Out With the Old

So ends arguably the most tumultuous, controversial year in the annals of Thoroughbred racing. The sport no doubt is on the brink – of what we don’t quite know yet. But when PETA protests, congressional hearings, synthetic surface studies, steroids, and anti-horse slaughter bills, infiltrate our normally cloistered world and dim our kaleidoscope of vibrant colors you know change is in the air.

Most of the sport’s problems in 2008 were initiated within a five-week span, beginning only seconds after the Kentucky Derby and lasting until the final strides of the Belmont Stakes. Eight Belles’ horrific and freakish demise while pulling up after the Kentucky Derby started the firestorm that led to the unfortunate events that followed. A blink of an eye prior to that tragedy, the racing world was prepared to hoist Big Brown onto its most lofty throne. This was the hero, the unconquerable titan everyone had been waiting for. The Preakness put Big Brown on the threshold of history and made us forget about the PETA protests and its preposterous attacks directed at the sport and Eight Belles’ connections. Big Brown’s brilliant victory at least restored some of the sport’s tarnished image and had everyone now talking Triple Crown. Surely, there was no foe even in the same universe as Big Brown.

Then it all went wrong during the three weeks leading up to and including the Belmont Stakes, beginning with Big Brown’s untimely quarter crack. The media, mainly those outside the sport, went after Big Brown’s connections like sharks to blood. When they were finished digging through every trash heap they could find, they had made Mike Iavarone and Rick Dutrow look like the James gang. To have it all end in such an ignominious manner with the stretch run from hell put an unsavory end to what had started off as a journey to greatness.

Despite the farcical congressional hearings that followed, there were many memorable and passionate moments, with Curlin, Zenyatta, and Peppers Pride all gathering large fan bases across the country. Even though Big Brown returned to win two stakes before his untimely retirement, many fans just couldn’t see past his Belmont calamity and their perceived view of his connections.

Now, here we are about to embark on what promises to be another turbulent year. Racing did make great strides as a result of the events of 2008, and we can only hope it continues to move forward  – both from a fan’s and a bettor’s standpoint. The sport has lost the majority of its print journalists, but perhaps we can get many of them back if we can find people who know how to sell and market the product effectively. So, here is one goal: find a way to get Sports Illustrated to actually write a positive article on racing. If we can do that, then perhaps the newspapers will follow.

That certainly isn’t going to happen with more quotes like this from Santa Anita president Ron Charles that appeared in DRF in response to the three fatal injuries in the first five days of the meet on the Pro-Ride surface:

“This track has been very safe for three months,” Charles said, referring to the successful Breeders’ Cup held here in October, “but the last week has been different from what we had. We want it back to the safe track we’ve had. It’s been so well received for three months. The last week has been difficult. It’s so hard to explain.”

Isn’t it about time we CAN explain it (better still not have anything to explain), just so we can inform the rest of the world we know what we’re doing, especially when we wind up re-living the same problems as last year at this time on the Cushion Track? Did we perhaps act too quickly in rushing into synthetic surfaces without knowing as much about their complexities and idiosyncrasies as we should have? I loved watching horses run in safety in the Breeders’ Cup, but there apparently is an instability and quirkiness to some of these surfaces we know little about. This is what the horsemen voted for, so let’s make our first New Year’s wish that the Pro-Ride surface return to the way it was last fall and that the maintenance people discover what went wrong and fix it…for good.    


Last week I conducted a poll of who the fans would vote for for Owner of the Year in order to see how that Eclipse category is perceived by the public. There are so many variables to this award, especially this year. Would the fans vote for accomplishment or would they vote from their heart and gut and take a more personal approach? The results were quite revealing:

1—Jess Jackson………………….28 votes
2—Joe Allen……………………....19 votes
3—Jerry and Ann Moss………….15.5 votes
4—IEAH Stables………………....15 votes
5—Rick Porter (Fox Hill)………....4 votes
6—Darley Stable……………….....3.5 votes

Also receiving votes were Zayat Stables, Hal Earnhardt, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, Marylou Whitney, Gary Tanaka, Tommy Kelly and Joe Grant, and Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Even Old Friends’ Michael Blowen, who doesn’t own horses, received a vote. Oddly enough, to demonstrate the fans’ perception of what an Eclipse Award-winning owner should be, Frank Stronach, the leading owner in the country by money won, did not receive a single vote.

Based on their explanations, voters determined that Jess Jackson deserved the award for keeping Curlin in training as a 4-year-old; Joe Allen deserved it for his handling of his homebred sensation Pepper’s Pride; Jerry and Moss for their class and all they’ve done for the sport, not to mention their handling of Zenyatta and Tiago; and Rick Porter mainly for the way he dealt with the Eight Belles tragedy and stormy aftermath. So, four of the top five finishers were based mostly on the owners themselves and their contributions to the sport rather than their actual accomplishments over the course of the year.

Perhaps the most revealing was the fourth-place finish of IEAH Stables, despite owning an amazing eight individual grade I winners who won 11 grade I stakes, including the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Some acknowledged their great year, the building of a veterinary hospital outside Belmont Park, their charitable donations, and becoming the first owners to institute a no-drug policy, but still they looked elsewhere. Perhaps many couldn’t look past Iavarone’s bad press prior to the Belmont, or IEAH’s overall corporate image, or even their failure to put a leash on their outspoken and controversial trainer, Rick Dutrow. That last point apparently overshadowed the fact that IEAH won their eight grade I stakes with five different trainers – the others being Bill Mott, Bobby Frankel, Bob Holthus, and John Terranova. To reverse a line from the Godfather: It’s personal, Sonny, not business.”

One note about the actual Eclipse voting: The new online format has to change, because it shortchanged IEAH, and could very well cost them any shot at winning the award. The only listing for them on the drop-down part of the ballot is for IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa, meaning that it is strictly a vote for Big Brown’s owners, which many will be reluctant to do based on one horse. This ignores all the other horses IEAH owned with different partners. Not many are going to take it upon themselves to “write in” just IEAH Stables. Unless the NTRA combines IEAH and Pompa and IEAH as a write-in, they will have a split vote. The listing of IEAH and Pompa is based solely on the fact that they are the only ones who made the top 20 list of money-winning owners, and they were at No. 20.

As for Jess Jackson, the vast majority of voters said it was his keeping Curlin in training at 4 that earned him their vote. In today’s racing world, with its fans starving for some semblance of longevity from its heroes, that explanation certainly is acceptable. Those who have been around for a while remember not too long ago when it was unthinkable not to keep a horse in training at 4. But times have changed, due mostly to the obscene offers from breeders and a different class of owner. Gone are the private stables run by sportsmen who bred their own horses and took great pride and pleasure in seeing them race for several years. They have been replaced by mostly businessmen with a profit-first mentality. You can’t criticize someone for wanting to make money, so you just have to accept the new order of things. Jackson’s decision also was magnified by the early retirements of Street Sense, Hard Spun, and Any Given Saturday, and Curlin’s retirement would have totally decimated the 2008 4-year-old crop. Just try to imagine the older horse division without Curlin. In fact, try to imagine what the 2009 older horse division will be like without a star of his magnitude.

Some stated they did not vote for Jackson in the belief that his motives were not done in the nature of sportsmanship, but being in a precarious legal situation surrounding ownership of the horse. No one can get into Jackson’s head, so you either believe that or you don’t. Whatever the real reason, he did keep him in training and plotted an ambitious and uncharted course for Curlin. And when that didn’t work out, he went against his initial instincts and ran him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on a synthetic surface, something he vowed all year he would not do. To say he did it for the good of the sport and for the fans sounds trite, but what other reason can there be? When Big Brown was injured it was left to Curlin to carry the entire load on his shoulders. Despite the way it turned out, try once again to imagine the Classic without Curlin. It would have been an awfully dark sky over Santa Anita with both those stars missing. And Jackson sent him there a month in advance, giving the Santa Anita fans plenty of opportunities to see the horse, especially when he worked in company between races.

Therefore, Curlin’s impact on the Breeders’ Cup transcended his fourth-place finish, and that was because of Jackson.

As for Joe Allen, it doesn’t seem as if his votes were directed at anything specific he did other than his handling of Peppers Pride over the course of her career and racing her after she had broken the unbeaten record held jointly by Cigar, Citation, and Hallowed Dreams, and Mister Frisky in Puerto Rico and the United States. Allen’s second-place finish appears to be the voters’ way of recognizing the filly’s extraordinary feat, which was accomplished over several years, not just 2008. She is not going to win any Eclipse Awards, nor is her trainer. So why not honor her through her owner? I could be wrong, but that’s just the way I interpreted the large number of votes he received. Again, in this day and age, you can’t find fault with that reasoning.

Jerry and Ann Moss? In the world of owners and breeders they are gods, so no reasons are necessary. To have someone as high-profiled in the outside world as Jerry Moss be as passionate about racing as he and Ann are is a major boost to the sport, and we should just bow in their presence. They are the epitome of the word class. And they hired a trainer and racing manager just as classy. When was the last time you saw a trainer and racing manager so compatible they married each other?

Again, I wish to thank everyone who voted. It made for some fascinating and lively discussion, and showed just where the mindset of the racing fan is these days.


I must for the last time bring up the subject of Big Brown, who was caught in a maelstrom and swept away from the hearts and minds of many of his fans. Only in his two trips to Monmouth Park did he receive the love that had been lavished upon him earlier in the year.

I am not going to tread over the same ground I have in earlier blogs, nor am I going to repeat Big Brown’s extraordinary feats that seem to have been forgotten for the most part. I will say only this:

Having been involved in Thoroughbred racing for 40 years, I can count on my two hands the number of horses that had what the old-timers used to call “The Look of Eagles.” It is something indefinable, but you know it when you see it. It’s the stuff of movies and books…and legend. For whatever it’s worth, Big Brown was one of those rare Thoroughbreds that had the look of eagles. Forget about the Belmont Stakes and the supposedly inferior competition he faced all year (although five horses did come out of the Kentucky Derby to win grade I stakes last year, and the two older horses he defeated on the grass came back to win the grade II San Gabriel Handicap and finish second in the grade I Shadwell Mile).

This is strictly about the horse’s presence and the aura around him. There was true greatness in Big Brown. But unfortunately, his script was never completed, due mostly to bad feet and one inexplicable, nightmarish afternoon in early June. And make of his connections what you wish. That has no bearing on any of this. Who knows how differently the story would have played out had it not been for Eight Belles’ death. For the first time in history, the lustrous glow of the Kentucky Derby spotlight was dimmed by tragedy.
Some of the feats Big Brown accomplished likely will never be duplicated. And it is those feats that should be remembered above all else. This is not meant to convert his detractors or make a case for him as Horse of the Year. Curlin and Zenyatta are both worthy recipients of the honor. The only point I’m trying to make is that you had to be around Big Brown to fully appreciate just how special he was. Only then could you witness for yourself the look of eagles.

