Debunking the Myths

The Europeans whipped our butts in the Breeders’ Cup and are superior to American horses:

Winning 5 of 14 races does not constitute a butt-whipping. Granted, winning five of the 10 races in which they competed was impressive, but still not exactly a butt-whipping. Why shouldn’t the European horses win half their races? Isn’t that was international competition is all about, especially when we leveled the playing field for them? Did anyone really feel good seeing the Euros go 0-for-11 last year? That doesn’t make for good racing.

Let’s take them one at a time. The Europeans should beat us in the Juvenile Turf, at least for now. It may be our track, but it’s still their surface. Our 2-year-old turf horses are still evolving, and you’ll no doubt see better quality horses on the turf now that there is a Breeders’ Cup race for them, which will result in more enticing preps. Right now, they are still second and third-tier horses in the grand scheme of the 2-year-old picture. Remember, we did beat the Euros in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, defeating an Aidan O’Brien-trained filly who was coming off Group I and Group II Stakes. You also have to remember that Juvenile Turf winner Donativum was undefeated since being gelded and in his victory at Newmarket at 33-1, the horse he beat, Crowded House, came back and romped in a Group I stakes the morning of the Juvenile Turf.

As for Goldikova, she may be the best miler in the world, having already beaten Henrythenavigator, and even John Gosden admitted that Raven’s Pass would have had a hard time beating her in the BC Mile. She ran a spectacular race, and defeated last year’s Mile winner Kip Deville, who probably ran a better race this year than he did last year.

The BC Turf was nothing we haven’t seen many times before. The main difference is that this was an extremely weak year in America for mile and a half turf horses. We had a few nice horses, but no depth or consistency. We’ll only have a fighting chance against the Euros in years when we can come up with a brilliant, top-class grass horse like a Manila or an English Channel. At 12 furlongs, they’re simply much better than we are and always have been. If we’re getting sick of the Euros manhandling us year after year, then perhaps the American breeders should stop snubbing their noses at long-distance turf horses as if they were lepers that are going to infect their stallion roster. We exile our turf horses off to far-off stud farms and want no part of their offspring. Care to guess how many of the 14 living BC Turf winners at stud are standing in Kentucky? Two. The rest are in Ireland, England, Japan, South Africa, Illinois, and New York. Going farther back, even the great Manila was shipped off to Turkey. Fraise was sent to Japan. And Prized wound up at a small farm in Virginia.  Let’s not forget that several our BC Turf winners, such as Kotashaan, Northern Spur, and Theatrical were bred in Europe. In addition, many of our best-bred young horses are bought by Coolmore and Godolphin, so they become European turf horses by circumstance more than anything else.

Finally, we come to the Pro-Ride races. Is anyone really surprised we were defeated in the Marathon? We basically sent mile and an eighth and mile and a quarter horses and turf horses against Euros who are just getting warmed up at a mile and a half. The winner, Muhannak, was four for seven, with a second and two thirds over a synthetic surface. Again, we have ourselves to blame. Do you think we’re ever going to send a grade I classic horse like Sixties Icon to the Marathon? Most of our Marathon horses this year were the ones who were not good enough to run in the Classic or the Turf. It is hoped that will change. We carded a number of 12-furlong “Win and Your In” races this year, but some of the more successful horses who competed in those races, like Evening Attire and Delosvientos, didn’t show up for the Breeders’ Cup. And by the way, don’t think the Euros aren’t laughing behind our backs for calling a mile and a half a marathon.

As for the Classic, which was the impetus for all the hyperbole, let’s face facts. Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator were superstar milers over demanding courses in Europe and both had dirt pedigrees. They were fast, brilliant, and had powerful closing kicks, and were racing over a synthetic surface that played more like turf, with a good bounce and virtually no kickback. But mostly, with the exception of Curlin, our horses simply were too slow this year, if you go by all the speed figures. And many feel Curlin, for whatever reason, was not as dominant and brilliant this year as he was last year when he was running against far superior horses. Combine that with the strange surface, having only one five-furlong work and two slow half-mile breezes in four weeks and then running 10 furlongs over a synthetic track that demands fitness, and a quick early move around horses that did not set him up well for the final quarter mile against the late-kicking Europeans. Although his work pattern did not differ from his previous 10-furlong races, he’d never run over this surface, and most everyone in California and at other tracks that have synthetic surfaces agree you need a fit horse going long distances. Remember, the best finish by an American horse was Tiago, who worked a strong six furlongs and had a good effort over the surface.

Let’s also not forget that French-trained Arcangues, at 133-1, has already won the Classic, Swain should have won the Classic, Giant’s Causeway and Sakhee were beaten in photos by Tiznow, and 38-1 Ibn Bey was second, beaten only one length by Unbridled. Even a 3-year-old French filly (Jolypha) managed to finish third behind A.P. Indy and Pleasant Tap in the Classic. So, let’s not go into panic mode because two brilliant Europeans finished one-two over a synthetic surface in a sub-standard year.

Big Brown should not be considered for Horse of the Year because he beat a bunch of inferior horses this year:

Isn’t there a bit of hypocrisy in that statement, considering the older horses Curlin defeated were just as mediocre? Granted, this was far from a top-class group of 3-year-olds, but if you’re going to completely discount Big Brown’s accomplishments because of that, then how do you account for the fact that two horses Big Brown trounced by 14 and 21 lengths in the Kentucky Derby – Colonel John and Smooth Air – finished 2 1/4 and 2 1/2 lengths, respectively, behind Curlin in the Classic, and only a half-length and three-quarters of a length behind Go Between, winner of the Pacific Classic and second in the Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup? And they finished ahead of the winners of the Pimlico Special and Hawthorne Gold Cup, as well as a five-time Group I winner in Europe.

While on the subject, 22-1 shot Two Step Salsa, 19-1 My Pal Charlie, and 11-1 Pyro finishing third, fourth, and sixth in the Dirt Mile, ahead of Well Armed, Lewis Michael, and Surf Cat, wasn’t too shabby either..for a bad crop of 3-year-olds. The first two were beaten 1 3/4 lengths for all the money. And let’s also remember that Anak Nakal, who was beaten badly by Big Brown in the Derby, finished a fast-closing second to top older horse Arson Squad in the grade II Meadowlands Cup. So, while this year’s crop of 3-year-olds does not rank anywhere near last year’s crop, they certainly haven’t embarrassed themselves against their elders, and the horses Big Brown defeated went on to finish 1-3 in the Travers, 1-2 in the Jim Dandy, 1-3 in the Ohio Derby, 1-3 in the Swaps Stakes, 1-3 in the Pennsylvania Derby, 1-3 in the Northern Dancer, and first in King's Bishop.  

Getting back to Big Brown’s record, can you simply ignore the fact that he earned the highest Thoro-Graph and Ragozin figures ever in the Kentucky Derby, faster than Secretariat, Monarchos, and Spend a Buck? He also ran the fourth fastest final Derby prep of all time, and the three who ran faster all regressed in the Derby, while Big Brown actually moved forward in the Derby.

I’m not saying Big Brown should be Horse of the Year. I’m just saying that perhaps his accomplishments require a second, more objective, look and be put in proper perspective. What he accomplished this past spring off only two career starts and very little training is pretty remarkable. Based on that and all his missed training after the Preakness due to a foot injury, a meltdown prior to the Belmont, a terrible trip early in the race, and getting part of his shoe pulled off at the start, does anyone really believe that race was not a total aberration? And how many Derby and Preakness winners in recent times have won two stakes (in two starts) following the Triple Crown? Did he defeat any worse horses in the Haskell than Point Given did? Have any two-time Classic winners defeated three grade II stakes winners on the turf, and in only his second career start on grass? I know Shakis finished last in the BC Mile, but he was making a big move along the inside when a tiring Thorn Song closed up the rail on him and backed up into him and Alan Garcia had to stop riding him the last eighth of a mile. In his prior start he was a fast-closing second in the grade I Shadwell Turf Mile at Keeneland.

I am only attempting to defend Big Brown because of all the unwarranted animosity directed toward the horse for whatever reason. Now that I’ve done my best to make my case, I can remove my hand out of the hornet’s nest for good.

(See my final comments regarding this at the end of the blog)

Soldier of Fortune needed a pacesetter in the Breeders’ Cup Turf:

Yeah, like the proverbial hole in the head, as it turned out. What 8-5 favorite needs a 66-1 pacesetter to go six furlongs in 1:10 1/5 in a mile and a half race when he’s going to be crawling up his behind most of the way? What was that all about? He’s lucky he didn’t clip his pacesetter’s heels. And when was the last time you saw a European horse take over the lead in a 12-furlong race after a mile and a quarter in 1:58 3/5?

So, what happens? They go out and do it again in the Melbourne Cup, as the two fancied Ballydoyle horses, including second favorite Septimus, spent most of the two miles chasing their own pacesetter, opening up on the rest of the field. By the time they came to the head of the stretch they were spent.

Canada is no place to prep for the Breeders’ Cup:

If you think that, wait until next year. The following horses all raced at Woodbine this summer and fall: Ventura (winner of the Filly & Mare Sprint), Forever Together (winner of the Filly & Mare Turf), Kip Deville (second in the Mile), Fatal Bullet (second in the Sprint), Sealy Hill (second in the Filly & Mare Turf), Laragh (third in the Juvenile Fillies Turf), and Storm Treasure (third in the Turf Sprint).

Other thoughts:

-- Let’s go one step further regarding the 3-year-old crop. How about Fatal Bullet, the only 3-year-old in the Sprint, finishing second to Midnight Lute, while running his six furlongs in 1:07 2/5 in defeat and finishing open lengths ahead of Street Boss, Fabulous Strike, In Summation, and First Defence.

-- Did Godolphin cost themselves the 3-year-old filly Eclipse Award by finishing second with Cocoa Beach over Music Note? There’s no guarantee Music Note would have won the championship over Proud Spell had she finished second in the Ladies Classic instead of third, and she still may get it, but a second to Zenyatta would have looked awfully good on her record to go along with wins in the grade I CCA Oaks, Mother Goose, and Gazelle, and a head defeat (to Proud Spell) in the Alabama, in which she was victimized by a slow pace. It will be interesting to see how the voting goes.

Sheikh Mohammed, who, with Godolphin, Darley, and his wife Princess Haya, won the Classic (with Raven’s Pass), the Juvenile (with Midshipman), the Juvenile Turf (with Donativum), and was second and third in the Ladies Classic and second in the Turf Sprint with Diabolical.

-- Although he finished eighth, how about a round of applause for 9-year-old Better Talk Now, who was making his fifth consecutive start in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Along the way, he’s picked up a win, a second, and a fourth for earnings of $1,793,000.

Final myth: The few people who keep sparring with each other on these blogs about Curlin and Big Brown, spewing out the same venom ad nauseum, will have all such comments on this particular blog deleted:

Sorry, this is not a myth and will not be debunked. All the nastiness directed at the two horses and most of all at the supporters of each one has been heard countless times, even on blogs that are not about them. I can’t believe it started again on Jason’s interview with Shirreffs. I stepped up on my soapbox one last time to make what I felt were valid points about Big Brown. That will end all comments on him and Curlin by me…and by several other people. My only point is that all three horses warrant at least discussion for Horse of the Year. I am not sure who I’m voting for that this point. The best cases obviously can be made for Curlin and Zenyatta. I just don’t feel Big Brown should be totally ignored after what he accomplished over a seven-month period. So, if I am exacerbating the situation, I apologize to those with level heads and open minds who no longer want to be subjected to the mud-slinging that follows every innocuous comment about the two horses. Anyone is free to comment on the points I made about Big Brown, whether pro or con, but those who indulge in the same tiresome Big Brown--Curlin trench fighting again will not have their comments posted.


Leave a Comment:



Who's the former BC Turf winner standing in Illinois?

06 Nov 2008 2:30 PM

Thanks, Steve, you're not the only one who's tired of the Curlin/Big Brown mud slinging. As always you make a ton of intelligent, viable points and I enjoyed reading them. There should be more out there like you. I've also enjoyed your Thoroughbred Legends books. When you write the horses come flying off the page!

06 Nov 2008 2:44 PM
Steve Haskin

Mike, it's Buck's Boy.

Thank you, Suzanne, I appreciate the kind words. As you can see I am keeping an eye on the comments this time.

06 Nov 2008 3:18 PM

The Monmouth Stakes was made for Big Brown, distance, turf, on a specific day, for a specific purse. Why would he not run in a classic Grade 1 after the Belmont?

Dutrow told you himself he gave Big Brown steroids, which probably  allowed BB to run without pain in his preps and Triple wins. Ivarone put a stop to all that.

