Royal Ascot a Tonic for U.S. Woes

 What a joy to watch the Royal Ascot meeting on TV last week, especially hearing the rousing ovation for the champion stayer Yeats after his record-equaling third straight Ascot Gold Cup (Eng-I) victory at 2 1/2 miles. In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, a stayer is a creature unknown to American racing fans that actually relishes distances well beyond 1 1/2 miles (pssst, Breeders’ Cup officials, 1 1/2 miles is not a marathon). In speed-crazy America, horses like Yeats are considered a notch above plow horses and cast aside, while being treated like lepers by the breeders.

The last horse to win three Ascot Gold Cups was Sagaro in 1975-77, and, believe it or not, I was at Ascot when he completed his triple in 1977 and can remember very well the enthusiastic reception he received. By the way, if you want tradition, next year the Ascot Gold Cup will have its 200th running. Not many people realize that an American Triple Crown winner ran in the Gold Cup. Omaha was the 6-5 favorite in 1936 and was beaten a nose by the filly Quashed.

At the same time Yeats was being saluted for his remarkable achievement, Americans were listening to its leaders testify at a congressional hearing how drugs are ruining the sport and need to be abolished, how fragile the breed has become, and how racing desperately needs to be regulated by a governing body. Most witnesses painted a bleak picture of the sport and virtually pleaded with the subcommittee to do the work for them instead of offering a positive alternative and expounding on racing’s virtues. Talk about hostile witnesses. Yes, the sport in America needs a kick in the ass, but that was painful to listen to, and it was necessary to rush back to the Ascot races.

Royal Ascot was a startling reminder how racing was meant to be -- horses without drugs, jockeys restricted in their use of the whip; no track surface controversies, grooms (lads) wearing suits and ties; entertaining and insightful analysis, candid comments, first class TV coverage and camera work, and a genuine love and respect for the sport and the horse. All this in a kaleidoscope of glorious colors and images set against a lush green backdrop and one of the most magnificent grandstands in the world. And, of course, there was the Queen’s procession each day.

Getting back to Yeats, in America, he would be an outcast, floundering at distances 12 furlongs short of his best. In England, he is a hero worthy of the adulation he receives. Yeats’ victory capped a remarkable opening three days for trainer Aidan O’Brien, during which he also captured the group I St. James’s Palace Stakes with dual Guineas winner Henrythenavigator;  the group I Prince of Wales’s Stakes with the former bridesmaid Duke of Marmalade, who has been born again as a 4-year-old, winning three straight group I stakes; and the group I Queen Anne Stakes with the Australian import Haradasun. Then on closing day, Saturday, O’Brien won the group II Hardwicke Stakes, a traditional prep for the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I), with Macarthur before bidding aloha to Royal Ascot by capturing the finale, the Queen Alexandra Stakes at two miles and five and a half furlongs, with Honolulu.

The races were exciting, with numerous tight finishes and the occasional bravura performance. Even the TV commentary was exciting.

Not to knock American TV commentators and analysts, but how refreshing and entertaining to listen to the unconventional and outspoken John McCririck and analyst Matt Chapman going at each other on the air. Here is an exchange between the two on opening day after McCririck was severely critical of the whipping rules in England (imagine what he’d have to say about our non-rules) and expressed his displeasure with Johnny Murtagh for abusing the whip on Haradasun.

McCririck: “Murtagh would not have ridden like that if he knew he’d be disqualified. He could not come back and say, ‘I apologize, Aidan. I hit the horse too often, too hard, and I lost the race because of it’. The only way they’re going to stamp out excessive use of the whip, especially in big races, is to disqualify the horse. The jockeys wouldn’t do it. I’m right, but no one ever listens to me. It was a great training performance by Aidan O’Brien, but it’s slightly besmirched because of the way the horse was ridden. It’s unnecessary to hit a horse like that.” (By the way, Murtagh’s whipping of Haradasun was mild compared to the way many of our jockeys abuse the whip -- more on that in the future).

Chapman (to the audience): “If you were listening to McCririck about the whip, please don’t get sucked in by his total buffoonery over the issue. The rules may be wrong, that’s a different issue, but Johnny Murtagh, to any normal horse racing fan, did absolutely nothing wrong. The horse was responding to a very light whip. The rules may be wrong, Big Mac, but that doesn’t mean the horse should be disqualified.”