Happy New Year to all.



Leave a Comment:

Ernie Munick

Big Brown: Damn straight. We will not forget. Thank you for defending his honor.

01 Jan 2009 8:02 PM
Karen in Indiana

Hi Steve, I've written some on here about how  I used to really be into horses & then life happened. It's only been this year since I've re-discovered my passion for horse racing. What I didn't say is why I lost it in the first place. I had a horse when I was a teenager, my parents divorced & my mother sold my horse while I was at school one day. That hurt more than I could say. But watching Big Brown this year gave me back something that was taken away all those years. Watching him run was like seeing near perfection and it was icing on the cake that he is a nice horse & likes people, too. I've already been out to Three Chimneys to see him &, hopefully, will do that many years to come. Thank you for your stories. They fill in what I've missed all these years. May you have many more years to continue doing that.

01 Jan 2009 8:46 PM

Steve I share your sentiments about Big Brown ...ther is so much more to this talented horse that we never got to see but such is the nature of the game.  

I am curious to know your thoughts about why Frank Stronach, the leading owner by stakes earnings, didn't get mention.

01 Jan 2009 9:16 PM

The reason Big Brown's loss in the Belmont cost him so many fans is that his being pulled up raised a lot of questions. He was at odds with his jockey and lost energy. So Big Brown wasn't going to win. Then he was pulled up and his jockey said it was done for the horse. Really? The horse coulndn't finish a 12 furlong race? Foot problem? Insufficient works due to foot problem fear? Was he fit enough? Was it the Big Sandy? Or did Big Brown, like War Emblem, not react well to adversity?

If he had finished his race some of these questions would not have arisen. The distasteful impression left with this fan is that we weren't given some important information.

Looking at his next (and last) two races, the horse was no quitter. But he wasn't pointed to the Travers or Woodward or the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. He wasn't campaigned like a Champion. Then he was gone.

Maybe his connections didn't see the look of eagles or give it enough weight.

01 Jan 2009 9:52 PM

THANK YOU once again Steve.....i wrote the other day that i will always be grateful to you for your stories about Cigar yes but more so for what you wrote about Big Brown after his injury--i have always been truly flabbergasted at how many chose to put this horse down-how many seemed to relish in putting him down and never miss a chance to swipe at him or ieah or dutrow........to me his greatness was there from first glance before the florida derby-i couldn't care less who owned him or trained him--they weren't important to me, he was. I am not a fan of horse racing because of owners or trainers or betting--i am a fan for one reason only--HORSES---and once in awhile one with a visible greatness comes along. Barbaro's greatness was instantly visible to me stopping me in my tracks with my mouth hanging open and that was the holy bull-so grateful to have seen him that early so i could tell everyone i knew to be sure to watch that year's derby because we had a truly great one in our midst. Another one is Zenyatta who immediately filled me with an almost reverential awe-so glad i was alerted to her after her maiden and enjoyed everything about her all year. Very few stop me in my tracks--and Big Brown was also one. Unfortunately when defending him on a board i came to realize he was also a lightening rod--drawing attn to so many things that need looking at in the sport. Called him a lightening rod all year. I love him and thank you once again for articulating beautifully what i saw in him. Thank you.

01 Jan 2009 10:03 PM
Warning Drums

Nobody writes more passionately and sensibly about this sport than you do, Steve. In a sport that dazzles and thrills me with its legends, living and past, you manage to supply much of the glory. So why aren't you working on SI to get a positive story into print? (Or are you?)

And thanks for your persistence in defense of Big Brown. If nothing else, you make me feel as if I'm not crazy.

01 Jan 2009 10:46 PM

Here, here! 2008...

~I am so thankful to have seen Curlin's impressive talent all year and not have to wonder what could have been because money called. He truly was great, and I wish more people were behind one of our heroes of the sport. ~Happy to see so many amazing fillies and mares- Zenyatta, Eight Belles, Stardom Bound, Indian Blessing, Proud Spell, Goldikova, Zarkava, etc! So much talent and heart. ~As the poll results show, there are a lot of good people in the sport. ~Always have to be thankful for a safe Breeder's Cup.  ~And lastly, for Big Brown, absolutely one in... 50 million, and wish his name wasn't almost always synonymous with the tragedy of the derby, his connections and that drama, and the Belmont. Heck, I nearly passed out from the heat at the Belmont. On a day when everything has to go just perfect, it all went wrong for him. My heart fell to the floor when I watched him be strangled to the finish, fighting not to stop, while hoping to every racing god that he was ok. People were booing, and I was yelling that he was hurt. I was lucky enough to see him 2 feet in front of me two more times, and witness his enormous heart in the Haskell and Monmouth Stakes.  Pure class and picture perfect in the paddock, neck arched and attentively taking everything in without unsettling a hair. I have seen many great horses in the past 20 years, and he certainly has the look of eagles.

I hope 2009 brings the sport much better times, and more amazing horses.

01 Jan 2009 11:11 PM


As always, well written. I do have one thought to put out there. As a fan I would dearly love to see horses run past their 3 year old year. But it should be brought up that 3 out of 11 Triple Crown winners (27%) did not race beyond their 3 year old season. Nor did Man O'War. Of that top flight foursome (Gallant Fox, Count Fleet, Secretariat being the others)only the "Count" was retired due to injury, as far as I am aware. Secretariat was, to be honest, retired for the money. Are "we" (yes I include myself) merely trying to glorify the good ol' days at the expense of modern times? If I had the top 100 book handy, I'm sure I could go through and find a few more that didn't race or raced very sparingly after their 3 year old season. TC winner Omaha and Native Dancer come to mind. By the way, I am NOT trying to slam any horse or their connections, past or present. I am merely hoping to provide a little perspective.

01 Jan 2009 11:53 PM

Hi Steve,

Enjoyed your post. As far as 2008, we don't agree, but the negativity directed at the sport was long past due...I do agree with your sentiments re-Big Brown, he does have that look. After seeing him at Three Chimneys I immediately booked my mare.

02 Jan 2009 12:26 AM
The Deacon

Well written story Steve, maybe it is the beginning of the end for horse racing. well at least as we know it. The world has become a microscope, the press, and the media have noses into just about eveything. It is almost to the point where a person can't even go to the bathroom without it ending up on 'Youtube'. It was only a matter of time before our hallowed sport befell it's current state.

The truth is, horses have been braking down on race tracks for decades, jockeys have been seriously injured, maimed, or killed. Remember George Wolfe, and Alvaro Pineda? It is the make-up of the sport. The beauty, the majesty, and the heart break, this is what makes this sport worthwhile. All of the other stuff in between and after does need some fixing. I think most can agree to this. Nevertheless, horse racing will always be my favorite sport. The human love for animals and their beauty engulfs all of us. No object set in our pathway is immoveable, if there is a problem, then a solution is nearby. I believe that it always works that way.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, and God Bless everyone..............  

02 Jan 2009 1:50 AM
Colette M.

Hello, Mr. Haskin.I completely agree with you regarding Big Brown. Although I never met him, he had a aura & a look in his eye that could be seen watching him live on TV. There is an intelligence & wisdom in his eyes that I've not often seen in any other horses. I've owned many horses over the years (over 100), so I have been around many. Big Brown is special, very, very special. I will always remember the thrills he gave me & the awe I felt everytime I saw him. I never met him, but I love him. One day, I will get to Kentucky & will meet him. Until then, I will miss him.

02 Jan 2009 1:50 AM
Colette M

Mr. Haskin, I wanted to touch base to thank you for the pictures you sent me last year of Michael Becker & his horse, Influent (winner of 1997 Man O' War) with your daughter. You are very kind. I don't know if you know or not, but, Michael passed away in May, 2008 at age 49 from complications of diabetes. I had hoped Michael could recover enough to leave the hospital.I had planned to bring him down to New Jersey, where Influent now lives in retirement, so he could visit & see him again. He loved that horse so much, but it was not to be. Michael never did get well enough to leave the hospital & visit his 'Influent' one more time.

Thank you again for your kindness.

02 Jan 2009 2:06 AM

As a member of a group with whom I share ownership of Big Brown, I thank your for your kind words.

Should Jess Jackson receive the award for owner of the year, he should be congratulated.  By racing Curlin as a 4 year-old,he clearly contributed positively to a sport that needs all the positives it can get.

I can tell you Mike Iavarone tried very hard to arrange a Curlin/Big Brown match.  Unfortunately, it was left to the "Classic".

When Big Brown suffered the injury that led to his retirement, all those connected with the horse were deeply anguished.  What you may not know is that injury was only a contributing factor.

In the weeks following that injury, plans were being made to race Big Brown as a 4 year-old.  All those connected with the horse favored a schedule that included racing in Dubai, Europe in the summer and the U.S. in the fall.

It was not to be. After "vetting" the horse to determine his overall soundness, it was discovered he had suffered other injuries.  While time may have healed those injuries, there was a risk they could have led to a breakdown.  Some on the "Big Brown medical team" felt the risk was worth taking.  Dr. Hogan, IEAH's chief surgeon, took the opposite view.  She believed strongly it was too risky.

Despite the prospects of adulation for deciding to race Big Brown as a 4 year-old and potentially large financial gain, Mike Iavarone made the decision - Big Brown would be retired.  (The same Mike Iavarone those in the industry and some fans of thoroughbred horseracing love to hate.)  He made the decision for the horse -- and nothing else.

I can tell you with absolute certainty that Mike has been deeply hurt by the treatment he's received from some in the media and the industry.  True, he is brash and has many some mistakes; but what he's contributed to the sport is immeasurable. One glance at the IEAH record since it's inception should be enough to elicit a BIG WOW!

Ask yourself, going forward, who will challenge Darley and Coolmore in their quest to dominate thoroughbred racing?  Only a few stables have a shot.  One is IEAH.

Finally, I am proud to be associated with Mike and the IEAH team, congratulate them on a truly great 2008 and look forward to a successful 2009.  

Thanks Mike!  

02 Jan 2009 7:20 AM

Happy new year, Steve and gang!

02 Jan 2009 7:38 AM
A Canuck's Comment

Steve: We have been waiting for your summary of 2008. As usual, we were not disappointed. We are Curlin fans at heart and were so glad to see him run as a 4-yr old. The disappointment in not seeing him run as a 5yr old is overshadowed by our thankfulness that he is safe. We plan to visit him at Lane's End and hope that he will pass along his durability to his babies. Big Brown is in a good place to be visible to all that want to see him. Three Chimneys is such a welcoming place, and he, as the nice horse that he is, deserves to be there. We agree that his connections had something to do with much of the negativity that surrounded this great horse. I hope breeders will turn to Big Brown in good numbers.