You write like you have to right a wrong with BB with a possible vote. In your attempt to defend the horse because of all the unwarranted animosity sounds like enough for you to vote for him, for whatever reason.

06 Nov 2008 3:31 PM
Steve Haskin

Libby, I am not righting a wrong, but a misconception, and using simple facts to do it. First off, tt was stated numerous times that the ultimate goal was the BC Classic, and they felt the best way to prepare him for a synthetic surface was to race him on the grass, and we all saw that the track played like a grass surface. The first two finishers in the Classic were coming off grass races, as was Ventura in the F&M Sprint, so their plan was a good one.

Secondly, where did you come by your information linking steroids and pain? I've never heard that one before. They use pain killers to get a horse to race without pain, not steroids, which is used mainly to speed up the healing process.

06 Nov 2008 3:47 PM

Thanks Steve...Thanks for being the voice of reason standing out there in the wilderness of shrill words and irresponsible criticism.  Blogs...blah, blah, blah....

06 Nov 2008 3:49 PM

Curlin did go to Dubai and beat everybody too. That's why I have him above Big Brown & Zenyatta. Yes, he beat weak competition stateside, but the Dubai field was (supposedly) the world's best and he embarassed them. He also overcome the notion that horses aren't same when they come back.

What I wonder about Curlin...what if his turf race was run differently, without the ridiculous speed duel that played right into Red Rocks? Does a different pace scenario get him that length? Could he have been a better grass horse with more seasoning?

I do agree on the points about Big Brown but the disaster in the Belmont is still a huge minus. Please tell me if I'm wrong, but I can't remember a horse of the year that put up a dud like that, whatever the reason.

06 Nov 2008 3:51 PM
Ernie Munick

I can't give Big Brown the HOY over either Curlin or Zenyatta, but I was all set to pick him on dirt against Curlin and no one, NO ONE, lit my flames this year like the colt with the bad feet.

I got sad clicking through the Three Chimney slide show---miss Brown already. He had me at the NW1.

06 Nov 2008 3:52 PM
Steve Haskin

Also, Libby, even though you have apprently decided that my defense of Big Brown means I'm voting for him, may I call your attention to the story where I wrote that I have not decided and that I'm not saying he should be Horse of the Year; that the best cases can be made for Curlin and Zenyatta. All I said was that his accomplishments shouldnt be overlooked, so I don't know how you came to your conclusion.

06 Nov 2008 3:57 PM

Your myth of "Big Brown should not be considered for Horse of the Year because he beat a bunch of inferior horses this year" - well that was said of Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, and even Barbaro's years. Let's face it, you really can't stay that ANY year was tough (for a three year old) except for the last triple crown winner Affirmed. When have two horses gone at it like that! My poor Alydar (the better horse in my opinion), only his son Easy Goer had that same fate and could oddly seem to win in NY!

The better Myth will be - can a "dirt" horse do well on these new tracks and what does it mean for this year triple crown races. Only Street Sense won the Breeder'S Cup Juv. and Derby.

06 Nov 2008 4:13 PM

Steve, I also agree that the quote "butt-whipping"  has been highly overhyped. The Euros simply were loaded coming in and proved it. While most Americans, including the media, do not closely follow overseas racing they would be advised to do so before the next Santa Anita BC or pay the consequences. You are also spot on with the comment that this year we most definitely leveled the playing field. I spoke with two of the Euro trainers and they were quite happy with the main track's give and no kick-back surface. They were more concerned with the hard turf course for their starters. The evidence that synthetics benefit turf horses is rapidly becomming fact in point.

As for the Classic & Curlin: I posted a point of view on one of your previous blogs that, in my opinion, Curlin looked like a horse that might be tailing off or had been under trained after his Woodward and Gold Cup finishes. He was not finishing as he had since Dubai. Many responded that he was winning easily and under wraps. Maybe its time to reassess that thought and realize that Curlin had a tough campaign and still had enough to shake the Dubai jinx and come back to win three times including two of America's most pretegious races. This being said I don't believe you can take on some of the best horses in the world without solid preparation over a questionable surface. Your observation that he had one 5 furlong work and two breezes speaks volumes is quite correct. In short, he was short. Maybe Asmussen should drop the modern thought about the spacing of races and light works and consult the work patterns of Woody, Whiteley and the Bald Eagle before major races on a track that demands peak conditioning. Whether Alberado had Curlin too far back early or made a premature move may be a point of contention but the fact remains he once again made a great move on the turn and did not finish - much as he had in his previous two races. Take nothing away from the Raven and Henry they are certainly world class horses but I'd still like to see a rematch in '09 with a properly prepared Curlin.

p.s. He's still HOY

06 Nov 2008 4:19 PM

Sorry, Steve, but Curlin owned the International ranking based on his races and who he beat. They felt he was better than RP, and HTN, DofM.

In defense of Libby, the prednisone family of steroids is linked, long term, to sometimes patients can lose pain sensitivity.

I think she mean't Phenylbutazone (bute) which is both an Anti-inflammatory and an Analgesic (pain killer ). (NSAID Family) which, if used routinely, causes ulcers, including ruptures, increases the metabolism of other drugs and causes kidney damage.

Stanozolol, commonly sold under the name Winstrol (oral) and Winstrol Depot (intra-muscular),is used in horses to accelerate muscle growth, red blood cell production, increased bone density and stimulate the appetite of debilitated or weakened animals. It also appears to act as a diuretic. It has serious side effects. (AVMA)

06 Nov 2008 4:28 PM
Karen in Texas

Steve,  I hesitate to say too much; Dr. Bramlage would be an excellent source on this. As a health care professional, I can tell you that Libby is probably referring to corticosteroids which are powerful anti-inflammatory agents that can reduce/mask pain as they reduce inflammation. I think that the group of steroids given to horses until recent rule changes were the anabolic steroids; these agents such as Stanozol and Nandrolone help to enhance muscle mass through protein anabolism. There is a lot of confusion between these steroid groups when discussions arise in the non-medical public. There are valid reasons for their usage (both groups) when prescribed by physicians or veterinarians.

06 Nov 2008 4:30 PM
s lee

Hi Steve - thanks for the new topic!

ok, here's a small point you might be able to get fixed - my email to the editor didn't! -  why does the link to Donativum still list him as a chestnut?  He's a wonderful throwback to his ancestor The Tetrarch (multiple ties through Kalamoun and Nasrullah), also known as "The Spotted Wonder" and Donativum shows off those beautiful Tetrarch spots very well!  He was fun to watch and I hope to see him race again.

06 Nov 2008 5:03 PM

Steve libby, might have gotten that from me. My theory on steroids, since they don't enhance horse like the do humans, is that they act like advil, motrin, or some other kind of pain reliever. Cause if you look at the races before the Belmont, BB was a monster, and i think the steroids enabled him to run with less pain or no pain. But in the Belmont, he was running w/ a quater crack, his shoe ripped off, if you add all that to him running w/ more pain then ever before because he was off the steroids, that kinda accounts for why he ran so poorly. I use motrin for chronic bursitis in my shoulder, and i know if you told me that i had to go and lift 60-70lbs bales of straw, and forty pound water buckets w/o motrin, i wouldn't perform half as well. Now after the Belmont BB went back to winning, but not as dominatly, and i think that is because he still had much more pain in his feet than in the races before the Belmont. Only in his last two races he didn't have a healing quarter crack, or a shoe coming off. Now my oppinion on BB is that if he had sound feet, like Curlin, that's not an insult, then he'd be every bit as much a super horse that curlin is. The thing is he didn't and i'm a person who looks for the whole package. My oppinion is what use is the talent, if every time you send the horse out he injures himself? Remember the saying no hoof no horse? Well w/o steroids in my oppinion, BB is not a true super horse.

06 Nov 2008 5:12 PM
Steve Haskin

One last time, this is not about Big Brown vs. Curlin or whether Big Brown should be Horse of the Year. It is strictly about Big Brown being recognized for what he he accomplished. We are yet again drifting back into the same stagnant discussion. If you dont agree with the stats and points I made, feel free to disagree. But from this point on, I ask you, please no more "discussions" of who deserves HOY more -- Big Brown or Curlin. It has been beaten to death. I've made several points in this blog, and all people want to talk about is Big Brown vs. Curlin and Big Brown's steroids. I wont even tell you who was on much higher dosages of Winstrol (well documented) than Big Brown, so let's just leave it at that.

06 Nov 2008 5:16 PM

I think you meant Music Note(instead of Music Night) when you were talking about Goldolphin and the Ladies Classic.  I knew that the Europeans would have an excellent time at this year's BC races.  They have more extensive training for horses and I wish some of our trainers here would adapt to their ways of training.  I think BB should have had a just little bit more workouts in between his races.  Thanks for your insight, it is always a good read!

06 Nov 2008 5:16 PM



06 Nov 2008 6:01 PM

Steve, I'm not going near the BB-Curlin theme - I don't get a vote - ha!  I simply want to say thank you for appreciating and mentioning the grand old warrior Better Talk Now!  Consider this my round of applause for him.

Thank you!

06 Nov 2008 6:28 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks for pointing that out about Music Note. Sometimes, the brain goes on hold. I've fixed it.

06 Nov 2008 6:38 PM

Steve H. asks: "Why shouldn’t the European horses win half their races?"

maybe because they only represent 15-20% of the fields in those races.

06 Nov 2008 7:03 PM
Steve Haskin

Most of those 15-20% are handpicked and the best of what's around in Europe, while we toss just about anyone in there. Other than Zarkava, the best from Europe came here, most to run in races that fit their talents. Raven's Pass, Henry, Duke, Soldier of Fortune, and Goldikova alone won 14 Group I stakes, not to mention two St. Leger winners -- Sixties Icon and Conduit. With concentrated talent like that, in addition to all the other Group I and II horses they sent, I dont think it's a shock that they won half the races in which they competed, especially the addition of synthetic instead of dirt.

06 Nov 2008 7:37 PM
Karen in Indiana

Hi Steve, I watched your last And They're Off show and was very glad to see Commentator make the list, even if he did go on last. I was going to suggest him in your last HOY blog, just to stick a non-controversial name in there. Not unjustified, he has earned a mention. Didn't he have the highest Beyer ratings this year? He's had 2 very awesome wins. Better Talk Now was on my BC 'got to watch' list just for his history and you have to respect a horse that's been at that level long enough to be in that many breeders cups. McDynamo won 5 BC steeplechase races, what's the record for how many a horse has been in?

06 Nov 2008 7:45 PM

Steve if your talking to me im sorry i never meant for my post to come across in that way. I was just meaning to state that maybe libby got her info off of what i posted on previous blogs. Then i just went into detail discribing my theory. Im sorry if it came across like i was bashing BB, that was never my intention.

06 Nov 2008 8:00 PM

Another great commentary.

While I appreciate what Curlin and Zenyatta have done this year - There were only 3 horses that really got me excited this year:

Big Brown, Zarkava and Goldikova.

I bought tickets to the Breeders Cup in hopes of seeing all 3. It was not to be but seeing Goldikova run was worth the trip.

BB should be HOY - but I am in them minority.

06 Nov 2008 8:10 PM

Has everyone forgotten that Secretariat and Riva Ridge had first time stallion performance issues because they were given anabolic steroids? This practice has been going on for a LONG time to enhance growth in young TBs. Would be interesting to know if Curlin was similarly treated during his career, as well as many other "champions". Cigar?? Why is he sterile? Until all the info is in lets not throw rocks at Big Brown - he was brillant for a time!

06 Nov 2008 9:09 PM

hi, steve i love your blogs there really interesting. can i ask your honest opinion about should have curlin and most of his traines horse run in the breeders cup, when must where said not to be able to handle the surface. also do you know anything about Pyro's future. i will really apreciate your response.

06 Nov 2008 9:14 PM
Matthew W

Big Brown had the ability to change gears/rate/rebreak---those qualities enabled him to "make his OWN luck" in his races! Thats how a horse can go widest of all in The Derby and win by five...Horses like Big Brown RARELY need an excuse! His running style/class reminded me of Spectacular Bid/I think Big Brown WAS hthe best since 'Bid---but we'll nevev really know...lets just say Big Browns Derby was one of the ones/one of the all-time ones....

