Like every racing fan and person looking forward to the Breeders' Cup, I was disappointed to hear the news today that Sea The Stars is being retired.
When I first heard, I was saddened but not surprised. Then I read the comments by trainer John Oxx and became annoyed.
"We feel it is unfair to keep him going any further given his unprecedented record of achievement in the last six months," Oxx said. "He's come out of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in his usual good form. He is fit and healthy and has been cantering since the race."
Anyone else shake their head at this statement? Never mind the part about Sea The Stars being retired as a 3-year-old while completely healthy. The comment about it being "unfair to keep him going" is the laugher.
Unfair? You just said the horse is in his "usual good form." What is so "unfair" about racing a horse that loves to race? Isn't that what they were bred to do?
Listen, I'm not naïve. I know it is all about money. The horse is worth more retired than if he would win 20 straight group I races in a row. I know this. But don't offend us by saying it is "unfair" to race him. If it was so unfair, why did you send him to France to for the Arc for his sixth race in five months? If he would have lost that race, I bet you it wouldn't have been "unfair" to send him to the U.S. for the Breeders' Cup.
I guess I'm so opinionated on this subject because I believe early retirement more than anything else is keeping horse racing from attracting new fans. You can blame synthetic tracks, medication, poor leadership and marketing, or anything else you want on the decline of racing, but I believe our superstars being retired as 3-year-olds hurts as much as all of them. How are new fans supposed to get attached to the sport when our best horses race seven times and are retired at the peak of their careers?
Think about it. How popular would football be if Tom Brady retired after he won the Super Bowl? Basketball if Kobe Bryant retired after he won a championship? Baseball after Albert Pujols won the World Series? I know horses are much more fragile than human athletes and the analogy is somewhat skewed, but you get my point.
Until we figure out how horses can be worth as much on the racetrack as they can in the breeding shed, it will be harder and harder for the sport to attract new fans. It's as simple as that.
Look, the Breeders' Cup Classic will be exciting with or without Sea The Stars. I'll be just fine handicapping the race as it comes up. But without him and Rachel Alexandra--maybe the two best and most popular horses in the world--the World Championships just lost another opportunity to attract new fans.
That is "unfair."