The one and only thing that disturbs us is the number of unwanted thoroughbreds that abound. We will go no further with this, but wanted to make our point.

You are a champion among champions, Steve, and we look forward to your comments in 2009.

02 Jan 2009 8:37 AM
V. Price from Michigan

I wanted to take a moment to let you know how much my husband and I enjoy your writings.  We have a question.  I understand what you mean when you refer to a horse having the "look of eagles".  Who are the other horses, you feel, had that look?

02 Jan 2009 8:38 AM

I was tempted to cast a vote for the Assmusen family but this was not the time. It is the time though to to reflect on how much this family asaccomplished in 2008.Knowing first hand how hard Mr Assmussen senior works preparing Steve's horses at his farm before sending them to him for training. Knowing first hand what a magnificent job Steve does running his operation nation wide. Winning 622 races. Hiring assistants like Scott Blasi. I have been at the barn at 4.30 and watched him work horses till ten take a break and be back for a full day of racing.Taking a 3 year old with no seasoning and do what Culin did. Jackson got the vote but Steve would not have raced Curlin in the B/C becuase it was not what was best for the horse. The horse ran his guts out from sheer competition becuase he loved to run. What if the track was bad and something happened to him? Steve also gets a bad rap for medication violations. Yes he is responsible for his vet and his help but we know for a fact that some testing facilities are outdated and make mistakes. Why would a trainer risk his career for winning a claiming race?

I admire the whole family and my vote for trainer of 2008 is Steve.

I will always remember his Mom and Dad and his wife and his wonderful boys in the winning circle next to Curlin. Thanks for your story as always.

02 Jan 2009 8:58 AM
m burry

Very well put as usual. Love reading your columns. I sincerely hope Big Brown gets 3 year old award at the very least. He deserves it. I still think he would have won the Belmont except for Desmoreaux

02 Jan 2009 9:01 AM

Billy Reed won the Eclipse Award for a feature and Bill Nack was runner-up.  How interesting...one of the judges was Frank DeFord...their fellow-employee at Sports Illustrated years ago.  Talk about an inside job and we are supposed to believe that that Eclipse Awards are above board.

02 Jan 2009 9:21 AM

So glad to see you make one last statement on how great Big Brown was and could have been.  I know the horrible break down of Eight Belles in this year's Derby will always cast a cloud over it. But what Big Brown did in that Derby coming from the 20 hole was simply breath taking.  On that day he was true greatness.  I will never forget it.  Happy retirement Big Brown! You are and always will be a champ!

02 Jan 2009 9:41 AM
Steve Haskin

Karen in Indiana, that was beautifully put. You described Big Brown in relation to your childhood experience better than I could have done in an entire story.

Ranagulzion, I think peope were just tired of seeing Stronach win an Eclipse every year based mostly on his stats. This was a year when the votes came from the heart.

Thanks, Warning Drums. SI often feeds on negativity. Before we can give them something positive to write about we have to first make sure we dont give them anything negative to write about.

JC Robinson, I have to disagree. Native Dancer won the Met Mile at 4 before getting hurt. Omaha went to England and won marathon stakes there, and was beaten a nose in the Ascot Gold Cup. Slew, Affirmed, Assault, Whirlaway. War Admiral raced once at 4 before getting hurt. When Penny Tweedy syndicated Secretariat it was before his Triple Crown heroics and she was trying to save Meadow Stud following her father's death. If you go through the Top 100 book, I'm sure you'll find many more horses who raced at 4 and 5 than who didnt.

Deacon, very well put. You wrapped it all up beaitifully.

Colette, I did hear about Michael and was so sorry after all he'd been through. If we had more people like him we'd be far better off. The fact that Influent is living a happy life is quite a legacy that Michael left. Thank you for writing.

02 Jan 2009 10:12 AM

Thankfully, Big Brown has at least one member of the press corp (in you who) is willing and able to identify the inherent greatness of this beautiful animal.  The negative bent of the majority of  the PR given to BB and his connections was sickening.  

Have a wonderful New Year and keep it coming.

02 Jan 2009 10:34 AM
Steve Haskin

Thank you Pegasus for stating the facts. I knew about Mike's effort to keep Big Brown in training next year, but there is so much negativity and cynicism directed at him and IEAH, I wasnt about to add fuel to the fire. I had written about IEAH so often, when you press something too much people stop listening to you. And as a journalist you dont want people thinking you have any personal interest in your subject matter or start claiming "Oh, he must be on their payroll." Perhaps they will listen to your words and change their opinion...at least to some degree.

V Price, I'll probably be forgetting some, and remember this does not mean these are the greatest horses I've seen (just the ones who had the "look"), but a few that come to mind are John Henry, Dr. Fager, Cigar, Fusaichi Pegasus, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, and more recently Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, and Curlin. But I have to tell you, none of them projected the look more than Big Brown. I could add some fillies as well, but I'd have to think about it.

Jim, I'm certainly not going to knock Bill Nack and Billy Reed. They are both exceptional writers, and Nack was my inspiration to become a racing writer. There has been no one better, and he revolutionized the concept of behind-the-scenes writing and bringing the reader to where he is. But I do agree with you about the overall concept of the Eclipse voting, and I dont mean not being above board. I just dont believe in having three people decide who wrote the best story, and I dont believe in writing a story with an Eclipse Award in mind, which is why I never submit stories for awards. The awards that I have won were when my editor submitted them against my wishes, and he finally stopped when I refused to go and accept them.  I'm not trying to sound holier than thou by any means, but it's the response from the readers that is reward enough for me. I say all this having been a judge myself (for photography, TV, and radio) and witnessing how farcical the voting was. Taking nothing away from this year's award-winning photo, but it is the same photo that Mike Marten took when he won the award in 1999. Both of Dettori leaping off a gray horse after a BC win, and Mike's was more dramatic. By now, everyone knows that leap is coming. The TV and radio was really a farce in that only snippets of a show were submitted, and even with only a small portion of each entry being viewed, the other two judges that year watched and listened to only a minute or two at most and then said, "OK, next." Again, this is not a knock on those whose submit stories and photos. It's just the way I feel about it.

02 Jan 2009 10:45 AM
Len Roberto

This was my first year being a racing fan and I must say if there are more like this -  I may not make it!  This blog and your other writing has been a great window into the world of racing for me so thank you for all the knowledge and passion I absorbed here.  The 08 Derby was my first step-  I studied the horses and became fascinated with it all.  I was captivated by Eight Belles-  bet on her...and was devastated...How can I go on investing in this if the ones I grow to like get injured?  But I kept reading and learning and getting more enmeshed in the history.  I went to the track for the first time for the Woodward at Saratoga-  saw Curlin walk right by me on the way in..loved it all.  So, thanks again Steve-  for your wonderful insights into the past.  It seems like I arrived as a fan well past its golden age, but I hope next year continues my education...


02 Jan 2009 11:08 AM
Karen in Texas

Thanks for the 2008 closing summary and for your honesty and thoughtfulness in expressing your remarks. There are few sports writers who could ever match your eloquence! Here in the Metroplex we are blessed with a good one whose initials are G.W.--you probably know him. Thanks again.

02 Jan 2009 11:19 AM
Victoria Keith

and becoming the first owners to institute a no-drug policy



I have to object to the notion that IEAH were "the first owners to institute a no-drug policy."  What of the many trainers and owners who weren't running on steroids or illegal drugs to start with, thereby having no need to "institute a no-drug policy"?  Weren't these owners and trainers really the first to have no-drug policies?  

02 Jan 2009 11:32 AM

Good points about Big Brown.  Some of his feats will not soon be repeated; specifically, his Florida and Kentucky Derbys.  Just amazing performances.  Now, some good will come out of this morass that was 2008: racing jurisdictions are trending towards outlawing steroids.  That is wonderful news.  If we can get Lasix banned it would be another giant step forward toward improving the breed.  It is well known that Lasix is a masking agent for other drugs and I really believe that thoroughbred performance in general has declined with the proliferation of Lasix.  Happy New Year to you Steve and thank you sharing your knowledge and sentiments with us.

02 Jan 2009 12:09 PM

Hi Steve,

I'm left with the feeling of "what a shame".  I left the Big Brown camp when Dutrow and IEAH became so loud, so ego driven, and so controversial.  I simply could not get behind the horse who was so overshadowed, and set up, by connections who engendered pure embarrassment for being a part of this sport.  Yet, when I read your article and see you refer to him as having the "look of eagles" I'm left with a real sense of regret.  What a shame Big Brown got all turned around in our heads with verbosity, braggarts, feet problems, on and off steroid use, and a huge mystery that will never be solved.  I doubt it really had anything to do with the tragedy of Eight Belles.  If Big Brown had gone on to win the Belmont he'd have been retired in glory.  It was a mix of so many things, and I am REALLY sorry Big Brown did not get his chance to really imprint his "look of eagles" on the pages of history or on some of our hearts who just could not get behind him because of his connections.  For some of us, maybe many of us, it was just too difficult to separate Big Brown from the package he came with. I wish him the best in this next phase of his career and really regret not seeing what he was truly capable of.  I also hope to see this sport move to higher ground and a significant part of that IS who the connections are and how they represent it.

02 Jan 2009 12:35 PM
Lor in PA

Steve I enjoy your writing, but I wish you would have talked about the fact that an obscene percentage of race horses end up in the slaughter house.  As someone who volunteers in rescue, I see so many OTTBs being bought by "meat men" at New Holland and some that we are able to bring into the rescue and save.  Many have won large dollar amounts and yet ended up being thrown away.  It costs little to euthanize a horse, so why send them to the slaughter house?

Sadly, we cannot even "out" the guilty trainers and owners because to do so would prevent us from being able to save other horses.  It's a horrible cycle.  There is a woman in Delaware now who takes "unwanted" TBs directly from the track and sells them to the kill buyers.  She has taken to altering the tattoos so that the horse, and more importantly, the persons sending them to her, cannot be identified.

We estimate that around 30-35% of TBs end up at the slaughter house.  The equine athlete is obviously very expendable in many parts of the industry and that is very disturbing.

While I don't mean in any way to paint the racing industry with a broad brush, there are obviously some very disturbing things going on behind the scenes that are more and more becoming public information.

I love racing and have been watching it since the 1970s when I was very young.  I don't want to see racing come to an end.  I would however like to see some safety nets put in place for the athletes as well as those who work on the backside with them.