06 Nov 2008 9:30 PM
Emilio P

I dont like to repeat myself but it looks like I have to, cause it will seem its the only way to get my point accross. Is this for the american horse of the year or for horse of the world?  Horse of the year should  go to the americans Ravens Pass, Henrythenavigator or Zenyatta.  The first two, just to remind everyone are american horses they are not european, they are european owned but arent all horses owned by Frank Stronach, or Invasor and Bernardini call themselves europeans since they are owned by Dubai Sheiks that are mainly referred in this country by their european connection. As i can recall, we give eclipse awards to horses like High Chaparral, Miesque, Fantastic Light, Ouija board, banks hill, the list goes on, of only one win in this country, why not give The american Ravens Pass, who was bred in stonerside in kentucky and was still owned by an american until 2 months ago the horse of the year.  Now please do not say its because of synthetics, Curlin is a great horse, but he is not a legend like many of you put him out to be.  The earnings record, is just a result of inflated purses.  Can you imagine how much money affirmed would have made with the races he won during these times? Stop saying the track favored the horses coming from Europe.  Let me just say this, Phar Lap came to America, having never run on dirt and beat some of the best in the Caliente Handicap who was the richest race in the world back then, Round Table, Kelso, Dr. Fager, Secretariat, Exceller, Northern Dancer, Damascus. All these horses and many others more ran on all surfaces and destroyed their opposition, so stop it with the track bias.  They were truly superior horses than anyone around them.  Now, for the last 40 years we have been living a lie.  We have been selling our best horses to foreigners, while we glorify what stays in this country, the lie has caught up to us.  How many european champions have we really had here in the breeders cup, i can tell you not many.  Some have and have conquered, others like Giants Causeway and Sakhee, wouldve done the same had it not been for Tiznow, who is proving his greatness as sire as well. Swain wouldve won had it not been for Dettori.   What would had the likes of Sinndar, Montjeu, Zarkova, Dalakhani, perform in the Breeders Cup, when the likes of Daylami, High Chaparral, and Red Rocks have put on a show against our best. CAn anyone imagine  how many triple crown winners we might have now, had our greed not gotten in they way.  Ill give you a list: Sir Ivor,Nijinsky,Mill Reef, Riverman, Roberto, The Minstrel, Storm Bird, El Gran Senor, Sadlers Wells, Alleged, Secreto, Shareef Dancer, Peintre Celebre, Seattle Dancer, Nashwan, suave dancer, Spinning World,Fantastic Light, all these are either canadian or american bred horses who were taken away from us, but conquered across the atlantic.  Now just a reminder what wouldve happened had the likes of these horses had come to America and take on what we think were the best we had, i mean their influence is immensed in the american breed, all we see are pedigrees filled with the names mentioned above.  I have my eyes open very wide and i will no longer live this lie.  Our best american horse is called Ravens Pass, he went to europe and conquered, came back home and conquered.  We have made our bed now we have to lay in it.  And just a footnote, so it can really hurt and all ive said can really stick in all your minds.  In the 1987 Breeders cup Turf, Theatrical was being overtaken by Arc conqueror Trempolino at the top of the stretch.  The whole crowd started to boo, then the 5 year old Theatrical came back and overtook the 3 year old, and the cheers came roaring back.  Durkin called Theatrical the American, Trempolino the European. Theatrical was bred in Ireland, Trempolino was bred in Kentucky.  

06 Nov 2008 10:01 PM


06 Nov 2008 10:03 PM

Goldikova the best miler in Europe?  Not.  Try the Z horse on for size.  If I'm not mistaken, Zarkava beat Goldikova at a mile earlier this year.  Then she goes and wins at a mile and a half at Longchamps!  What kind of monster was she anyway????

06 Nov 2008 10:05 PM
First Time Starter

I am not able to vote for 'Horse of the Year' going by statistics or an expert's eye. After 2 years of following the sport I am still overwhelmed trying to follow bloodlines and their attributes to offspring and conformation and why some horses are better on dirt and others on synthetic. I can only go by pure sentiment.

I believe that Big Brown and Zenyatta are brilliant and obviously at the head of their classes this year; and had Big Brown not been retired due to hoof problems and had Zenyatta raced outside California and more on dirt, I think they would have blown everyone's socks off  - and would have probably 'eclipsed' Curlin's accomplishments. But these things didn't happen. So I don't think you can factor the 'what if' into the equation.

Curlin, I believe, was the entire package this year. Even in loss, trying new surfaces, he never looked defeated. He was, and still is, all class; the consumate professional out on the track. I personally think the Dubai World Cup was his finest moment. He raced like royalty and looked every bit the part in the winner's circle. All the same, he has an 'everyman's' feel about him - the Seabiscuit quality. He has endeared himself to so many because of this.

So perhaps the most important achievement of Curlin's this past year was what he did for the sport itself. I can't imagine 2008 without him.  After the horrible weeks following Eight Belles accident, I think Curlin became the feel good story for the sport. Everyone followed news about him - devoured info on his workouts, highly anticipated his races and on race days, I myself actually had butterflies in my stomach waiting to see him enter the starting gate. He kept me vested in racing when I thought I might not be able to watch anymore after the Derby.

While there are many 'professional' variables that are used by the experts to choose 'Horse of the Year', that factor alone has played a big part in my feelings on the question and I hope it does just a smidge in their's as well.

Finally, I just want to add my gratitude to Jess Jackson for making this year possible and to Steve Asmussen and his crew for taking the best possible care of this treasured horse.  

06 Nov 2008 10:33 PM

Steve--Thanks for a level headed objective serious discussion of Big Brown's results. In a few years we will all be talking about how  great this horse was PS- I  get a laugh of bloggers who never spent a day in a barn criticizing Dutrow.

06 Nov 2008 10:41 PM
needler in Virginia

Weatherbird......Steve is doing fine with absolutely no help from anyone else, but I'm gonna drop my two cents' worth in, anyway. This one really gets my steam up!

Why SHOULDN'T the BC races be entered, run and WON by horses from other countries? If this really is a WORLD championship group of races, then we probably should expect equine citizens of the world to show up? And I, for one, would be damned well insulted if those other countries didn't send their best to compete against OUR best......wouldn't you?

SO WHAT if we lost some of the races? We got to see some amazing animals at the top of their form doing what they do best...running their hearts out.

NAH....this dog won't hunt, weatherbird. If we call it a WORLD championship set of races, we're jut gonna have to live with a bit of disappointment now and then.......personally, I LOVED IT!


06 Nov 2008 11:29 PM

"Dutrow told you himself he gave Big Brown steroids, which probably  allowed BB to run without pain in his preps and Triple wins. Ivarone put a stop to all that"

Libby, I am sure you also know that Steve Asmussen runs his horses on steroids. California has banned a lot of the sterids use, maybe that was one of the reasons that Curlin ran so badly on BC day?

A lot of people seem to hate Big Brown's connections, and that is no reason not to like the horse.

06 Nov 2008 11:29 PM

Excellent post Steve!  I agree with you completely!  I love all the horses and like everyone I have my favorites, but I do think it's a shame that Big Brown has not been getting the recognition his accomplishments deserve!  I really can't figure it out.  I hear some speculate that it's his connections but even if someone dislikes them - I can't understand it changing their opinion of the horse....?  I was not bothered by Rick Dutrow personally. He is someone who evidently really loved his horse and was not bashful about expressing it.  I don't hold that against him even though that would not have been my method of approach. I just wish Big Brown was going to run next year - that would have been a treat! It gets to be a bit of a bummer when my favorite horses retire every year and then I have to pick new ones (I sure hope Zenyatta and Curlin run next year and I still miss Any Given Saturday!)  I hope some day soon they will stop retiring the three year olds - any idea how than can be accomplished cuz so far it doesn't seem to be letting up?  Again, great article!

06 Nov 2008 11:47 PM
Steve Haskin

LFP, your post had nothing to do with my comments. I was just trying to stick to the theme in general. Of all the things I wrote about, steroids was not one of them. I let the comments about them stay in because they are good points, but I just didnt want it to snowball into a whole other theme.

06 Nov 2008 11:56 PM
Steve Haskin

Loplop, first of all, people can talk about Curlin vs. Big Brown all they want. On this particular blog it's been done to death, with too much hostility. From what I read, most people on here are tired of reading about the same thing over and over, and in such an antagonist way. There are public forums/message boards for that. used to have a message board, but it was discontinued because of all the nastiness. These blogs on Bloodhorse are meant for civil comments regarding the subject that is written about and not going off on the same tiresome theme over and over again regardless of the subject, and doing it in a nasty tone, which is why I did not post your two comments. If you care you express yourself in the proper manner I'll be glad to post your comments.

07 Nov 2008 12:00 AM
Steve Haskin

Josue, I'm not quite sure what you're asking. If it is should Curlin have run because of the surface, that is his owner's decision. He didnt want to, but gave the fans and the sport what they wanted, so I give him credit for that. I dont know know if he lost because of the surface or not, so I cant say whether he should have run or not. Pyro has been taken over by Godolphin, and they have not decided yet whether to retire him or not.

07 Nov 2008 12:05 AM
Steve Haskin

Sorry, I meant LDP. Getting my wires all crossed.

Racingfan, unfortunately, as long as Sheikh Mohammed keeps throwing these obscene amounts of money around, it's going to continue. Hopefully, on occasion we'll find someone who says no, but it's obvious the money is a priority to many of the owners. Not having any myself, I can't tell anyone what to do when it comes to selling their horse. The game has changed and we have to live with it.

07 Nov 2008 12:14 AM

Americans breed the best horses in the world.  Better than any other country.  Nobody breeds the quality of horse that we do.  I have no clue where this thing about europeans are better than us came from, and that we cant breed horses to go long distances.  If we didnt breed the best, than we wouldnt have the europeans, japanese, koreans, chinese, arabs etc, coming to our sales and bidding the higherst prices for our american horses.  Its just too bad we dont have the passion for horse racing as our foreign counterparts do, who pay millions of dollars to take our horses and have them win the most prestigious races in the world instead of keeping them here and racing them here.  We are the most powerful and richest nation in the world, yet i cant believe we cant keep our best horses to run here.  I have to stomach Bob Mcnair selling off two breeders cup winners 2 months before.  I wonder how hes feeling now, he sold two months before his glory in this sport came, and all for the Houston Texans, give me a break, Darley got the better out of this deal.  As many americans i could only dream of having a breeders cup winner.  Bob Mcnair let go of two, i can only wonder how he felt when he saw Midshipman and Ravens Pass cross the finish line, and Darley taking all the glory, and deservedly so, the arabs and the irish basically maintain the thoroughbred breeding industry.  I will wonder, how Bob Mcnair will feel if Midshipman wins the derby or the triple crown.  Now if you all want a little history lesson.  American horses have dominated the breeders cup.  RAvens Pass is an american and should be crowned the best american horse in the world, he deserves it, he ran outside of america beat the best, came home and beat the best, but you people are treating the horse like some people treat are valiant soldiers who come back from Iraq with no respect. American horses have won every breeders cup classic except for the 1993 classic by french bred Arcangue.  American horses have won 17 breeders cup miles.  American horses have won 25 breeders cup sprints.  American horses have won every juvenile and juvenile fillies race.  American horses are 1 for 2 in juvenile turf, and 1 for 1 in juvenile turf fillies. American horses have won 11 breeders cup turfs, 2 more than the irish, 8 more than the brits, and 10 more than the french, germans and canadians.  American horses have won every distaff race except for the 1989-1992 streak of the argentine monsters and Dance Smartly from Canada.  The only race where the americans have been dominated is the filly and mare turf but we won it this year.  Now on the other hand american horses have gone outside and won the Japan Cup, English classics, French classics, Irish classics,The Arc.  Can anybody mention who won the last british triple crown? Nijinsky in 1970, a North American bred horse.  I only recall Go and Go from Ireland coming to win an american classic.  So you people stop with this crap about the breed, we breed the best.  What we should be doing instead is think about how to get the Bill Gates and Warren Buffets to invest in our industry, buying our wonderful horses and racing them here instead of seeing our best horses being taken away to conquer foreign races year after year.  Will the real americans please stand up.

07 Nov 2008 2:19 AM

I just wanted to say thanks Steve for bringing the Curlin v. Big Brown slanging to a head!!! After a while it made for very tiresome reading and it was disheartening to see such venom amongst supposed horse lovers.

I love your blogs and am always delighted to see a new one online, especially since you mention horses people tend to forget about, like old timer Better Talk Now. Thanks for rekindling the memories!!

