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From The Horse's Mouth

This section of the website features observations about the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry written by Thoroughbred Information Agency (TIA) and President Lisa Groothedde and Vice President Rudi Groothedde. 

Blog entries dated prior to November 1, 2008 were written by TIA founder and former owner Don Engel, who established this website in 1997.

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AUGUST 9, 2008

     Tranquility Farm's Priscilla Clark is still trying to straighten out the mess in Arizona. She's making some progress, she reports, but the knot is hard to untie.
     She also sent this note: "I will be interviewed regarding the situation in AZ and CA Penal Code Section 598c, Horse Slaughter Prohibition, and how it pertains to conduct in racing. It will be on HRTV Sunday morning at 9:45."

AUGUST 7, 2008

     There's an update on the Arizona horse situation on the Tranquility Farm website. It appears that the problem is almost under control, but it won't be completely okay without more help.

AUGUST 6, 2008

     The campaign to rescue those unfortunate horses in Arizona is continuing, with considerable success, but your help is still needed. See the August 4 entry below to learn how to give it.
     Tranquility Farm president Priscilla Clark, who's quarterbacking the effort, says she'll post a list of the horses on the Tranquility website as soon as she can. You can check there periodically to look for it.

AUGUST 5, 2008

     For the latest on the horses-in-peril story described in yesterday's Notebook, click here.

AUGUST 4, 2008

     The war to save retired horses from slaughter or lives of degradation never ends.
     The latest battle in that war has broken out in defense of a group of 46 horses shipped from California into a threatening situation in Arizona. Before I go on, click here and read The Blood-Horse story that explains the situation. It's an ugly tale, and its finish is still to be determined.
     Priscilla Clark, California's most prominent defender of imperiled Thoroughbreds, is leading the fight to save these horses, and she's already making progress, but she needs your help. 
     More accurately, the horses need your help.
     Clark, president of Tranquility Farms, a horse rescue/rehabilitation/retraining facility located near the mountain community of Tehachapi, is spearheading an all-out effort to wrest them from their present precarious position and find homes for them.
     Let her speak for herself:
     "A rescue is under way for 40 pregnant broodmares and the stallions Seattle Bound, Dante's Inferno, Mr. Bolg, Kris Kross, Major Moment and Dynamite Vision. The horses, originating from Warren's Thoroughbreds in Hemet, are currently at a lot of a livestock dealer in Phoenix, AZ, and may be at immediate risk of shipment to slaughter if buyers are not quickly found. 
     "The horses are at the feed lot of a horse dealer/killer buyer in Phoenix. He will sell to private parties, but also ships directly to Mexico, according to local sources. 
     "We have been told that the papers are with the mares, and we should know on Tuesday, when we have someone meeting with the dealer, the names and ages of the mares. I won't know until then if the foal certificates accompany the papers. That will make a big difference. Anyway, we can perhaps make sort of a catalog of mares available and put that up as well. 
     "This is such a nightmare. I raised over $4,000 yesterday so people are stepping up to help. 
     "A listing of the mares and who they are in foal to should be available from Tranquility Farm on Tuesday, August 5. People interested in purchasing mares may contact Tranquility Farm by e-mail at or by telephoning 661-823-0307. Anyone wishing to donate toward the rescue of  these horses may donate on the home page of
     "We will purchase mares with the donated funds and funds received from people who wish to purchase at least one of the horses. The horses will ship on to their new homes directly from three safe locations where we will be keeping them in the Phoenix area. 
     "The only ones coming here to Tranquility will be horses on their way north, and maybe a few stragglers that need adopting. Tranquility Farm is not funded to take on a bunch of broodmares, so we are finding homes as fast as possible. People are e-mailing and calling in from all over to see about adopting one of the mares, and I have potential homes for three of the stallions. 
     "I'm expediting the rescue and then sending them all over the place to homes. In a small way, this is sort of like General Patton saving the Lippizanner stallions after World War II. "
     You--yes, you--can help, either by sending money or, better yet, by taking one of the horses for your own.
     But soon.
[Kris Kross photo by Deanna Sparks.]