02 Jan 2009 1:02 PM

Just want to make one comment on your statement about Eight Belles death being a "freakish demise." I am wondering what is so freakish about a horse breaking down like she did? She was not the first, there were many before (Miss Pretty, for one) and many after, they just dont get the media coverage Eight Belles did,  so in reality, these types of fatal injuries in racing are more commonplace than "freakish." Dont want to mislead the public now, oo we? Lets keep our facts straight.

02 Jan 2009 1:27 PM
Steve Haskin

Look of Eagles -- my goodness, how could I have forgotten Invasor.

02 Jan 2009 1:42 PM
Steve Haskin

Lyla, sometimes being behind the scenes can be very frustrating, and I really dont want to go into another defense of Mike Iavarone and IEAH, but if you knew the real Mike Iavarone and his commitment to the sport and to his horses, and all the good things he's done that never went public, you would feel very differently. I'm not talking about anything that happened 20 years ago. I'm talking about what I see now. We shouldn't judge people based on some brash statements they make or a persona that we dont care for.

02 Jan 2009 2:04 PM
Steve Haskin

Lor, talked about slaughter where, in this last blog about owner of the year and Big Brown or in general? I've written several features on horses who were saved from slaughter, and support all anti-slaughter organizations. And I have publicly praised Suffolk Downs for not allowing any owners who send their horses to slaughter to race at Suffolk. I'm not quite sure what you want me to "talk about."

02 Jan 2009 2:09 PM
Steve Haskin

Mulekist, if you can name me one or two other instances when a horse broke both its front legs a half-mile after the finish line while pulling up I will retract my word freakish. Actually, it's still freakish whether you want to think so or not, especially in the Kentucky Derby, where there have been no fatal breakdowns in memory.

02 Jan 2009 2:13 PM

"For the last time bring up the subject of Big Brown".....hmmmm, where have I heard that before?  In layman's terms, Big Brown got cheated by circumstance.  Also, I wonder how different his career might have been if the trainer and owners had had the guts to scratch him out of the Belmont stakes due to unpreparedness, i.e managed him like Bob Baffert would have.  I love you anyway Brownie.  Barbaro definitely had the look of eagles...and possibly Lentanor does to.  Fasten your seatbelts for 2009!

Yes, for goodness sakes FIX Santa Anita racetrack once and for all.  What is going on?  Could it be related to the cold temps and the frost in the morning (it was very hot BC weekend when the track was safe).

02 Jan 2009 2:32 PM

MuleKist: It was "freakish" and those types of breakdowns are NOT commonplace no matter how you want to sugercoat it to the general public. More commonplace are soft tissue injuries that require alot of time and effort to heal.

02 Jan 2009 2:35 PM

Mulekist:  Eight Belles was indeed a freakish breakdown.  In 30 years of race watching - I've never seen a horse break down bi-laterally while slowing down in the gallop out - ever.  I'd bet that you can count on one hand the amount of times it has ever happened - if it ever has happened before at all.  Breakdowns are still the bane of the sport- and you are right to be passionate about it, but don't get snippy about "straight facts" before you have carefully researched those facts you purport to know.

Steve - I've come to the conclusion that Big Brown suffered the fate of many great actors who never get their big break - it's all about timing- and his was sadly not great.  He easily won the Derby that was overshadowed by the death of a filly.  He chose the first weekend in June to melt down (though I think his jockey added to that perception with that freak show in the lane) and his trainer chose the Triple Crown to showcase his less than PR savvy style of rhetoric.  He came up lame right before his chance for redemption in the Breeders Cup.  None of that was Big Brown's fault - but his image and place in history suffered for it.   I will rely on your expertise and personal contact with the horse to accord him that "look of eagles."  He certainly was one of the more unlucky horses timing-wise I've seen in many a year.  I guess it just wasn't meant to be.

Happy New Year - and stay on the look out - a Triple Crown winner is on the horizon! (and Churchill would help that along a good bit if they'd limit their field to 14 maximum.)

02 Jan 2009 2:40 PM

Great article once again Mr. Haskins!

Also IEAH should not be 4th on anyone's list.The problem is alot of people Voted for Jackson,because of Curlin,I'm sorry I don't agree with this analogy.I believe Mr. Jackson ran Curlin as a 4 year old for other reasons than to give us the benefit of seeing him.IEAH should be up in the front of the line,I was truly sorry for Eight Belles,An absolutely beautiful filly. But Big Brown payed for a crime he never committed.I'd go on record to say that about 3 quarters of the horses running in 2008 were on some kinds of meds,including Curlin.Because BB didn't win the triple crown,people said it was meds or lack of them, they didn't say it about any other horses just him,and then proceeded to take it out on IEAH.What a cop out! This horse was fantastic,and so is a crap load of the others IEAH has.I also think Hard Spun was better than Curlin to,Had he raced at 4 There's no doubt in my mind he would have best.Anyway,with BB having great top and bottom pedigree,I'm sure there will be more like him down the line, can't wait!Mr. Haskin,do you have any feelings about Phar Lap? I'm just curious.Would you say he had that look? Like Cigar,JH,DF,Slew had. Or not.

02 Jan 2009 3:14 PM

Big Brown is a beauty. If only his people had put the horse first, let him grow good feet then show his brilliance as a healthy horse later. Did his painful feet trigger his other injuries?

Regarding synthetic tracks: there is nothing more basic, proven, natural and better than grass. Why trying to re-invent the wheel? We need more grass courses instead of racing on pieces of carpet, rubber and wire mixed with waxed sand. Complete injury numbers at California synthetic tracks --non-fatal, career-ending and fatal-- have not be released to the public but I suspect they are at least as bad as they were/are on dirt. If the fatality numbers on synthetic included all horses with career ending soft-tissue injuries sent to slaughter, the kill number would be horrendous. Synthetic surfaces at Hollywood Park, Golden Gate Fields and now Santa Anita have seen many catastrophic injuries. What injure most horses are not so much racing surfaces but humans who race lame horses on drugs, including claimers who take the plunge, sometimes by a fatal 88% from one race to the next like one did at Santa Anita last January. Everyone knows that these poor horses have gone bad or  worse yet not enough horses are prevented from running. What hurts horses most, is a safety-net (pre-race exams) full of holes.

The Breeders' Cup was safe because a dozen vets made sure that no sore horses ran because racing couldn't afford another high-profile breakdown on national TV. It was not the surface which prevented 2008 BC breakdowns, it was an army of examining-vets and luck. It is so sad that pre-race exams are a joke the rest of the  year when they are performed at all.

I agree with a previous post: ban Lasix. Start with the next crop of two year olds. Quit that scourge cold turkey in 2009 with the new racers! All drugs should be banned on race day. That and mandating rest periods will prevent most injuries. Healthy runners will race more often if they don't have to recover from chemicals and aggravate injuries they can't feel. Therapeutic drugs are so overused they cause more harm than healing. How sad!

Race horses are sent to slaughter including stakes winner by the thousands each year. Racing has gone down the tube with loss of moral, integrity and shame. There are plenty of good people in racing and I hope they will rise above the crappy majority and show the way to honorable and quality racing.

Steve I have related questions for you: I understand that only 1/2 of the 2008 BC horses were tested for blood-doping(!) and after entries were taken(!), making the timing very predictible. I understand that blood-doping has to be nailed within 48 to 72 hours of injection while its effect last for several weeks. I understand that newer agents like CERA are even harder to detect than EPO. How reliable are the best blood-doping tests available? Was the BC main objective to prevent a blood-doping positive thus preventing another scandal racing cannot afford? Were all 2008 KY Derby and TC starters tested for blood-doping? Urine or blood? Such test was thoroughly pre-announced  before the 2007 KY Derby giving all potential dopers the heads-up. Nothing was said about testing before the 2008 KY Derby. Were all its runners tested this year? At random time? How often? When? How fool-proof is the best blood-doping test or is it still mostly good PR and like searching for a needle in the hay-stack? Just wondering. Thanks Steve!

02 Jan 2009 3:36 PM
Lor in PA

Steve - I did mean in this particular blog that I wished you would have addressed the slaughter issue.  It is a huge part of racing, and I felt a blog about the "tumultuous, controversial" year would include the slaughter issue.  

I'm not criticizing, just commenting, from a rescue volunteer's perspective.  I do very much appreciate the good work you do for race horses.

02 Jan 2009 3:38 PM

I just re-read your book about John Henry.  You have a great knack of bringing the horse to life, very valuable to those like me who can't get to a real racetrack and only see horses on a computer- or better yet, in your words.

02 Jan 2009 3:40 PM

josy:Can you please explain to me what you mean by pre-race exams being full of holes? Or that these exams are a joke the rest of the year except for BC.

How about the success stories of horses going up the claiming ranks like Lava Man, instead of just the cheap horses getting cheaper? Do they test more on big races than claiming races? I sure hope not but they can't test every horse every start, the cost would be out of this world.There are commission vets at every track,in every state and province that do their job as well that can be. They do the right thing every day and you do them a disservice by stating these exams are a joke.

02 Jan 2009 4:05 PM

 What on earth does Churhill limiting the Derby field to 14 have to due with a Triple Crown winner?? Someone please inform me I am baffled.

02 Jan 2009 4:09 PM

I think Big Brown was shortchanged in the love and respect department, too.

Interesting story from Pegasus about the consideration to race the horse at four.  I am not sure I would have posted that story that indicates how unsound the horse was, but I admire the honesty.

I do not doubt that IEAH wanted the best for the colt.  I do think that Iavarone and IEAH get a far worse rap than they deserve...and I note that they seem to be moving away from their Dutrow association which can only be a good thing for them.

02 Jan 2009 4:42 PM

Steve, I always enjoy your writing and look forward to the 2009 triple crown season via your keen observations.  A question relating to the 2008 tragedy of Eight Belle's; did champion Roving Boy break both front legs after winning his first race as a three year old in the autumn of 1983? (2Nov. to be exact)  I've seen a heartbreaking photo of his trainer, Joe Manzi, standing over the stricken champion.

02 Jan 2009 5:06 PM

Steve, you are pretty fascinating in your own right.  This lover of horse photos thinks the 2008 Eclipse Award for best photo was baloney.  There are so many more worthy of honor:  Zenyatta captured in full stretch just starting to circle the BC field by Allison Janezic, the headshot of a scared and curious old Alysheba arriving at his new home by Candice Chavez, or Barbara Livingston's pic of Scott Blasi in the paddock loving on Curlin, whose

head is down and eyes are half-closed.

The new information about Big Brown is shocking.  I am so thankful that they did the right thing and got him off the track.  And the 30-35% stats on racehorses going to slaughter, if correct, is sickening.

