent position was this line: "More than $66,000 Average Earnings Per Start."
     Did you get the instant "Oh, no!" reaction, too?
     On the inside of the same issue, on the "Leading Lifetime Sires in California" page, In Excess's record shows 499 starters with earnings of $32,997,067. Divide that earnings total by 499 and you get--of course--a bit more than $66,000. But that's earnings per starter. Not quite the same as earnings per start.
     According to The Blood-Horse's online Stallion Directory, In Excess's runners have had 5,627 starts. With earnings of $66,000 per start, 5,627 starts would have produced earnings of more than $371,380,000.
     In Excess is an excellent sire, but not that excellent..

APRIL 13, 2008

     So Bob Black Jack is going to the Kentucky Derby. Or at least he's going to try to.
     His connections have announced that they're going to try for the Big One, figuring that the son of Stormy Jack can get the mile and a quarter distance of the Derby, since he finished a good second in the mile and an eighth Santa Anita Derby and wasn't reeling at the end.
     In order to start in the Derby, he'll have to have enough earnings in graded stakes races to put him in the top 20 of horses seeking entry. That's the largest field they can handle for the big race.
     Bob Black Jack, who has graded earnings of $180,000, was tied for 19th on the last published list. It's likely that somebody will earn enough to move ahead of him between now and May 3, but it's unlikely that all those horses who are ahead of him will want to run, so he'll probably qualify.
     Being a firm believer that most news in the horse business is bad, I'm apprehensive. I hate to see a promising young horse get chewed up in the Triple Crown grinding machine, but lots of horses who looked like they shouldn't try have wound up winning.
     We'll see, and if he does run, I'll be pulling for him--unless Gayego is in the field, too.
     I've been following the accomplishments of Bob Black Jack because he's the only California-bred in the Derby chase, but I do have another interest, Gayego, who won the Arkansas Derby yesterday and is almost certain to go in the Derby. (In case you don't know, that's pronounced "Guy-eggo.") 
     He was bought out of a Keeneland yearling sale on the recommendation of my friend and client,Suzanne Cardiff. If both he and Bob Black Jack run, I'll have a sort of rooting entry, with two chances to feel good instead of one.
     Or two chances to feel bad, if you want to look at it that way.

APRIL 11, 2008

     You may recall that in a March 21 Notebook entry I observed that a survey comparing injury rates on synthetic tracks with those on dirt tracks had been released before its time. It was reported by the Daily Racing Form. The survey, conducted and announced by Florida veterinarian Mary Scollay, was flawed in a number of ways and should not have been made public until it was corrected and made valid.
     Since it was clear to me that the study was just not sound and was certainly misleading, I wondered how it would be handled by the major Thoroughbred weekly publications. They would have had more time to think about it than the daily Form had. If they were truly responsible, I thought, they would either not publish it at all or publish it with a lot of caveats. I'm pleased to say that I chose not to put a link to the original Daily Racing Form story on our Western Newsbeat page.
     Well, the weeklies published it.
     Thoroughbred Times printed it straight, making it the lead cover story with the headline, "Fatality Rates for Synthetic, Dirt Tracks Nearly Equal." That's what her report said, that the fatality rates were about the same.
     The Blood-Horse was somewhat more cautious, printing the story in a box at the bottom of its first news page with the headline, "Vet Urges Caution Over Fatality Numbers," but I couldn't find anything in the story that supported that heading. It printed the results of the study with quotes from Dr. Scollay that didn't suggest that her report was invalid.
     Maybe each publication expected the other to use the story and didn't want to be scooped. Or maybe they knew they were publishing a shaky story but figured they could publish a later story correcting the misinformation and thus have two stories instead of none--the original and then the correction instead of not using the flawed story. A time-honored newspaper tradition. Dishonest, but traditional.
     If the results of that survey could be believed, it was big news--tracks are spending millions to install surfaces that are no safer than the old ones.
     And now we have the correction, in a news release from The Jockey Club distributed yesterday. It opens with this paragraph

      The on-track injury reports and total starts utilized in providing the catastrophic injury rates presented by Dr. Mary Scollay at the March 17th Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit have been revised after being thoroughly reviewed.

     And two paragraphs later, quoting Dr. Scollay: 

     "However, I would like to report that after a thorough review, the fatality rates I reported at the summit last month should have been 1.47 fatalities per 1,000 starts for synthetic surfaces and 2.03 fatalities per 1,000 starts for dirt tracks."

     Uh huh.

APRIL 10, 2008

     Everybody knows that riding racehorses can get you killed, and sometimes does. But how about this, in the New York Times?

APRIL 9, 2008

     Just to keep us updated on the possible participation in the Kentucky Derby of the last California-bred still standing, here's the situation with Bob Black Jack.
     His second-place finish and $150,000 purse in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby at a mile and an eighth increased his graded-stakes earnings to $180,000 just enough to qualify him for a place in the starting gate on May 3 at Churchill Downs.
     His connections haven't decided yet whether they want to send the son of Stormy Jack to the big dance, but they may not have a choice. If more than 20 horses want to run, eligibility will be determined by earnings in graded stakes races.
     At this moment, Stormy Jack's $180,000 are good for a two-way tie for 19th in those earnings, so if nobody moves ahead of him in the three and a half weeks remaining, he can get in if he wants to. But behind him are 13 horses with graded earnings of $100,000 or more and four with earnings of $150,000 or more, so he's a long way from being sure of qualifying. Any of those others could move ahead of Bob Black Jack with just one good performance.
     My guess is that they'll decide not to chew up a good young horse by sending him east to be a longshot in the Derby, so the earnings count question is likely to be moot.

APRIL 4, 2008

     I'm sorry to note that The Blood-Horse has joined the other major American racing/breeding publication, Thoroughbred Times, is lending its services--and presitige--to further the nicks myth.
     It's offering readers the chance to get a free mating rating to any of a long list of stallions--none in the West, I'm happy to note--whose owners have paid a fee to have their stallions included.
     TrueNicks, its website explains, bases its calculations on a more sophisticated process than other nick-sellers do. I won't try to explain it, but no matter how complex a theory is used, it can't overcome all the problems explained in mind-numbing but necessary detail in my Nicking: An Analysis study.
     I found interesting these comments of TrueNicks co-founder Alan Porter the other day on The Blood-Horse website:

     Yesterday brought the news that champion 3-year-old filly Rags to Riches was to be retired and bred to Giant's Causeway.
     The match of the history-making Belmont Stakes (gr. I) heroine with Storm Cat's leading son is one that should create a tough runner, and a horse that will have no problems with classic distances.
     Of course, we couldn't resist running it through the TrueNicks program. This came up with the mating as a C based on the Storm Cat / A. P. Indy cross. That cross has produced only three stakes winners, albeit a couple of notable names, headed by the Haskell (gr. I) winner and Kentucky Derby (gr. I) runner-up Bluegrass Cat, and graded stakes winner Untouched Talent. Storm Cat himself sired Bluegrass Cat and Untouched Talent from seven starters out of A.P. Indy mares, but so far there are 42 starters by sons of Storm Cat out of A.P. Indy mares, and only one stakes winner.
     There are, however, some other factors - beyond the outstanding class of the sire and dam, a very important point - that might help this mating. From a pedigree pattern standpoint, we can note that both Giant's Causeway and Better Than Honour, the dam of Rags to Riches, are Northern Dancer / Blushing Groom crosses. We can also note that Giant's Causeway is sire of the exciting sophomore stakes winner Giant Moon, who is out of a mare by Capote who, like A.P. Indy, is a son of Seattle Slew.

     There may be something useful in there, if you have the time to work on it. Maybe it's in this sentence: "There are, however, some other factors - beyond the outstanding class of the sire and dam, a very important point - that might help this mating."
     But, of course, you can't get beyond the outstanding class of the sire and dam, unless you go beyond it to figure that if you own Rags to Riches and can get to Giant's Causeway, you don't need to ask anybody what to do. You just breed the best to the best, and you don't need a computer for that.
      Or, looking at it from the perspective of scientific methodology, to know whether a Giant's Causeway/A. P. Indy cross is better than some other, you have to have some "other" to compare it with. You'd want to see what happened when Giant's Causeway and an A. P. Indy mare of quality equal to that of Rags to Riches were mated. (Not just once but enough times to produce a sample of adequate size.)
     Then, if you could do that, you'd have to figure out what to compare those results with.
     Oh, well, I guess I just don't understand.

APRIL 1, 2008

     They're off and running, and our 2008 California Freshman Sire Contest is under way.
     The 20 contestants seeking the $600 winner's purse in our contest have heard the first call in the race, and we have a leader.
     I'm not going to identify the players--the $25 entry fee might get them unwillingly known as high-stakes gamblers--but at the end of each month I will report on how the field is sorting itself out.
     After the first month's racing for 2-year-olds of 2008, Momentum is in the lead with $28,480 in earnings, followed by Cat Dreams at $7,200 and Slew's Prince at $400. All those earnings came from the one "baby race" run so far at Santa Anita.
     Six contest entrants picked Momentum (the winner of that first race) to wind up with the title, but only one chose Momentum and Cat Dreams to finish 1-2.. Nobody put Slew's Prince anywhere on any ballot. The leader's ticket picked Momentum, Cat Dreams, and Redattore (Brz) to finish 1-2-3. 
     There's a long, long way to go in this race, and at the end of each month we'll post a progress report on the fight for the handsome winner's purse.

