Archives for December 2012

“WHAT IF” IN 2012?

The world of sports is full of “what ifs.” How much would Babe Ruth or Wilt Chamberlain command in salaries if they were playing today? How much would an NFL team pay Vince Lombardi to coach? Could Man o’ War have beaten Secretariat at a mile and a quarter?

Looking back on 2012 as it recedes into the past, following are some what ifs pertaining to the year in racing.

What if:

Frankel had come to the United States and won or lost the Breeders’ Cup mile or the Breeders’ Cup Classic?

If he won either race, it would have elevated his standing as one of the greats. Had he lost in a close race, the defeat would have been attributed to his traveling to a new country and time zone and the loss would not have tarnished his reputation much, or place in history, similar to how Zenyatta was evaluated after her second-place finish in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The most intriguing what if concerns how Frankel would be viewed if he had won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at a mile and a quarter on dirt. In that case, he would be talked of as one of the handful of best racehorses of all time.

What if:

Frankel and Sea the Stars had both been in training at the same time. Who would have won at a mile and a mile and a half?

Probably Frankel at a mile and Sea the Stars at the longer distance.

What if:

Camelot had won the St. Leger Stakes and become the first English Triple Crown champion since Nijinsky in 1970? Would Camelot or Frankel been the Cartier European Horse of the Year?

This is anybody’s guess. A slight edge perhaps to Camelot because of the rarity of winning the English Triple Crown and also because Frankel was Horse of the Year in 2011.

What if:

I’ll Have Another had run in the Belmont Stakes and won?

He would have joined the ranks of eleven other Triple Crown champions. But how would that have affected the offers that came in for the colt for stud duty? In all likelihood, I’ll Have Another would have remained in the United States, rather than being sold to Japanese buyers, and he would have brought a much higher purchase price and warranted a considerably higher stud fee.

What if:

The Breeders’ Cup World Championships had been scheduled for Belmont Park instead of Santa Anita?

Hurricane Sandy would have forced cancellation. But would the event have been held later at Belmont Park, moved to another track at a later date, or cancelled altogether?

The Loma Prieta earthquake in California took place before game 3 of the 1989 World Series–between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants–and resulted in a 10-day delay in play. Whether the Breeders’ Cup has an extensive contingency plan for severe weather disruptions is unknown to me. My guess is that Belmont Park could not have held the event even several weeks later because of the devastation on the East Coast and it would have been difficult to move the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to another racetrack on such short notice, so the event most likely would have been cancelled entirely.

What if:

Stan Bergstein had been alive to see Team Valor present the first annual Stanley Bergstein Writing Award?

Having known Stan for many years and of his pursuit of integrity in racing, I am absolutely certain that he would be very humbled and grateful. He never said much in the way of elevating himself but was a high achiever, who loved the sport of horse racing and thought the people compromising it should be driven out. Stan never mentioned to me that he was in the D-Day invasion of 1944 and only talked some about his early years with the Harlem Globetrotters when I brought it up. Imagine the obstacles encountered by a man of Jewish descent traveling with an all-black basketball team in the late 1940s. Barry Irwin could not have found a more appropriate person to name his award after. Rest in peace, Stan.

What if:

Diverse racing interests in the United States decided to put aside their parochial concerns and agree to do what is best for horse racing in the next two decades?

What a delusion! That is a far more remote possibility than the President of the United States and Congress jointly doing what is best for the country in the long run.


Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business


Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Florida, hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in 1989, 1992, and 1999. The 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which Sunday Silence barely held off Easy Goer, was arguably the best Classic in its 29-year history.

The Gulfstream Park racetrack that hosted three Breeders’ Cups was razed and replaced by a facility that houses both Thoroughbred horse racing and video lottery terminals. It is adjacent to an upscale complex of retailers, restaurants, and condominiums. The scaled-down Gulfstream Park does not have anywhere near enough seats to accommodate the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

In order to expand Gulfstream Park to host a Breeders’ Cup, its owner, Frank Stronach, has announced plans to install seats to hold 65,000 people and to add two new hotels to the property. The scheduled date for start of construction is April 2013.

The hotel additions should not lack for space because there is currently plenty of parking for the shopping complex and racetrack/slots facility. It is not clear how 60,000 seats could be built around the present facility without severe alterations.

If this plan can be accomplished, it is good news for horse racing in the United States in general and the Breeders’ Cup in particular. Gulfstream Park offers moderate weather for early November racing, is easily accessible from several major airports, has ample lodging for visitors, and there is plenty to do in the Miami area besides horse racing. The only drawback is that European horse trainers may prefer colder temperatures.

Santa Anita near Los Angles offers many of the same advantages as Gulfstream Park and both are owned by Frank Stronach. It would make business sense for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to reach an agreement wherein the Cup is alternated between the two sites. If the Breeders’ Cup board prefers not to limit the Cup to these two venues, then at least the majority of the time the Breeders’ Cup could be held at Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita, especially because of the predictability of moderate November weather in Miami and Los Angeles.

While a strong case can be made for having Belmont Park and Churchill Downs in the Breeders’ Cup loop, the weather in both New York and Louisville is a concern. Multiple times I have attended Breeders’ Cup World Championships at both places and experienced the biting cold on a couple of occasions. Had the 2012 Breeders’ Cup been scheduled at Belmont Park, it no doubt would have been cancelled because of Hurricane Sandy. The history and ambiance of Belmont and Churchill are compelling, but so are palm trees and warm gentle breezes in late autumn.

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business


Over the years, attending horse races and betting online have been refreshing diversions for me from the inevitable vicissitudes of everyday life. Whenever I needed a break, I usually headed to the racetrack or often, in later years, to my computer. Like all sports and entertainment, horse racing is meant to offer a respite from the real world most people live and work in, an escape to a land of make believe.

Yesterday, I intended to wager online in the afternoon or evening, until it happened.

The news broke like a bolt of lightning that a then-undetermined number of children and adults had been gunned down in a grade school in a small town in Connecticut, where crime was rare. As the reports came in, it turned out that the killer was a former honors student. In the end, his shooting spree infamously turned out to be the second worst in American history, behind the massacre at Virginia Tech University in 2007.

My thoughts kept coming back to the unimaginable grief that the parents and relatives of the deceased must be experiencing and I thought of my grandchildren, especially a grandson in kindergarten who is the same age as the innocent children whose lives were extinguished in Connecticut.

Several psychiatrists explained on television and the radio that shooters may be delusional, or narcissistic, etc. The security experts searched for suggestions about how to curtail shootings at grade schools, shopping malls, movie theatres, and elsewhere. A pastor talked about the evil that lurks in every human. Really, no one has any answers.

The words to a mournful country song by the late Vern Gosdin came to my mind. The lyrics were written for another context, but nonetheless they seemed appropriate for the families whose precious children were gone in a flash and whose days and nights will always be haunted by the horrible memory:

“You don’t know about lonely or how long the nights can be till you’ve lived through the stories still living in me… You don’t know about lonely till it’s chiseled in stone.”

I finally tuned out the news and read a book about Thomas Jefferson. Then went to bed sad—for the deceased, their families, and mankind.

(Saturday’s Wall Street Journal reported that twelve of the twenty-three deadliest shootings since the mid-1960s have occurred in the 21st century, and four of them took place in 2012. Most of the massacres were in the United States.)

Copyright © 2012 Horse Racing Business