02 Jan 2009 5:19 PM

Donna:  IMO - and only IMO - one of the reasons we haven't seen a Triple Crown in 30 plus years is the fact that the Derby has become a cattle call - not a race with the best 3 year olds competing.  None of the 11 TC winners ever raced against 20 horse fields - at least to my recollection - and I remain convinced that horses like Afleet Alex and Risen Star would have been locks for TC status had they not encountered huge fields and bad trips that compromised their chances.  

That's not to take away from any Derby winner who managed to win against 19 others (remember-Big Brown did it from the exreme outside and made it look easy) but I think that the stress, traffic and bad racing luck in huge fields of horses might be a detriment to the TC quest.  If a horse does manage to win the Derby against a full field - think about how taxing it is.  They have yet to make it through those final two races sucessfully (though Real Quiet was a nose from it in '98)

Every year you hear about changes that people want to make to the Crown trail - and I disagree with all suggestions to change the timing, distances, etc.  But I do think that field size plays a hand in the current drought.  So that's "what on earth" I meant by that comment. Again - only my opinion.

02 Jan 2009 5:20 PM
Steve Haskin

Ruffian, I'm sure Phar Lap had the look, but I wasn't around back then, so I couldnt give an opinion on that.

Sandra, that's very nice of you to say. I appreciate it. I'm glad you liked the book second time around.

Joe, if I remember correctly, Roving Boy broke down right after the wire, while still at nearly full speed, not a half-mile past the wire on the backstretch just before coming to a halt. That's what made it so unusual.

02 Jan 2009 5:50 PM

I have always liked Big Brown but like a lot of people we tend to let our imaginations and thoughts get the better of us, and feel that due to the antics of Rick Dutrow it put a dampening on BB.  The horse gave all he had, reminds me of Assault with his bad foot but he never gave in. My only concern is that I hope he does not pass his bad feet on to his siblings.

02 Jan 2009 6:57 PM
Monica V


Once again you have written a wonderful and moving article.  I enjoyed the part about the owners but the heartfelt part about Big Brown was beautiful.

It's true, we don't see too many like Big Brown.  I was not on the bandwagon until late in the summer.

I remember reading on Bloodhorse.com after Curlin had run that amazing Dubai World Cup, Rick Dutrow piped up after Big Brown won the Florida Derby (I think it was the derby) that Curlin's spotlight didn't last very long.  That was the beginning for me for an intense dislike of that man and then it got even worse.  I didn't care for the horse because of the trainer.  He colored everything negatively for me.  I've never felt that way about any connection but I did this time.  It wasn't until Big Brown's Haskell and the Grass race that I truly appreciated Big Brown for the Champion he is.  He was suffering with those feet yet he dug down deeply and found more and would not be beaten. He was a great horse and I'm glad he's retired so he doesn't have to run on sore feet.  I am glad I got to witness his greatness.

02 Jan 2009 7:17 PM

Steve how about the filly Go for Wand what was her break down injeries I would have to read the book over to remember. I only know that was a sad story I was crying so hard I could'nt see the book to read without drying my eyes every second. Thanks for all your great info.

02 Jan 2009 7:32 PM

Steve, I'm more than willing to concede that Ivarone is probably a really decent guy, since you, an insider, say so.  Unfortunately, the fans are on the outside looking in and we draw our conclusions from how these connections present themselves in public, and thus reflect the sport.  This is an industry trying to appeal to a broader fan base, and I do think that how the trainers and jockeys and owners show brings a lot of influence in determining how many more fans will be drawn to, or repulsed away from, the sport.  You can call it judgement, or simply choosing what level of environment one chooses to spend time and money in.

02 Jan 2009 7:34 PM

I first went to the race track when Alysheba and Ferdinand were battling at Santa Anita  and loved Sunday Silence and Summer Squall- but I had lost interest the last few years. Then Afleet Alex got me interested again. But it was Big Brown who brought me back - I watched all his race videos over and over and read everything I could about him. Despite his connections, he is an amazing horse. My one regret was not getting to see him run Breeders cup day - But next summer, I am making the long treck across country to Kentucky to see him at 3 Chimneys. He is my horse of the year (and decade).

02 Jan 2009 7:47 PM

Rovin Boy may have broken both hind legs. It was a horrible accident.

Did Eight Belles ran with front toe-grabs? It looks like she may have in some photos. If she did, it might help explain her injuries though front toe-grabs were still legal at the time in KY. She drifted out while she was pulling up and might have hit a deeper area since the inside was so packed. That might have caused her to become unbalanced, twist and break one ankle then the other gave way like Rovin Boy's legs did.

Wanda: Mary Scollay, DVM estimates that on average a pre-race exam lasts only 45 seconds. It is impossible to do a good job in 45 seconds. Some tracks don't do pre-race exams or don't exam all horses. When the official vets examine horses for only 45 seconds, it is after they have been medicated, iced and what not to run that afternoon. I galloped enough horses to tell you that the day they run, they feel no pain. That's when the examining vets look at them...

Too many horses are being dropped through claiming ranks, some very fast and some from very high to very low. A multiple graded II stakes winner and earner of nearly $700K on turf didn't survive his $4k claiming on dirt. The examining vet found him to be sound to race. Do you believe he was? What do you think depreciate horses from stakes and allowance competition to claimers down to $2K? Some horses can hardly canter in the am, yet look sound enough to race. Funny that you should mention Lava Man.

Examining vets should be given the highest budget to do an impeccable job as gate-keepers. Some racing states are better than others of course. Some meets have low injury rates and some very high. It is obvious that some examining vets are doing or allowed to do a great job and some are not. It seems to me that states like KY are having a hard time finding suitable and enough examining vets. With an adequate budget and number of examining vets hired, they could observe questionable horses in training, in their stalls at any time, especially horses dropping in price, who were eased, vanned-off and horses from questionable stables.

Examining vets should have access to complete equine medical records of all horses. They should be able to examine, X-ray and test any horse at any time. They should also be able to mandate rest and retirement since some trainers want to do what's right but are afraid to loose horses. Complete equine medical records could be accessable to the racing secretary and examining vets, if not publicly disclosed to protect claimed horses and also buyers, breeders, bettors and help control drug abuse.

I believe that examining vets are under pressure to pass enough horses to fill all races to generate the highest handle. They are state employees and the state counts on revenues from the handle. The bigger the field, the bigger the handle. Racing secretaries beg for horses to fill certain races and trainers will enter filler horses who shouldn't run to keep stalls or get a favor later. Examining vets are caught in the middle and are pressured by horsemen, track management and their employer, the state. A bad trainer intimidated the chief vet of a major racing state against scratching his lame horses even though he breaks a lot of horses down. Because my source was trustworthy, I reported the information to the head steward. Horses and humane lives were endangered because of the  intimidation of a state official by an abusive trainer. This may be an isolated case or may be not. As long as we have so many drugs on race day, too much racing, too much cheap racing, race-day pre-race exams will be inefficient, sometimes by design.

02 Jan 2009 8:07 PM
Bruce Greene


Just want to use this opportunity to underscore the compliments written here from your legion of fans.  I value your observations and wisdom as a compass to navigate all the cynicism and intolerance facing the sport.  

"The Look of Eagles"  YES, definitely!  Would that some in the industry take the time to see what is before their eyes.  In my 15 years covering graded stakes races for The Bloodhorse I saw it a few times.  John Henry, Lady's Secret, Lost In The Fog certainly belong.  I wish more folks got as excited by the aesthetic of the sport.  Perhaps that look will  transform into a window of opportunity.

02 Jan 2009 8:13 PM

That Barbara Livingston picture is of Curlin and Jess Jackson (not Scot Blasi).  It is a sweet one.  Curlin looks very tired.  Too bad it's not a rest instead of retirement, but regardless, that horse had needed a long break for months.

Thanks for the send off for Big Brown.  

You're a class act.

02 Jan 2009 8:18 PM

Thanks for the comeback josy. I'm sure you saw lots galluping horses. I saw lots training and galluping for 20 plus years. The only thing I  will argue is that in that 45 seconds if a horse is off it will show. You can put him in ice for 5 hours if you want but icing will only take the heat and/or swelling out for a certain amount of time. When that horse gets to the gate after warming up any unsoundness will show. Thats why there's a vet at the gate. Commission vets have alot of power on the backside of a racetrack, they can put horses on the vets list and those horses can't run until they have a work that is acceptable to the vet and stewards. I'm sorry you had a bad experience with situation that should never have happened. There are problems out there but I still say that most vets are doing their job and care about the horse itself. I want to think that things are just getting better and better and I truly believe that change will happen.

02 Jan 2009 9:06 PM

Mr. Haskins,I didn't mean to imply you were around when Phar lap was,lol.Sorry about that, I had seen many pictures of him,and that's what I meant.And Bruce," I loved Lost in the Fog!I'm so glad you mentioned him.I can't wait to see BB this spring,Also I would love to see evening attire,and the Tin Man!and Nightmare Affair.I wish I knew how to get in touch with Tin Man's connections,and Nightmare Affairs to see how they are.I haven't seen anything on NA,lately.Does anyone take horses other than thoroughbreds?When I was in Fla.I spent my dental money on 8 rescues,They weren't all thoroughbreds though.You know its funny how they say it's illegal to do what the kill buyers do,How come no one stops them?Everyone knows who they are.I often wonder if anyone cares about the claimers.

02 Jan 2009 9:15 PM

I really enjoyed this article.=]

I agree with what you said about Big Brown, and also what you said about there being no Curlin next year in the older horse division. I have been wondering why i have not yet seen any farewell article or such for Curlin. It seems like people have been criticizing him more lately as well.

02 Jan 2009 9:18 PM
Brian A.

That was "spot-on" Mr. Haskin.  I've been such a HUGE Curlin fan since the very beggining I was inclined all year to batter down anything Big Brown did in fear of him taking the "top spot". But you really defined the super star that he was.  Thank you!!

Go Curlin!!

02 Jan 2009 9:24 PM



02 Jan 2009 9:36 PM



02 Jan 2009 9:39 PM
Steve Haskin

Rita, Go For Wand broke down and fell at the eighth pole in the BC Distaff. She had compound fractures and there was no chance to save her. That was the most horrible thing I've ever seen at a racetrack, because it happened right in front of everyone. I had to cover the Turf that day and just wanted to leave.

Lyla, I understand that people have dislikes for some other people. I'm just curious what Iavarone did or said that made you dislike him.

Thank you, Bruce. Very well said.

Ruffian, I was only kidding around with you. I know you didnt think I was that old...at least I didnt think you didnt think it :). You really cant see that look from photos. You have to see it close up. I wish I could describe it, but as I said you know it when you see it.

Brian, with so few true superstars in the sport, I cant understand why fans cant embrace two at the same time. It's not like they had some on-track rivalry going like Affirmed and Alydar. I wish they had, but I dont see why there isnt room for two horses of that caliber. Why do the fans of one feel it necessary to knock the other?