07 Nov 2008 3:20 AM

Steve -- can I pick up one of the subthemes of some of the comments and ask for information about dirt vs turf? Here in South Africa almost all racing is on turf - there are two dirt tracks, but one is for horses getting a last chance before going to the petfood factory, and the other runs both turf and dirt racemeetings. Dirt racing is very much the Cinderella of racing here. So I don't have much idea what it is you look for in a good dirt horse a.o.t. a good turf horse. From the little I've seen, successful dirt horses often have a higher knee action, almost like "mudlarks", and apart from stamina they need considerable muscular strength. Watching Curlin walking around before the Dubai World Cup, I remember my impression was what an immensely STRONG horse he looked (not the same as stamina exactly). Muscular and big, and the way he moved, as if the jockey on his back was no heavier than a fly on his nose. He demolished Asiatic Boy too, who is a pretty good dirt horse, by seven lengths (Interesting that Asiatic Boy also flopped on turf a few months later, in England). So what is it that makes a horse cometitive on dirt but not on turf, and vice versa? Any ideas?

07 Nov 2008 3:36 AM

The Juvenile Fillies Turf and the fact Heart Shaped finished second just explains how poor American Turf horses are. Forget the claims of she's competed in Group 1 or 2 stakes because she hasn't been sighted in them. One win from 4 starts in Europe and she can finish second in the Juvenile Fillies Turf? She's probably not in the top 10 European 2 year old fillies.

07 Nov 2008 4:02 AM

Great blog Steve. Just like Dylan Thomas at Monmouth the year earlier, Soldier of Fortune was totally unsuited to the tight track and ground. All Soldier's best performances have come on galloping tracks when underfoot conditions have been slow. The thing that struck me when I arrived at Oak Tree (from the UK) was just how tight the turf track was. Solider of Fortune may have won a moderate 4-runner Group III at Chester as a 3YO (Chester is about the only track in the UK that replicates US turf tracks for tightness) but I still can't understand why Ballydoyle ran this horse to be honest. Especially after a hard race at Longchamp.

What an amazing performance by Goldikova...and I believe the filly was running without the assitance of Lasix ? There weren't many of those.

My last point is more of a question...since the Dubai World Cup, Curlin's performances appear to have stood still; aestetically at least. So much has been said about Big Brown and steroids after Dutrow's infamous comments, but nothing seems to get mentionned about Curlin and whether he was taking these enhancers in his 3YO year. Is it possible that his lack of 'wow' this year has been as a result of him being 'clean' ? Steve - can you please clarify if you know ?

07 Nov 2008 4:49 AM

Don't worry Steve, i understood who you meant. I don't mind if you accidentally misspell my name, i can't spell or type, which if you look back at some of my previous posts, you can clearly see how bad i am, lol. On the flip side this is a great piece, you are a fantastic writer, who knows what they're talking about.

07 Nov 2008 5:49 AM

Misconception has a different tone to it than defense. In your blog what I picked up on was the need to defend BB and how you have the power of the vote. It read more like offense to me, therefore my ballyhoo continued.  

You have something more creditable than money and as powerful, the mind behind the pen you use.

Respectfully Yours,

a fan of horse racing

P.S. yeah i thought the steroids reduced inflammation and promoted growth at the same time...(shoulder shrug)

07 Nov 2008 7:42 AM

Hi, Steve -

I may not always agree with you, but you're far more experienced at the game than I am, so I have to take your opinion into consideration before deciding for sure.  That said - IF I had a vote, I'd go with Curlin for HOY.  I admire you for being as patient, good-natured and responsive to even those who are somewhat disrespectful to you.  Kudos!  Keep writing.  I'll keep reading.  You're a class act.

07 Nov 2008 7:50 AM

Thanks Steve for giving props to one of my dear favorites...Better Talk Now. He is wonderful! I have to close the windows whenever he runs because I yell so loud at the TV I worry the neighbors will be disturbed, "COME ON BETTER TALK NOW!!!" over and over. I just love him. And I am already missing Evening Attire. I was SO excited to think he might come out to CA for the marathon. I love those old guys. And I have to say I was confused by BTN's ride...what was Ramon D thinking? And on the topic of Delosvientos...he didn't race because his owner doesn't work on Sat. for religous reasons...doesn't that seem odd to be involved in something that does most of it's biggest business on sat? What if he get's a Derby prospect?

07 Nov 2008 7:55 AM
Karen in Indiana

Just some thoughts. Maybe the reason for the intense feelings some have against Big Brown have more to do with the world today & life than it does about the horse. There are so many things going on that are stressful or depressing - economy, the wars, hurricanes & floods, etc. - that a lot of people had put expectations on Big Brown not just to win the Triple Crown, but to make them feel better. Unfortunately, he's a horse of flesh and blood and he let them down and now they won't forgive him. Just a thought.

07 Nov 2008 8:49 AM

I agree that Big Brown had his moments.  The Derbys [Florida and Kentucky] were truly great performances.  I don't think we'll see too many horses duplicate what he did in those races.  I guess people - all of us - just expected more than he could deliver.  Don't blame the horse.  Most of us have no idea what courage that horse had to overcome his infirmities and to do it without any meaningful foundation as a 2 yr. old.  There is no doubt that Big Brown had greatness within him.  It's a shame his body let him down.

07 Nov 2008 8:58 AM

Steve, I appreciate all your writings.  I can't count the times I quote your horse racing wisdom to my friends.

I agree with you about Big Brown.  What a great, great horse.  I saw him break his maiden at Saratoga, and remembered him, both for the tremendous performance, but also the unusual name.  I remember saying, "Man, that horse can run." Then I saw him again in the Haskell, and it was another electrifying moment.  A great horse.

I have also travelled many miles to see Curlin run -- four times.  He is a tremendous race horse.  As anyone who has seen him knows, he has a presence about him that enhances his ability to run.  My first time to see him was watching him chew up ground against Lawyer Ron in the JC Gold Cub, and I was pulling for Lawyer Ron.  But there was no way to deny that Curlin was a monster.

Big Brown and Curlin are both great horses and either one is good enough to be HOY.  But I also think that Big Brown's chances have suffered because of the humans surrounding him.  Sometimes I even had a little bit of me resenting their success because they act so ugly.  Nothing like the class of Jess Jackson, or Zenyatta's people (even though I got a little aggravated with Shireff trying to be funny and taking a shot at Wanderin' Boy, who you, Steve, pointed out is the kind of horse we all should really care about and celebrate).

It's a hard hard decision for HOY.  Curlin is my choice, but the other two are really really good race horses, and no one should say anything bad about these animals.  

Again, thanks so much for all your insight, Steve.  I learn so much whenever I read anything you write or say.

07 Nov 2008 9:22 AM

Great comments Mr Haskin. Thanks for making mention of Fatal Bullet's super effort in the Sprint. I like Reade Baker's comment after the race, I think he was in shock over how big the horse ran and still got beat. Also I see people are still commenting on the "steroid" thing which has been talked about to death as well. With all the interview's with vets over the past 5 months, people still don't get it.

Scott: nice to hear from you hope you had a great trip back to the UK. Thanks again for the rundown on Euro horses and I'm jealous you get to see them live.

07 Nov 2008 9:24 AM

Sorry Mr Haskin I forgot to ask you if you have seen or heard that Dennis of Cork is in the work tab yet?

07 Nov 2008 9:53 AM
Ernie Munick

Yes, Matthew W, yes.

"Big Brown had the ability to change gears/rate/rebreak---those qualities enabled him to "make his OWN luck" in his races! Thats how a horse can go widest of all in The Derby and win by five...Horses like Big Brown RARELY need an excuse!"

07 Nov 2008 10:04 AM

I don't think people are ignoring Big Brown. He certainly more than earned the three year old colt title, but Horse of the Year traditionally goes to an older male horse, unless of course, a stellar one doesn't exist. If one doesn't then it falls to the best mare or best three year old, or even sometimes best two year old. This year I believe Curlin has done enough to win most HOTYs in the past two decades, and if he can't wrangle enough votes, the unbeaten Zenyatta stands heads and shoulders above Big Brown. Big Brown's accomplishments, would put him in third place, so the battle between HOTY is pry between two horses. I know I am going out on a limb here, but why is Indian Blessing out of the running for three year old filly? Yes, she is a sprinter, but a darn good one. She finished second to the dazzling older Ventura, and has never been off the board this year. I don't understand the bias many horses face if they are not classic distance horses. You are upset about Big Brown being ignored! Every year I am upset that any horse that doesn't run beyond a mile or runs primarily on turf is ignored for the year's top honor.

07 Nov 2008 10:14 AM
Steve Haskin

Wanda, not yet. I'll be checking in with David soon and will get an update on him.

Richard, thanks for your comments and for expressing your views. You make perfectly good sense.

Karen in Indiana, very well put.

Fanofallthree, what do you mean you dont always agree with me? Only kidding. As I said, Curlin does look like the obvious choice, and I can't argue with anyone who votes for Zenyatta or Big Brown. Thanks for posting.

Libby, believe me, I do not equate having a vote with power in any way whatsoever, and I certainly wouldn't flaunt it. It doesnt matter to me whether I vote or not. They send me a ballot as a member of the Turf Writers, so I vote.

Scott, I cant answer your question about the effects of coming off steroids. Curlin did use steroids last year, but whether that's the reason he hasn't shown the same dominance this year I really don't know. With or without steroids he's still a fantastic horse who had a super year.

07 Nov 2008 10:49 AM
Steve Haskin

Kate, a good deal of it has to do with breeding. Dirt and turf ability in most cases is hereditary. Thats is why its hard to get a handle on synthetics, because our horses are not bred to run on an artificial surface. The surface often acts like grass, so horses with grass breeding tend to run well on it. From a physical aspect, horses with big feet usually excel on the grass. In this country, many believe that high leg action is more indicative of a turf horse, which is why many felt Barbaro was a better turf horse because of his action, but he showed he was as good if not better on dirt. Skip Away had high action and raced his whole career on dirt. So, you really cant tell, because there are always going to be exceptions. Also, horses who handle the slop well often can handle the turf as well.

07 Nov 2008 10:57 AM

Steve, great points. I just think the track played to the come from behind horses, whether Euro or American. Zenyatta, Stardom Bound,

Midnight Lute etc.

Didn't seem to suit grinders or front runners, other than Midshipman who I hear is going to be prepping for the TC races, all still on dirt.

Most of all thanks for your final myth. On another blog a core group of us have been begging this to stop, including a few trainers, one of which had a bit of a tiff with you over this same subject. I just enjoy discussing it then dropping it, one or two points is fine the rest is excessive. It was to the point if we said 'you' in general terms, stating the repetitive comments, we got reemed for it. Wasn't fun.

I know it's way too early but based on what we saw, assuming (I know, I know, what happens when we assume) which 2 year olds are next years classic horses? Now there's a prediction.

Surprised you didn't debunk the Urban myth about the hook on the car door, whatever you say I'll go along with on that one.

07 Nov 2008 11:23 AM
Steve Haskin

Brad, that's one urban myth I'm not familiar with. As for next year's Derby horses, other than the Dubai exports, I've liked what I've seen from Hello Broadway, Break Water Edison, Imperial Council, Jazzandthe magician, Capt. Candyman Can, and Charitable Man. I'm also looking forward to seeing Pioneerof the Nile continue to develop for Mott. As for the synthetic horses, you have to like Square Eddie and Street Hero; both have the pedigrees. And Terrain is a consistent closer. If I had to bet one horse in the future book right now at a good price it would probably be Hello Broadway.

07 Nov 2008 11:52 AM


 Zenyatta did race outside California, she ran in the Apple Blossom (g1) on the dirt, and it was her most sensation performance barringt the bc

07 Nov 2008 12:10 PM

What no Vineyard Haven?

He was sold to one of the Doobie's, gotta be aiming for the TC but sat out the pro ride so he may be like Street Sense was and hate the stuff.

An interesting point on another blog was breeding for synthetics that vary so wildly in the way they play, track bias etc. Then we get specific type of synthetic specialists, then when it doesn't work or is so cost prohibitive it gets scrapped, what then? They all run on Turf?

Wow, THAT urban legend, it's a classic.

Never 'parked' with a girlfriend?

Look up that one, people in their late 40's-50's had it used on them to caution them about that activity, my Aunt tried using it on me as a cautionary tale.

07 Nov 2008 12:12 PM
s lee

Hi -

I see Donativum is gray now on his page, thanks!

The discussions on this go-round remind me of why I like horse racing so much - maybe, could be, what if - it's what makes the seasons turn, spring worth looking forward to, and why we run the races!

It's interesting that high action is often related to good turf performance.  I vaguely remember a story from Paul Mellon about Mill Reef and his low "daisy cutting"  canter.  They felt that would be perfect for European turf courses so they shipped him "across the pond" and he became a legend.

For now, on this side of the pond, I'm hoping Einstein has recovered enough from his injuries in the Million to face Commentator in the Clark in a few weeks.  Then it will be winter in my mind and time to start to dream of the Derby trail!