MARCH 31, 2008

     Speaking of California-breds, which I was yesterday, two of them ran in the Dubai World Cup Saturday, and one of them did well.
     Idiot Proof, a son of Benchmark, took the lead in midstretch in the $2,000,000 Dubai Golden Shaheen at about 1 1/8 miles but was overtaken by winner Benny the Bull, a Florida-bred, and finished second, a length and three quarters back.
     It was the second time in three years that a Cal-bred had taken second in that Grade 1 race. Thor's Echo, by Swiss Yodeler, did the same thing in 2006 on his way to winning an Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.
     Finishing second wasn't nearly as good as a win for Idiot Proof, but he's lugging home a purse of $400,000, enough to make him the latest Cal-bred millionaire with career earnings of $1,263,204.
     But what of the other Cal-bred, Notional, a multiple graded stakes-winning son of In Excess (Ire)?
     All bad news.
     He finished last in a field of 16 in the $5,000,000 Dubai Duty Free and, according to the Thoroughbred Times story, came up "lame in his left foreleg."
     In its report, the CTBA website, which, like the organization that produces it, is interested only in good news about Cal-breds, had nothing to say about Notional's race and his misfortune, choosing to tell only about Idiot Proof's becoming a millionaire. Not a word about poor Notional.

MARCH 30, 2008

     Only two horses bred in the West are still in the running for the Kentucky Derby, and only one of those has much chance of making it into the starting gate on May 3 at Churchill Downs.
     Both of those are California-breds, and only Georgie Boy is likely to run in the classic--unless something bad happens to him before then.
     The maximum number of horses that can run in the race is 20, and if more than 20 want to enter, eligibility will be based on earnings in graded stakes races. Right now, Georgie Boy, a son of Tribal Rule, has won $390,000 in those races, good for sixth place in that earnings competition going into this weekend's action.
     That's $266,583 more than the 21st horse on the list. It's possible, I guess, for one of the low-ranked horses to run the board and pile up enough earnings to move ahead of Georgie Boy, but 14 horses would have to do that to push the Cal-bred out of the top 20, and that isn't going to happen, even if Georgie Boy doesn't earn another penny.
     The other Cal-bred still eyeing the Derby is Stormy Jack's son Bob Black Jack. He has only $30,000 in graded earnings, good enough for 37th place, but he's only $99,000 back of the 20th horse, so a couple of wins in graded races might get him into the field. 
     It will be a challenge for him, but he could do it, though not by winning Cal-bred or other ungraded stakes in which he's earned the bulk of his bankroll of $292,925
     It will be something to watch, though. He's surprised us before.
     But for now, Georgie Boy is most likely to carry the banner of the West in the Derby.

MARCH 29, 2008

     A couple of other points about choosing a stallion: the physical compatibility of stallion and mare and that curious theory called dosage.
     For some observations on those subjects (not necessarily mine), click here and here.

MARCH 28, 2008

     Here's some news: The CTBA has decided to use blacktype rather than stakes rules for the catalog of its 2008 Northern California yearling sale, which will be held this year at Santa Rosa.
     (If you aren't familiar with the difference between blacktype and stakes rules, click here and scroll down to the August 6 entry. It's explained there.)
     The change returns the CTBA to the mainstream of California sale cataloging, where it belongs. No longer will buyers have to fear that the black type shown on a catalog page won't be there if they enter their purchase in a later Barretts sale. More important, they won't be misled by black type that designates a race with a purse of $3,000 at some place like Wyoming Downs as a stakes race--by definition an event of quality.
     According to CTBA general manager Doug Burge, the change was made when a survey of "the bulk of" consignors to the sale showed that they wanted blacktype rules. He pointed out that stakes rules were chosen when the sale was resumed in 2004 because a survey at that time showed it was what consignors wanted.
     I've always suspected that consignors who picked stakes rules back then didn't fully understand the consequences of their choice. There's been enough discussion of the subject since then for consignors to make a more informed decision, and they made it.

MARCH 27, 2008

     In his most recent letter to Voices From Cyberspace, Larry Stevens makes this observation: "I could cite a few bloodlines that "nicked" with real success in the QH breed. In the TB, of late it has been Storm Cat on Mr. Prospector mares."
     I certainly can't quarrel with the idea that breeding a Mr. Prospector mare to Storm Cat gives a breeder an excellent chance of achieving "real success." The question, though, is whether this is a "nick."
     That brings us right squarely to a bigger question: What the heck is a nick, anyway?
     It has to be more than just the result of breeding a superior sire to a daughter of a superior sire. I guess to be a nick, there has to be a better result than that achieved by breeding a daughter of a different superior sire to a different superior sire.
     Immediately, you can see the swamp we're wading into. To test a possible nick, we have to determine whether it produces better runners than a combination sire and dam of identical quality but of different bloodlines. That's what nicks are, crosses that do that.
     Already you can see that we aren't going to be able to identify that sire and dam of identical quality. How can we do that? If we're going to make a valid comparison, the horses have to have not only the same bloodlines but the same race records, produce records, conformation, and goodness knows what else and the foals that make the race records we are going to compare have to have identical raising, identical training, and everything else.
     Just impossible.
     Decades ago, the prized cross was *Nasrullah bred to *Princequillo mares. I don't recall that that was called a nick, but it probably was. But what it really was was a case of a high-quality sire bred to high-quality mares.
     Both of those sires stood at Claiborne Farm, which had mares probably as good as any in the world. And the master of Claiborne Farm, Bull Hancock, was the guy who said that the key was to breed the best to the best and hope for the best. He did that, and I doubt that he cared whether anybody said his success came from a magic nick.
     Since there's just no way to test the Storm Cat/Mr. Prospector "nick," I think we just have a case of the best being bred to the best. An excellent idea--if you can afford it.
     The great allure of the whole nicking idea is that it offers the promise of getting  a superior runner without breeding the best to the best or the good to the good, but the mediocre to the mediocre. Forget about the quality of the sire and the dam and her sire; just get the nick and wonderful things will follow.
     Success on the cheap.You can see why people want to believe.

MARCH 24, 2008

     I don't do a lot of sighing, but I sighed deeply, with sadness, when I saw the announcement recently that Thoroughbred Times is offering a free service providing nick ratings for mares bred to the advertised stallions.
     The professional providers of mating advice based on nicking analysis continue to thrive. After all, they have a right to sell their services if people want to pay for them. It's the American Way.
     Nicks offer a shortcut to breeding success. A way to breed a good horse on the cheap, or just a way to get an advantage. Nicks certainly may exist, but there is just no way to know what they are. That doesn't stop people from believing and embracing those nicking analyses, all gussied-up to look scientific.
     But before you make a mating decision based on such a nicking recommendation, I urge you to read my own nicking analysis. You'll find it by clicking here.
     Entitled "Nicking: An Analysis," it originally was published in three installments in consecutive issues of The T I A Newsletter, beginning in November, 1994. Though my analysis explains in careful detail the reasons that such nicking recommendations cannot produce useful information, the nicking industry has continued to thrive undeterred.
     That's an illustration of a Universal Human Truth: Proof that something doesn't exist doesn't stand a chance against the desire for it to exist.

MARCH 21, 2008

     Several years ago--maybe it was several decades ago--there was a television commercial that attracted a lot of attention, showing actor Orson Welles stating in that commanding voice of his something like this: "We will sell no wine before its time!"
     Oddly, that commercial was brought to mind by the recent news story in the Daily Racing Form about a study by Florida state veterinarian Dr. Mary Scollay that reported no difference in the incidence of injuries between horses racing on dirt and those racing on synthetic racing surfaces. In other words, horses were as likely to break down on those expensive artificial surfaces as on old-fashioned dirt.
     Unfortunately, Dr. Scollay's report is not evidence of anything except that, like wine, the results of such research should not be released before their time. Dr. Scollay's report wasn't ready for release, and she should have kept her research to herself until it was ready.
     But she let it become public, and all the people who don't want to believe that artificial surfaces are reducing injuries grabbed it and ran full speed toward unwarranted conclusions. 
     I can't list all the criteria necessary for research such as Dr. Scollay's to be legitimate, but I do know that two of the requirements are (a) adequate sample size and (b) stabilization of variables.
     To her credit, Dr. Scollay expressed concern over the validity of her study. That concern should have kept her from making it public, but it didn't.
     I don't know the size of the statistical sample from which she drew her conclusions, but the Daily Racing Form story quoted her as saying that she was concerned that it wasn't large enough. In order to have validity, such studies have to draw from a large enough sample to permit the drawing of conclusions that are true of all members of the population from which the sample is drawn.
     Conclusions based on a too-small sample are worse than valueless, since they may lead not just to an absence of information but to misinformation.
     The same is true of a sample that doesn't stabilize variables, that finds evidence of something but doesn't know what, because it may have several causes, not just the one being tested. 
     For example, Dr. Scollay said that there's some anecdotal evidence that trainers are sending unsound horses to run on artificial surfaces in the belief that they'll be safer. But if you can't know whether horses that break down were unsound before they raced on the artificial surface, you can't know anything. 
     And what about track maintenance? That's something that can vary widely for both dirt and artificial surfaces.
     On top of all that, her study didn't include any evidence from the California tracks where hundreds of horses have been running on artificial surfaces, so it can't tell us anything about the effect of such surfaces on soundness in this state. It omits evidence from tracks on which more horses have raced than on those that were studied--Turfway Park, Keeneland, and Arlington Park.
     The release of the study leads to the belief that we have knowledge where in fact we have ignorance. That's dangerous, and it's irresponsible.