02 Jan 2009 10:06 PM


Thanks for the comments on Big Brown. I believe we will see another triple crown winner, hopefully in the next decade or so. However, I doubt we will ever see another horse going into the Belmont who appears to be any greater than Big Brown appeared to be that afternoon before the race was run.

02 Jan 2009 10:16 PM
Will W

Your owner of the year voting was flawed.  It failed to include as a voting option "none of the above." As you said, Steve, gone are the days of private stables run by true sportsmen who bred their own horses and took pride and pleasure in watching them compete over long careers. Instead, the sport is now sadly transformed into the industry run by greedy capitalist businessmen who, devoid of sporting interest, stink up racing and violate the old norm that it is - now was - unthinkable not to run a horse as a four year old. Thus, as witnessed in response to the recent Bloodhorse column penned by Jess Jackson, most racing fans have been so debased by this new era of hard-headed, profit-driven business and obscene breeding offers as to fawn all over Jackson for doing merely what was the expected norm when racing was truly a sport: running a horse as a four year old. Would the readership had summoned up a little backbone and, instead of obsequiously lauding the crumbs fed to them by Jackson, lobbied him hard to run Curlin as a 5 and 6 year old if he was to earn their respect as a true sportsmen. Jackson couldn't even sum up the sporting venture to at least let the fans see Curlin perform one last time on the dirt against Commentator in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Just excuses about cold weather and purse reduction was all that came from the Curlin camp. Very disappointing. What a lamentable way for Curlin to end his career. In the end all the racing public got was some PR nausea about how Jackson was proud to announce Curlin was disappearing forever to Lane's End breeding stalls. The announcement should have read more like a declaration of shame and a public apology to the racing public who, as Steve remarked, crave longevity in their champions. Only if Jackson had announced Curlin would continue to race next year should he have been voted Owner of the Year.

02 Jan 2009 10:39 PM

Thank you, Steve, for your thought-provoking comments on Big Brown.  This is the first time I've posted a comment on any of the blogs out there that touched on Big Brown.  But I just wanted to say that I had no real problem with Mike Iavarone......though I wish he could have shed the shades when on camera.  It's a small thing, to be sure, but it annoys me just the same.  There's a certain rudeness, arrogance, and vanity that displays itself when someone like him does that.  Does a certain Carly Simon song ring a bell?  Other than that, I don't think he's a bad guy.  He's been at the forefront of a number of philanthropic gestures by IEAH, and I honestly think he does care about his horses.

That being said, Rick Dutrow was absolutely the reason why I couldn't be a Big Brown fan, and frankly was always hoping he would lose.  The hubris of this man was so immensely offensive, it was difficult to not want to see it smacked back in his face!  Unfortunately, Big Brown was victimized by that in the eyes of many of us out here......it's a darn shame!

There's been parallels drawn between Dutrow and Buddy Delp.  Delp certainly did raise some ire with his "best horse to ever look through a bridle" stuff, but in his defense, the smack that Buddy talked was about his own horse.  He never wantonly trashed the competition!  And, of course, with the convenient hindsight of almost 30 years, Bud Delp has been proven to be damn near right!

Dutrow's behavior through that Triple Crown run was reprehensible, and if I have a problem with Iavarone at all, it's that he didn't do more to put a muzzle on his trainer.  He lamented that his horse wasn't getting the love and admiration that he deserved.......well, Mike..I wonder why!

One other thing....since this is my first and last post on the subject....there's so much "mystery" swarming around out there about Big Brown's last-place finish in the Belmont.  What mystery?!  Anyone who knows anything that saw the ESPN feed of Big Brown in the detention barn in the hours before the race knew he was in trouble.  Rearing, bucking, twisting, throwing his hind legs.....put that together with the re-occurance of the pesky quarter crack which compromised his training, and that going into a 12f race carrying 126lbs....you have a made-to-order scenario for disaster!  I had made up my mind to key Big Brown on top in all of my vertical wagers until I saw that.  He wasn't on any of my tickets! (I didn't win, btw....picked the wrong Zito! LOL!)

The middle of the far turn, 'Brown was right in his favorite spot, but when Kent asked him, there was no response.  He asked again and then again, and nothing.  He was getting passed by horses that can't hold a candle to him.  Desormeaux made his big mistake in deciding to pull the horse up.  Maybe he panicked....who knows, but it made for a much more dramatic scene than it needed to be.  He should have just let the horse run without asking, and finish where they may, which I believe was never going to be in contention for any spot of significance, from either a betting or purse placing.

I'm not riding the horse, much less riding a horse that's thought to be worth $50M! Kent did what he thought he needed to do, but the result was unfortunate.....not because Big Brown didn't win, but because of the firestorm of controversy that ensued largely because of it.

There....I'm done.  I haven't posted anywhere on this subject before, so maybe I just had to get it out.  Six months later....HAH!

Great job as always, Steve!  Thanks for who you are and what you do......you are gifted, and we are the ones who benefit the most!


02 Jan 2009 11:15 PM



02 Jan 2009 11:17 PM


    I agree totaly with what you just said, every single word. I am greatful to JJ for running Curlin as a four year old, but if he could defy the trend once, why not do it again. Curlin, if raced at 5 and 6, without any injuries, while returning to his Dubia form, would prove his greatness, which is supposedly what JJ wants. Curlin, after racing, and retiring soundly, would be a hit with breeders because of his soundness and longevitiy. As i said i am thankful that i got to watch Curlin this season, but, we should not be fawning over an owner that did what should be expected of every other owner by running his star colt at four. If JJ had kept Curlin in training for a five year old season, then he'd most certainly merit the right to be admired as much as he is now, which is doing something that should be done in the first place by every owner. It would be even more of an example if he kept Curlin racing at 6, and then he most certainly would be able to call himself a true sportsman. I am dissapointed at Curlins BCC, and believe that performance should be all the more reason for JJ to bring Curlin back and prove all the naysayers wrong. To go out the way he did is sad, and reminisant to Bernardini's retirement. Mr. Jackson, if your listening, you need that you still need to carry on your example, and run Curlin as a five year old, the sport does not need his genes now, we need a hero, and we need a superstar like Curlin. If you truely want to help the sport, if you truley care about what the fans want, and what will keep this sport going, if you are the sportsman you claim to be, you will reconsider and run Curlin at least one more year. There is plenty of time for breeding, at least 10, and probably many more. It is during that time that Curlin can help improve the breed, but now we, the fans, the sport need him, we need CURLIN. So please, if you are the man everybody believes you are, and that you claim that you are, please bring back Curlin.

02 Jan 2009 11:22 PM


    Limiting the field would get rid of the filler, so to speak, since there are at least 6 horses each year that don't belong. By doing this it would give the best horse a better chance to run his race and give his best shot, instead of to navigate everywhere, to avoid all the traffic. Which, if the best horse did end up winning, then we would have a better shot at having a triple crown winner. An example of a miss in the Derby was Point Given, who went on to win domininately in the next two jewls. Another recent loss was Curlin, who was stuck down in the #3 whole, having 17 horses to his outside. Curlin ended up having a nasty trip, getting blocked off, and pushed wide, while SS had a dream trip skimming the rail. Curlin may have gotten second or even had won if he had gotten to skim along the rail and gotten the trip SS got.

02 Jan 2009 11:36 PM

One I will never forget---WANDERING BOY, and I hope many out there will remember a great horse.  Many strides forward have been made for the safety and welfare of race horses, but much is left to do.  Wandering Boy had so many leg and hoof problems, makes you wonder WHY any owner would continue to want to run him, and WHY any trainer would take him with so many known and existing problems, and sepecially at his age.  He deserved a confortable retirement and I was so hoping they would quit running him before a tragedy occured, that did not happen.  In 2009 rules governimg the running of thusly affected horse must be put in place, so they are not on the track in the first place.  

Not the ravings of a nut case, I have operated an equine business for 45 years and have been a USEF judge for over 30 years.

03 Jan 2009 7:50 AM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, Paseana, you echoed the words I've been writing about the Belmont Stakes and all the factors that contributed to his performance. It started even before the detention barn when they had trouble walking him in the afternoon, and when he finally did get to the track he was way too wound up, especially coming off the track. That just wasnt him. He always was so professional. Add the bad start, the shoe incident, the horrid trip early in the race, and you have a recipse for disaster. And I certainly agree with you about Desormeaux. That was just ugly to watch, and his comments after the race just made matters worse. He still has not given anything close to an acceptable explanation why he did what he did. His comments were all over the place and made no sense.

03 Jan 2009 9:41 AM
Kat in TX

Steve, Thanks for another great article and your opinion on this very turbulent year of racing.

I do believe one can have multiple stars at the same time - I LOVE both Curlin and Big Brown and it would have been so thrilling to see them in the same race, yet scary almost, as I would have want BOTH of them to win (I do think Curlin would have beaten BB though, mostly because of his one more year in age and experience and his rideability and being in tune with his jockey...)

Seeing BB & Curlin race in 2009 would have just been the greatest gift!!

You are absolutely right, about that the fans NEED to have stars that stay in the game longer than one season - and I for one salute Jess Jackson for what he gave the racing fans all over the world!!

03 Jan 2009 9:57 AM

 Cgrif and LDP, thanks for the info on smaller fields but then to me it seems that those who won previous triple crowns were,t actually derserving by todays larger field standards?

 PASEANA, I agree with you Mike Ivaronne should have told Dutrow to tone his big mouth down. As Big Browns owner he would have had the final say so and didn't care enough to shut Dutrow up. I just hope Dutrow doesn't get on the same disgusting band wagon with Stardom Bound because I really think she's great and would hate to see fans turned away from her by him. Let's just hope Ivarone keeps him quite this time around!

03 Jan 2009 10:21 AM

Knowing now what transpired prior to the Belmont,together with his quarter crack problem,I feel there was a good chance KD was told to take care  of the horse which resulted in BB being eased. Also, ask any trainer about the "shoe" incident and they will tell you it was a non-factor. BB lost it for a number of reasons PRIOR to the Belmont which was transfered to his performance.

03 Jan 2009 11:13 AM

Steve, you asked why do the fans of one feel it is necessary to knock the other? And that's where Dutrow lost me from the BB camp. Dutrow was BB's biggest fan, and that's great. But, just proclaim your love for and belief in your horse without trashing the rest of the 3YO crop and Curlin and Rags (and I include Rags because he was so dismissive about Curlin getting beat by a "girl"). All those horses have people who love them and believe in them too. There was nothing to read about Big Brown that didn't include distasteful Dutrow comments, so I stopped reading. Couple that with the fact that they announced his stud deal and made clear he would be retired at the end of his 3YO year, and that made jumping on the bandwagon pointless for me. It was enjoyable watching him run --- I think I liked watching his Haskell and last race better that his two Derby wins just because he obviously tried so hard. And as a last observation: It's a bit disengenuous to say now that they would have raced him at four if he hadn't had so many problems. That does not reconcile with the facts released about the stud deal and with what Three Chimneys has said.