07 Nov 2008 1:04 PM

Nice column, and thanks for making the point that Big Brown should not be ignored. I know where the votes come from for HOTY, and I would be hard pressed to say right now who I would vote for. Should Curlin be faulted for trying pro-ride? Should Zenyatta win? Let's just not forget Big Brown. I've supported both Big Brown and Curlin, and would have been happy if either one had won if they met in a race...I don't understand that venom either. To me, if you TRULY love racing, you should be happy no matter who wins.

07 Nov 2008 1:20 PM


Just wanted to get your opinion on the synthetic surfaces. Now I've heard some comments that the reason turf horses excel on the surface is b/c of the lack of kickback. But wouldn't that help out these dirt runners as well? I mean how many times do we see a horse in mid-pack 5 wide down the backstretch b/c they're avoiding the dirt being kicked in their face? Wouldn't it benefit them to lay 3-wide with cover saving their kick for the stretch run? Maybe its a cause for why speed horses don't hold on as well on synthetics as they do on dirt. Is there any way a dirt course can be configured so that there is very little kickback as synthetic surfaces?

07 Nov 2008 2:08 PM
Brian A.

 Curlin has my vote for horse of the year, or, would if mine counted.  (-:

 Do you think Jess Jackson will race Curlin in the Clark Handicap Steve?  What's your first impression?

 Thanks so much for a great write-up.

07 Nov 2008 2:31 PM

"Can you simply ignore the fact that he earned the highest Thoro-Graph and Ragozin figures ever in the Kentucky Derby?"

Yes, because the "sheets" are great handicapping tools, but were never designed to compare horses across years.

It's obvious that the Beyers are biased to stay at about the same level year in and year out, while the "sheets" are biased to get better every year.  Nothing wrong with either, so long as they are used for their intended purpose, which is to aid in handicapping races involving current runners.  Going beyond that simply stretches these subjective (no, they are not objective) measures beyond their purposes.

Consider, if you believe the "sheets", then current horses would absolutely dominate the horses from 25 years ago.  Horses like Spectacular Bid got numbers in the +7 1/2 to +8 range, while horses like Ghostzapper got -3s and -4s.  This implies enormous genetic improvement over that timeframe.  Yet Seattle Slew was able to sire a juvenile champion in his first crop and another in his 20th crop, which would suggest that the genetic improvement of the breed has been modest, at best.

Take a look at a breed where demonstrative genetic improvement has occurred - dairy cattle.  Breeders would be nuts to use the top bulls from 10 years ago today - while they were the best of the best then, now they are vastly inferior to the currently available sires - and this is demonstrable through highly advanced statistical measures.  Anyone who has observed top sires like Storm Cat, Saddlers Wells, Deputy Minister, etc., know this is totally untrue for thoroughbreds.  Top stallions continue to sire top runners throughout long stud careers.

Note this is no knock on Big Brown, who was a talented runner, although too fragile to, in my opinion, be a viable option in a breeding program.  It's just to point out the limitations of speed figures and "sheets" - great handicapping tools whose use should not be stretched beyond their original intent.

07 Nov 2008 4:15 PM

Steve(or anyone with the knowledge),

 In regards to synthetic surfaces I have a few questions that I have never seen addressed. Has anyone done studies about what breathing the surface does to horses(and people)? I remember the first year they had synthetic at Turfway(I think) I saw ALOT of "dust" flying and it caused me concern. I have also seen alot written about the lack of kickback, yet over some surfaces the jockeys wear face shields to protect from the kickback(like the pre-pro-ride at SA). Also the heat must create fumes...the track is baking for hours at nearly 150 degrees, it's made of wax and rubber and who knows what. I worry that in 10 or 15 years people will realize that breathing in the particulates from the synthetics has been harmful but I have never heard anyone mention it. I would love to hear what some of you think about this.

07 Nov 2008 4:29 PM

I also wanted to agree with SusanW. I went to Del Mar for the Pacific Classic weekend and talked to many wonderful people there but when they asked me who I liked in the PC I always said I liked em all! I was so happy to see all of those horses in person that I see on TVG all year long I didn't care who won. I told someone who was out from NJ that it was like lollapalooza for me! That's why I love THIS sport, no matter what you think of the people involved, the horse are pure and beautiful and everyone of them is worth our respect and love.

07 Nov 2008 4:47 PM

I ony recently found this site. Wanted to see what the American reaction was to a European 1-2 in the Classic. Most of it was very fair, though there were a few nasty comments about wuss euro horses not liking the kickback. Don't know where to start with my comments really. Firstly Goldikova did beat Henry in a Group 1 race but that was in France on softish ground. I personally think he was almost unbeatable on firm off a fast pace. I know Goldikova can only beat what is put in front of her, but Henrythenavigator and Ravens Pass were the best European milers this year. On the firm at Santa Anita I think he would have murdered them. Check out you tube and his win in the Irish Guineas to see the turn of foot he has.  

The weak American challenge in the BC turf is really devaluing this race. If the Europeans send over any decent animals, it is just a benefit for the British and French trainers. Conduit, Eagle Mountain and Red Rocks (last year) are decent enough horses but they are noweher near the level of Fantastic Light or Daylami. Red Rocks and Eagle Mountain were just decent Group 2 animals, who would never win a top G1 in Europe over 12 furlongs. Manila was a long, long time ago.

Emilio P, you really know your stuff. Very impressive. The amount of money invested by Godolphin and Coolmore is phenomenal. American-bred horses have dominated the last 20 years, but I honestly think that the amount of money invested in the UK and ireland has switched the balance of power in favour of the Europeans. We used to send our champs over like Dancing Brave and they were beaten fair and square by better horses and possibly also the tighter tracks. Your turf horses seem to have regressed while ours have improved. And as regards ours and yours, I think people look at where a horse is trained not where it comes from, though I did laugh when Theatrical the American horse beat the European horse.  

And now for the classic. I think what got people really excited over here was just the way the two Euro horses sprinted clear and showed real acceleration. People say it was a turf race but who cares. Turf is not the European surface, it is the world surface. Every major racing country in the world races on the grass. Only the US stays with dirt. It is the only thing preventing TRUE global competition in racing. A 19th century surface in the 21st century. Now you have a choice. Switch to more conventional surfaces that the rest of the world uses or stick with dirt and call Curlin the best horse in the world without ever having proved it. So come on America, you had to ditch Betamax and now ditch the dirt. In the long run, it will improve your racing and global competition. Then you can call Curlin a champ. Hope this mail isn't too long. Thanks.  

07 Nov 2008 4:58 PM

Brad: I'm over 50 and hadn't heard of that one. So I guess some of us led cleaner lives than others?

07 Nov 2008 6:00 PM

Personally, I'm quite proud of the rich history of American thoroughbred racing which has spanned over several centuries. I respect the contributions to the sport by such past greats, human and equine alike, and honor their memories which I hold in high esteem. Part of our sport here in the new world, and indeed one of its strengths, includes the running of our contests on two distictively different surfaces, dirt and grass. It makes our game more interesting in both a sporting and gaming sense. Our game here in America has produced memorable performers on both surfaces and has even seen a few remarkable horses who possessed an admirable surface ambidexterity.  Though it may be true that the majority of the international racing community might conduct their major events over grass alone, America certainly has nothing to be ashamed of when we remember our past greats and the dirt surfaces on which our greatest moments took place.  To admonish us here in America to "ditch the dirt" minimizes our game as we've historically seen fit to conduct it, and devalues the memories of our past greats such as Man O' War and Secretariat. In regard to Curlin, who is undeniably a champion, it might just be that the only thing the Breeders' Cup proved was that grass isn't his preferred surface. Curlin's 4th place finish on synthetic grass in no way diminishes his accomplishment of being a champion, something he has proven more than once, including a victory in Dubai against highly regarded international competition. The rest of the world may be happy with their lone surface of grass, but here in America I'm proud to say Maurice Chevalier was right when he said " Viva La Difference !!"

07 Nov 2008 6:50 PM


07 Nov 2008 7:32 PM

Right on target Robert P!!!!!

07 Nov 2008 7:52 PM

Wanda,my goodness. Look it up under The Hook, Urban Legends. Everybody I know has heard it and it basically was used to dissuade youngsters from going up to lookout hill and parking for nefarious reasons.

Can we assume since you never heard it you were one of those wild n' crazy girls or just the opposite? My bet is your parents were probably telling it to the boys you dated, didn't want their sweet beautiful daughter compromised.

However it probably has about as much validity as some of the mythis I've heard on these comments over the last few days.

07 Nov 2008 8:09 PM

I will agree that Big Brown does deserve mention for horse of the year. Who could fault his first 2 races of the triple crown. However I would have to rate them as follows. HOTY Curlin, 3yr old colt BB, best older female Zenyatta. Zenyatta has done nothing wrong, I can't fault her, she has crushed grade 1 filles easily. Had she run on both East & West coast or against colts, I may voted her HOTY. Curlin was only out of the money his last race & has run on 3 different surfaces & 2 different continents & coast to coast in this country (all in one year). I don't think he was the same horse after Daubi, but his class held him even when he was tired. Even though the fields he beat were not as good as last year, they were still better then the ones BB faced on dirt or turf. The American 3yr old crop this year was weak they all finished behind Curlin (who was 4th in the BC).

07 Nov 2008 10:30 PM

Forget about Horse of the Year; the conversation is as bad as the last part of the Presidential election.

I'm just asking which horses made this year exciting for me? I'd go with these: Big Brown, Commentator, Eight Belles, Proud Spell, Music Note, Zenyatta, Zarkava, Goldikova, New Approach, Duke of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator, Raven's Pass, and Yeats. Of course, you can add Curlin's trip to Dubai.

Now, from that list, where did true brilliane lie? #1 is Zarkava. Undefeated, she easily beat the best of the best, in a tough trip, and at only 3. #2 is Zenyatta. This was a great group of fillies and mares this year and she destroyed them. #3 is a tie. I'll go with Big Brown, he was jaw dropping, but the steroids bother me. The Duke of Marmalade won 5 Grade 1's in 08; that's serious. #4 would be Goldikova, again she beat the top notch male milers that she faced, though she was destroyed by Zarkava.

Demerits go to Big Brown for steroids and Curlin -- too many boring races.

My honorable mention goes to Eight Belles. Her victories leading up to the Derby were historic. Her run in the Derby was breathtaking and gutsy -- and she didn't have the benefit of steroids.  

The North American Horse of the Year: Zenyatta. The World's #1 Horse: Zarkava.

Fly the pink folks, the guys in blue were left wanting this year in the wake of the stunning victories by the Z girls and the gritty performances of Eight Belles and Proud Spell.

My feel good horses: Commentator and Yeats. Commentator is just a freak and his story is amazing. As far as Yeats goes, I'm not sure I can even walk as far as Yeats can run. Seriously, try walking the distance of just the Belmont Stakes at a good clip!!!  

The Human of the Year: Larry Jones, hands-down: his training, what he endured, and his performance in the bright light of tragedy and hatred is almost unfathomable.  

08 Nov 2008 3:01 AM
Steve Davidowitz

Was very impressed with Big Brown's Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby. But, I do not understand and cannot agree with the The Sheets persistent claim that Big Brown's Kentucky Derby was 'faster than Secretariat's'.

Consoider that Secretariat ran faster quarter mile splits throughout his five quarter miles en route to his track record clocking of 1:59-2/5 for 10 furlongs. He also was very wide on both turns--at least as wide on the turns as Big Brown---and made three distinct bursts of acceleration while completing his final quarter without serious urging in 22.9 seconds! An astonishing final split for any 10 furlong race anywhere. The track was fast, for sure, but nowhere near as fast as it would have had to have been to make the number--any number-by any method--slower than Big Brown. Would strongly urge THE SHEET Gurus to re-examine this oft-stated position, by going back and checking the sliding nature of their respective numerical scales through the years (They once worked with each other and produced only one SHEET Number)Moreover, it has seemed to many of their most loyal followers, that the sliding  numerical scale that has occured through the years has led to a series of inflated Derby numbers. Virtually every year for the past decade, we are told that the Derby winner ran a Zero or a minus number, which used to be reserved for the elite Thoroughbreds of the decade. This has been true in years when the Derby winner probably could not warm up the horses who finished behind Secretariat, (Sham and Foergo, for two examples).

Make no mistake, the two competing Sheet outfits are producing useful handicapping tools and they are always trying to teach their clients more about the game. Bravo! But the dogma they both engage in regarding this issue is hard to fathom and from my point of view misleading from an historical perspective.