McCririck: “If you listen to Chapman we shouldn’t have any rules at all. You should go and slash the horses and beat them in the name of the sport. There are certain guidelines and all the jockeys know them. Murtagh deliberately broke them because it was group I and he keeps the race. He would not have done it, Matt Chapman…listen! He would not have broken the rules if he knew Haradasun would have been disqualified. He wouldn’t do it! Get THAT through your thick skull.”

Chapman: “Of course, McCririck once again failing to grasp any of the point. No one wants any horse slashed. No jockey would slash a horse. It is absolutely not even the issue that he’s talking about. Jockeys, of course, wouldn’t break the rules if they got disqualified. However, that is not the point either. You’ve really got to get a grip about this, Big Mac, because you’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.”

Now that’s good TV.

Having been a huge fan of European racing for 40 years, Royal Ascot was a much-needed respite from all the craziness that has afflicted American racing lately, including one of the most tumultuous Triple Crowns ever. Now refreshed by Ascot’s week-long splash in the face, it is time once again to get back to the rush hour-like bustle of American racing. That is until July 23 when it will be time once again for our own catharsis known as Saratoga. It cannot come too soon.


Leave a Comment:


So Northern Dancer's have a problem going 8+furlongs? Hmmm makes one wonder! To be fair had Sadlers Wells stood in North America all we would have is more Northern Dancer/Mr. Prospector offspring's...a bad thing?

22 Jun 2008 8:13 PM
cybertron log

Those two commentators must be epic.

Would America ever reintroduce true staying races, or will it always be the Land of Speed?

22 Jun 2008 8:24 PM
needler in Virginia

Bless you, Mr Haskin; I watched all week and loved every minute. Those loooooong stretch runs were the way we WISH we could be, but will never quite get there. The heart of racing is still beating, but on the Eastern side of the Pond.

And as the icing on the Ascot cake shone for us all, Mr Dutrow fails to show in DC and are embarrassed......

Cheers for Royal Ascot.....ALL OF IT.......and more's the pity for us.

22 Jun 2008 8:37 PM

Thanks for all you do.

Looking back at the Belmont- Why  does the guy at the gate stand so far out on the track - not so at other tracks ? He really bothers some of the  post 1 starters  including BB

22 Jun 2008 9:44 PM

Royal Ascot is the greatest horse racing spectacle!! It has truly become international. Only wished that the Americans would show up with a horse or two....

22 Jun 2008 10:30 PM

Well said Mr. Haskin, bravo!   You hit the nail on the head as far as I'm concerned.

22 Jun 2008 11:09 PM

As a transplanted American, the US will always be the land of speed.  When was the last time we had an American track athlete win a distance event?  We need to infuse more distance events in the racing calender across the country. But what are the chances of that happening!!!!  

I watched most of the races from Ascot and you are right about the coverage and camera angles.  The French TV coverage is also exceptional (especially the camera work).

Watching Yeats take the Gold Cup was a marvel. I was truly moved like most fans at Ascot.

23 Jun 2008 1:05 AM
needler in Virginia

Allow me to correct my error....I MEANT to say "Mr Dutrow fails to show in DC, WE are embarrassed. My apologies.....Mr Haskin, is there a better way to edit one's post??


23 Jun 2008 1:42 AM

30 horse fields, 2.5 miles and an uphill finish, epic turf races, where else can you find these spectacles?

23 Jun 2008 9:06 AM
Steve Haskin

cybertron log, if artificial surfaces keep increasing in number, there is a better chance we'll see less speed and more grass/stamina in our horses. But it will take a while. You can't just eliminate all the speed with which we've inundated our horses.

23 Jun 2008 10:27 AM
Steve Haskin

Needler, please don't worry about editing. Your original thought came across just fine. I'm new at this myself and am just learning how to edit. Thanks so much for your comment.

23 Jun 2008 10:38 AM

I couldn't agree more. I would also like to see the trainers here in America have to have "yards" to train their horses, instead of the poor animals spending their lives on the backside in a 10'X 10' stall, and only getting out once in the hours between 6a-10a. It's ridiculous! No wonder our horses are only bred to run 6 furlongs!

23 Jun 2008 10:50 AM

What took you so long ?? It's too bad that you didn't report your findings the first time that you were at Ascot -- I had a filly that opened up on the field by three lengths, and then the jock hit her five times -- this whipping is becoming disgusting !!!