MARCH 14, 2008

     The Barretts March 2-year-old sale is in the record books, and our pinhook report is ready for your viewing as Special Report #10. Go there and you'll find the price paid for each pinhooked horse, its Barretts price, its Barretts buyer, and its Barretts consignor.
     You can read that report and decide whether you want to swim in those shark-filled waters. Or just enjoy seeing how many of this year's swimmers survived.

MARCH 11, 2008.

     All finished with my search through those sire rankings, and I hereby present the results of my efforts.
     Let's look at those rankings, one at a time, identifying the category and then identifying the Western sires who made the lists, which name from 60 to 150 stallions, depending on the category. I'll name the sire, his ranking on the list, and the state in which he stands if it's other than California. Only sires standing in the West in 2008 will be included. Rankings are for 2007 racing only unless otherwise noted.
     Here goes:
     Leading Sires (top 150): Bertrando, 45th; In Excess (Ire), 56th; Deputy Commander, 59th; Unusual Heat, 67th; Swiss Yodeler, 76th; Salt Lake, 92nd; Benchmark, 98th; Sea of Secrets, 110th.
     Leading Sires of 2-Year-Olds (top 75): Tribal Rule, 65th.
     Leading First-Crop Sires (top 75): Decarchy, 30th; Stormy Jack, 43rd; Capsized, 54th; Gotham City, 60th; Crafty C. T., 62nd.
    Leading Second-Crop Sires (top 70): Tribal Rule, 15th; Skimming, 18th; Thunderello, 21st; Polish Miner (WA), 35th; Abajo (NM), 45th.
     Leading Third-Crop Sires (top 70): Flame Thrower, 37th; Globalize, 53rd; Liberty Gold (WA), 57th; Le Grande Danseur (NM), 63rd.
     Leading Broodmare Sires (top 150): Turkoman, 55th; Salt Lake, 81st; Beau Genius, 109th; Bertrando, 115th.
     Leading Sires by Average Earnings Index (lifetime, top 75): Unusual Heat, 21st; In Excess (Ire), 26th; Cee's Tizzy, 36th.
     Leading Synthetic Sires (synthetic surfaces, top 75): Bertrando, 4th; In Excess (Ire), 10th; Benchmark, 23rd; Unusual Heat, 28th; Swiss Yodeler, 30th; Tribal Rule, 45th; Deputy Commander, 52nd; Lit de Justice, 63rd; Cee's Tizzy, 69th; Old Topper, 71st.
     Leading Turf Sires (top 75): Unusual Heat, 15th; Bertrando, 46th; In Excess (Ire), 71st.
     Sires by Lifetime Earnings (top 140): Salt Lake, 76th; In Excess (Ire), 98th; Bertrando, 108th; Beau Genius, 115th; Cee's Tizzy, 117th; High Brite, 121st. 
     Sires by North American Earnings (top 75): Bertrando, 35th; In Excess (Ire), 49th; Deputy Commander, 53rd; Unusual Heat, 57th; Swiss Yodeler, 69th.
     Leading Sires by % of Stakes Winners (lifetime, top 75): In Excess (Ire), 74th.
     Leading International Sires (standing in any country, top 75): No Western sires.
     Sires by International Earnings (standing in North America, top 75): Bertrando, 60th; Deputy Commander, 72nd; In Excess (Ire), 74th.
     Leading International Sires of 2-Year-Olds (standing in any country, top 75): No Western sires.
     Leading International First-Crop Sires (top 75): Decarchy, 36th; Stormy Jack, 51st; Capsized, 63rd; Gotham City, 70th; Crafty C. T., 72nd.
     Leading International Second-Crop Sires (top 75):  Tribal Rule, 15th; Skimming, 18th; Thunderello, 21st; Polish Miner (WA), 35th; Abajo (NM), 44th; Tannersmyman, 74th.
     Leading International Third-Crop Sires (top 75): Flame Thrower, 39th; Globalize, 53rd; Liberty Gold (WA), 57th; Le Grande Danseur (NM), 63rd.
     Leading Sires by Lifetime Average Earnings Per Runner (top 68): Cee's Tizzy, 44th.
.    Leading Sires by 2007 Average Earnings Per Runner (top 80): Lake George, 22nd; Unusual Heat, 64th; Memo (Chi), 73rd.
     Leading Sires by Lifetime Median Earnings Per Runner (top 78): Salt Lake, 73rd.
     Leading Sires by 2007 Median Earnings Per Runner (top 78): No Western sires.
     Leading Sires by Number of Lifetime Winners (top 80): Salt Lake, 33rd; High Brite, 47th; Beau Genius, 73rd.
     Leading Sires by Percent Lifetime Winners/Foals (top 70): Salt Lake, 67th.
    Leading Sires by Percent Lifetime Winners/Runners (top 73): Iron Cat, 17th; High Brite, 39th; Formal Gold, 57th.
     Leading Sires by Number of Lifetime Stakes Winners (top 82): In Excess (Ire), 50th; Bertrando, 74th; Salt Lake, 78th.
     Leading Sires by Lifetime Percent Stakes Winners/Foals (top 72): No Western sires.
     Leading Sires by Lifetime Percent Stakes Winners/Runners (top 80): Tribal Rule, 52nd; In Excess (Ire), 64th; Perfect Mandate, 69th; Soft Gold (Brz) (OR), 75th.
     Leading Sires by Number of Lifetime 2-Year-Old Winners (top 75): Salt Lake, 18th; High Brite, 55th; Beau Genius, 57th.
     Leading Sires by Lifetime Percent 2-Year-Old Winners/Foals (top 60): Old Topper, 43rd.
     Leading Sires of 2007 Sale Yearlings (top 83): In Excess (Ire), 67th; Unusual Heat, 70th; Salt Lake, 76th.
     Leading Sires by Number of 2007 Winners (top 83): Swiss Yodeler, 26th; Salt Lake, 35th; Bertrando, 40th; Sea of Secrets, 48th; Deputy Commander, 59th.
     Leading 2007 Sires by Percent 2-Year-Old Winners/Foals (top 75): Swiss Yodeler, 26th.
     Leading 2007 Sires by Percent Winners/Runners (top 67): Lacey Evitan, 30th; Distinctive Cat (NM), 35th.
     Leading Sires by Number of 2007 Stakes Winners (top 82): In Excess (Ire), 61st; Deputy Commander, 74th.
     Leading 2007 Sires by Percent Stakes Winners/Runners (top 74): Bagshot (OR), 12th; Perfect Mandate, 32nd; Cascadian (OR), 37th; Lake George, 41st; Tribal Rule, 54th.
     Leading Sires by Number of 2007 2-Year-Old Winners (top 99): No Western sires.
     Whew! That was a bigger job than I thought it would be.
     Who are the three sires that I said were appearing on almost every list they were eligible for? In Excess (Ire), Bertrando, and Salt Lake, with Unusual Heat close behind.
     Forty different Western sires appeared on at least one of the lists--34 standing in California and two each in Washington, Oregon, and New Mexico. (One of the Californians, Soft Gold (Brz), has moved to Oregon this year.)
     Here are the sires with the greatest number of appearances on those lists: In Excess (Ire), 12; Bertrando, 9; Salt Lake, 9; Unusual Heat, 7; Deputy Commander, 6; Tribal Rule, 6; and Swiss Yodeler, 5. No other sires made more than four of the 37 lists.
     I wouldn't advise you to make your breeding selections based on all this, but there are lots of worse ways to do it.

MARCH 10, 2008

     The Blood-Horse's annual "Sires of 2007" supplement has arrived in my mailbox, and now I can enjoy my annual survey of the rankings of Western sires on any number of lists, some of which I never see during the year.
     There are no fewer than 45 separate lists of sire leaders, and it's taking me a substantial amount of time to search through them to locate the Western sires. I've finished checking 27 of the 45 and will have all of them ready to reveal here tomorrow.
     Many Western sires appear on at least one of the lists, but there are three that appear on almost every list for which they're eligible, plus three others that show up more often than others. Want to guess which those are? 
     You'll find the answer here tomorrow.

    MARCH 5, 2008

     It's hard to be perfect, and I'm not.
     If you printed out or transcribed those Barretts pinhook prices before about 9:30 a. m. Tuesday, you may want to correct a couple of errors that I repaired at that time: Hip No. 44 was sold for $150,000 at the Barretts October sale following its purchase for $95,000 in July in Kentucky (I got the first one but overlooked the second), and No. 55 was a buyback, not a sale.
     Nothing really big, but it would have been better if I'd gotten it right in the first place.