AUGUST 3, 2008

     When I made that list of grim predictions in the July 2 Notebook entry, I thought I was making predictions. You know, about the future. But look at these news reports from the Daily Racing Form, coupled below with the Notebook forecasts:

     Notebook: Fans will drive less frequently and less far to racetracks, and those who do will have less disposable income to wager. . . . Gamblers reluctant to travel will present racetracks with an important new group of potential horseplayers--the stay-at-home bettor.
     Daily Racing Form: Some of the wagering has migrated from ontrack to account wagering services, as bettors stay closer to home to avoid high travel costs, [TOC president Drew] Couto said. To make up that deficit in ontrack business, account wagering handle must increase drastically.

     Notebook: With customers reluctant to drive to remote locations, Indian casinos far from urban centers will lose business, as will Las Vegas, opening an opportunity for racetracks.
     Daily Racing Form: A softening market for leisure is not limited to a popular horse racing venue in San Diego. The Pechanga Resort and Casino in nearby Temecula, a Native American casino, announced in late July that it was laying off 400 employees, or 8 percent of its workforce.

     I thought my predictions were likely to be accurate, but I wasn't ready for them to be accurate so soon. Too soon.

AUGUST 2, 2008

     The California freshman sire race is continuing formfully, with Momentum keeping up his momentum (forgive me, but I just had to do that) with Cat Dreams and Marino Marini holding the second and third places.
     Those rankings haven't changed since July 1, which means that there's still only one of our Freshman Sire Contest entrants with the correct 1-2-3 selections. Two others have Momentum first, Marino Marini second, and Cat Dreams third, which is close, and one other has Cat Dreams, Momentum, and Marino Marini in that order. Nobody else has the top three, in any order.
     (If you don't know who these horses are, you can find the basic facts by clicking here.)
     For the record, here are the earnings of the leaders' runners: Momentum, three winners, $92,340; Cat Dreams, four winners, $68,819; Marino Marini, one winner, $47,160. After them come Popular, one winner, $36,200, and Redattore (Brz), no winners, $12,324.
    Momentum's lead over Cat Dreams is only $23,521, which can be wiped out by the winner's purse in a single race. It's still early. The stretch duel lies ahead.

JULY 30, 2008

     I'd like to take a brief recess from more serious matters to bring up something that has both annoyed and puzzled me for a long time.
     Why is it that things that are obviously bets are passed off as investments? Why does horse racing have to jump through all sorts of hoops when people who gamble on things in the stock-market arena can just call up a broker and place a bet from anywhere? Why does the government have to pass laws to allow interstate betting on horse races when there are no such rules on the gambling that I'm about to tell you about?
     This was brought back to my mind when I chanced upon an investor-advice column in our local newspaper called "The Motley Fool."
     Under the subheading, "Ask the Fool," a reader writes:
     "My dumbest investment, so far, was to buy call options on Chesapeake Energy Back in July 2006. Due to warm weather and record amounts of natural gas inventories, I lost my entire position, worth more than $2,000, waiting for the cold weather that never came. I made the investment because I remembered the year before, when natural gas prices started to go up starting in July. Needless to say, history didn't repeat itself this time. Oh, well."
     Note that he twice refers to his "investment." Did this fool think he was making an investment rather than placing a bet?
     My understanding is that you have to own something for it to be an investment. If you aren't actually buying something, you're betting, not investing. Same as betting on a horse race, where you aren't buying the horse. Nobody calls those bets "investments," except in jest.
     Seems to me that the world would be better off if those "investments" were clearly identified as bets and the participants in the game forced to play by the same rules as racetracks and racehorse investors.
     Or, sadly, is this a case of class discrimination, where the suits who play at that level don't have to follow the same rules as the lowly slobs who bet on the ponies.