23 Jun 2008 10:56 AM

Yeats' achievement is great, and ranks him among the popular heroes of British racing.  But, come now, in truth he's still winning the Ascot Gold Cup precisely because he is a 14+ furlong horse.  If he was speedier and wanted shorter he'd have been off to the farm a long time ago.

That being said, he's the closest a flat horse gets to the sort of popularity the National Hunt horses win, precisely because he keeps coming back.

23 Jun 2008 11:39 AM
Garrett Redmond

McCririck has it right on the flogging issue except for the idea of disqualifying the horse.

The horse has done it's super-best and deserves to have the win on it's record.  Why not penalize the humans by taking the purse?  That will punish the owner, trainer and JOCKEY.  In addition, the jockey should be fined and suspended.  The cash "saved" could be applied to all kinds of Thoroughbred welfare and retirement funds.

Flogging is an awful blight on racing everywhere.  Whips are absolutely unnecessary.  Don't listen to what jockeys (and the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority) say about whips being used for control.  Control comes through the riders hands on the reins. A jockey who needs a whip for "control" should not have a licence.  A racing commission member that believes a whip is for control in a race knows nothing about horses.

23 Jun 2008 11:59 AM
Steve Haskin

Seb commented: <<But, come now, in truth he's still winning the Ascot Gold Cup precisely because he is a 14+ furlong horse.  If he was speedier and wanted shorter he'd have been off to the farm a long time ago.>>

I don't know what point you're making. First off, what's wrong with being a 14-furlong horse and having a race to showcase your talents? And he was good enough to win the Group I Coronation Cup at 1 1/2 miles in 2005. In between his Gold Cup wins, all his victories were at 1 3/4 miles and 1 5/8 miles, so I'd hardly call him a 2 1/2-mile horse.

23 Jun 2008 12:24 PM

Thank you so much for the commentary, Mr. Haskin. I very much enjoyed this.

Oh, if only we had the days of Lexington and the other great 4-milers again! American racing has quashed (no pun intended) true distance racing in favor of SPEED SPEED SPEED. 1 1/2 miles would be the equivalent of a 4-furlong breeze for the Europeans, I should think.

I'm sorry, but the Brits and the other Euros have it better than us. No wonder our horses flounder when, having been accustomed to crap-tastic American training regimens, they face better, tougher, CONDITIONED horses.

America rules? Pfft.

23 Jun 2008 1:40 PM
Brian A.

I absolutely agree with you, I had the opportunity to watch some of the Ascot races for the first time.  They feel so much different then watching American racing, big fields, great crowds and great chivalry.  

I think it's very exciting to see a country that still has real distance and stamina races with real distance champions.  We could learn a lot from English and Australian racing.

23 Jun 2008 1:58 PM
Kelly S

Great article Mr. Haskin!  I envy all who got to watch Royal Ascot.  I truly hope that the US will work its way back to showcasing stamina.  Maybe the hearings and current pressure from all around will be just the kick in the rear to start turning the tide.  

23 Jun 2008 2:05 PM

I'm dating myself, but I remember the days of the Display Handicap at 2 1/4 miles at Aqueduct, and Paraje winning it multiple times. And I remember when the Jockey Club Gold Cup was at 2 miles. It's a shame those days are gone here. I always enjoyed watching those longer races.

23 Jun 2008 2:49 PM
Jersey Boy

Excellent Ascot report, Steve. I watched and recorded the Ascot races. Would it not be nice also if we assigned, as the British do, higher scale weights to avoid all the overweights found in allowance races in America? I have been their admirer for over 40 years.I cannot forget Grey of Falloden.

23 Jun 2008 3:08 PM
needler in Virginia

Seb...I thought the point (NOT the point to point) was to have sound, durable, usable race horses, and NOT see them "off to the farm" at the advanced age of 3. I THOUGHT we were trying to better the breed, make it tougher, with endurance to spare. I, for one, WANT to see the Yeats's, the Black Tie Affairs, the Tin Men, the John Henrys, the Kelsos, and the Foregos (I HATE the way plurals come out sometimes!). I LOVE the distance horses, the look and sound of the turf, and the class that comes with endurance. AND I love having a favorite around for more than 15 minutes. So forgive me if I applaud Yeats and his counterparts everywhere. WELL DONE, YEATS! We could learn a thing or two from him!