MARCH 4, 2008

     As promised, our lengthily-researched pinhook list for the Barretts March sale of 2-year-olds in training is now available as a Showcase Special Report.
     Of the 190 horses cataloged for the March 14 sale, 168 will be making their second or even third appearance in an auction sale ring. That's even more than last year, when 153 of 199 cataloged were in earlier sales.
     (I know that the last number in this year's catalog is 191, not 190, but Barretts never assigns No. 13 to a horse in any of its sales.)
     Our Special Report, compiled painstakingly by a search of the auction records of the produce of every mare with a horse in the sale, shows the price paid, the buyer, and the sale in which purchased (or bought back) for every one of the 168 that has gone through the ring in an earlier sale.
     That's our Special Report #9. It will be followed a few days after the sale by Special Report #10, which will list the earlier purchase price, the Barretts sale price, the Barretts purchaser, and the Barretts consignor.
     So there it is. Enjoy!

FEBRUARY 28, 2008

     One of the most popular features of The T I A Newsletter was our publication of prices paid by pinhookers--speculators--for horses entered in several of the most prominent California sales.
     It took a considerable amount of research time to check all those prices in earlier auctions, but the finished product provided the basis for an interesting and entertaining scorecard of the successes and failures of the intrepid pinhookers who made frequently eye-popping bets on their ability to sell horses for more than they cost.
     Almost all of those were yearlings purchased for resale as 2-year-olds in training, though occasionally they were bought as weanlings.
     Those prices are probably worthless as a basis for appraising horses for purchase in the 2-year-old sales, since a well-trained athlete streaking down the stretch at a juvenile sale is hardly the same animal as it was when it was bought as a yearling. 
     That 2-year-old in training can show value-adding racing potential not visible before or, in some unfortunate cases, has its lack of such potential revealed. Or, even worse, suffers an injury that reduces its value or even makes it worthless.
     Anyway, our newsletter is no longer being published, but we're going to transfer that pinhooker scorecard to the Showcase. It will be ready in a day or two or three.
     It will be presented as a Special Report, with a link on the Showcase home page. I'll alert you when we post it.

FEBRUARY 26, 2008

     In the past, the entry deadline for our Freshman Sire Contest has been the moment before the gates opened for the first 2-year-old race of the year at Santa Anita.
     Since I didn't know which day that would happen this year, I set the entry deadline as March 1. But I've checked with the Santa Anita racing office, and they tell me that that first race is scheduled for March 20.
     That's quite a bit later than March 1, so I'm changing the entry deadline from March 1 to the same as last year's: the moment before the gates open for the first 2-year-old race of the year at Santa Anita.
     In past years there's been no entry fee, so entries could be e-mailed to me right up to the last minute. This year the entries require a $25 fee, so they have to be mailed (no credit cards on this behind-the-times website), and I have to have them in my mailbox no later than March 20.
     Considering the unpredictability of the mails, that means you need to allow a few days delivery time, unless you want to splurge for an overnight delivery fee.
     That's it. Same rules, new deadline.

FEBRUARY 20, 2008

     This article in Thoroughbred Times provides an interesting follow-up to my February 13 comments below.
     On an entirely different subject, time is running out for entries in our 2008 Freshman Sire Contest. If everybody enters who said they would, the prize will be about $600. If other people enter, too, it will be more.
     See details in the box at the top of this page.

FEBRUARY 19, 2008

     Sometimes I just lose my patience and think, What the hell were they thinking?
     I say that because the Daily Racing Form has just posted a story headed, "Santa Anita Feels Bite," which tells us that "business" at the half-way point of the current Santa Anita meeting is 26 percent lower than it was last year.
     So the cancellations and the last-minute decisions about whether to race or not have kept people from the track. That's no surprise, but it's bad news.
     But read on in the story written by DRF staff writer Steve Andersen. It tells us that handle was only $316,953,086, 26 percent less than last year, and attendance was only 244,009 compared with 343,890 a year ago, 29 percent less.
     The story explains that those figures cover 30 days of racing this year and 40 days last year. It was the half-way point by the calendar, but not by racing days, since several--maybe all--of the 11 lost days are probably going to be made up later in the meeting. At this point, you're thinking, now, wait a minute.
     If you read closely, you learn that the average daily declines were just 1.2 percent in handle and "nearly six percent" in attendance.
     A reasonable assessment of those numbers would lead to the conclusion that in spite of all those problems, business at Santa Anita has held up remarkably well. There was no basis for the headline, "Santa Anita Feels Bite." It might more accurately have been headed, "Santa Anita Feels Little Pain."
     You suspect that the writer went into the story assuming that the news would be bad and wrote the story that way even when it became clear that the opposite was true. That's called not letting the facts get in the way of a story.
     Does this show anti-Santa Anita bias by the Form? I don't think so. I think it's just bad journalism.

FEBRUARY 16, 2008

     Whatever became of the idea that California owners would contribute a share of their purses to help care for retired former racehorses? It was a hot topic back in December, and hardly anything has been said about it since then.
    The plan, originated and backed by TOC, was have contributions amounting to 0.03 percent of each purse automatically deducted and put into a fund for care of those retired horses. That's one-third of one percent, $60 from a $20,000 purse or $300 from a $100,000 purse. Not a lot of money, but more than there was before, and it established a principle.
     It's hard to believe that anybody had to establish the principle that owners had  responsibility--some, but not all--for the care of those runners when they could no longer perform, but it was an important step. Next is to get all those other people involved to do their part--breeders, trainers, veterinarians, and all those other people who make a living from the labors of those animals.
    The answer to the question above is that action is coming, just very, very slowly, with the program to go into effect with the beginning of this summer's Del Mar race meeting.
    The CHRB rule is in place and all is in readiness except that the computer software necessary for paymasters of purses to make those deductions won't be ready until July.
     The rule says that owners who don't want to contribute can opt out, and TOC says that a few have done that, most of them saying that they already take care of their own. But most owners haven't taken that path, to their credit.
     We'll all be watching to see that the money deducted from purses properly goes to former racehorses and doesn't get diverted to the care of old saddle horses, Shetland ponies, and the like. Care of those horses is a problem, but it's somebody else's problem.

FEBRUARY 14, 2008

     Our 2008 California Freshman Sire Contest has been launched and will offer a winner's prize worth competing for.
     Based on the present number of entries, the reward to the winner will be approximately $600. The $25 entry fees all will go in the pot, along with $100 contributed by this agency (T I A), and the winner will get it all. No takeout, no deductions.
     Any additional entries will increase the prize for the winner, and entries won't close until March 1. There's plenty of time for the reward to grow and grow.
     The rules for the contest and an entry form can be found by clicking here.
     So join in the fun! It won't take too many more entries for the prize to be $1,000. Or more. Anybody can enter, and there's no limit to the number of entries anybody can submit, just so each entry is accompanied by a $25 entry fee.

FEBRUARY 13, 2008

      The election is over, the initiatives have passed, Indian casinos will add thousands of new slot machines, and unless voters have been cruelly deceived, millions of new dollars will surge into the California state treasury.
     And what will that mean for the Thoroughbred industry?
     The answers: nobody knows, and time will tell.
     There's nothing in the compacts nor in the statements preceding the election that promise anything, or even suggest anything. The only thing even related to racing was the failed opposition to the compacts by the owner of Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows.
     In the early days of the development of the controversial compacts, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was said to have given racing interests reason to believe that he would channel some state money our way.
     It's been a long time since anybody has talked about that. But even if he wanted to, it's unlikely that Schwarzenegger would have been able to deliver, since any such help for racing would have had to get through a legislature looking out for many interests more popular than racing. And, though we don't want to think it, possibly more deserving.
     For several years, racing people have been talking secretly with leaders of those big-money tribes, but there's no evidence that anything has come of it. Certainly no money is in sight. Tribes are said to be sympathetic to racing's troubles, but sympathy is not subsidy.
     The only thing even close to providing help is the dormant Senate Bill 873, authored by Dean Florez (D-Shafter), and it's not even close enough to be visible on the horizon, having lain unmoving since last spring.
     That bill would have produced some $40,000,000 annually for purses, but only if those initiatives passed, since the casino money was to be the source of the purse money. But the bill is effectively dead unless Florez revives it, and he hasn't made any move toward doing that.
     I called Florez's office and was told that the bill would be reevaluated after the election. That's a long way from a promise of action. Considering the state government's hunger for money, there's little reason to hope that racing is going to get any help from that source.
     That leaves the Indians, and there's more there than is visible on the surface or, for that matter, is predictable.
     You might begin by remembering that one of those wealthy tribes wanted to buy Hollywood Park when Churchill Downs put it on the market back in 2005 but was outmaneuvered by the Bay Meadows Land Company and lost out.
     Nevertheless, that was a clear statement that tribal ownership of a California racetrack is a strong possibility. With Magna Entertainment Corporation chronically in heavy debt and steadily trying to dispose of racetrack properties, Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields may someday go on the market, and if they do, those gaming tribes have more money than just about anybody else this side of the Persian Gulf.
     And, of course, Hollywood Park may again become available.
     But why would tribes want to own racetracks?
     Let's make an assumption, that eventually California citizens are going to tire of letting Indians have a monopoly on casino gaming--or at least a monopoly on slot machines. When the time comes for slots to move onto off-reservation locations, where are they most likely to go? Race tracks, card clubs, and neighborhood bars.
     When that time comes, the most important gaming sites are likely to be racetracks. We might call them racinos.
     If all this is true, tribes do have an interest in keeping racing alive and have a reason to offer help that, clad in the robes of charity, would in reality be an investment in their own financial future.
     If Indians owned the tracks, they'd be perfectly positioned to continue to harvest gaming wealth. And, significantly, they would for the first time be motivated to support legalization of slot machines for . . . racetracks!
     Should that come to pass, we'd have come full circle and horsemen's long-ago fear would be revived. That's the fear that with track owners making far more money than they make from racing, with far less effort and expense, the horses would go and the slots would take over.
    And that would be the end of racing in California. Our salvation would have carried the seeds of our destruction.
    Nobody knows what is going to happen, but those are some things to think about during these interesting times to come.