Steve Davidowitz

08 Nov 2008 3:10 AM

All of the top horses have the ability to overcome the many unpredictable ways a race plays out. If you combine that with a mind and soundness,then you might be talking about greatness.

08 Nov 2008 6:17 AM
Steve Haskin

Hi Steve, thanks for your comments. I've often wondered that myself, and was surprised to see the figs on Big Brown, but I guess breaking from the 20-post helped escalate that number. Jerry Brown over the past years has maintained that horses are faster now than they were years ago, and because of the that, they are not lasting as long as their predecessors. He also says tracks are actually slower now than they were years ago, because the depth of the cushion has changed. I cant recall the exacts measurements, but supposedly there is more cushion in today's tracks. Maybe horses are indeed faster now, because there is more speed infused in the blood than there was in the past, when stamina was still a desirable trait. Perhaps we should gauge things before and after the dominating influence of the Raise a Native/Mr. Prospector line. Mr. P. I believe changed the course of breeding in this country. His speed runs through the blood of a vast majority of our horses, but so does his unsoundness.

08 Nov 2008 7:57 AM

Steve, your take on this year's BC is much like my own.  The only thing that surprises me is the amount of surprise that is out there over the Euro's strong showing.  The Euro's had already represented themselves quite well in past runnings of the BC and that would include their participation in dirt events; Sheikh Albadou, Arazi, Arcangues, and as you reminded your readers, Swain, who probably would have won not for the poor display of horsemanship on the part of his rider. I believe Dettori was slated on both sides of the pond for his antics that day. Given such strong showings in the past, I'm not so certain why the prevailing wisdom at this time is that by conducting this year's event on the all-weather we were leveling the playing field. Could an argument not be made that we actually tilted it in a direction as to strongly favor Europe's best turf horses? Didn't Arcangues experience kickback during his midpack ground saving trip in 1993? My overall feeling in the wake of this year's BC is one of weariness, as I'm not comfortable the BC is on the right track, so to speak.  It was nice to see Richard Migliore earn a well deserved BC win in the Turf Sprint. Goldikova's brilliant late burst was the performance of the day and the one, viscerally speaking, I'll most remember. The irony of the day for me was the strong performances by horses trained by horsemen who have been vocally critical of the synthetic revolution such as Bobby Frankel, Bob Baffert and John Shirrefs (sp?). Synthetic proponents have long been accusing these guys of lacking the skills to train for all-weather events, thus the reason for the trainers questioning the need for mass surface conversion. It would be my guess these trainers still do question the revolution, and if so, wouldn't that remove from the synthetic proponents arsenal one of their favorite bits of ammunition?                        

08 Nov 2008 8:56 AM

All votes count.

Jim has put it in perspective for me. Wonderful points about great horses in 2008. I hated seeing the Duke run so tired in the Classic, he is much better than that, the same for for the Champ Curlin. Nary a diminish in my eye.

Larry Jones is a Prince amoung men.

08 Nov 2008 10:04 AM
The Deacon

You make some great points Emilio P. In mentioning many of the all time great Euros, I would like to add Dubai Milenium. He was set to come over for the BC Classic but got hurt. He died not to long ago so we will never know how great a sire he would have made. Early results were impressive though. He may have been one of the all time best ranking up there with Mill Reef, Sir Ivor, Ribot, etc............ I have said it before on these blogs and I will say it again, I believe horse racing in our country is all about specialists. Except for the Triple Crown, where winning one of those races becomes historical, owners and trainers point their horses to very specific races and train them accordingly, and that is because I believe that most good horses have probably 2 or 3 real good races in them each year. With great risk comes great reward. Plus with all of the safety issues surrounding this sport with regards to racing surfaces, drugs, pain killers, etc, owners want to maximize their horses performance. Who can blame them. Back before 1984 we had no Breeders Cup races so we rarely saw the Euros race. There was really no reason to send them over here. I also believe that in just about all sports the world has become smaller and everything is global. The Americans dominated most of the track and field events in the Olympics for decades, now that is changing. I think many of us who were around during the great glory days of racing truly miss it. Todays horse racing scenery is not the one I grew up truly loving. In finishing, who cares who wins HOY honors, at the end of the day it is all about opinion anyway. Lets just sit back and say we had some pretty good races to watch this year.

Great blog Steve as usual.............

08 Nov 2008 11:46 AM

Mr. Haskin -  I love reading all your articles.  So thanks for all your hard work.  This question does not really belong here so I don't know if you will answer it, but I could not figure out how else to ask you this. Next to Seattle Slew, Smarty Jones is my favorite horse and I want him to do well at stud - not for any real reason other than I really like him.  I have this fear that maybe Smarty was just a freak and will not necessarily pass on whatever made him great -- (I have no basis or background for knowing one way or another) -- which leads me to my questions. Why do you think Smarty Jones stud fees are private this year?  Is there anything bad or good to read into that?  And do you have any opinions about how Smarty is doing so far at stud?  Again I know this may not be answered, but thought it was worth a shot to ask.  Thanks again for your wonderful and informative articles, chats, etc.

08 Nov 2008 2:03 PM
Steve Haskin

Hi Newbie, Normally a private stud fee means there are no seasons being sold, that the shareholders in the horse have him booked. It could mean other things, but usually if a stud fee is being lowered it is announced. Let me look into this and let you know. You can e-mail me your address at Smarty has been doing fine so far, with several winners, including a grade I stakes placed filly -- Be Smart. He still may be one of those freaks that doesnt come close to duplicating himself at stud, but it's way to early to tell. One thing is for sure, his horses have a lot of speed. Now, we'll just have to see how far they want to go.

08 Nov 2008 4:26 PM

I love all three horses and appreciate all your commentary on each and every one.  Thanks, Steve, for great reporting on ALL the horses with whom you have been involved over the years.

08 Nov 2008 4:34 PM
russell maiers

Yea,agree with Merrywriter. Steve you got three super nice horses to choose from, so good luck and with three like that you have a great job! Thanks for the mention of Better Talk Now, how many horses can compete like he has for so long? There are some and they desearve great admiration and respect.I have to agree with you on the Melborne Cup, what was that? Then the one jockey says we gotta look better at what horse we run here. OK.

You know how we all kindof fall in love with a racehorse at times who doesnt really pan out? Then we dont give up on them because we cant be wrong. Or more truthfully we just really like or love them. Well you mentioned my last favorite, Anak Nakal. Now who knows he may win the Classic next year as he still keeps getting better. I think you should do more stories simular to yours on Volponi. It would be cool to learn who your readers have fallin for and then someday panout or not. Before Anak Nekal it was Hard Spun for me, I just really liked him not totally knowing why.

08 Nov 2008 8:00 PM
Alfred K

If A beat B and B beat C, then A must be better C.

I wish horse racing is that simple.

08 Nov 2008 10:09 PM

Not sure if this is the place for this but thought I would throw this out to all my fellow thoroughbred enthusiasts including you Steve. I am finally looking at a possible trip to the Derby in May and I am really not sure where to start. Can anyone make any suggestions about good package deals, best places to stay, best seats (besides millioniare's row ; ) I had a hard time making this decision as my dream is to visit three chimneys but they close during derby week. I live wayyyyyy up North and have never had the privledgge of being there in person. Thanks in advance for all your advice.

08 Nov 2008 10:48 PM
Steve Haskin

Karen, first off, you can Google Kentucky Derby tours and a bunch of them will show up. If you add the word Premiere, you'll see a link to Premiere Sports Travel. They have several package deals, some being 5 and 6 days, others less, staying at different hotels. I can vouch for them, because I was the guest speaker at their group at the Radisson hotel on their first night. They said they wanted me to return this year, but I'm not sure yet. They have loads of activities during the week, as you'll see on the website, including a trip to Three Chimneys Farm.

08 Nov 2008 11:52 PM
Matthew W

Godolphin and Coolmore are following in the footsteps of Japan, and before that England/Europe---American bloodlines are first and foremost--and no it didn't surprise me about the BC 1/2 being Euro-based...we're talking about a lot of top American-Bred horse stock! And Japan really hit it outta the park with Sunday Silence, probably the best stud since Mr Prospecter/maybe of all times as far as racing prowess! Such a shame to lose our best, I mean, sure you can buy our yearlings, but Sunday Silence was a hit! Giants Causeway,Tiznow,Smart Strike,A P Indy form a strong foursome for Kentucky...Credit goes to Winstar for racing their homebreds instead of making a profit....look at Bobby Frankel---he sold what should have been PRICELESS--the #1 Derby horse, and to think--he's never so much as had a sniff at The Roses! I'm sure he has regrets right about now---just as I have disapointment! THIS is the reason why Europe can go 1/2 in The Classic! Pro Ride just gave them the opportunity to showcase their superiority! The only American horse that could've beaten them ran on Friday---American Racing needs to understand what it takes to dominate on Breeders Cup Day---Owners/Trainers need to be as enthusiastic as their world-wide counterparts--I think Bob Baffert realizied that, and he went 2 for 3 with a 2nd...The best horses usually are in The East/NY...a clarion call to NY Trainers/owners--You are needed if there's any chance to achieve BC Dominance! Come West Young Man--at least this year---I'm talkin PREP! I thought there were several powerful BC races run on Pro Ride--Ravens Pass and Zenyatta were the most impressive, as their kicks were the most visually impressive---I think Pro Ride pretty much fetters out the best horses--In other words, I don't think Ravens Pass/Henrythenavigator were "flukes"...Godolphin/Coolmore are putting up the $$/why SHOULDN'T the best horses be in Europe? For a price, the ellusive Derby Dream was sold off to "The Competition"---which keeps getting better and better--It made sense/but for all the wrong reasons---You can bet Europe will come locked/loaded again next year--we need to do the same! C'MON New York--"We" need your horse power!

09 Nov 2008 3:15 AM
Matthew W

Newbie--Smarty Jones was a real good horse/who probably should have never lost--His Arkansas Derby/Kentucky Derby/Preakness were very good indeed! He had the ability to keep out of trouble as well as the kick to go on...He really should've won The Triple Crown--and I DO think Jerry Bailey hurt his chances by running up on him with Edgington like he did! Also his Preakness ride/full throttle all the way by 13....that contributed as well to his final 1/16 demise in Belmont...Also was dissapointed for him NOT to get HOY---Ghostzapper was 3/3 incl the Tour De Force on that glib Lone Star track/with an easy lead--everyone knows Smarty should have won The Crown---I think he'll be a good sire/his early get should be live....

09 Nov 2008 3:26 AM

First off i just want everyone to know i am NOT bashing BB with my statement, just comparing, and i will try and keep this on a factual basis. Does anybody remember, and we should, Smarty Jones. I was looking at a Christmas tree that we put up, yes it's kinda early, and i saw one of our smarty jones ornaments. It was of him the day he won the derby. I also took notice of the number on the saddle cloth he wore, which read 15. That meant he, on derby day broke from post 15, out of a field of 18. Now i know he didn't win the Derby by 5 1/4 lengths, but he was up against it that day, and had lion heart to run past, which wasn't the easiest thing to do. The thing is that he won the Derby from a very wide post as well. Smarty also ran against 10 other horses in the preakness, and won by what 11 or something i can't remember. His post in a field of 11 was 7, a mid field to outside post again. In the Belmont Smarty drew post 9 in a field of nine. This post probably did him in considering other speed horses in the race, which had to be to his inside pushed him through blazing fractions throughout the 1-1/2 mile race, and still finished second. That is guts and class. Remember that in the Preakness lion heart who was gunned to the lead faded out of the top three going 1-1/16. Smarty was gunning through 1-1/2 and had it not been for a very lucky  closer Birdstone, Smarty would've been our 12th TC winner. One of my questions is why do we glorify BB more than Smarty when they both basically, in my mind had the same level of difficulty. BB broke form the 20 post, and won, but against weaker competition. Smarty won against pretty tough horse, but broke form the 15 post. I want to but am not going to bring up the comparison of the Belmont for fear i'll be shot for it. So if anyone would like to answer my question please do, I like to broaden my knowledge and see others view points.

09 Nov 2008 9:28 AM
Old Timer

You're a good writer Mr. Haskin and it's nice to read some common sense comments on Breeder's Cup and horse racing in general. This sport needs more people like you to start lobbying for some changes to turn it around.