03 Jan 2009 1:52 PM
Steve Haskin

Tizbaby, a couple of points. I guess it's defferent being a fan and a journalist/fan. Having been around as long as I have, if I disliked every horse because of my feelings toward his or her trainer I wouldnt be very good at my job and I wouldnt enjoy the sport as much. So, I guess it's easier for me to separate my feelings when it comes to people and horses. To me, the horse comes first, especially if I happen to like that horse. I can always just ignore the trainer. If I knock a horse, as people have a tendency to do, because I disliked his trainer for knocking other horses then I'm no different than the trainer I dislike. Does that make sense? At least that's the way I see it.

As for Big Brown's retirement and any change of plans, I'm not at liberty to disclose anything about that. All I can tell you is don't assume anything. What was said earlier in the year doesn't make it etched in stone. Things change. I'm not trying to tell anyone to change their opinions, because on the surface they all make sense. But sometimes there are things under the surface we dont know about. How's that for being cryptic? :)

03 Jan 2009 2:40 PM



03 Jan 2009 3:15 PM

Donna, I am happy to tell you that Bobby Frankel is training Stardom Bound. She may start at Santa Anita in Feb., we can trust him to do a good job and not run his mouth.

And I have to agree with Steve and Kat in Tx, I love all of the horses. They are why I am a fan. When there are multiple good ones I am that much happier. I have never resented a horse for anything, and certainly not for  being good! And if I don't like the connections I ignore them, but the horse isn't saying those things. And really the way people conduct themselves is their business, if Dutrow is happy with the image he presents that's up to him. And if Ivarone is ok with it then what are you gonna do? I do seem to remember them threatening to take BB away. And he toned it down some.

I have to say about the comments that BB wasn't going to win the Belmont. I knew too, but for a different reason. The Racing Gods told me. Jim Mckay died. I just knew he wouldn't have died if there was going to be a triple crown winner in a few hours.(Well he obviously still would've died, just later.)

Also I did flip through the 100 best book. 13 of the 100 retired(or died) at 3. 8 of them raced til 8 or 9(4 each),7 went til 7, also with 13 are the 6 y/os, 22 went until 5, a whopping 35 of them retired at 4 and there are 1 each at 11 and 13(!!) years old. So there's that.

03 Jan 2009 3:58 PM

Steve, I see your point and I can appreciate that.

And hey, cryptic is OK. I guess my point about the stud deal is moot. His feet got him, so it doesn't really matter.

03 Jan 2009 6:16 PM
Karen in Indiana

To get back to your article :-). I hope that there are real changes made in racing because of things that have happened this year & not just cosmetic bandaids. It would be better if well thought out plans were made within the industry voluntarily than having plans imposed because of government intrusions. You can bet your last dollar that PETA will be out in force at the TC races.

After seeing the lack of crowds at the racetracks and learning about the splits that are made on wagering and how little of it goes to the tracks, the economics seem upside down - the part of the business with the highest expenses gets the least amount of money. You definitely don't see that in football, baseball, or basketball.

And the point you made about racing stables now being run by businesses, the exceptions would be the Phipps and, like it ot not, the Sheiks, Maktoums, and others. I don't mind them being run by businesses as long as the people in charge love the horses as much as, if not more than, the money.

03 Jan 2009 6:41 PM

Steve, I have to echo the sentiments that your blogs have provided a marvellous forum for great discussion on the Sport of Kings.  I think that the dialogue we are having can become a part of healing balm that the sport/business needs at this time.  Keep these catalytic articles rolling and it will be fine in 2009.

Happy New Year Everybody.

03 Jan 2009 7:22 PM
Dreamer's Mom


Loved the article, as usual, BUT it's January-let's get on with the Derby hopefuls!  

Happy New Year to you and thanks for all you do.  

Any chance you can put me in touch with Migs?  I have a fabulous 2 yr old filly that is going to need a top rider!  They need to be good friends by the 2010 Oaks!

03 Jan 2009 9:02 PM

Thank you Steve for your brilliant wrap up of 2008. I also feel that this industry is on the verge of some major changes and hopefully all for the better. There is no choice. In order to save the sport of kings, something must be done. The integrity of this sport suffers more and more everyday. I for one don't believe synthetic is the answer. I don't even think it qualifies as a "band-aid." But that is my opinion and I am certainly not an expert.  I have said it so many times before that the changes need to start in the breeding shed.

I love Big Brown and I am proud of the way you stood up for him through his entire campaign and the way you didn't falter in your love for this horse. He was exciting to watch and his acceleration in the Preakness was breathtaking. He truly was special and no-one will ever know the true ability of this horse. With healthy feet who knows how great he could have been. I will choose to remember him with that greatness and the way he gave me goosebumps when he ran. What scares me is BB passing on his bad feet. Although there seems to be mixed feelings on whether quarter cracks are mostly genetic or if they are caused by intense training, its hard to look past the fact that Boundary suffered from quarter cracks as well.

I know to well the look of Eagles. I own 11 horses of my own and you just know when that one horse is truly special and gifted in ways that make them freakishly human like and great athletes. I can only imagine how great it would be to be in the presence of Big Brown or others that have come before him. To me there would be no better "red carpet" than the post parade.

Steve, I wish you a happy, healthy 2009 filled with many more exciting stories that are yet to be captured by your God given gift and then passed on to us. You are the one that enables us everday average folks the ability to actually live out the greatest moments in racing, even if it is only for a moment. You truly take your readers on your journey. We get to take in every little detail as if we are there. Whether it is in the past or happening right now. I patiently await your next blog like I'm reading a continous novel that I just can't put down. A true page turner. For that I am grateful! Thank you

03 Jan 2009 9:16 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks everyone and Happy New Year.

Dreamer's Mom, the Derby coverage is on its way. If you e-mail me at Shaskin@bloodhorse.com I'll give you Richie's number.

Karen2, I'm overwhelmed by your kind words. You've left me speechless, except to say thank you very much.

03 Jan 2009 10:05 PM

Don't know where to ask this, so I'll ask it here -- what's going on with Georgie Boy?  He's one of my faves of 2008, and last I knew he was back in work after his lay up.  Will we see him this year?  

03 Jan 2009 10:19 PM

A friend just told me to read Steve Haskins and I have. I try and read all I can and never quit learning. Interesting since I know and have met all the players talked about. I ask the following questions of all involved--

1. Does anyone remember Jess Jackson putting a gag order on his own trainer , Asmussen (who if not for Steve, Mr. Jackson would never have had the opportunity to own this horse) so Mr. Jackson could do all the press conferences and make his own decisions about the horse?? what does that tell you?

2. Are the only folks that should be in this game those that are the very rich that can raise millions?

3.  Isnt alot of the problem is that we simply have too many thorougbreds and not enough homes or retirement options?

4. Instead of talking about length of whips,  toe grabs, track surfaces -  what about the ones that are simply abusing the animals by blocking,  and running lame horses?

5. Eight belles was a catalyst and a sad one but many other horses broke down that week-  no horse should break down but differing the freak and sad ones from the ones that shouldnt be running/

6. Drug free racing isnt the answer, anymore than taking away drugs from humans -  abuse of the drugs and the type used again the problem.  I wouldnt want my horses to not have medications anymore than i would take away aspirin i take.

7. Should racing just go back to being the sport of kings reserved for those that can pay 6 figures for a horse and overhead simply is never an issue?

anyway, knowing all the players

Steve Asmussen unequivocally is trainer of the year

Stronach, Zayet, and Mr. and Mrs Moss will and should be owners of the year

one of the most serious problems in this industry is too many horses bred,  too many horses and not enough places or recourse for their lifes when their careers are over--- along with those owners and trainers that do not see the beauty and wonder of all race horses and the thrill and responsiblity of owning one---

not much different than our pets.

not enough homes and not enough recourse for those that abuse

them -  a first -  i wrote on a blog!!!

03 Jan 2009 11:12 PM
Umatilla Joe


Interesting comments about ownership, trainers, hubris, and the heartaches of breakdowns. Bottom line, if you are a fortunate owner of a great horse, soak it in with humility, joy and gratefullness. The fans will enjoy you and your horse as he goes to battle for you. I have a trainer who told me "it's the toughest game played outdoors". How right he is.  Happy New Year

03 Jan 2009 11:32 PM
Steve Haskin

Rideandcook, Georgie Boy just finished third in the Malibu Stakes on opening day of Santa Anita, and Kathy Walsh said she's thinking of stretching him back out to two turns.

04 Jan 2009 12:17 AM


Horse racing is in really big trouble in the US.  It is just plain wrong that there are millions of passionate horse lovers and sports lovers in the US who are not race fans.  Wasn't it Winston Churchill who once said, "There is something about the the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man"?  Horses bring out a passion that no other animal does.  The sport needs to tap into that.  (By the way, Steve, you do a great job doing just that.)

We need to bring in the fans who sent Barbaro cards carrots and the people who supported Alex's Lemonade Stand.  We need less reporting on the betting angle during our big races and more touchy-feely reporting.  Give us some reports from the breeding farms.  Show us the mares and foals in the fields.  Those human-interest stories are the stories that will bring in the fans.

I believe journalists need to be more knowledgeable about the sport they report on.  Many of the negatives fans have expressed in your blogs could be cleared up with accurate reporting.  Want to learn something about racing horses?  Interview some of the top grooms who work for trainers who are horsemen and not just good handicappers.

Many on this blog have complained about Big Brown being on drugs.  His trainer was upfront and honest--unlike many other high profile trainers--and actually admitted BB used steroids.  As you know, and perhaps many on the blog do not, anabolic steroids were perfectly legal and common at the time.  Why tar and feather Dutrow because he was the only one to admit something many if not most trainers do?  Why didn't mainstream reporters not get that information to the public?

There is so much misunderstanding by fans (and jounalists!) who have no connection to racehorses other than as from a distance.  Does the average fan even understand why Lasix (Salix) is given?  Do they have even the remotest understanding of the incredible lungs horses have and why they bleed?  Do they understand the increase in air pollution just might be exacerbating the problem?  If Lasix were only used as a performance enhancer or to mask other illegal drugs, why do so many trainers breeze their horses on it?

And last, but not least, I think this whole soundness of the breed issue should be put in perspective.  Fifty years ago horsemen lamented about the declining soundness of the Thoroughbred.  I bet fifty years before that, they complained about soundness as well!  The reality is that the faster they go, the harder they are on their bodies.  Let's stop our fixation with times and breaking track records so the racetrack management's priority will be to maintain the safest surface, not the fastest surface.