FEBRUARY 11, 2008

     In case you're still trying to decide whether to risk your money by entering our 2008 California Freshman Sire Contest, I've put together a list of contenders, with their vital information, to stimulate your interest. You can find the list by clicking here.
     The stallions on that list are only those advertised in the California Thoroughbred's 2008 Stallion Directory. There are surely other first-year sires, but I don't know how to identify them. They are, of course, eligible for the contest. If you know of any and want to share that knowledge, let me know and I'll add them to the list. Or you can keep them to yourself and maybe get an edge on the competition.
     In putting together that information, I made an astonishing discovery: At this time, in February, 2008, The Jockey Club is unable to provide a list of 2006 foals registered to individual sires! Can you believe that? So I've provided the number of mares bred by each horse in 2005 (for foals of 2006), and you can take it from there. It's the best available information.
     There's an interesting complexity: the status of Redattore (Brz).
     He has a Brazilian crop six months older than his first California crop, which means they have been eligible to race for more than seven months. 
     I'd have no trouble accepting him as a California freshman sire except that since those Brazilian runners may already be showing their class or lack of class and all players in our contest may not have equal access to knowledge about them, I'm not at all sure that Redattore (Brz) should be eligible.
     So our solution is to let contestants vote either "yes" or "no" on his eligibility. He'll be in or out depending on the wishes of the majority of contestants (one vote for each $25 entry). I'll advise everybody of the outcome of that vote before they submit their selections.
     Anyway, we still need more entries to make the contest go and keep all this from being moot. So step up and join the fun! We are very, very close to reaching critical mass on this.
     Now, if you came in late and wonder what the devil this is all about, click here for the January 24 Notebook entry, which explains it all.

FEBRUARY 9, 2008

     It appears that we're getting one pledge from each of my appeals, so here's another one: Time is running out for participation in our annual California Freshman Sire Contest, which this year will actually offer a winning prize of enough money to buy something.
     Entries will close when the gate opens for the first 2-year-old race of the year, which I believe will be sometime in mid-March. But we have to get all our pledges in before that, so I'm setting a deadline of March 1 for declaring your intention to file an entry and pay your $25 entry fee.
     But for now, I just need to know whether you're going to play so I'll know whether we have enough players to make up a winner's prize of at least $500. When we have that, I'll ask for the actual entries and the actual checks for $25 per entry.
     If you aren't familiar with all this, click here for an explanation (the January 24 Notebook entry below). Think about it; this could be fun.

FEBRUARY 8, 2008

     A reader whose opinions and perceptions I respect even more than my own advises me that I am flat-out wrong in saying that the CTBA's stories have not given the names of the sires of the runners they report on.
     We do agree on two things: that the CTBA didn't name the sires in their story on the 2007 Cal-bred champions and that the CTBA is naming the sires in their stories now.
     I have no doubt that those sires' names have been absent in the past, and for my response I have to reach back into the old comic's line and ask, "Who are you going to believe, me or your own two lying eyes?"
     The CTBA hasn't corrected me on this, either because I was right or because they feel that there's no point in trying to reason with a madman.

FEBRUARY 7, 2008

     It may have been a coincidence having nothing to do with my Notebook comments, but, whatever the reason, it was good to see that yesterday morning's news stories on the CTBA website included the names of the sires of the featured Cal-bred runners.

FEBRUARY 6, 2008

     Although I'm no longer a breeder, the many years that I was one have left me with a residual, reflexive interest in the pedigrees of successful runners. Specifically, in knowing their sires.
     The first thing I do when I read about a runner's doing something good is to scan the story to see who sired the horse. I'd be surprised if most breeders don't do the same thing.
     That being the case, I am continually frustrated by the CTBA's website stories and press releases about California-bred runners. They rarely--and maybe never--tell the names of the horses' sires.
     The most recent example is the CTBA's announcement of the winners of the annual voting for Cal-bred champions. None of the sires of the winning racehorses are identified.
     I don't know why the CTBA does this, but I know that it frustrates me--and I'll bet it frustrates present-day breeders, too. My best guess is that the CTBA's entire psychological orientation is toward the concept of Cal-bredness rather than  information for its breeder-members. But it doesn't have to choose; it could do both.
     Trying to increase the value of Cal-breds is an important part of the CTBA's mission, but so is keeping breeders informed, helping them to know what they need to know in order to make wise decisions.
     I'm pretty sure that breeders are a lot less interested in the fact that a horse is a Cal-bred than they are about getting information that will help them in deciding what sires to breed to and/or how the sires they've already bred to are doing.
     Nobody at the CTBA appears to understand that. Their goal appears to be only to identify those horses as Cal-breds. But for a breeder, knowing the sire of the horse is much more important. The CTBA's omission of the names of sires is both baffling and frustrating. 
     I wish the CTBA would change its practice. It wouldn't be hard, and it would be helpful to California breeders.
     And former breeders.

FEBRUARY 5, 2008

     Just want to remind you that we still have to have a few more pledges for our California Freshman Sire Contest of 2008 to reach critical mass.
     If you think you might want to play (and win money), click here for details.

FEBRUARY 4, 2008

     Dr. Wallace S. Karutz, breeder of 1986 champion 2-year-old filly Brave Raj, died the other day in Florida, the news report said.
     I once had some business dealings with Karutz that led me to his Bourbon Hills Farm in Paris, Ky., early one morning. I found myself sitting in Karutz's kitchen having coffee and talking with his East-Coast trainer, an impressive, serious, no-nonsense fellow named Jerry Meyer.
     Not a long time before, Karutz had married a very good-looking and considerably younger woman who these days would be described as a "trophy wife." 
     That morning Meyer and I waited for a quite a while before Karutz appeared, stumbling down the stairs, rubbing his eyes, and looking very weary.
     He managed to pour a cup of coffee and joined us at the table.
     "I 'm just worn out," he said. "Carol sleeps late and then wants to talk until 2 o'clock in the morning."
     Meyer looked at him, learned forward, and delivered this earnest assessment of the situation. "Doc," he said, "you're hooking a fresh horse at the quarter pole."

FEBRUARY 1, 2008

     For a long, long time now, our California leaders have been carrying on what they like to cast as a Fight for Survival, and after that long, long time they have nothing to show for it.
     The most prominent recent example of that campaign is the effort of the owner of Hollywood Park and Bay Meadows to defeat the ballot propositions allowing four Indian tribes to add lots and lots of slot machines to their casinos.
     A spokesman for that campaign explained that the propositions have to be defeated because racetracks have to have slot machines of their own in order to survive.
     I think their reasoning is that if the propositions can be beaten, the tribes will have to buy support for another try by letting tracks have slot machines. That doesn't make much sense to me, but I can't think of any other reason for the Bay Meadows Land Company, the owner of those two tracks, to spend bundles of money to fight the propositions.
     The rationale provided is this: Without slot machines, California tracks can't offer purses large enough to keep owners from sending their horses to tracks that supplement their purses with revenue from slot machines. With fewer horses, fields are smaller, handle decreases, purses shrink, owners drop out or ship elsewhere, and so on, through a downward spiral toward doom.
     Harder to test is a second belief: that California Indian casinos are drawing business from racetracks.
     That belief is based on the assumption that the pool of money available for gambling is fixed and that some undetermined part of the money bet at Indian casinos would have been bet at racetracks if there'd been no casinos.
     I know of no way that belief can be tested if standards of scientific method are followed. You need to go no farther than to realize that if tracks' business goes down and casinos' business goes up, there's no proof that one caused the other. There's just no way to know without interviewing players at casinos, and no casino is going to let that happen, even if tracks wanted to spend the money to try.
     Tracks that have slot machines all report that they have two separate kinds of clientele, one for slots and one for racing. Slot customers don't bet on the races and vice versa. That suggests strongly that casinos are drawing customers who had never bet at a racetrack and never would.
     In the absence of research showing otherwise, the contention that casinos take business from tracks has to be considered unproven. It may be true, of course, but it can't be assumed to be true.
     But what about the loss of owners and their horses to tracks with slot-funded purses?
     On that, there is evidence.
     If that belief is true, we should be observing a steady shrinkage in the size of fields at California tracks as owners send their horses elsewhere to compete for larger purses.
     Well, look at the average number of horses in the fields at California tracks in 2006 and 2007 (according to The Jockey Club Fact Book, the average field size in the U. S. in 2006 was 8.14 horses):