23 Jun 2008 3:49 PM
john r

Great report.  Maybe if we didn't have 20 different tracks running all days of the week racing would be a bit more "special" here in the states.  Looking forward to saratoga...I remember they carded a 2 mile race last summer the weekend of the Alabama.  The horses were mostly jumpers as I recall and although it was tough to handicap, the race was very entertaining.  I hope they try to card more of these.

john r

23 Jun 2008 4:05 PM
Scotlands Racing

A good summary Steve. Big John Mac is acutally being cut down on the time he spends on telly which is a disgrace.

I would love to pick out the best of each racing nation i.e. UK, US, Oz and France and what a product we would have then. The cost to go racing in the UK is applaing. Around $48 to watch what can only be descrbed as poor maidens and claimers. France and the Arc. Less than $10 for the worlds greatest turf race. The bookmakers in the UK suck the life out the game and we have the same warring factions as you guys.

23 Jun 2008 4:35 PM

The jockey Club Gold Cup used to be run at 2 miles and I think it should have stayed that way. It was so cool watching the great Shuvee win it twice.  Now, that's a great mare that everyone has forgotten.  She was a wonderful racehorse.  They don't name a race after a race horse for nothing.

23 Jun 2008 5:44 PM

For those who missed Ascot you can watch the reruns but you must register at At The charge) Find the following horses and enjoy;Lush Lashes, Henry the Navigator, The Duke of Marmalade, Macarthur, Honolulu,Yeats. Good Luck.

For more info see Sporting Life,or Racing


23 Jun 2008 6:18 PM
Dirt To Turf

Are not our cries are falling on deaf ears!  More distance, more turf.  Longer races, fuller fields.  No meds, no whips!  Is anyone listening?  Are the blue-bloods who run this game taking notes?  Kelso, John Henry where are you?  Come back, come back..........

23 Jun 2008 6:22 PM

You know, if the major networks would show Ascot, and even Dubai, for the high class spectacles they are, more people would follow racing.  There's an awful lot of fans of the queen herself on this side of the pond and she's as good a hook as any.

There's more than just the race itself, which is what our channels concentrate on.  To get new people involved, especially half the population, females, show the hats, the haut couture, the fans.  It's a start to grab them into the race itself.  I would have loved to have seen the Queens procession, but all I had was TVG and it was all businees and even cut off some of the great banter, as you quoted.  What I was impressed with was the honesty by the trainers as to what their horses actually could do.

I don't know when the powers that be realize that they need to practically start over again with racing because few speak the language anymore, let alone can figure out the Daily Racing Form.

Horse racing will make a resurgence ONLY WHEN the full picture of racing: the horses, the owners, the jockeys, the trainers AND THE FANS are all brought together by the commentators.

23 Jun 2008 6:24 PM
needler in Virginia

Didn't really think this issue would need to be addressed here, but Garrett has brought it up, so here goes. I have never ridden in a race, but I have spent a great part of my life bothering equines, both on the trail alone, and in company with loads of other horses. Having a crop, bat, whip.... whatever you wish to call it...... is a good idea no matter where or when you ride. It is an extension of your authority and control, and sometimes....NOT ALL THE TIME... you need a little extra bit of leverage to make a point. THIS DOES NOT MEAN I LIKE THE IDEA OF BEATING A HORSE FOR THE HELL OF IT. You really DO need to maintain control of animal as large and dangerous as a horse, and SOMETIMES you need to remind the horse just who is driving! GARRETT, IF YOU HATE CROPS SO MUCH GET THE JOCKEY CLUB TO BAN 'EM! Until that happens, the waving of a crop at a horse will upset lots of folks, whether the horse is struck or not (and there really are loads of times, the horse is NOT struck). Very often the crop is a reminder that running forward in a relatively straight line is a much better idea for both horse and rider than, say....running through the fence on the outside rail.

And there are times when only that extension of your arm works to make a point.

SORRY, Garrett, but this really isn't the forum to complain about whips.


23 Jun 2008 6:25 PM
Steve Haskin

Ellen, I remember ol' Paraje very well. He became a cult hero, running off with the Display every year, and how about Shuvee beating the boys two years in a row in the JC Gold Cup? There should be a place for the stayers. By not diversifying our racing over the years we're in the state we're in. Thanks to all for your responses.