JULY 27, 2008

     I've been advised that the CARMA deduction from purses (see July 25 entry below) is 0.003 percent, not 0.004 percent. So the deduction from a $5,000 purse would be $15, not $20.
     But that's not really relevant, because with those owners who don't want to contribute, it isn't the money, it's the principle.

JULY 26, 2008

     Racehorses are considered to be pretty much pampered, but they aren't even in the same pamper class with the ones featured in this article from the New York Times. Take a look.

JULY 24, 2008

     It should have happened years ago--decades ago, really--but California racehorse owners are finally contributing to a fund to pay for the retirement of the horses that have brought them excitement, pleasure, and, in some cases, profit.
     (See yesterday's Special Report for a full explanation.)
     But not all owners are contributing. The retirement plan is funded by a tiny deduction from purses at current meetings, but not all owners are agreeing to those deductions. The plan is optional, and it appears that a sizable number of owners are choosing not to allow those deductions from their purses. (The deductions are four tenths of one percent, which amounts to $20 from a $5,000 purse, for example.)
     There are only two reasons for an owner to refuse to allow those deductions, and both are based on principles.
     The principle most prominently offered is that each owner should take care of the retirement of the horses that he races and should not have to help pay for the retirement of anybody else's.
     I've heard that position stated by more than one prominent owner, and though I respect their experience and knowledge, the principle on which their refusal is based is badly flawed.
     Of course, each owner should take care of his own horses. Unfortunately, most owners don't.
     As far as that goes, there are surely some owners who just can't take on that heavy a burden. If a horse lives only 10 years after retirement and costs only $200 a month--and that's surely a low figure--that would amount to $24,000. Multiply that by whatever number of horses an owner might retire over the years, and you've got a big enough obligation to drive a lot of owners out of the business.
     It certainly would wipe out cheap claiming races. Can you imagine an owner claiming a horse for, say, $5,000, knowing that if the horse breaks down before he can unload him onto another owner, he's going to have to support the horse as long as he lives?
     A few owners have their own farms and would be willing to keep those retirees, but most owners don't have farms.
     Those owners who won't contribute because they believe that every owner should care for his own horses certainly know that every owner is not going to care for his own horses.
     Knowing that, how can they maintain that they're refusing to contribute as a matter of principle? I guess that they'd want to eliminate the police on the same principle: Everyone should be responsible for his own protection. (Hello, NRA!)
     If those people really believe that every owner should care for his own horses, how about this: Pass a law making it a felony for an owner to fail to provide a proper retirement for every racehorse that ran its final race under his ownership.
     If owners should be responsible for the retirement of their own horses, that would make sure that they did. It would, of course, destroy racing.
     It's obvious that the care of those horses is a collective responsibility, and that's just the way it is. Why pretend that it isn't?
     The second reason that owners refuse to contribute is also based on principle. That principle is this: Never pay for anything unless you have to.
     Those are the two principles involved here. I'd be hard pressed to tell you which is less honorable.

JULY 24, 2008

     After all these many, many years, California owners are finally taking responsibility for the care of their retired racehorses. At least some owners are.
     The organization known as CARMA is in operation, and before too long there'll be money to help support the equine warriors who make the entire sport of horse racing possible.
     CARMA is an acronym for California Retirement Management Account, a non-profit entity set up by Thoroughbred Owners of California.
     It's the subject of a Showcase Special Report, "Caring for the Warriors.". Click here to learn all about it.

JULY 19, 2008

     Unsurprisingly, the Windfall Farms public lien sale that was to be held next Monday, July 21, has been postponed. It has been rescheduled for Wednesday, August 20, when it may or may not be held.
     The sale has been scheduled and rescheduled several times--I've lost count of just how many times--because Michael Power, owner of most of the horses involved, keeps getting court orders delaying the sale.
     That's what happened this time, too. I don't know whether this can go on indefinitely or whether there's some kind of limit to the number of times this drill can be repeated, but there's no clear end in sight at this point. 
     If you don't know what this is all about, read the two preceding entries below.

