UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH RAY PAULICK

Ray Paulick had an esteemed career in print journalism before launching the Paulick Report, the well-known website that compiles and disseminates news and opinion about horse racing from around the world. Since its inception in mid 2008, the Paulick Report has become a must-read for racing insiders and many fans.

Mr. Paulick recently answered questions for Horse Racing Business about himself, racing history, and current issues in the sport/business of racing.

HRB: Where were you born and raised and where did you go to college?

RP: I was born in Rockford, Illinois, and raised on a small farm near the Illinois-Wisconsin border. I went to college in Florida—first at Miami-Dade Junior College and then to the University of Florida. It is one of my great regrets that I didn’t finish school.

HRB: How did you become involved with Thoroughbred racehorses? Are you from a family with a background in the business?

RP: My involvement in racing, other than watching the Kentucky Derby as a kid, didn’t begin until the mid-1970s when I was working at the Field Newspaper Syndicate, based at the Chicago Sun-Times and now-defunct Daily News. I worked with a number of syndicated columnists. One of them was Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder, who had a three-times-a-week column covering a variety of sports, including horse racing. I had to substitute occasionally as the Greek’s ghostwriter (the roster of ghostwriters included Hank Goldberg, David Israel and Frank Ross, among others), but knew nothing about racing, so I started buying the Daily Racing Form, read some handicapping books (and, of course, Chicago legend Dave Feldman in the Sun-Times), and started going to the track and bookie joints disguised at the time as “messenger services” near the Sun-Times building.

HRB: Are your wife and children racing fans?

RP: I met my wife when we both worked in the Los Angeles office of the Daily Racing Form in the early 1980s. One of our first dates was to see John Henry in the Oak Tree Invitational. Our 21-year-old son loves racing, though our 17-year-old daughter is more into the social aspects of going to the track.

HRB: What is it about Thoroughbred horse racing that has attracted you to it?

RP: In the beginning it was the challenge of handicapping a field of horses. I was entranced by what was in the Daily Racing Form past performances, and also by the edge you could get by watching the races carefully and making notes about ‘next time’ horses. My interest evolved to a fascination for the entire industry—it’s a community unto itself with so many interlocking pieces.

HRB: If you had not followed the career path that you did, what would you be doing today in the way of gainful employment?

RP: At the newspaper syndicate, I worked with a number of really good political columnists like Joseph Kraft, Roland Evans and Robert Novak, and Charles Bartlett. I’ve always been a political animal, so it would have been natural to pursue something combining journalism and politics.

HRB: What is your favorite sport besides horse racing? Which teams do you follow?

RP: I’m an all-Chicago guy: Cubs, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, even the White Sox. Living in Lexington you can’t help but follow University of Kentucky sports. As far as participation goes, I’m working at keeping my golf handicap in the single digits.

HRB: Did you ever play on a high school or college team in any sport?

RP: I was the 13th man on our basketball team. I held a clipboard more than the ball. Tried wrestling one year and played golf in the spring.

HRB: What publications have you worked for?

RP: The Field Newspaper Syndicate was a great opportunity to work with some good editors and outstanding writers. I moved with the company from Chicago to Southern California after the great blizzard of 1979, and thought I’d died and gone to heaven, especially after my first visit to Santa Anita. I got a job at the Daily Racing Form in Los Angeles in 1980, spent eight years there, then moved to Kentucky, working as managing editor of Thoroughbred Times from 1988-91, spent a year as Midwest editor of the short-lived Racing Times, then 15 years with the Blood-Horse from 1992-2007. I write a weekly column for a Japanese racing magazine and have contributed to numerous other publications.

HRB: You spent your career working for other people and organizations and now have become an entrepreneur by launching the Paulick Report. What surprised you most, if anything, by the roller-coaster life that goes with being a self-employed person?

RP: The late William T. Young of Overbrook Farm was something of a mentor to me. We didn’t get together that often, but when we did he’d always chide me to start my own business or try and buy the Blood-Horse, something that obviously wasn’t going to happen, given its industry ownership. ‘It’s no fun working for somebody else,’ he’d always say, and he was right. I wish I’d known him when I was a younger man. He said everyone under 30 should try to start their own business, and even if it fails they’ve got plenty of time to go to work for someone else. I can’t say there’s been that many surprises since the Paulick Report launched in June 2008, but it has been a lot of fun.

HRB: Who are the two or three best racehorses that you have seen in your lifetime, either on television or in person?

RP: Secretariat and Ruffian were two horses I only vaguely remember, so I’m not going to count them, even though my respect for Secretariat grew as I became a racing fan and industry participant following his retirement. The best horse I ever saw was Spectacular Bid. I saw every one of his California races and still have this image of the incredible acceleration he showed going seven furlongs in the Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita. It was amazing. He should have won the Triple Crown but got a horrible ride in the Belmont. Affirmed was so tough and stayed on the top of his game for three great seasons. He’s probably my all-time favorite. For what he did over such a long time, I’ve got to throw John Henry into the trifecta.

HRB: Who are the best jockeys and the best trainers that you have covered as a journalist?

RP: Jockeys…it’s hard to compare one generation against another. Bill Shoemaker had the greatest hands I’ve ever seen and was able to communicate with horses in ways others never could. Laffit Pincay was the strongest, Angel Cordero the most competitive, and Gary Stevens and Jerry Bailey in their prime always seemed to have horses in the right place. I don’t think anyone will ever surpass Charlie Whittingham and Woody Stephens in my book as the greatest trainers during my years in racing.