23 Jun 2008 7:22 PM
Copper Mel

To think that I used to get upset when TVG would butcher the ATR telecast.  Now that they are mostly gone I would settle gladly for a typical TVG chop job, complete with Chef Tony and the Video Professor; I could even buy some of their stuff.

23 Jun 2008 7:24 PM

Well done Steve.

Back to the US: first we need to ban most, then all drugs. Then shift purses from two year old sprints to longer races. It is speed and drugs which kill two year olds not exercise. Write longer races and allocate larger purses to distance races for 3 and up. Make athletic, pace, strategy and the finish more important than drugs, equipment gismos, speed from the gate and brutality.

Horses in Ascott raced without leg wraps and only with regular bridles, bits, nosebands far away from their nostrils.

European private yards are peaceful, sunny, clean which help keep horses healthy. Stomach ulcers anyone? Longer walks, more training options, more turf, wide or no turns, less traffic, regular grass training, softer ground, less/no emphasis on the stop-watch, more time outside.

US racing has nothing to invent in order to vastly improve the life, health and longevity of its horses. It could simply follow the European model and train away from the madness, schedule, lack of space and filth of crowded race tracks. No horsemen should ever be pressured to run spent or infirm horses to keep their stalls! If dirt vs. synthetic is too tough to choose from, why not install more grass courses? Turf experts are available around the world because grass racing has been around forever and it is proven to be the best by far.

23 Jun 2008 7:53 PM

Steve,  I didn't know you were such a fan of international races.  How good do you think Henrythenavigator will turn out to be?  Is he as good as Rock of Gibraltar?  Also, who you think are the greatest milers since Dr. Fager and Brigadier Gerard?  

23 Jun 2008 8:43 PM

Steve, you are right on the mark with Royal Ascot. I recorded and watched most of it and loved the chatty English, their charm, their formal attire and top hats, and their in depth knowledge of the sport. The English perspective and manner of discussing racing was very delightful, and educational as well. Obviously they have a great deal of respect for the horses. I love turf races to begin with and observed how much wider the tracks are across the pond than in the U.S. It's interesting to see to flights of runners on opposite ends of the track. It's reassuring that the sanctions are stricter, particularly in the way riders steer their mounts, careful to avoid anything that would cost them an infraction; and the scrutiny toward the use of the whip, is something I'd love to see more of over here.

I thought Mutton Chops was his usual wonderful self, although he seemed to take over a little when he was bantering with the lady announcer (I can't for the life of me remember who she was). He can be quite domineering at times, but that's OK. I especially loved the post race analysis, when the guy in the TV studio (can't remember his name either) went over the race slowly, carefully discussing the nuance of how the race played out, and freezing parts of it. That was great, especially for me, since I've only been following the sport for five years, and am learning as I go. Oftentimes it's difficult for me to really look at a race carefully and "interpret" if you will, what actually happened and how factors affect the dynamic of a race and the participants.

Henrythenavigator was awesome, and I'd love to see him stay at the mile distance and perhaps come over here to have a go at the BC Mile. I only hope nobody gets any ideas of wanting to run this horse in the Classic. The highlight of the event was Yeats. And this is where I got a little frustrated because the one thing I didn't see on the TV just before the races commenced was the distance run; and not being all that familiar yet with Royal Ascot, I kept having to figure out how far they were going, if I hadn't heard the announcer or seen the distance posted before hand. I suspected Yeats went 2-2 1/2 miles, so I was good at my guess. I also noticed that they don't post any internal fractions or final clockings either. Perhaps this is because they're not as concerned with how fast a horse runs, but only how well and sound he runs, how clean he runs, and getting him over the finish line. Whatever the reason, it didn't bother me.

Royal Ascot was very refreshing after the woes we've been experiencing here, and it's whet my appetite for more international racing. It had been awhile since I've seen much of it. I just hope that one day, the word "stamina" and "stayer" will be back in the American racing vocabulary. Maybe that's wishful thinking, but I'm hoping.

Thanks for the blog. I've always loved your articles and your 'Thoroughbred Legends' books on Dr. Fager, Kelso, and John Henry. Keep up the great work.

23 Jun 2008 8:52 PM
Steve Haskin

I remember ol' Paraje well. He became sort of a cult hero winning all those Displays. And how about Shuvee beating the boys twice in the Gold Cup? It's too bad there's no longer a place for true stayers in this country. Someone should tell the Breeders' Cup that 1 1/2 miles is not a marathon. Thanks everyone for your comments.