JULY 13, 2008

     I have been mildly scolded by a reader who thinks I should have pointed out in yesterday's Notebook that the public lien sale scheduled by Windfall Farms has been scheduled and canceled/postponed a time or two before. I should have pointed that out, he suggests.
     He's probably right, though my primary subject was the offering of the farm for sale and I didn't want to go into detail on the sale. But, to fill out the record, most of the horses to be offered--including Siberian Summer--are the property of the controversial owner-breeder-critic Michael Power, who has prevented the sale of his horses before and has pledged to do it again.
     So before you go up to Windfall for the sale on July 21, it would be a good idea to check and see whether it's still going to be held.

JULY 12, 2008

     The final chapter appears to be near in the ultimately tragic story of the beautiful Thoroughbred establishment known first as Cardiff Stud Farms, then as Creston Farms, and now, in what evidently is to be its final incarnation, as Windfall Farms.
     The 724-acre showplace located near Paso Robles is being advertised for sale by a realtor at an asking price of $35,000,000. Offered as a "spectacular 724-acre horse farm with one of the finest equestrian facilities in the Western US," its true fate is revealed a few lines later in the flyer advertising the facility: "Windfall Farms sits atop 76 underlying parcels each with Certificates of Compliance and vast development potential."
     Asked for a clarification, a representative of the listing realtor put it unequivocally, saying, "The property is being offered for development. It comes out of the Williamson Act in December, 2012, and at that time the underlying parcels with certificates of compliance will be able to be split out. . . . At the current time, while under the Williamson Act, the property can be split into two 160-acre parcels, nine 40-acre parcels, and one 10-acre parcel with the remaining acreage grouped with any of these individual parcels."
     (The Williamson Act is the popular name for the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, which offers greatly reduced property taxes in exchange for entering into long-term contracts restricting the use of the property to "farming and open space.")
     If the final selling price comes anywhere near the $35,000,000 being asked, it will surely provide a handsome profit for the third owner of the property, a group headed by the Davis family of Paso Robles.
     Opened in 1986 as the magnificent realization of the vision of Santa Clara County horseman/developer Fred Sahadi at a cost of an estimated $18,000,000, the facility flourished for a time as Cardiff Stud Farms. (Sahadi also built the Barretts sale complex at Fairplex Park.)
     But in 1993 the bank that had financed the venture foreclosed and put the property up for sale. Three years later, eager to get the white elephant off its books, the bank sold it to Alex Trebek, host of television's "Jeopardy," for only $4,100,000.
     That must have looked like a great investment to Trebek, who renamed it Creston Farms, but he soon lost interest and the property fell into disrepair.
     In 2005, the Davis group took it off his hands at an undisclosed price. Whatever that price was, it surely was much, much less than $35,000,000.
     The property then was renamed Windfall Farms, but its new owners could never bring their operation into focus and in January they just about shut down, dispersing the farm's stallion tenants and announcing that the farm operations would be limited to breaking and training.
     Whether or not that will continue, the finish line is in sight.
     As a final flourish, Windfall Farms has scheduled a public lien sale on Monday, July 21, of 27 horses owned by five of the farm's clients. The process, colloquially know as a "sheriff's sale," is typically employed to sell horses to settle unpaid board bills.
     The most prominent of the horses listed for sale is the 19-year-old stallion Siberian Summer, sire of 10 stakes winners, including Dream of Summer ($1,191,150) and Summer Wind Dancer ($898,762). He bred 62 mares in 2007 but was not bred at all in 2008, though he was at Windfall Farms this spring.
      All in all, a sad business, and a sad time for the California breeding industry.
      If you want to buy those horses, call (805) 239-0711. If you want to buy the farm, call (805) 543-7727.