I have just one comment, regarding your statement that the Euro's are laughing at us for calling 1 1/2 miles a "Marathon." As a racing fan for almost 50 years, my biggest disappointment is the lack of stamina and toughness in the modern day thoroughbred. It was fun both to handicap and to watch some of the longer races. The Big A used to have a race called the Display Handicap that was twice around the track! (2 1/4 miles). And why did NYRA have to change the distance of the Jockey Club Gold Cup -- just to match the Classic. For years it was 1 1/2 miles and was even 2 miles for a while. I remember KELSO winning and setting a world record for 2 miles. Also, the old champions like Kelso and Forego would run 10 to 12 times a year. Now we see the top names less and less. I hate to be one who says "the good old days" but you are right on the money to say that calling 1 1/2 miles a Marathon is a joke!

09 Nov 2008 12:43 PM

LDP, I don't think we do glorify BB more than Smarty. In his time I think SJ was more popular and beloved than BB is now. We are talking more about BB because he is in the now. Personally, I think Smarty was/is the better of the two. Even my boss knew who Smarty was(of course her last name is Jones,lol). I can't express how disappointed I was with his early retirement. :(

  Also I think it is really interesting that the top 3(Curlin,Zen & BB) all have a lack of 2 y/o experience in common.

09 Nov 2008 4:23 PM

Wow, it's humbling to see someone as expert as Steve Davidowitz supporting my basic premise, that the Sheets have a bias to produce much lower numbers each year - which does not invalidate their use for handicapping.  If horses were really much faster today than 20 years ago, as I pointed out, there is no way old stallions would be able to continue to sire top runners, yet they do.

09 Nov 2008 5:29 PM

barb, my thing with the smarty/bb thing is that smarty was a speedster too, and won from the 15 post against, what i think was the better field. Also people make such a big deal about BB winning from the 20 post, and from my prospective the two are not that different. Also differernt posts can have their advantages and disadvantages, for instance being outside can keep you out of trouble, though if you have a pure speed horse to your inside then, like in smarty's case that's not very good. Smarty probably would've benefited from BB's Belmont post this year. The inside post if your a speedster can help you if you, like smarty break cosistantly well, but it can also get you into trouble, like being boxed, or getting walled up. BB got pinned on the inside, and like smarty couldn't settle, getting rank. In my oppinion, a good horse makes their own luck, and the only thing that could possibly be used as a legit exuse to lossing is if the horse likes the surface. Yes i know had a shoe coming off, but Brother Dereck ran forth and lost one or two shoes during the Derby, and as i said, still ran forth. In my oppinion BB bounced. He had a lack of training, and he was ready to explode the whole week.

Barb, again, i too was saddened by Smarty's retirement, and on that i'm enraged at the retirement of Run Away and Hide! That to me is plain dumb and stupid to do in the midst of the problems our sport is having. It goes to show that many still could care less about the fans, breed or sport, and only about the money, and that is truley saddening. You are right on your point of the lack of 2 yr old foundation, with our top three horses this year. The trainers, for the most part, listened and took their time with these horses before racing them. If more trainers did that, we wouldn't need synthetics. If more people would stop breeding for speed, and more for stamina, heart, and durability, we wouldn't need synthetics, if trainers would quit drugging horses we wouldn't need synthetics. There is nothing wrong with our good old fashion dirt, it's the way we train and the way we breed. If people would relize that, then we would have the perfect breed. Heck we may even beat the Euros.

09 Nov 2008 6:14 PM

My personal take on the breed is that speed is not the problem, speed, stamina, you see both of them in every 5 generation pedigrees in american horses.  THe biggest problem with the breeders is how much inbreeding they do with the same crosses.  its almost like its a commercial rule to breed the Mr. Prospector line to the Northern Dancer Line.  I personally dont like any inbreeding in the first 4 to 5 generations. And I am saddened that as decades pass we see more great sire-lines being extinct.  I see the top 100 sires and i see like 10 Storm Cats, 6 Mr. Ps, about 25 descendantas of Mr. P, and about another 40 that come from Northern Dancer. I know this is a trend put by the commercial breeders.  It all probably started with the success of Bold Ruler in the sixties.  Throughout the Sixties and all the way to the eighties, The Bold Ruler sire-line dominated American Racing.  Bold Ruler and his sons and grandsons What a Pleasure,  Reviewer, Raja Baba, Irish Castle, Bold Bidder, Secretariat, Boldnesian, Seattle Slew dominated the classics.  Bold Rulers influence seemed to overshadow other top sires, and slowly sire-lines began to disapperar.  The Raise a Native line followed suit as well as the Nearctic Line with Northern Dancer and Icecapade; But as the Bold Ruler line still hangs by a string in the commercial market thanks to A.P. Indy, and the Raise a Native line continues mostly thanks to Mr. Prospector, its the Northern Dancer line that has invaded and taken the international breeding market by storm.  Storm Cat, Danzig, Nureyev, Vice Regent and his son Deputy Minister, Nijinsky, Sadlers Wells, Fairy King, and all their descendants  are dominating worldwide racing as well as the auction ring.  They have over-bred these lines so much that you see Northern Dancer inbred 3 to 4 times in most horses today.  Its ridiculous, mainly because of the unsoundness.   Mr. Prospector also is starting to overpopulate.  Im a breeder, and personally I like my horses pedigrees looking more  like Curlin, Rock Hard Ten, Barbaro, Rags to Riches, Casino Drive,Ghostzapper.  I respect Stronach as well as Juddmonte alot, because they dont inbreed as much as most breeders do these days.  In Europe, South America, as well as the other parts of the world there is more than just a couple lines to choose from.  In America  I am saddened that Man O' WArs line is being held on mostly by Tiznow these days.  His son War Admiral on the other hand has disappeared.  The Sir Gallahad, lines have disappeared, so have pretty much the Hyperion and Bull Dog lines.  I mean Bull Lea's offspring dominated the classics for many years, now its almost gone.  Secretariat, his line still lives mostly regionally, and disappearing quickly, his best son Risen Star died prematurely, and so did his best son Star Standard.  Seattle Slew has been fared well, but Affirmed is slowly disappearing also as breeders have forgotten about how great an influence he is, specially on turf, he would be ideal for synthetics.Other great lines like the Turn-to, Domino, Ambiorix, Blenheim, Menow-Tom Fool.  It almost feels like there is a Northern Dancer-Raise a Native Mafia that controls the market and doesn't let anybody else in.  I mean american breeders have sent the likes of Sunday Silence, Red Ransom, and Silver Charm packing to other countries.  Sires with great sire influence.  If anybody cares to know, there is a horse called Big Bad Jack standing in California, his great grandsire is Citation, he's probably the last remaining sire-line link to Citation, who is basically near extinction.  I do not know how the thoroughbred breeding business became a model identical to the fashion business where trends control the market.  People say you need to breed for speed.  To me a horse is a horse, they all come with 4 legs, they have no notion of their breeding.  This stamina lacking thing is more a way of how the horse is brought up and trained.  Horses in America are not trained like they used to be.  A horse like Bold Forbes or Northern Dancer these days probably would never be able to go past a mile with the trainers of today.  Everything is fast now, there is no patience by trainers or even owners.  My dad knew Laz Barrera, and Laz made Bold Forbes, a known sprinter, win the kentucky derby and the belmont.  He did it by jogging and galloping the colt 2 to 3 miles every day.  I mean thats what athletes are supposed to do, train hard for every competition, not be pampered, or keep running half-mile to 5 furlong breezes every week.  You want stamina train the horse horse for stamina, keep the colt or filly out more than 10-15 minutes a day, you will see the difference.  Thats how its done in every other continent except North America  Had Horatio Luro not figured out Princequillo was a horse that needed distance, we wouldve never had Secretariat.  And also to point out a horse that is mainly a sprint specialist or a miler will never touch a good or even better yet a great classic horse.  What do I mean by this, Unbridled destroyed Housebuster, Precisionist, Gulch and Dancing Spree destroyed their one-turn opposition.  Recently Ghostzapper, Rock Hard Ten, Congaree have gobbled up their sprinting opposition.  And if you want to get serious, lets go back to Forego destroying Mr. Prospector, or Ancient Title leaving any sprinters in his wake.  I will give that the breeders cup sprint is exciting and fast, but i can bet that 99.9% of the time a horse like Curlin, Big Brown, Street Sense, The Rock, Ghostzapper, or all the greats like Dr. Fager would destroy the likes of the Speightowns, Midnight Lutes, Artax,Orientates, Kona Golds, Mr. Prospectors, at any distance from 6 furlongs and farther.  I rather have a fast horse who can run 5F to 1 1/2 miles like Smarty Jones than a Benny the Bull anyday.  So lets start looking to improve the breed, lets do a little more Broad Brush or Kris S. or Halo lines, or Ribot lines, while they are still out there, lets not let it all come down to only having a Big Bad Jack for any of these wonderful lines.  We ask so many times why there hasnt been another Triple Crown winner, well its taken 11 extraordinary horses to do it, its to bad almost all eleven have been forgotten in breeding for another one.  Maybe thats the answer, that we forget to easily what got us anywhere in the first place.

09 Nov 2008 10:16 PM

It seems to me, reading through these messages, that a lot of folks are unhappy that several of the USA's good horses are being exported, either for racing or breeding or both, and feel that this will result in a poorer class of young horse coming through to give punters the excitement of seeing a champion run, to hold up the USA's reputation abroad, and to meet international challenges at big USA meetings like the Breeder's.

As I mentioned in an earlier message, I'm from South Africa, and this anxiety makes me smile, just a little sadly! For one thing, you guys have enough dollar power to buy nearly any horse you really want, and such a big base of good breeding stock, that it would take an earthquake to do more than rattle your teacups.

In SA, with it's wobbly currency and smaller gene pool, it's tough to be a fan of local racing and breeding. In the last twelve months many of our good horses have disappeared from the country to add value to someone else's studbook. For instance, it's been bye-bye to the dam of Sun Classique, who won three Gp 1's here and the Dubai Duty Free in Dubai. She's been sold back to Australia. Now I hear that Silvano, a German horse, is returning to Germany - hardly a race meeting goes by without at least one winner by Silvano. Small stuff, you say, but our breeding base isn't so large that two good horses won't make a difference. Come to think of it I wonder if Sun Classique herself, or Jay Peg who also won that night in Dubai, will ever come back to SA? With our tough quarantine regulations it is very expensive to get horses overseas to compete, and when offered good money (by SA standards) to leave them there, why not? One of the three best horses ever to be bred in SA, Horse Chestnut (alongside Sea Cottage and Pocket Power - my opinion!!) went to stud in America, and who has ever heard of him since?

So I can understand in my gut why you Americans regret the "loss" of your good horses, but hang on, just wait a moment. They will come back, or their progeny will. Rely on it. You've got the cash to buy back the best of their get. One day I will count up how many sires standing in SA have (USA) in brackets after their names. There are a lot of them.

If you'll excuse me diverging a bit here, I have to get off my chest that I get a bit irritated sometimes how American commentators and writers on racing, call British, French, Aussie, etc., horses coming to compete in the USA "invaders". Their breeding is often half or more American, and sometimes they were born in the USA as well. I remember objecting to a website racing writer using that word about Archipenko, when he came to contest the Arlington Million earlier this year. Cummon!!! Archy is by Kingmambo out of a half-sister to Nijinsky - so is that an invader? And the two days of the Breeder's Cup were echoing about the "invaders" from Britain, France, etc.

So how about seeing this "invasion" or your ongoing "brain drain" differently ... not "we are losing many of our best horses to the Arabs, the French", etc. but "The USA exports are in demand to improve the Thoroughbred worldwide". America has had a BIG influence on breeding of racehorses worldwide. Fact. So be proud of it!!

10 Nov 2008 3:25 AM

Good point LDP.I'd like to add Afleet Alex to your point. What a smart talented horse.I have not seen many Belmonts more impressive that the one he ran.Wait,wait,wait,push the button and he was gone... I'm quite sure Bobby Frankel feels bad that he sold that horse for an EIGHT FIGURE sum. LOL

10 Nov 2008 10:02 AM

Kate: I hear you girl. I'm a Horse Chestnut fan myself.I sometimes get the same feeling about comments on Canadian bred horses. I'm not sure why this comes across as less than good compared to US bred ones. I always say that a good horse can come from anywhere and I thought that BC was great with all the Euro's. As you say they are US and Canada as far as breeding. EP.Taylor changed the breeding industry with Northern Dancer didn't he? Samson Farms may change it now with Smart Strike!

10 Nov 2008 10:28 AM

I think comparing Zenyatta's campaign this year to the the other two candidates for HOY is a bit unfair if you're considering the fact that she raced exclusively against females. And if that's the case, do we discount a Two Year old for HOY consideration forever? Secretariat and Favorite Trick were just dominant over their competition for a complete season which earned them their HOY titles. So for example Favorite Trick couldn't face Skip Away to duke it out for the championship. What's the deciding factor then? And what was the basis for the outcome in 1997? That he just looked better doing it? Isn't this similar to what we're looking at this year with the HOY debate?