23 Jun 2008 10:35 PM
Tony Cheval

You're missing Seb's point, what he meant is that if Yeats wasn't a distance horse, he would've run his races and been retired to stud far sooner. Which perhaps doesn't need to be said, but he wasn't casting aspersions on the horse.

24 Jun 2008 1:15 AM
Steve Haskin

Sorry for the misunderstanding on Seb's point; I obviously read it wrong. Secretation, Henry isn't as accomplished as Rock of Gibraltar yet, but he has the acceleration and he's showed he likes to battle. And beating the eventual English Derby winner in both Guineas certainly boosts his reputation. Doctor Fager and Brigadier were much more than milers. The Doc was probably as perfect a miler and you'll ever see, while Brigadier was probably more of a mile and a quarter horse. Recently, I thought Congaree was as good a miler as we've seen. And although he won at all distances, Ghostzapper was a super miler, and his Met Mile was awesome. I think Discreet Cat could have been one of the great milers if it werent for injuries and other maladies, and if they hadn't messed him up by running hin the World Cup.

24 Jun 2008 10:30 AM

Yes, Tony Cheval got what I meant.  Yeats is one of the few horses winning Gr. 1 races who is as valuable on the racecourse as at stud.  For when, in due time, he is retired, he will command a fee probably of well less than 10,000 euros, like the other recent stars among the true stayers Vinnie Roe and Kayf Tara, who stand respectively for 4,000 and 2,500 to National Hunt mares.  I am not aware of anyone who wants to breed a flat mare to a horse whose specialty is going any further than 12f.

That being said, this fact makes it possible to enjoy the years of racing such horses give us.  Yeats is a real pleasure to follow.

24 Jun 2008 10:49 AM

How nice to see that our raicng is appreciated on your side of the pond!  I often get the impression from US based bloggers etc that US racing is the be-all-and-end-all and everyone else can get lost!

I will say that a lot of people over here, myself included, find John McCrick irritating and obnoxious.  He only looks from the "punters" point of view and having never sat on a horse in his life is hardly qualified to talk about whip rules!

That said, he makes for some good banter!

If you ever get the chance to watch the BBC coverage of Ascot, do.  It is the best by far with Clare Balding (daughter of Mill Reef's trainer Ian Balding) and ex-joxkey Willie Carson heading up the coverage, you will noe find a more knowledgeable team.

If you go to the bbc site:, you can see replays of the major races and look at pictures from the full 5 days of racing.

Roll on July Week at Newmarket and Glorious Goodwood!

24 Jun 2008 11:58 AM
Marc W

Whether it is Yeats or Makybe Diva racing is still big and exciting overseas (-see Japan the crowds along with Australia and England)the thrill is still there like it used to be in North America. I remember the meets at Fort Erie when I was young 6-7000 people every day big grandstands with many different views. Now a small section that isn't casinos, past the wire, 900-1000 attendance, not on slots. In FL the "Flight of the Flamingos" yes, we have the Triple Crown and big crowds for those events, but on the norm, by our own doing, racing is dying.

No superstars to become attached to unless they are fillies or geldings. Press couldn't be worse if you are talking the general not horse reporters-almost all negative.  The race pages with charts and selections in the newspapers is all gone and an after thought in the news.

Upset became a term, supermarkets used races to have giveaways on TV programs in the match and win. You would root for your horse even if the results were known by the sponsor as they were replays not live racing shown. Racing was very big-in the front and center--was.

Treasure foreign racing-it is the future for die-hard fans.  

Enough gloom and doom keep bringing us the good news Steve.

24 Jun 2008 12:35 PM
Steve Haskin

Cheryl, I think John's irritating manner is what makes him so entertaining. I've known John for years, and love talking to him when he's here for the Breeders' Cup. I can listen to him analyze a race while displaying his repertoire of bookmaker signs all day. Enjoy Glorious Goodwood. That's one of the few English tracks I haven't been to.

24 Jun 2008 12:36 PM

I think it's a good idea to have a Breeders' Cup race at 12 furlongs, although for the first few years of its running, I wonder what kind of fields we'll see, especially with the BC Classic at 10 furlongs. There are very few horses that can go 1 1/2 miles on dirt, and other countries generally run that distance on turf. It seems that to have the Classic and the Marathon on the same day would either result in a very small Marathon field or spreading both races quite thin. I suspect the former. However, within a few years the race will become graded, assuming it's popular enough, and then maybe it will encourage breeders to put put some stamina into future generations. Depending on the venue, the synthetics should help encourage this as well. I don't necessarily think we need a lot of these shorter sprint-type races though. I can't remember how many there actually are, but, for my tastes, the longer the better.