JULY 4, 2008

     Time out now from existential problems to take a look at the half-year shape of our Freshman Sire Contest.
     Counting racing through July 2, the leader is Momentum, with Cat Dreams second, and Marino Marini third. Just one of our contestants has the top three in that order; seven others have the top three in some other order.
     Momentum had six starters, three winners, and $92,340 in earnings. Cat Dream had seven starters, three winners, and $64,214 in earnings. Marino Marini had two starters, no winners, and $15,360 in earnings.
     Redattore (Brz), with two starters, no winners, and $7,440 in earnings, was fourth. He's off to a great start in Brazil, where his first crop is six months older, but by agreement of our contestants they won't be counted.
     There's still a long way to go, but up to now the most popular choices are up near the top. The winner of this year's contest will get a prize of $500, unless it has to be split with others who had identical choices. We've got enough tie-breakers in place to make a tie pretty unlikely.
     (I hope I used "existential" correctly. I've waited decades to decide what it means, and I'm trying it out for the first time.)

JULY 3, 2008

     I've had several responses to yesterday's apocalyptic predictions, and for some reason none of the writers want me to post their letters. Unfortunately, all but one agreed with me. I'd hoped that someone would explain to me how I was wrong.
     The one dissenter didn't disagree with my predictions but said that I shouldn't have focused solely on the effects of oil prices and should also have listed the other things that are threatening our industry as well.
     He's right. I should have have concluded with something like this: "All this in addition to all the others problems that the industry has already been facing."
     Somehow it doesn't make me feel a bit better to be reminded that we were in trouble even before oil prices went crazy.

JULY 2, 2008

     No one appears to have noticed, but the sport of Thoroughbred racing is heading inexorably into the most perilous time it has faced since World War II, when the federal government shut down all the tracks.
     The potentially lethal force creating the threat is the high price of oil, and the consensus of experts is that it will go higher--perhaps much higher--before it levels off.
     Already high fuel prices are stripping money from everyone who drives a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle as well as burdening businesses with crippling increases in costs. The only thing that can change that situation is the development of some lower-cost replacement fuel, and that is nowhere in sight.
     Profound changes are coming to the Thoroughbred industry, and it may not survive.
     I'm not capable of organizing all the elements of the situation into a coherent presentation. I can only offer observations, predictions, and an occasional suggestion, as follows:
The price of feed will continue to rise, forcing increases in trainers' day charges and farm boarding rates.
The cost of shipping horses will continue to rise, reducing the movement of racehorses from track to track and of broodmares from farm to farm.
Fans will drive less frequently and less far to racetracks, and those who do will have less disposable income to wager.
Reduced income will drive small-business owners, a major segment of breeders and racehorse owners, from the game.
Higher costs and the reduction in the broodmare population will force many public breeding/boarding farms to close.
With few exceptions, only upper-income people will breed and/or own racehorses. 
Weighing operating costs against potential revenue, the remaining breeders and racehorse owners will seek higher-quality stock. Lower-quality stallions and broodmares will be forced out of production.
With fewer owners racing fewer horses, racetracks will have difficulty filling enough races to present programs.
With the cost of transporting broodmares at oppressive levels, The Jockey Club will come under great pressure to legalize artificial insemination, with semen rather than mares shipped.
Shipping horses by rail, a practice that was common even into the 1960's, will again become attractive, even for top-quality horses. 
With customers reluctant to drive to remote locations, Indian casinos far from urban centers will lose business, as will Las Vegas, opening an opportunity for racetracks.
Gamblers reluctant to travel will present racetracks with an important new group of potential horseplayers--the stay-at-home bettor. Simplified forms of Advance Deposit Wagering could attract those gamblers, helping make up for the loss of on-track business.
Many racetracks will close, especially those located significant distances from urban centers. 
Racetracks located near public transportation will have a better chance of survival. Tracks may choose to offer shuttle service to and from stations.
     Summarizing: If racing survives at all, it may well again be as the Sport of Kings, with only the wealthy able to participate as owners and breeders.
     This isn't fantasy.
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Read Don Engel's blog entries dated prior to July 2008