Archives for April 2012


The strangely named Cicada (born 1959), owned by Meadow Stable, and trained by J. H. “Casey” Hayes, is one of the greatest fillies in the annals of racing and a blueblood of bluebloods. Her dam, Satsuma, was out of Hildene (by 1926 Kentucky Derby winner Bubbling Over), who was a prolific producer of quality offspring (a “blue-hen” mare) and the first horse acquired by Christopher T. Chenery (Meadow Stable).

Yet Cicada was not the best horse ever bred by Chenery, as that honor goes to Secretariat.

By today’s standards, Cicada’s number of starts is remarkable. She raced throughout 1961 and 1962, six months in 1963, and had one start in 1964. Incredibly, she started 16 times as a 2-year-old and 17 times as a 3-year-old. Her lifetime record was 42 starts (23 wins, 8 seconds, and 6 thirds) and $783,674 in earnings (equivalent to about $5.8 million in 2012).

Cicada won the 1962 Kentucky Oaks by three lengths on a sloppy track with Bill Shoemaker up. The Daily Racing Form described her win as “Easily.”

Cicada is a historical example of “What might have been.” She had finished second by a nose to Ridan in the Florida Derby and handily won the Oaks Prep one week before the Kentucky Derby. These sensational preps stirred talk of bringing her back in the Kentucky Derby.

However, her stablemate was Sir Gaylord, the older half-brother to Secretariat and the hands-down favorite to win the Kentucky Derby. In a heart-breaking development, Sir Gaylord suffered a career-ending injury in a morning workout on the Friday before the Kentucky Derby (Kentucky Oaks day). Although Cicada was entered in both the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby, her connections had only hours to make a decision and opted for the Oaks later on Friday.

After the Kentucky Oaks, Cicada contested the Triple Crown for fillies, coming up short in the Coaching Club American Oaks after winning the Acorn and the Mother Goose. Her only bad race in the remainder of 1962 was in the Travers, where she ran seventh. The race winner was Jaipur, who prevailed by a nose over Ridan in a memorable finish.

It is hard to imagine that Cicada’s long string of performances in so many graded stakes, against both colts and fillies, will be rivaled by fillies and mares of the present or future. (Zenyatta comes closest, though she ran in fewer than half the races as Cicada.) Cicada was champion filly in 1961, 1962, and 1963. She is ranked 62nd on the Blood-Horse’s list of the top 100 racehorses of the 20th century.

Cicada was retired after one race in 1964, in which she incurred a minor injury. Her stint as a broodmare did not live up to expectations. She died in 1981 at age 22.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business


A March 27 New York Times editorial titled “Horses to the Slaughter” labeled horse racing in the United States a “disreputable industry.” The Merriam-Webster dictionary’s synonyms for the word disreputable include disgraceful, dishonorable, ignominious, and infamous.

The harsh Times characterization does not comport with the sterling reputation and international acclaim for many of the people involved in the industry as racehorse owners, now and in the past. A lengthy list of their names would reveal individuals who have, for instance, distinguished themselves as entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, philanthropists, entertainment and sports celebrities, military combatants, media titans, U. S. cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, state governors, ambassadors, physicians, lawyers, professors, and board members at major companies and universities.

Moreover, some of the great American museums and conservatories, medical facilities, and wilderness areas are named for individuals and families prominent in horse racing. Two of the museums, the Guggenheim and Whitney, are located not far from the New York Times Building.

Itemizing the philanthropic and charitable contributions of horse-racing owners would be a monumental task. This honor roll would encompass a sweeping range of activities, from assisting U. S. military combatants wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan to presiding as president of the Metropolitan Opera Association.

To be sure, American horse racing has its problems and rogue actors, as does any industry, individual business, philanthropic organization, government institution, or religion. To illustrate, the Times itself was once embarrassed by a reporter in its employ who fabricated important stories, which the newspaper then published as factual. One should not equate having such struggles with being ignominious.

The Times has highlighted issues about horse racing that need to be addressed in the way of reform. But to paint an entire industry—and by extension, the vast majority of the people in it—as disreputable is patently inaccurate and despicable.