HRB: If you purchased a high-priced yearling, who would you want to train it and ride it from the currently active trainers and jockeys?

RP: I wouldn’t purchase one high-priced yearling. I’d spread the money around and get some numbers, because that’s what it takes. These guys who come in and buy one or two really expensive yearlings, then fail and get out of the business, ought to have their heads examined. You need numbers. I would go with a trainer who has a small barn—fewer than 32 horses–and puts his or her hands on each one of them every day. As far as jockeys go, there are so many good ones. I think you have to try and match a horse’s running style with the strengths of a particular rider.

HRB: What are your three or four favorite racetracks anywhere in the world?

RP: Happy Valley in downtown Hong Kong is spectacular for night racing, Longchamp is magnificent on Arc day, Randwick has a great atmosphere, and Tokyo racecourse is mind boggling in its size and efficiency. In the United States, my favorite is Santa Anita, though I’ve had the good fortune to vacation at Del Mar for many years and it’s where I go each summer to recharge my batteries. The racing there isn’t what it used to be, but it’s a fun atmosphere and very relaxing.

HRB: Do you have a particularly humorous or ironic anecdote you can share about something you have encountered in your career covering racing?

RP: One of my favorite people in racing is Bill Nack, who spent years as the turf writer for Sports Illustrated and now works for ESPN. There’s been no better writer covering the sport over the last 30 years. Bill always had a way of getting in the picture, of being in the right place at the right time to get the best quotes, the best stories. At the 1989 Breeders’ Cup at Gulfstream Park, the rubber-match between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, I wondered which camp Bill would follow during the race. When NBC did a split screen showing the Phippses with Easy Goer and the Hancock/Whittingham team with Sunday Silence, Nack somehow cloned himself and wound up in both pictures.

HRB: Do you believe that the “ultimate insurer” rule, wherein a trainer is held accountable for everything concerning his or her horses, is correct and equitable or does it need to be modified?

RP: Penalties for violations have become a joke for the most part, and there has to be more accountability. I think regulators need to come down harder on the veterinarians involved in medication violations, as well as the owners.

HRB: From what you have seen so far, will American racetracks continue to install synthetic surfaces? Also, do you think that Europeans will participate in the Breeders’ Cup in larger numbers whenever the event is held on a synthetic surface?

RP: Synthetic tracks are an international surface, so, yes, we’ll see more European horses if the Breeders’ Cup is run on synthetics. But having said that, I think the writing is on the wall. The opponents of synthetic tracks are louder and more strident than the supporters, and I think we’ll see some of the synthetic tracks removed and replaced with conventional dirt in the next couple years. I believe in science and statistics, so I’d like to see what they have to say.

HRB: What is your view of the use of race day medications in general and in graded stakes races in particular?

RP: The United States needs to get in line with the rest of the world on medication.

HRB: Prior to running in the Kentucky Derby, Citation had 16 starts, Secretariat had 12, and Affirmed had 13. All were trained by Hall of Fame conditioners. By contrast, Smarty Jones came into the Kentucky Derby off four starts, Barbaro had five, and Big Brown had three. This is the typical finding when comparing horses of yesteryear with contemporary racehorses. How do you explain such a dramatic change over time?

RP: Different training methods. Trainers no longer use races to get a horse in condition, perhaps out of fear of losing and the reaction losing brings from impatient owners. I also think the breed is weaker today as a result of breeding for the sales ring rather than the racetrack over the last 25 years and because too many horses born with conformation faults are producing foals.

HRB: Would artificial insemination, shipment of frozen semen, and embryo transplants be advantageous, not matter, or be detrimental to the Thoroughbred bloodstock business?

RP: I think AI and embryo transplants are good science but bad economics.

HRB: You have lived in the Blue Grass region around Lexington, Kentucky for years and have observed the challenges of having the farms coexist with the subdivisions and commercial properties. If we were able to revisit 50 years from now, will the horse farms have been largely replaced by development?

RP: I fear Kentucky will be to Thoroughbreds what Detroit now is to automobiles—a shell of its former self.

HRB: If you were able to wave a magic wand and institute no more than three beneficial changes in the racing and bloodstock enterprises, what would you choose?

RP: Federal legislation creating structure and empowering a ‘league office’ for racing that would have authority in licensing, regulations, scheduling, division of revenue, takeout and all aspects of wagering.

HRB: Thank you.

RP: Bill, you’ve brought a very interesting perspective to horse racing over the years with your thought-provoking articles in Thoroughbred Times, Blood-Horse and now at Horse Racing Business. I hope you’ll continue providing your analysis of our game for years to come.

Copyright © 2010 Horse Racing Business

Comments

  1. sydney nignog says

    how did Paulick overlook Seattle Slew. Anyone in the game who likes an old fashioned good looking horse with incredible speed, stamina and courage must have been with Rip Van Winkle to miss him!
    He might have been the best horse that ever lived. He beat Affirmed and Alydar every time they hooked !

  2. sittenfeld says

    thanks for the thoughtful interview…

    ray rules!

  3. Just a FOB says

    It’s a shame that Paulick scorns the FOB’s who have singlehandedly done more for equine welfare than anyone in history. Barbaro, like Jesus Christ gave his life for the betterment of the world. Shame on you Ray Paulick. Your mother must be proud *sarcasm* of her son.

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