 Race Meeting
 Santa Anita winter
 Santa Anita (Oak Tree)
 Hollywood Park spring
 Hollywood Park fall
 Del Mar
 Golden Gate Fields
 Bay Meadows
     Those numbers speak for themselves. Gains, not losses.
     Now, here are the average 2007 purse sizes for meetings at noteworthy tracks around the country, with asterisks (*) denoting those with slot machines:
Saratoga $674,788
Belmont Park fall $659,330
Keeneland spring $652,894
Keeneland fall $639,406
Del Mar $539,132
*Woodbine  $506,456
Churchill Downs fall $485,973
Churchill Downs spring $484,550
Belmont Park summer $467,488
Santa Anita winter $459,512
Hollywood Park summer $437,789
Aqueduct winter $432,355
Santa Anita (Oak Tree) $428,895
Hollywood Park fall $398,429
Aqueduct spring $363,634
*Fair Grounds $322,354
*Philadelphia Park $312,223
Arlington Park $277,280
*Delaware Park $260,039
*Delta Downs $227,156
*Louisiana Downs $212,455
Hawthorne Park  $191,366
*Remington Park $185,499
Golden Gate Fields $170,920
*Sunland Park $166,448
Bay Meadows $157,247
*Zia Park $148,893

     Only one of the nine tracks with the largest purse offerings had slot machines. And Del Mar, located in the neighborhood of thriving Indian casinos, ranked third among tracks in the entire nation. Saratoga, No. 1, has a casino nearby. If any tracks would suffer from casinos, it would be Del Mar and Saratoga.
     And where is the track with such large slot-swollen purses that it's likely to be taking horses from California? It's hard to find one, other than the New Mexico tracks that undoubtedly siphon off some lower-level runners from nearby states.
     Is it possible that our leaders are not aware of these numbers? Is it possible that they are?
     Which would be worse?
     Look at all those tracks doing quite well without slot machines, several of them in California. There must be a message there.
     A reasonable conclusion to be drawn from all this is that our leaders should turn their energies toward running their tracks as well as possible and quit trying to sell a proposition that doesn't stand scrutiny--and has little chance of succeeding, anyway.

JANUARY 30, 2008

     A while back, maybe a year, or even two, I got a bright idea: When a horse is disqualified on a drug violation, suspend the horse as well as the trainer.
     I'm not sure where I got that idea. Whether or not I thought of it by myself, it certainly wasn't original, but I liked it. I called a TOC leader for a reaction, and I got it: No! No! No!
     In essence, he said, "Owners have got enough troubles already without having to pay the bills on a horse that isn't allowed to race."
     So, I wrote that idea off as a solid non-starter, but later it got written into the new set of drugging penalties that the CHRB is working on, and I still like the idea. With a penalty like that, you can't tell me that an owner wouldn't put pressure on his trainer not to try any pharmaceutical funny stuff.
     Of course, the owner might have approved, encouraged, or even demanded that the trainer try to get away with breaking the rules. A 30-day suspension, for example, would be just the cost of doing business and might not even disrupt the horse's normal training schedule.
     And now the Ontario Racing Commission has announced that a horse testing positive for a non-therapeutic drug will be suspended for 90 days. Now that would hurt.
     Even better, part of the suspension should be that the horse has to give up his stall during that time and find an off-track home.
     I'm not sure just how the CHRB plans to use the rule permitting suspension of horses, but if they'd follow the Ontario rule of an "automatic 90-day suspension," I'll bet we'd see a substantial drop in violations. 

     Pledges for our California Freshman Sire Contest are trickling in, but they aren't trickling very fast. We need more.

JANUARY 29, 2008

     I think it would be fun to continue our California Freshman Sire Contest, but I don't want to do it unless it can offer a prize of at least $500 to the winner, and we're a long way from reaching that goal.
     If you'd like to play, send me an e-mail saying so. For details on the contest, click here.

JANUARY 28, 2008

     I've been a sports fan since I was 10 years old, so it was natural for me to see the Sunshine Millions as a state-vs.-state competition between California and Florida. I thought it provided a promotional opportunity for filling the gap that makes horse racing a difficult sport to sell to the public: the absence of competition between teams.
     So I got excited, visualizing fans at Santa Anita churning with excitement as the final race neared with the score tied and California horses getting ready to win the points that would bring their team victory.
     I even went to great lengths to lobby for a change in the 5-3-1 scoring system because it led to a bias in favor of Florida. And I urged the Santa Anita publicity people to emphasize the team aspect of the competition.
     But nothing ever came of it, and nobody ever mentioned the team competition. A great opportunity for promoting the sport--wasted.
     Eventually, somebody at Santa Anita gently advised me that nobody but me cared anything about the team thing.
     And so it was, and is. 
     The scoring system stayed the same. Florida kept piling up more points than California. And nobody paid any attention. The Los Angeles Times story on last Saturday's Millions made no mention of the score or alluded to a team competition between states. (The trade publications didn't have just a single story on the Millions, choosing to write about each race separately.)
     It turns out, finally, that it is fortunate that nobody paid any attention to my arguments. California has lost every one of the six Millions, with Saturday's score of 58-14 the most one-sided of all.
     And nobody noticed but me. What a blessing.

JANUARY 27, 2008

     The Sunshine Millions are popular with almost everybody. The purses are huge for races restricted to just two groups of horses--California-breds and Florida-breds--and it's a promotional triumph. There's no reason to think the event isn't here to stay.
     The only loser is the reputation of California-bred racehorses. Collateral damage.
     Saturday's sixth renewal of the Millions resulted in victory for Florida-breds in seven of the eight races and a 58-14 advantage in points scored. Florida has won all six of the competitions, and this was the most one-sided of the six.
     Before this, Florida's biggest edge was 56-16 in the inaugural Millions in 2003, with wins in seven of the eight races, the same as 2008. 
     Those results don't prove that Florida-breds are superior to California-breds. They prove only that the Florida horses that run in the Millions are better on one particular day, but that's enough to make buyers of racing prospects think that if they want some of the Millions purse money, they'd be better off with a Florida-bred.
     Oh, well, the event puts a huge $2,400,000 into purses that wouldn't be there without the Millions--$600,000 each from the two racetracks and the two breeder associations. The rest comes from the tracks' regular purse accounts. For owners and their trainers, it's $2,400,000 of found money, enthusiastically welcomed.
     Anyway, California breeders are so depressed these days that it probably doesn't even bother them that they're giving up $600,000 from their incentive program fund to help provide purses for an event that makes them look as bad as they feel.

JANUARY 26, 2008

     When they've finished mourning the tumble in average at this week's Barretts January mixed sale, California breeders who look below the disheartening surface can find something important and useful.
     The sale average skidded 34.8 percent from that of the same sale a year ago, but that wasn't the important news. The drop in average was a predictable result of the absence from the catalog of any dispersals of quality stock comparable to those offered a year ago.
     When you get past the drop in all the statistical indicators, you find sale prices that might properly be called astonishing.
     For several years, Barretts president Jerry McMahon has urged breeders to bypass yearling sales for most of their foals and sell them as weanlings, January yearlings, or even as unbroken January 2-year-olds.
     That's for the foals who don't belong in the annual October select yearling sale at Barretts and who are not among the very, very few good enough for the highly selective Barretts March 2-year-old sale. 
     All the others--and that's most of the horses produced by California breeders--will have to be sold in some other sale. A close look at the results of this week's sale provides a clear indication of the possibilities.
     For a depressing number of those foals, the best sale is the earliest one, the Barretts October mixed sale, where they can be sold as weanlings. The primary virtue of that sale is that it gives breeders a chance to get those horses off their payroll--to stop costs and minimize loss.
     Many of those horses will have trouble finding a buyer at any price. Nobody wants them, certainly not to race in California. The best move for the breeders of those is to put them in that October sale as weanlings and hope they find a buyer, even if they wind up racing far away with no prospect of ever producing a breeder award.
     Those who are of somewhat better quality but probably won't be select-sale yearlings also are likely to be sold best as weanlings or at least as short yearlings in January. If those sales are missed, the best move may be to skip the non-select yearling sales completely and sell in the 2-year-old section of the Barretts January sale.
    The good news from this week's sale is that those January alternatives certainly are viable.
     Here's the evidence from this week's sale:
     Yearlings--those who had their first birthday on January 1, 2008--sold for an average of $7,514. That would be a respectable average for many non-select yearling sales. But that isn't the good news. The good news is that some of them sold for hugeprices: $70,000, $50,000, $47,000, $40,000, $23,000, $20,000, $20,000, $20,000, and 15 others for $10,000 or more.
     That's from 97 that were sold. There were plenty who sold poorly (the poor will always be with us), but the important thing is that there was significant money there for yearlings with at least some claim to quality.
     Two-year-olds--most of them unbroken and none of them far enough in training to work seriously for buyers--sold for an average of $7,306. Their prices included these: $40,000, $35,000, $32,000, $30,000, $22,000, $22,000, $20,000, $20,000, and 10 others for $10,000 or more.
     Those are the best prices among the 71 that sold. Again, there were plenty that sold badly--or didn't sell at all--but there were clearly buyers there for horses that they thought were okay.
     The message this sale sends to breeders is that their foals can be sold well outside of select sales. They just have to look in the right places.