Yes, the word "Marathon" has always been a bit amusing to me. Kelso won 5 JCGCs at 2 miles, and the other day we just saw Yeats win a 2 1/2 mile event for the third consecutive year, yet by American standards, 1 1/2 miles is a Marathon. Go figure...

I also wonder how we can be so anxious for a Triple Crown winner, which involves three races at considerable distances with 5 weeks, a schedule that tests a horses stamina, perserverance, and courage, not to mention durability, yet I've heard it said that we're sacrificing soundness (and obviously some stamina) for speed. The Triple Crown is not exactly structured for speed freaks.

24 Jun 2008 1:11 PM

Royal Ascot is awesome, but those of us without a TVG account could not play it here in the USA. Why can't ALL of the phone/internet companies get on the same page and give us all what we want - quality racing all over the world. Oh yeah, Memo to Churchill Downs, I have not missed playing your races after Derby Day since you and your horsemen can't figure out how to split your monies you are making on us home bettors. But, I digress. Someone please give us all Ascot, Goodwood, Hong Kong, Japan, etc. all the time on all outlets!

24 Jun 2008 6:15 PM

Cheryl, There are indeed some of us Americans who appreciate racing in Britain and Europe and who recognize that names like Ribot, Sea Bird, Mill Reef, Brigadier Gerard, Nijinsky, Dancing Brave, Shergar, Peintre Celebre and a host of others belong in the same conversations with Secretariat, Citation, Man O' War, Kelso, Dr. Fager, etc. as the greatest racehorses in history.  Your racing is different, but great horses are great horses and its too bad some people are so quick to dismiss what they don't understand.

Steve, Thanks for your response.  It will be fun to see what else Henry can accomplish in his career.

24 Jun 2008 8:34 PM
Garrett Redmond
May I take more space to answer "needler in VA" on the issue of whips?

"needler" needs to understand Steve Haskin moderates the debate.  McCririck and his views on whipping were in the original article, so why isn't this the forum?

I don't want to talk down to needler, but, it is pretty obvious his riding has been limited to pleasure horses.  In that situation there are times when in the education of a horse a whip may be sensibly and humanely employed.  Use of the whip in racing is an entirely different matter.  I know. I rode races more than sixty years ago (that is right - 60 years).

In racing, the whip is used only to urge the horse to greater effort.  Jockeys get carried away and flog a horse when it is clearly doing it's best.  Racehorses give of their best naturally.  It is a rare horse that sulks and holds back it's best effort.

In racing, use of the whip generally causes a horse to move away from the punishment.  Watch the head-on videos and you will see what I mean.  The whip does not keep a horse on a straight course.  Surely everyone recalls Frankie Dettori flogging Swain with his left hand, causing Swain to move almost into the grandstand and thereby lose the Breeders' Cup Classic.  There is NO place for a whip and flogging in horseracing.

Today, I was delighted to see the Delaware Park stewards suspended Jeremy Rose for six months for flogging a horse.  We need more suspensions.

The Jockey Club has no power to ban the whip - the suggestion indicates some ignorance about who rules racing in the USA.  The only thing TJC can ban is our right to free speech - anyway, that is what our Courts have ruled.

24 Jun 2008 10:33 PM

I first went to races at Fairhill many years ago and learned to love the long distance runners. I started going to races just after Kelso so never had the thrill of watching him win 5 JC Gold Cups when it was at 2 miles but I visited him many times at Woodstock. I also loved going to the International at Laurel--I guess it will never happen again but wouldn't it be a treat to have more long distance races here and more great horses run in them as they used to. Btw, I have read your great book on "Kelly" 3 or 4 times and still get goosebumps reading about his races.  Thanks for a great ride!!!! Your great love of our sport shows through in all your writing!!

24 Jun 2008 11:02 PM

I've always felt Citation was the greatest racehorse, but that's just my own personal opinion.