The supreme question that springs to mind is why so many prominent and successful people, from a wide cross-section of American life, would associate themselves with an alleged “disreputable industry?” The answer is self-evident.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business

Originally published in the Blood-Horse. Used with permission.


In 1897, a University of Georgia fullback was killed playing football. By 1905, the sport had gotten so rough that there were 18 deaths in that year alone. This proved to be the last straw, so to speak, and the culmination of public outrage.

Football players were routinely referred to in the press as being “dirty thugs” and other derogatory terms. The New York Times in 1905 deplored football’s “mayhem and homicide.” Weeks later, the Times ran an editorial titled “Two Curable Evils.” The evils were lynching and football.

Harvard president Charles Eliot, Nation magazine, and other such influential people and institutions, railed against football and moved to ban it. Eliot offered that a true sport does not incorporate “the barbarous ethics of warfare.” A number of colleges and universities, including Harvard, did away with their football clubs.

Into this fray stepped President Theodore Roosevelt, who disagreed with the calls to outlaw football. The advocate for a “vigorous life” used his famous bully pulpit to save the sport. He called a meeting at the White House with the coaches from Harvard, Princeton, and Yale to foster reform. These men founded the forerunner to the NCAA and installed the forward pass in 1906, which took some of the emphasis off running and also spread out the play so that it was not all centered on the line. Dangerous tactics like the flying wedge were prohibited.

As a result of the reforms, injuries and deaths subsided. John J. Miller—author of the book The Big Scrum: How Theodore Roosevelt Saved Football—wrote: “Even if the progressives had not succeeded in banning football, their campaign could have marginalized the game, condemning it to a future of limited appeal, along the lines of lacrosse. Roosevelt’s intervention may have saved football from this sorry fate.”

[In a way, history seems to be repeating itself because the National Football League is coming under intense criticism for head injuries and later-life dementia and a growing number of former players are suing the League.]

American horse racing has reached the hazardous juncture in 2012 that football did in 1905.  A recent New York Times editorial opined that racing is a “disreputable industry,” just as it called football “evil” 107 years ago.

Regardless of whether one agrees with this characterization of racing, the Jockey Club study of 2011 confirmed that the public does not have a high regard for it. The 2012 New York Times expose certainly added to the negative perception.

This week’s tie vote by members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, pertaining to whether to phase out race-day medication, is a microcosm of the divide that is tearing the sport/industry apart at the seams.

Horse racing is a highly fragmented industry and has more committees and more organizations with acronyms than is useful; each holds and espouses a point of view. There is, in theory, nothing wrong with that, except that the views have become so entrenched and unyielding that the industry is dysfunctional and the rhetoric is acrimonious.

Like football in 1905, racing is running on borrowed time. State officials are increasingly questioning the rationale for slots-fueled purses, animal rights groups are rightfully shining a light on horse slaughter, and the New York Times has focused attention on breakdowns, on-track equine and jockey deaths, drugged racehorses, and rogue owners and trainers. Meanwhile, in the vortex of the tsunami, the splinter groups in racing go about attacking one another and impugning one another’s motives.

The parties can’t even agree to ban race-day medication in graded stakes, much less move on to other important issues that, to borrow a phrase, have “marginalized the game, condemning it to a future of limited appeal, along the lines of” boxing.

And, regrettably, there is no modern-day Teddy Roosevelt in the form of a person or organization coming to the rescue to try to herd these strong-willed cats.

Horse racing has, for years, been committing figurative suicide, slowly, like the frog gradually boiled in water, and the heat is now at the boiling point.

The people who truly care about horse racing need to heed the sage words of Benjamin Franklin, “We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”

The ladies and gentlemen of American horse racing generally have a penchant for the latter. In fact, racing’s tombstone might someday read:  “Died of internal strife.”

Though the final chapter on the history of racing as an “acceptable” sport has not been written, the outline is taking shape. Yet there is still time to save racing if people put aside their differences and place what is best for the sport above parochial concerns. Start by truly addressing the controversial issues that turn the general public away from racing, and do it sooner rather than later.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business