JANUARY 25, 2008

     We don't have enough entries yet, but they're starting to come in. Actually, they're pledges, not entries, since we won't ask for entries until we're sure there will be enough to make the contest go.
     I'm referring to our proposed 2008 California Freshman Sire Contest, which will be held under considerably different rules this year--if it's held at all. See the Notebook entry below for details.
     One of the early pledgers is Larry Stevens of Kennewick, Wash., who is the defending champion. He'll be risking not only his reputation as an expert but $25 of his own money. I haven't heard from any of the earlier winners.
     As explained below, the prize will be all the entry fees plus $100 added by management, but there'll be even more in the pot.
     Without being asked, Doug Burge, the CTBA's general manager, has added a year's subscription to California Thoroughbred, a $45 value. CTBA membership includes such a subscription, so if the winner is a CTBA member, Burge says some other something will be substituted.
     I hadn't thought that anybody would want to contribute to the basket of prizes, but anything of value that you want to offer would be welcome. Make no mistake, it would not be a charitable contribution and would not be tax deductible. But it would gain the contributor vast amounts of respect and admiration.
     Anyway, we have to have enough pledges to make it all worthwhile or there won't be any distribution of prizes and we'll get to keep our $100. But it would be more fun to have the contest, and I'd enjoy writing a check to the winner.
     So step up, pledge, enter, and look forward to winning worldwide acclaim and enough prize money to . . . do something.

JANUARY 24, 2008

     With our newsletter discontinued and therefore unavailable as a prize for the winner of our annual California Freshman Sire Contest, I'm having to rethink the whole project for 2008.
     The best idea that comes to me is to get serious and offer a prize that is worth winning.
     Here's my idea: Players pay an entry fee of $25, I add $100 of my own, and the whole pot goes to the winner.
     There are some decent-looking sire prospects with their first crops racing this year to make it competitive, including Cat Dreams, Cayoke (Fr), Defy Logic, Fullbridled, Jackpot, Lasersport, Marino Marini, Momentum, Popular, Sky Terrace, Spinelessjellyfish, and Suances (GB). Or any other first-year sires who stood in California in 2006 and are still here.
     All you have to do is pick the top three, in order, based on total 2008 progeny earnings. Whoever comes closest to the final sire standings is the winner. I'll explain the scoring system for the contest later.
     If you want to enter, send me an e-mail saying so. But don't send any money yet. If enough people say they'll enter, I'll tell you and you can send the $25 then. (You can file as many entries as you want if you send $25 with each.) And don't send your selections yet. Just tell me whether you want to enter.
     I can't say how many entries will be necessary, but I'll know it when I see it. It will have to be enough to make a worthwhile prize for the winner.
     I'm getting a late start with this, so respond soon if you want to play. Entries will close the moment the gate opens for Santa Anita's first 2-year-old race.

JANUARY 22, 2008

     I've had--and still have--doubts about the Sunshine Millions series, because the scoring is set up in such a way that Florida will always have an advantage over California.
     I'd hoped that system would be changed, but it's going to continue in the same way this Saturday, when California-breds will once more try to beat their Florida-bred rivals.
     Putting it as briefly as I can, the system favors Florida because many Florida-breds are based in California and few, if any, California-breds are based in Florida. So fewer Florida horses have to ship 3,000 miles to race, giving Florida a permanent advantage in the scoring, which gives points to the first three finishers in each race--five for first, three for second, and one for third.
     However that may be, prominent trainer Bob Baffert has stated the case for the Millions in a way that surely delights the CTBA, which has been a strong backer of the Millions since its start, in spite of having lost all five of the competitions that have been held.
     On the "Stable Notes" page of the Santa Anita website, this Baffert quote regarding the Millions appears:

     It's very big; it's huge. Not only does it expose California racing more to East Coast trainers, it also puts more value on Cal-breds and Florida-breds, because I know when I go to sales, I look for horses I can run in the Sunshine Millions. It's an event that gives you more options for a horse.

     Well, actually, he didn't say he'd rather have a California-bred than a Florida-bred, but maybe it's good enough for him to want to buy something other than a Kentucky-bred.
     And he didn't say he wanted to buy just any old Cal-bred or Florida-bred. He wants a horse that can win those races, and that could lead us to the question of whether the California-bred incentive program should be revised to reward quality more than it does now.
     But I'm sort of tired of fighting that battle and having a CTBA director tell me that the present system does reward quality, because the horse that wins a breeder award for running third in a $1,500 claimer at Ferndale was of higher quality than the horse that ran fourth.
     That kind of thinking pretty much stifles any rational evaluation of the program.

JANUARY 20, 2008

     I respect Thoroughbred Owners of California more than I respect any other industry organization. I think they're always looking for ways to benefit the Thoroughbred industry, and when they locate those ways, they take action.
     But their recommendations for removing bad behavior from auction sales, announced Friday, contain one muddleheaded, impractical, and potentially destructive idea.
     I'm talking about the section headed, "Licensing of Bloodstock Consignors and Agents."
     First of all, the idea of requiring everyone who consigns a horse to a sale to get a license from the State of California comes from so far beyond the real world that it's hard to comprehend.
     TOC doesn't define "consignor," but that usually means someone who enters a horse in a sale. If TOC means only the person who physically controls a horse at a sale, presenting it to potential buyers and delivering it to the sale ring, it should say that's what it means.
     If it means the owner of the horse, even one who never sets foot on the sale grounds, it should say so. That is so foolish an idea that we have to assume that TOC surely didn't mean that.
     Either way, the term can't be translated into action without being defined.
     But whatever the definition, it's an impractical idea. Assuming that TOC doesn't mean that a guy living in Dubai who wants his California horse sold at Barretts has to get a license to do it, we're left with the person caring for the horse at the sale.
     That consignor usually is a professional agent who does that kind of thing for a living, but it often is the farm at which the horse has been boarded and occasionally just a friend of the owner. Sometimes it's the trainer of the horse. Will all those people have to get agent's licenses?
     But what is this problem that requiring a license is supposed to solve?
     If it's prohibited medications or failure to make required disclosures, they're taken care of by the sale company's policies permitting buyers to return horses when rules are violated.
     If it's false representations by consignors to buyers, that's something that should be prohibited. But when did that get to be a problem of such magnitude that action is required? There probably have been cases in which a buyer felt defrauded by something a consignor told him about a horse, but they are so rare that I've never heard anyone say it was a problem.
     The problem with agents that needs correction is that some people advising buyers secretly take bribes from sellers in exchange for dishonestly recommending purchases and prices.
     In such cases, the owner of the horse or his representative has to be part of the conspiracy, agreeing to pay the bribe to the dishonest advisor. But the advisor is the proper target of any corrective action; he is the key player. Without proof of improper behavior by the advisor, a guilty consignor can't be identified.
     So what's the point of requiring a license for consignors?
     As the TOC press release notes, there's already a CHRB rule requiring licensing of agents, but it applies only to the buying or selling by an agent of "any race horse not his own which is eligible to race at an authorized race meeting in this State." Most horses in sales aren't racehorses, so the present rule has only a limited effect on agent behavior at auctions--if anyone pays attention to that rule at all.
     That rule was created to combat fraud in backstretch transactions, not behavior at public auction.
     The proper target for TOC is the advisor, but requiring a license does nothing to solve the problem, which is, after all, fraud. If evidence of fraud is found, a guilty consignor will be exposed to prosecution along with the advisor, whether he has a license or not.
     The first problem with the idea is practicality. All sorts of people give advice to buyers, many of them not professionals at all. Just friends, maybe. Is a friend supposed to get a license before he can tell his buddy that he ought to buy that nice filly they saw in the walking ring?
     So who's going to be required to get the license?
     The second problem is the negative effect of licensing. How will eligibility be determined, since what's being attacked is dishonesty? The granting of a license therefore becomes a certification of honesty by the State of California.
     The result of that would be that low-profile crooks who may not have had access to buyers would be able to represent themselves as agents licensed by the State of California. A buyer might reasonably take that as assurance that the licensed crook is both competent and honest.
     The State of California, at the insistence of TOC, would then be in the position of facilitating fraud.
     Since it's impossible to control who advises whom and impossible to deny licenses to every potential swindler, what is the point of requiring a license?
     The only reason would be to have a weapon to discourage fraud. Commit fraud and lose your license! Crooks shiver in fright!
     In order to revoke a license because of fraudulent action, the CHRB would have to have proof that fraud was committed and that the licensee was the perpetrator. In that case, the proper action of the CHRB would be to turn its evidence over to the district attorney for a felony prosecution for fraud.
     That's the goal: Punish swindlers by sending them to prison. It has nothing to do with licenses. Requiring such licenses would cause great inconvenience to innocent members of the Thoroughbred industry along with inadvertently certifying potential swindlers--and accomplish nothing desirable.
     This is one of TOC's few really bad ideas.

JANUARY 19, 2008

     A while back I noted that jockeys were agitating for their share of the purse in cases where horses were disqualified for doping violations and the purses ordered redistributed.
     In such cases, the horse's owner loses the purse and the trainer loses his commission. No problem with that. But jockeys contend that since they did their job in such cases and had nothing to do with the doping, they ought to get their commission anyway. (This isn't the regular jockey fee, which is deducted from the owner's account and the rider gets no matter what the outcome of the race.)
     But since the jockey commission ordinarily come out of the purse won by the owner, what happens when the purse is taken away and there's no purse for the jockey's share to come out of?
     The CHRB now has a rule in place that almost takes care of the problem. Here's the text of that rule:

     Upon the disqualification of a horse pursuant to these regulations, any purse, prize, award, or record for that race shall be forfeited. However, the board, including its hearing officers and stewards, shall have the authority to order, in the interests of justice, that a jockey be permitted to keep his or her share of the purse, prize, or award for that race upon a finding that a person, other than the jockey, willfully, and with flagrant disregard for recommended veterinary practice and the regulations of the board, administered the prohibited substance. Such an order may provide that the jockey's share of the purse, prize, or award shall be paid by the person or persons determined to be responsible for willfully administering the prohibited substance.

