Archives for June 2011

IS THE BELMONT STAKES STILL “THE TEST OF CHAMPIONS”?

The Belmont Stakes is known as the “test of champions” because of its 1 ½ mile distance. This was once true but may no longer be so.

A mile and a half is the classic distance in Europe and the ability of a racehorse to stay this route is considered a mark of high distinction. Unfortunately, North America has long since deemphasized distance races and the neglect has been costly.

The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities recently released The World Thoroughbred Rankings for the period December 1, 2010 through May 23, 2011. Not a single racehorse from the United States is in the top ten rankings and only two American racehorses are in the top 20 rankings. Of the 37 racehorses ranked, United States-based racehorses account for eight of the 37 or 21.6%. Animal Kingdom was the best American placing at number 13.

Absent some controlled experiment, it is not possible to say with certainty why American racehorses fare so poorly in the top-10 ranks. Following, however, are some plausible reasons.

First, for approximately the past 30 years, racing interests outside the United States have purchased many of the best-bred American yearlings and in particular the sons of Northern Dancer. Coolmore Stud and Darley were the major buyers. Now these bloodlines are represented by the premier stallions in Europe and Australia. Notably, Galileo and Montjeu are both sons of the Northern Dancer sired Sadler’s Wells. Galileo is the sire of the brilliant 3-year-old Frankel.

Second, owners and trainers in the United States look for precocious yearlings and two-year-olds and seek conformation and breeding that is suited to the shorter races carded in the United States and Canada. The vast majority of the three-year olds that contest the Belmont Stakes will never again run a race of a 1 ½ mile distance. In fact, the vast majority of North American racehorses will never run a race at 1 ¼ miles.

Third, the relatively permissive drug policy in North America arguably has led to racehorses that don’t have the stamina and durability of stock from countries with a much more restrictive drug policy. Racehorses in North America breed on their traits to the next generations and if the breeding stock has genetic deficiencies, generally so will the progeny.

Fourth, trainers from Europe, Australia, and several other locations may generally be more proficient than their North American counterparts in readying horses for classic distances. The reason is straightforward—these foreign-based trainers have more practice because there are many more long-distance races carded at their nations’ race tracks.

A step in the right direction is to ban race-day medication. In several generations, the result could be be a sturdier American racehorse, although the result wouldn’t be known until after it is tried.

Further,  it may again be time to import more stallions (and mares) to improve the American racehorse. For instance, Animal Kingdom is a result of foreign breeding, with his sire coming from Brazil and his dam from Germany; he is ostensibly bred for the turf, but excels on dirt. The great racehorse breeder A. B. “Bull” Hancock imported stallions from Europe and that had a profound effect on American bloodstock and elevated the overall quality.

The question that comes to mind with the Belmont Stakes in the limelight is whether this race really is “the test of champions” or whether the true champions tend to reside in Europe, Australia, South Africa, and elsewhere?

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business

Click here to see the International Horseracing Authorities complete ranking of the world’s best Thoroughbred racehorses.

 

WHICH TRIPLE CROWN IS MORE DIFFICULT TO WIN?

Winning the American Triple Crown of horse racing is sometimes referred to as one of the most difficult feats in sports. The facts bear out this assertion. But is the task as hard to achieve as winning the English Triple Crown? While there has been an American Triple Crown winner 11.8 percent of the time–beginning with Sir Barton’s inaugural win in 1919–the English Triple Crown has been won in just 9.4 percent of the years since its inaugural in 1853.

Ten additional colts have replicated Sir Barton’s sweep of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. Affirmed was the last to do so, in 1978. In the 1970s, winning the American Triple Crown looked as though it might be too easy, as there were champions in 1973, 1977, and 1978.

The first winner of the English Triple Crown was named West Australian. The last winner was Nijinsky in 1970, so it has been 41 years since there was an English Triple Crown winner. Before 1970, there had not been a winner since Bahram in 1935.

In the 159 years of the English Triple Crown, only 15 colts have swept the three races: the 1 mile 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in late April or early May; the 1 1/2 mile plus 10 yards Epsom Derby at Epsom Downs in June; and the 1 3/4 mile plus 132 yards St. Leger at Doncaster in September. Moreover, there won’t be a winner again this year because the sensational Frankel, who won the 2000 Guineas, is not contesting the Epsom Derby.

The only colts to win both the 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby since 1989 were Nashwan and Sea the Stars. No winner of the Epsom Derby has even been entered in the St. Leger since 1987. By contrast, in the 33 Triple Crown seasons after Affirmed won the American Triple Crown, eleven colts have won the first two jewels only to come up short in the Belmont.

The conditioning obstacle to winning the American Triple Crown is keeping a colt fit over a period of five weeks. Albeit the English Triple Crown is spread out over nearly five months, which allows for sufficient rest between races, the second and third jewels are contested at distances of over 1 ½ miles and 1 ¾ miles, respectively.

American winners of both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness have often faltered at the 1 ½ mile Belmont distance, but at least they failed while trying. European trainers have frequently not given their charges a chance to run in all three races of the English Triple Crown, evidently particularly fearful of their colts’ stamina to stay the 1 ¾ mile-plus distance of the St. Leger.

In the case of the American Triple Crown, the major reason there has not been a winner in 33 years is that the Belmont distance has taken its toll. In the case of the English Triple Crown, the main reason there has not been a winner in 41 years is that some talented colts like Sea the Stars have not been able to show what they could do at the St. Leger distance of 14 furlongs plus 132 yards.

Which Triple Crown is more difficult to accomplish is arguable. However, if the past is prologue, odds are that there will be a twelfth winner of the American Triple Crown before there is a sixteenth winner of the English Triple Crown.

Copyright © 2011 Horse Racing Business