Secretation, please be assured that international horses are recognized and easily belong with any of the best Americans. You probably know that Morris and Randall's Timeform rating of the  200 greatest horses of the 20th Century had Sea-Bird on top, Secretariat #2, Citation #5, and Spectacular Bid at #9. The great Italian runner Ribot was #3. I don't agree with the fact that they dropped Man o'War so far down, and also don't know where in their ranking Kelso and Dr. Fager are either. However, Sea-Bird's #1 ranking with a rating of 145, albeit only 8 career starts, is one I'm not sure I agree with or not, but I certainly understand it. His 1965 win in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe was a nonpareil performance. And greatness does not always require career longevity, although it generally goes hand-in-hand.

Another of the greatest horses in my opinion was Phar Lap. As you said, "...great horses are great horses..." And I'll always recognize them, no matter where they're from.

24 Jun 2008 11:17 PM

Steve, thanks for this thread - Racing at it's finest, eh?

And, in the post by Secretation, two horses mentioned, Brigadier Gerard and Ribot, both found in the foundation of the late Lord at War - One of the finest duels ever was at Del Mar with the Shoe aboard the Lord - Half mile nose to nose duel with Lord prevailing by the thinnest of margins.

Wish more coverage had been given to the tremendous battle in the either '92 or '93 San Juan Capistrano, at about a mile and three quarters - Kotashaan, Bien Bien, and one other Grade I champion - Mind fogs - They were locked tightly at a mile and a quarter, when Bien Bien and Kotashaan surged to the front and raced, with barely a nostril separating them for the last half mile - Whittingham used to talk about the time needed for a horse to recover from that race, although, some have surfaced in early June at HP.

But, one of my favorite type of racing, was the old marathon series at Longacres - Conditions were for, I believe, no more than 20,000 claimers - So, all of the old bred long, short on speed guys would conduct a series of races from 12F up to 14F over a month a half period - But, this was at racing region, where many trainers thought six and a half was a distance race - Plus, it was also a place of the Mark Hannas of racing to commence whipping from the gate and never stop.

And, now, if we could rid ourselves of having post parade ponies - Loved seeing John Gosden lead some of his finest horses onto the track by himself.

25 Jun 2008 8:43 AM

There have been durable "war horses" since John Henry: Best Pal, The Tin Man, Lava Man, Perfect Drift, and Funny Cide to a lesser extent. Of course all have been geldings. Even so, their long careers required great patience from owners and trainers. There was no real reason for Lava Man's connection to bring him back this year, especially after his poor form. Yet, knowing the popularity of the horse in Cali, they did bring him back and they were rewarded with another grade 1 placing. We need more in the industry to realize that there are indeed rewards beyond high stud fees. Lava Man has achieved a level of popularity many thought was impossible today and has accomplished feats of glory that truly make comparisons to Seabiscuit valid. Unfortunately his inability to win outside Cali makes him largely a regional phenom. For those outside of Cali, attending a Lava Man race was like rolling the clock back to a time when horse owners were sportsmen, horses were warriors, and fans developed personal connections to their equine heroes.

25 Jun 2008 12:16 PM

Johnny, Thanks for the response.  I know there are others here in the States that are aware of the rich history of horses across the pond.  But it's sad that so much of what is published here seems to ignore them.  I love the book "Thoroughbred Champions" and I understand that it was intended to profile the 100 greatest American horses of the 20th century, but it doesn't say "American."  I think it's essential reading for fans of the sport, but I can understand how the Brits fell a bit slighted by its title.  Julian Wilson's book may have left out some important American runners, but at least he put some of our best in there.

Also, I totally agree with you regarding Phar Lap.  Cynthia was referencing racing across the pond, but Australia has Phar Lap, Bernborough, Tulloch, Carbine, Gloaming and Kingston Town in its history.  I would put Phar Lap up in the top 5 of all time.

Regarding Sea Bird's high rating in spite of few starts, it illustrates one of the key differences between our sport and theirs.  If you look at a list of the top 100 European horses, you'll find that only about 20% raced as many as 20 times.  Many of them far less.  In our list of 100 only about 20% didn't run 20 times or more.  They run their best in classic races to determine breeding prospects, where we historically have run for purses and accumulated earnings.  Really what we're seeing now is a shift to a more European paradigm in that sense, but with a decidedly American tendency to oversaturate the market looking for the quick buck.  I think in Europe they're still working toward the betterment of the breed.

That's just my take.

25 Jun 2008 3:42 PM

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