     But the joker in this deck is the word "willfully" there in the final sentence. Exactly how do you define "willfully" in this context? It must mean what it says, that somebody meant to do it. 
     So how's a jockey to get his money? Presumably, the stewards would order payment when they order the purse redistributed, but they haven't done that. Once they fine and/or suspend somebody for the violation that led to the loss of the purse, you'd think that would answer the "willful" question. The jockey's next move, I guess, would be to ask the stewards to order payment, but it appears that hasn't happened.
     I asked several people who ought to know and could find nobody who has heard of a case in which a jockey has gotten that money. Up to now, the jockey is just collateral damage.
     I'll find out more and report.

JANUARY 13, 2008

     I have watched, with a mixture of satisfaction and apprehension, the successful battle to shut down the slaughter of horses in this country.
     Like almost everybody, I don't think horses should be disposed of in bloody slaughterhouses. That may be okay for cattle, pigs, and whatever other animals that we serve for dinner, but horses are different. There's a majesty in horses that touches the soul. I'm not anti-cow or anti-pig, but I just can't feel the same about them.
     In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that when I was in college--the starving student, you know--I frequently dined on horsemeat filets, available at the local pet-food store for just 29 cents a pound ("inspected for human consumption," the sign said). But that was before I became involved with horses and got to know them for the marvelous, feeling creatures that they are.
     So I'm now I'm emotionally opposed to the slaughter of horses, but I'm deeply concerned about the consequences of stopping that slaughter.
     I'm told that thousands of horses used to be slaughtered every year. I don't know how many there were, but I do know that horses that have avoided slaughter have remained alive and need to be cared for.
     But if anybody had wanted to care for them, they wouldn't have wound up in the slaughterhouse. So what happens to those horses now? Does compassion end with the closing of slaughterhouses? Have the people who wanted to stop the slaughter provided a home for the rescued horses?
     Well, no. What happens to those horses now? There are retirement facilities, but there aren't nearly enough of them and none of them have nearly enough money to care for all the homeless horses.
     This may stimulate some scornful letters, but I have to believe that if no care is provided for those horses, they were better off being put to death. 
     I've been troubled by this ever since the anti-slaughter movement started to achieve success, and I haven't heard of anyone's coming up with an answer. Stopping slaughter solves one problem and creates another that is just as serious.
     Solving the first problem and walking away feeling virtuous without solving the second is, at the very least, irresponsible. The solutions to both problems should have come as a package: stopping slaughter and providing for the care of the survivors, both at the same time.
     What prompted this outburst was a story a few days ago in the New York Times. Read it and see if you still feel good about closing those slaughterhouses.

JANUARY 6, 2008

     The greatest nightmare of any sales company is probably to have a major buyer default--fail to pay. Almost all buyers who spend any substantial amount of money don't pay on the spot; they have established credit and pay after they're billed.
     Now and then, they are billed and don't pay. That happened a few years ago at the Del Mar yearling sale and after that at the Washington yearling sale. About all that can be done in those cases is to resell the horses and bill the defaulting buyer for any loss.
     The Barretts announcement of a few days ago that eight horses from last October's yearling sale would be resold in this month's mixed sale is the latest occurrence of the dreaded default. Tickets for those eight were signed by Stacye Jason, Inc. I'd never heard of Stacye Jason, and a Google search produced several Jason Stacys but no Stacye Jason.
     I asked Barretts if they could tell me anything about her (him?), but they said their attorneys had told them to say nothing. Attorneys will do that.
     Stacye Jason was listed in the sale results as the buyer for eight horses at a total value of $132,500. Here they are, with last October's consignors and the final bids:

35......b.c., Milwaukee Brew - Daybydaybyday. Madera Thoroughbreds LLC
           $24,000., Decarchy - Iknowalittlegirl. Sam Hendricks, agent. $8,500., Birdonthewire - Inuendo. Madera Thoroughbreds LLC. $14,000., Benchmark - My Annie T. Yakutis Enterprises, LLC,
            agent. $15,000., Tribal Rule - Olive the Twist. Sam Hendricks, agent. $15,000., Siphon (BRZ) - Possuletta Sue. Mary Knight, agent. 
           $15,000., Tribal Rule - Tantalizing. B.C.3. Thoroughbreds, agent for
            Brian Petersen. $26,000., Benchmark - Tough Berta. Havens Bloodstock Agency, 
            agent. $15,000.

     That's $132,500, not an amount that Barretts would shrug off as just the cost of doing business and move on. They took back the horses and set about cutting their losses.
     We'll probably never know the story behind this episode. If Stacye Jason was an agent representing a buyer who wouldn't or couldn't pay, the nightmare wasn't just the sale company's. In such cases, the agent had better have filed an agent authorization with the sale company making clear that somebody else was responsible for paying. Without that, the agent is responsible for paying.
     Barretts went ahead and paid the October consignors with the company's own money, the honorable thing to do, though they weren't obligated to do it. In fact, they are emphatically not obligated to do it. The entry form that consignors sign has this passage, IN CAPITAL LETTERS, explaining that Barretts will pay consignors no later than 60 days after the sale if the buyer isn't in default, but "SHOULD BUYER . . . BE IN DEFAULT, BARRETTS IS NOT OBLIGATED TO REMIT ANY PROCEEDS OF SALE UNTIL . . .  BUYER HAS FULLY PAID."
     Okay. Okay. We get the message. But, being a responsible member of the Thoroughbred community (and needing to retain the confidence of consignors), Barretts went ahead and paid, even though they were clearly NOT OBLIGATED TO DO SO.

JANUARY 5, 2008

     As promised, I called Windfall Farms first thing Friday morning, and I found out what's going on. Or at least I was told something that sounds believable to me.
     I put that information in a Newsdesk story that I posted soon after, so I won't write it again here. You'll find it at The Newsdesk.
     I don't know what the long-term fate of the farm will be (development, I fear), but it appears that it will survive for a while longer.

JANUARY 4, 2008

     It appears that Windfall Farms is closing. Another chapter in the troubled history of California's most elaborate Thoroughbred showplace.
     There hasn't been any announcement about a closing, but I received an e-mail from the owner of Muqtarib late Thursday afternoon with this terse message: "Due to the closure of Windfall Farms we have had to relocate Muqtarib to Victory Rose Farm. He will be standing for the same fee."
     I was advised because Muqtarib has a website in the Showcase and I needed to update it, which I did.
     I got the e-mail too late in the day for me to call Windfall. I'll do that tomorrow, but I'm not sure I'll find out anything. I've called them numerous times over the past few weeks to find out what stallions they'd be standing in 2008 and nobody ever returned my calls, though I left many messages.
     Anyway, I'll try again tomorrow. I should be able to find out something. If anybody answers the phone.
     I was tipped more than a week ago that Crafty C. T. would be moving to Victory Rose, but I waited for someone to make an official announcement. It hasn't come yet, but I checked with Ellen Jackson, Victory Rose's owner-manager, and she assures me that he is there.
     Iron Cat was moved a couple of months ago to Eagle Oak Ranch. I don't know where Helmsman, Reba's Gold, and Siberian Summer will go. Or have gone.
     For background on Windfall Farms, you can click here for my earlier comments on their situation. Scroll down to the August 11 entry. I was told at that time that I was being misled, but I think that wasn't the case. I think that at that time they thought they could make a go of it.
     It looks like they couldn't.
     If Windfall shuts down, will the property be developed and that beautiful facility destroyed? 
     I sure hope not.

JANUARY 2, 2008

     The year has ended, and we have a winner in our annual California Freshman Sire Contest.
     Or maybe winners.
     I promised the winner a dual prize: a one-year subscription to The T I A Newsletter and worldwide fame. Well, the newsletter has been discontinued, so all that remains is worldwide fame. But isn't that everybody's goal these days?
     It turned out to be a photo finish among three competitors, and I've had to use an unannounced tiebreaker to pick a winner: Larry Stevens, a long-time farm manager now living in Kennewick, Wash.
     He correctly picked Decarchy as California's 2007 freshman sire champion and put Capsized second and Freespool third on his ballot. Capsized finished third and Freespool far back in earnings.
     But our rules said that picking the winner was worth five points, second place three points, and third place one point, but you had to pick them in the right order. Picking third-place Capsized for second produced no points.
     So Stevens had the same number of points as Wayne Atwell of Dublin and John Harris of Coalinga, who both picked Decarchy, Freespool, and Avanzado (Arg), in that order. Five points for each. Nobody else picked Decarchy to win.
     Since there's no prize to be awarded, I could have called it a three-way tie, but I think Larry should get some credit for putting Capsized on his ballot. So I retroactively installed a tie-breaking rule, awarding the title based on the earnings of runners by the second and third choices on the ballots.
     Capsized's total was $125,921, Avanzado's $59,237. and Freespool's $48,777. That gives Larry's pair $174,698 and John's and Wayne's $108,014.
     Case closed.
     If we do this again, I think it ought to be for money. Forget fame. So I'm going to try to devise a plan, and if you have any ideas, tell me. 
     In the meantime, I declare Larry Stevens, Wayne Atwell, and John Harris all to be World Famous.

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