10 Nov 2008 1:17 PM

Steve, many thanks for your sensible comments. We should be grateful to have three candidates for HOY as accomplished as Curlin, Big Brown, and Zenyatta.

Maybe this would be another topic for discussion: the continuing bad news after the Breeders' Cup as one sound horse after another is retired: Zarkava, Raven's Pass, Henrythenavigator, for instance. A 4YO like Tiago could certainly be aimed at the 2009 Breeders Cup over a track he likes. How many American horses besides Secretariat made the Hall of Fame after being retired at 3? Alysheba would have been remembered as a good, not a great horse, had his career been over at 3. Seattle Slew had his detractors right up until he blew the opposition away at 4. Spectacular Bid might have been seen as not having fulfilled his promise if he hadn't had the opportunity for an amazing season at 4. Curlin gets to run at 4 and Street Sense doesn't, so Curlin now seems much the better horse, whereas they seemed equals after their 3YO season. If the improving Raven's Pass got to run at 4, he might achieve a new level of distinction.

10 Nov 2008 3:59 PM

American horses have SOME of the best horses in the world but not ALL of them. Due to the size of the country and the breeding industry, they will have a lot more than a country like ireland for instance. Irish horses are just as good on a per capita basis. Irish turf distance horses are much better usually i.e zarkava and conduit.

10 Nov 2008 8:54 PM

Rock, the difference is, and i'm not being rude, but is two year olds can't race against three year olds or older horses even if they wanted to, unless you want some kind of match race. Zen on the other hand had the oppurtunity to face colts, and go outside her division if she wished, she just didn't. That is the reason we judge differently in that respect. I can ellaborate further if you wish, again not being rude, but if you want me to include more detail i can. I am also open to your oppinion so fire away.

10 Nov 2008 8:59 PM

Rock, i may have misunderstood your post, i'm not quite sure who you are taking up for, Zen or Curlin, i am bias but don't mind either way, so can you please clarify for me?

10 Nov 2008 9:02 PM

Dave, i hear you loud and clear. Can you imagine the kind of season we would've had if Hard Spun and SS stayed around? O and what about invasor, i know he'd be what six or seven, but even i'm ready to give credit were it's due, and he was a hecuva horse. This year with those three along with Curlin would've be one of the best ever in quality if all were still racing. It is too bad.

10 Nov 2008 9:06 PM

You can take this European horse versus american horse thing a bit too far. I mean how far back do you wish to go? all american horses came from europe if you go back far enough. Was'nt nasrullah sent over in the 50's from uk. Without him there would be no bold ruler and by extension secretariat or ruffian.If you are going to get real picky about it wasnt george washington of english stock?( i'm not talking about the horse either)! So all your great american champions are ultimately descended from euro lines and before that,there were the arabs. Who cares? they are just racehorses first and foremost.    

10 Nov 2008 9:10 PM

Dave, to your question about the Hall of Fame...I think only AP Indy made it after retirement at 3.  I wonder if Street Sense will get in via the BC Juv./ Ky Derby combo.  Also I agree about the early retirement heartbreak (at least for us fans). I was really expecting to see Raven's Pass in Dubai in March, and back at SA next Nov.(luck willing). And I was also stunned by the choice to retire Zarkava. I have always thought horses are the best at 5, they have really come into themselves physically and mentally. But these days the top horses rarely make it to the track at 4. I wish there was some way to entice owners to wait to go to stud. Maybe synthetic surfaces were supposed to help with that too. If horses suffer less catastrophic breakdowns then maybe owners will have less fear of losing their horses, a stallion with a limp can still breed. And I seem to have noticed a thing with the really good fillies(obviously there are some exceptions) where they aren't real good producers. So why not run them longer? As long as they are healthy an enjoy it I think horses should just keep on racing. Zito and R Mandella seem to be really good with top level older horses, or maybe they are just good at finding good owners :) In todays racing I find it hard to call any horse "GREAT" because they never really seem to prove it.

11 Nov 2008 2:18 AM

LDP, Yes!!! Invasor was the best!! And he did come back to race after his BCC but he was injured and retired. He wasn't retired to stud like SS and HS and Any Given Saturday, in my opinion all three of them should have stayed in training.

11 Nov 2008 2:24 AM

Wanda: thanks for the support, and apologies for amalgamating the USA and Canada. I bunged all horses from both countries in one bag. I do tend to forget how many good things Canada has given the horse world, quite different and apart from the USA. (Silly of me to forget, since I am going out with a Canadian guy, and think he is definitely one of Canada's best exports!!)

Here's hoping Smart Strike proves to be another Canadian success story. His full brother, Strike Smartly, stands in SA and last Sunday, at the big Johannesburg course, Turffontein, two of SS's progeny took out the two main races, both graded races. So Smart Strike's relations are already making thier mark internationally.

EmilioP: I agree speed is overemphasized in breeding and training. Surely that's because there are more races on offer for speed merchants, and 2-year-olds can be started earlier over sprint distances than over a mile or further. So there's more money quicker for a speedy youngster than for an horse needing time and a longer trip to show its best.

OK, OK, so this is stating the obvious, I know! Maybe you care about what you produce, but as you said many breeders breed for the market, like fast-food outlets supplying greasy burgers and heavily-salted chips. What people want, not what's good for them. That's commercial common sense, hm?

As for the retire-em-at-three syndrome, one of the sad results is that horses that don't show their full potential quickly in life, often don't get a proper chance. And in the same way, any serious check in a horse's career, injury, mental hangups or just plain loss of form, can loose it its chance for good. Owners won't wait - who is going to carry on paying for training or spelling when the horse is six, eight, twelve months off the course? And maybe won't win anything once it gets back? There must be many trainers who have gritted their teeth when a horse they know will be good when it matures, gets sold out of their yard by an impatient owner, and florishes amazingly for it's new owner/trainer.

But hey! the Breeders Cup produced one or two warm-heart stories of guys who did wait, though they were not necessarily rewarded with a big-race win at the end of it. Fairy stories are few in racing, I guess. Still, romantic twits like me love them and always get a thrill on the (few) occasions they do come to a happy ending.

I'm hoping Mike de Kock and Eagle Mountain will be one of those happy endings, but we'll still have to wait and see. And Archipenko is another that has been given a second chance with a new trainer, and seems to be making good use of it. I guess we associate ourselves with the horses we admire - wouldn't we all like another chance in life with a more sympathetic trainer?

11 Nov 2008 4:07 AM

Thank you Steve Davidowitz for your expert insight into the "sheets". I have maintained all along that those figs on this years Derby were questionable. Finally someone with real credibility among the racing world is questioning them too. There seems to be too much room for human error in judgement sometimes when calculating those particular figs.

11 Nov 2008 8:32 AM

Hey guys, i know it's a little off subject, but does anybody know what ever happend to crown of thorns after his injury? I haven't seen any news on him, and i really thought he had some promise, but after the injury nothing. Hey Steve do you mind looking into it for me?

11 Nov 2008 8:38 AM

Barb yeah it was great Invasor came back, he won in Dubai too, and what a race that was. I just did think of this, but you know that Invasor was i think considered either top hadicap horse or HOY for his Dubai win, yet people with Curlin are saying that his two wins over there shouldn't count. Those were his best performances, and the rank in my opinion better than Zenyatta's Distaff or BB's Derby, so is this some way to erase what he has done so that you can say that another horse looks better? In my opinion you can't put one horse into consideration for an award, and not consider another for it, just to make his competition better. Also please don't say Invasor was put in there based on his Donn win, cause no horse is put into consideration based on one race. It was Invasor's Dubai mainly that put him in the mix, and honestly to count his win in Dubai like it's a race in America, then discount Curlin's performances, because of the fact they weren't in the U.S. is dumb. Don't be unfair to another horse by demeaning what he's done to better you own favorite, we should not have double standards.

11 Nov 2008 8:48 AM


The point I'm making is that I don't believe a filly needs to run against colts in order to be named HOY. I use 1997 as an example as not just b/c HOY was between a 2 yr old and an older horse, but to the extent that two horses were dominant within their own division. As I believe with 2 year olds being considered for HOY from time to time, it should depend on their own merits, to a certain extent of course. If you're by far and away the best horse in your division, and in this respect a very deep division without suffering a loss, you should be favored for HOY. In my opinion, she had enough quality competition to deal with in the Distaff (Ladies Classic). So until she stood in there with best of her bunch and defeated them all at once, then she could go on and tackle the boys. But I just believe with division lacking in quality on one end, and high on the other, I believe it should give her that extra push to be named HOY. If she loses to Curlin or BB, no shame in being named champion within her own division.

11 Nov 2008 12:57 PM

I am by no means an expert on speed figures,Beyers or otherwise,but it seems to me they add 5 to 10 Beyer points if there is a top rider/trainer combo.Just a casual observance based on years of experience.

11 Nov 2008 3:14 PM

Rock, thank you for clarifying, and by the way the way you made your statement was very well thought out, and well put togeater. I too, would not mind if Zen won HOY, my critism is not of the fact she only faced fillies, but up until the BC she faced the same old weak bunch of fillies. When she did face better competion, i feel that in some ways her competion was comprimised. GP, i feel is over the hill a bit, and obviously hated the Pro ride, Hysterical lady is a monster on dirt, but doesn't really like the pro ride either. CB got blocke up on the inside, and music note gave Zen a head start, so most of Zen's competion never really got a good time to fire their best shots at her. Zen also didn't have to face a top Euro, for example Goldikova, or Zarkava. If those two had been entered Zen might have very well finished third, and if they had the Distaff on dirt, and MN and CB didn't give Zen a head start, she could've finished third or fourth. Then what would we be saying. Another thing if the Cup had been on dirt, Curlin i believe would've w/o a doubt would've won, and if Zen finished third or forth, then what would we say?

11 Nov 2008 8:39 PM
American Dad

Although this year's Breeder's Cup marked an improvement in the European Horse's performances, it was hardly a butt-whipping.It was an example of what the Breeder's Cup should be, the best horses racing each other on one (or two) days on the same track.  Hopefully, the big European operations will continue to send their best when the BC moves to Churchill (or Belmont, etc.). As for going abroad, why are more American horses not racing in Europe?  I know Curlin's connections considered the L'Arc but passed.  Why don't American horse owners stop complaining about the Europeans coming to the BC until they are willing to send their good horses somewhere other than Dubai?  Wouldn't it be great to see Kip Deville at Ascot?  How about Good Night Shirt at Cheltenham or Aintree (a Grand National double?).  Certainly, its not money since many of the top races in the UK and France have purses in the $1m plus range.

13 Nov 2008 7:14 AM

I know this is rather late in the game, but I really cannot believe that what I am about to put out there has not been mentioned at all. Of 156 runners in the BC, including all the "hay, oats & water" Euros, a grand total of 2 (TWO!) ran with neither bute nor Lasix- and yes they were Euro, Goldikova and Only Answer. Only one more runner was bute free but had Lasix, and there were 8 only on bute. Included in your Lasix users?? 6 Coolmore horses as well as Raven's Pass. I may not follow racing as much as many of you, but I am confused by this. First, what are Cal. rules for permitting 1st time Lasix, and when could've the Euros shown that they "needed" it? What an American angle by the way, the 1st time Lasix. Secondly, how come the fact that Aidan O'Brien was fined by OAS stewards for failing to report 4 of his runners as 1st time Lasix was buried in a DRF story? Had it been one of our American trainers, no doubt it would've been headline news. Perhaps those with a greater knowledge of med rules can elnlighten me.

17 Nov 2008 4:18 PM

JCRobinson, that is interesting, since Euro are oh so pure people with their horses. So your telling me they need Lasix to help Henry and RP to win, wow, wouldn't that just get the press in a field day. I do happen to know that if the horse is a bleeder, and performs well off of lasix, that when you put them on lasix for the first time it can really have an effect. Tell me Euros, why preach to us about using drugs, when you come hear and adopt our ways? Kinda hypocritical huh. Well we see a lot of that in the sport anyhow so whats a litte more right. Honestly you should've come over hear to set an example by winning over us cleanly. Hey JCRobinson, who else was running on bute or lasix in the Classic, and who was running on what? I seriously would like to know, so if you can find out more i'd appriciate it. Thx.

23 Nov 2008 10:18 PM
lucas m.

steve, thanks for the clear thinking. too rare these days.

08 Dec 2008 6:07 PM

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