Competition Is What It Is All About

One thing that American Pharoah (AP) and Secretariat do have in common (other than being Triple Crown winners) was that they both underwent a change of ownership between their two- and three-year-old campaigns. I think it is interesting to see how these ownership changes affected their respective careers.

Secretariat was syndicated for $6,080,000 (then a record), with the stipulation that he not race beyond the age of three. The breeding rights to AP were sold, with Ahmed Zayat retaining ownership through the end of AP’s three-year-old season.

The buyer of the breeding rights to AP was Coolmore Stud, and that is where the trouble begins. As one wag put it, if Coolmore had its druthers, AP would have been on a plane to the Southern Hemisphere the day after the Belmont to commence his breeding career.

In other words, Coolmore does not GIVE ONE SHIT about the SPORT of Thoroughbred racing. ALL they care about is making $$$$$$$$$$$$$ out of it.

So while Zayat theoretically retained control of the racing career of AP through the end of his three-year-old season, the reality is that he had Coolmore looking over his shoulder the whole time. And after the Triple Crown Coolmore was whispering to Zayat, “If you MUST race him some more, do so VERY CAREFULLY. Pick the softest spots possible. Don’t venture out of the three-year-old division, at least not until the BC Classic. Everyone already thinks he is the GREATEST HORSE THAT EVER LOOKED THROUGH A BRIDLE. That is pure idiocy of course, but let the fools believe it, and don’t do anything to jeopardize it.”

The fact of the matter is that once you have sold the breeding rights to a stallion prospect such as AP, especially to a group as pernicious as Coolmore, they (Coolmore) are going to be looking over your shoulder for the rest of that horse’s career, trying to influence your decisions, trying to minimize their own risks.

I am not saying that Zayat is totally without blame in this matter. Maybe he would have raced AP a little more adventurously after the Belmont if not for the Coolmore influence. Maybe, maybe not. Having Coolmore looking over your shoulder is not a good position to be in. It is the price you pay for taking their $$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

The Secretariat situation was vastly different. The people who bought into the Secretariat syndicate were businessman of course, but they were also SPORTSMEN (which Coolmore is NOT). They stipulated that Secretariat had to be retired at the end of his three year-old season, but they allowed him to continue to race in the Chenery colors. They were not calling the shots. They were not ATTEMPTING to call the shots or to INLFLUENCE the shots being called. The Chenery family was calling the shots (along with trainer Lucien Laurin).

So Secretariat raced six times after his Belmont romp, the last five against older horses (and twice on turf). He lost two of those races, to Onion in the Whitney and to Prove Out in the Woodward. Those losses did little (if anything) to tarnish his overall reputation. The reality is that even the greatest horses get beat occasionally. But you don’t become a great horse by staying in the barn or by running only against inferior competition.

People understood these realities back then, in the 1970s. I am afraid that people do not understand them anymore. They prefer to live in a FANTASY WORLD.

One of the best races Secretariat ever ran was the 1973 Marlboro Cup Handicap, which he won in 1:45 2/5 for nine furlongs (a world record). It was certainly the BEST field he ever ran against, including his stablemate Riva Ridge (second), Cougar II (third), and Key to the Mint (last of the seven).

On his best day, Riva Ridge was at least as good a racehorse as AP on his best day. On his best day, Cougar II was at least as good a racehorse as AP on his best day. On his best day, Key to the Mint was at least as good a racehorse as AP on his best day.

Perhaps it might seem to you that I am burying my head in the sand and trying to live in the past. Alas, I know full well that “The times, they are a changin’.” The world is much different now than it was 40 years ago.

Just do not try to pretend to me that the world is “a better place now.” I mean that with regard to both racing in particular and life in general.

Forty or 50 years ago racehorses were still racehorses. They put their reputations on the line. If they got beat, they came back and ran a better race the next time. They took risks. They sought out the best competition. They ventured out of their own divisions. Which is one reason I like Beholder. More power to her!!!!! I hope she runs in the BC Classic, though the competition there should be much tougher than it was in the Pacific Classic.

Competition is what it is all about. Or what it SHOULD be all about. In the case of AP after the Triple Crown, it was all about protecting his reputation and avoiding the sternest competition. His connections should not be congratulated for their “sportsmanship.” They should be excoriated precisely for their lack thereof.

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6 Responses to Competition Is What It Is All About

  1. jim culpepper says:

    Just for luck and to wake up some chatter from the ‘choir,” I’ll opine that I don’t even believe that AP is especially better than Animal Kingdom, though I begrudge Animals sire connections, there being some that leave Coolmore looking like paragons of sportsmanship

  2. Allison Roulston says:

    Thanks, David, for daring to damn the Kardashianization of American Pharoah and to point out the Emperor’s lack of clothes. AP is neither the second coming of Secretariat nor has he yet proved himself to be in the pantheon of the truly great champions.

    You correctly point out that “Forty or 50 years ago racehorses were still racehorses. They put their reputations on the line. If they got beat, they came back and ran a better race the next time. They took risks. They sought out the best competition. They ventured out of their own divisions.”

    Your might also have added that when the great 3-year-olds were tested against their elders they ran a hell of a lot farther. Buckpasser, Damascus and Arts And Letters were all named champion 3YO and HOY after winning the 2-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup.

    Ever since racing in this country began to be called an industry instead of a sport there has been a distinct move away from distance races, especially for 3YO’s. The noble mile and a half CCA Oaks is now a 9-furlong summer afterthought and the 12/13-furlong Lawrence Realization is abandoned. The point of sport is to test limits. The point of business/industry is to protect and maximize assets. Sadly we also live in a time of cheap celebrity.

    • ddink55 says:

      You are most welcome. I like that phrase, the “Kardashianization of AP.” Perhaps an even better example of a horse versatile enough to cover a lot of distances was Forego. Although not a great three-year-old, he was a G1 winner at 12 furlongs, seven furlongs, and two miles (all in a six-week period at age four). We need more Foregos. We need fewer prima donnas. And you are right of course that the game is no longer a sport but a business/industry. And that is the root of the problem.

  3. Joltman says:

    Hey DD – hadn’t seen this in quite a while. Condolences on the loss of your dad. Dad’s influence us far more than we realize. I’m a horse fan cause that’s what I did with dad. Anyway, regarding AP – his Triple crown was impressive enough, but the need to beat older horses in major venues will determine his real status in my book. The Travers did not set up for him, like all the others did.

    • Joltman says:

      Your blog says “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” Since when were you into moderation? 🙂

      • ddink55 says:

        Dear Joltman,

        Thank you for the condolences. One of the many things I inherited from my late dad was the URGE to tell stories.

        Back in my college days I claimed that “Moderation” was my middle name. One of my friends started calling me David P. Q. Aloysius “Moderation” Drink.

        I tried to explain this foolosophy. “Moderation in all things. ESPECIALLY moderation.”

        Moderately yours,


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