On a recent visit to Thistledown racetrack, a particular race on the card put me to thinking about the many risk takers in the sport and industry of racing and breeding; these folks are like wildcatters on steroids. It also made me reflect on Breeders’ Cup day 2010 and just how fortunate a person is to have a horse good enough to run in a Breeders’ Cup race.

A Thistledown 1-mile dirt allowance race for three year olds and upward that have never won two races was being contested with a purse of $8,700. In the field were three entries that attracted my attention. Speed Limit was listed as a 4-year-old colt by the exemplary sire Storm Cat out of a mare by Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Unbridled. At the time that Speed Limit was foaled, Storm Cat was standing at stud for $300,000. Another entry was a 3-year-old gelding named Gravitas by Dynaformer and out of an Honor Grades mare. When Gravitas was conceived, Dynaformer, the sire of Barbaro, had a stud fee of $150,000. Also in the race was a 3-year-old gelding called Geodi’s Gold, by Belmont Stakes winner Touch Gold out of a mare by Breeders’ Cup Classic champ Alphabet Soup. Only Geodi’s Gold had been sold at public auction and brought $45,000 as a yearling at the Keeneland September sale in 2008.

Together, these three splendidly bred animals had competed in 41 races with a combined record of 3 wins, 5 seconds, and 5 thirds–and earnings of nearly $58,000. The top all-time Beyer speed figure among the three was 70.

In the Thistledown allowance race, Geodi’s Gold finished second in an eight-horse field, Gravitas was sixth, and Speed Limit was last. It was like watching Pavarotti’s kid butchering a song or Michael Jordan’s son throwing up bricks at a basketball rim.

Thousands of Thoroughbred racehorses are foaled every year in the United States, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere. To dramatically increase the odds of having a really classy animal, a breeder who can afford it “breeds the best to the best.” So he or she sends mares to a Storm Cat or a Dynafomer or a Touch Gold. But planned breedings have probabilistic rather than deterministic outcomes and things often don’t work out as intended. Consequently, a blueblood may not be competitive at Thistledown while an unfashionably bred animal might be able to contend in stakes races at the best tracks.

All of the owners in the  Breeders’ Cup races can count their blessings. Regardless of whether an owner’s entry finishes first or last, or somewhere in between, he or she has a horse capable of running at the pinnacle of the sport of racing, not just in the United States, but globally. Not many Thoroughbred owners, as a percentage of all such owners, will ever have this opportunity. In this respect, there can be no losers on the Breeders’ Cup card. Moreover, thanks to the true sportsmen husband and wife team who own Zenyatta, racing fans get a rare chance to watch a 19-0 sensational mare attempt to defeat the world’s best dirt horses for a second straight year at a mile-and-a-quarter and retire undefeated.

Here is wishing all of the horses and jockeys a safe trip on November 6 in Louisville.

Carpe Diem.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business