I love Thoroughbred racing.  I am an owner, breeder and fan.  It is a wonderful sport and I am saddened that it is in so much trouble.

04 Jan 2009 7:55 AM
Majella from Ireland

Steve; Im 15 and I want to be a sports writer when I'm older. If I can write half as well as you do, I'll be very happy. Your article on Wanderin' Boy's breakdown was amazing and you should have submitted it for an Eclipse.

I hope horse racing becomes popular again. The sport needs more journalists like you.

04 Jan 2009 8:38 AM
Karen in Indiana

Hi Steve, do you know if Boundary had hoof problems after he was retired or was it only while he was racing?

04 Jan 2009 10:27 AM
Old Timer


I have always enjoyed your writing, especially the history pieces. However I have to take issue with the comment that seems to imply that the press conducted a smear campaign against Big Brown's connections. (i.e. "digging through every trash heap they could find")

No doubt Rick Dutrow was not a darling of the media. However his words spoke for themselves. In short, the man stuck his foot in his mouth at every opportunity. You already summarized many of the bad breaks that this sport went through in 2008. Racing does not need someone insinuating that fellow trainers are dishonest nor slamming women, etc. You even mentioned that the owner's have also employed Mott, Frankel, etc. That says that they are not without blame. There are many good, professional trainers out there who know how to deal with media and could improve, rather than destroy, the image of thoroughbred racing. This great sport does not need the likes of Mr. Dutrow in the limelight. It is too bad that it overshadowed the phenomenal accomplishments of a great horse.

That said, I am with you all the way in hoping that 2009 will be a better year and that the sport will start to solve many of the public relations issues that have plagued it throughout 2008.

04 Jan 2009 1:28 PM
Pam S.

Good, thoughtful comments by JAJ about bringing in the horse-loving fans with more touchy-feely horse features.  There is plenty of time on the average racing telecast to throw one in.

It worked on me.  I had always loved horses (never owned one) but didn't follow racing because I thought it was cruel and exploitative of the animals.  I think this stemmed from offhandedly  picking up a Newsweek magazine in July 1975 and seeing a gross photo of the Ruffian breakdown.  Could never support such a thing, I thought.

Eight or 10 years later I looked up the names of the Triple Crown winners in an almanac to help me do a NY Times crossword puzzle.  I liked their powerful, militaristic-sounding names.  Interesting, I thought vaguely.

I watched the Ky. Derby most years in the '90s and thought in passing that it would be much more enjoyable if I had more knowledge of the game.  Though I never forgot the Ruffian photo, the image began to fade.

In 1997 during the Silver Charm Derby telecast, they did a feature on a Thoroughbred foal's upbringing where the foal was supposed to be narrating, ending with "It's time for me to do what I was born to do, run like the wind."  I was, pardon the expression, charmed!

So I watched the Preakness and Belmont that year, beginning to feel some excitement.  During the Belmont show they talked about Silver Charm's sire and dam and actually showed them in their pastures.  For some reason this fascinated me.  When Silver Charm lost the Belmont, I could not believe how depressed I was, so I knew I had become a fan.  

Sorry this post is so long, but I know serious horseplayers hate the fluff on the racing shows and I just wanted to say that betting and winning money is only one road to fandom, and the sport cannot neglect anything that might help turn things around.

A belated happy birthday to all the T-breds out there.

04 Jan 2009 1:34 PM
Steve Haskin

JAJ, those are wonderful comments, and all I can say in amen to all of it. You should send that in as a letter to Blood-Horse or DRF.

Thank you so much Majella. Keep your passion always and I wish you best of luck with your writing. Where in Ireland are you from? I love Ireland and cant wait to return.

Karen, I dont about Boundary after he was retired. You dont usually hear about hoof problems after a horse has been retired. And he even if he had problems the farm wouldnt make it public.

Old Timer, my comments were about the outside media and Iavarone and yours were strictly directed toward Dutrow. I dont see what youre taking issue with.

04 Jan 2009 2:50 PM

What am I supposed to do about my local media? At my local track there is a horse running for charity(with the track matching her winnings at the end of the meet) so she gets coverage in the local paper when she races. There was a front page article around thanksgiving the rest have been in the metro section, she is never mentioned in the sports page. Now the problem I have is that the reporter that is covering this story keeps printing things that aren't true and when given the truth denies it. The worst thing she printed is that "a broken leg = euthanasia", that is clearly ridiculous but for Joe Q Public that is now what they believe. I responded to her online as well as emailing her(at least 1 other person also commented about her misperception online as well)her response to my email was that there had been X amount of fatal breakdowns and they were all fatal. Well D'oh Homer! How many NON-fatal injuries? According to her, none. So how does one combat that attitude? The reporter believes what she wants to believe and that's what she's "telling" to the general public. Her latest said that as M just turned 4 she is now a mare not a filly. Aren't they still colts and fillies at 4? I thought they changed to mares and horses at 5.(Is that right?) Which isn't a big mistake but there is a mistake in every article. And besides pestering her I don't know what to do. Any suggestions?

04 Jan 2009 3:05 PM
Majella from Ireland

Im from County Armagh, only 10 mins from Dundalk Racecourse which has a similar surface to Santa Anita. In fact the Breeders Cup Marathon winner (cant remember his name, sorry) raced at Dundalk.

In Ireland horse racing is marketed quite well, everybody knows who Aidan O'Brien is even if they don't follow horse racing. America should do the same and they should promote people like Larry Jones, Michael Matz and Bobby Frankel, people who are good for the sport.

In Ireland all medication like Lasix etc is banned. You don't get many trainer suspensions over here and that means racing doesn't get too much bad press (few people listen to PETA here) although there was a big race fixing scandal a while back.

I think racing is marketed better in Ireland and thats why its bigger. But I love American racing too. I only started watching it last year and its brilliant. I'm not a big fan of Rick Duthrow though. But the sport in general is amazing.

04 Jan 2009 3:16 PM

JAJ: I love your post!  Really at the end of the day it is the horses and their stories in connection with the "humans" in their lives that create and keep fans.  There is no better animal than the horse! They truly are remarkable and to watch a thoroughbred run is truly poetry in motion. We are all heartbroken when a horse breaks down. Our hearts take such personal hits that at that moment we feel we can never watch another horse race as long as we live. It makes us angry and we lash out at the industry. We are all looking for answers and sometimes there isn't any. When they say Barbaro took a wrong step, it could be as simple as that. A wrong step. Certainly there are problems and big ones that need to be addressed, and hopefully addressed by the experts and the educated. Those that really know what is best for the horses. Then it is all of our jobs as fans of this industry to educate others. Oh, if only we lived in a perfect world.

Steve, I can't imagine MY words could leave you speechless.........but hey, sometimes maybe even a gifted writer could be at a loss for words: ) Your welcome!

04 Jan 2009 3:51 PM

I have to take issue with JAJ and his assumption that most racing fans and journalists are ignorant concerning Lasix and why it is given.  I am a racing fan and well aware of why it is purportedly given.  Certainly, there are many legitimate uses of Lasix for bleeders, however, there is no denying that Lasix masks the presence of other drugs - some of which are illegal.  Why is it that many other international racing jurisdictions in Europe and Asia do not allow the use of Lasix?  Is it because there is no air pollution in those places?  Doubt it. Racing in Asia, particularly, is thriving without the use of Lasix, thank you.  Check your facts before making such bold assumptions.  Just because we're racing fans or journalists - rather than owners - doesn't mean we're stupid.

04 Jan 2009 5:40 PM

Rideandcook, if you go to

Equibase.com you can put Georgie Boy in your virtual stable.  You will receive emails about workouts, entries, and results.  He is one of the horses in my virtual stable (my favorite in fact, but I will share him with you).  Georgie went 5F in 58.4 secs handily (which sounded exciting to me) 6 days before his third place finish in the Malibu.  I was kind of hoping for better, but happy for Bob Black Jack who is now a G1 winner (they can retire him now, right?).  Karen2, you seem to have the secret to Steve's heart -- do tell.

04 Jan 2009 7:27 PM

The banning of Lasix (and subsequent inability of some horses to run without it) might even lead to those horses not being bred. . . .  

04 Jan 2009 9:21 PM
Steve Haskin

Barb, send your complaints to the editor and copy the reporter. That will get her attention.

04 Jan 2009 11:24 PM
Steve Haskin

Majella, racing in Ireland still exists in the purest form, which is why I'm jealous that its not that way over here any more.

04 Jan 2009 11:26 PM

KatintheHat, that's the point I'm trying to make.  If horses need Lasix to run there's something wrong with the breed.  We've gotten off track with the proliferation of drugs and we need to step back to see what others are doing to allow racing to thrive without drugs.  The rest of the world doesn't seem to have this problem.

05 Jan 2009 9:22 AM

IMO do we need Lasix(Salix) no. The % of horses that bleed thru the nostrils is small compared to the % that bleed internally. Of those that bleed internally there is a high %, I just don't remember the exact %. Most racehorses don't need it and as it's very easy to get one on the list,most trainers use it cause everybody else does. I made a comment on Jason's site that Raven's Pass was a L1 which did not show up in the program. So the horse runs all year without it and because it's easy to get on the list he runs on it in SA. Get rid of that program totally and then address the rest of the pre-race shots, bute/flucort etc.

05 Jan 2009 10:10 AM
The Deacon

Steve, you forgot " Majestic Prince" when it comes to 'that' look of eagles. He was so special...........

05 Jan 2009 1:38 PM
Steve Haskin

Deacon, you're right about Majestic Prince being special, but I didn't forget him. I just never saw enough of him up close and personal to include him. I only saw him once in the paddock at Belmont. I could tell however, how beautiful he was, and to this day he's probably the most beautiful horse I've ever seen.

05 Jan 2009 2:50 PM


Thank you for all those beautiful articles you wrote last year. I read them all and enjoy them very much. Especially the Holy Bull/Cigar/Skip Away.It was around 1996 I got into Horse Racing and ever since.  I never saw Holy Bull race live so I'm limited in my opinion of him but Cigar and Skip Away I was fortuneate enough to have seen them run. Today's horses because of economic reasons don't run as often or into their 4YO/5YO campaigns as the horses from 80's or even 90's. Times have changed so we handicapped them accordingly through our current state of racing. This year brought us many new twists (First ever Breeder's Cup on Synthetic Track) to unfortuneate circumstances surrounding Eight Belle's Tragedy. My past 13 years of KY Derby I believe she was the first casualty. With all the Eclipse Awards handed out and the closing of 2008 I don't remember seeing the Female racing being this strong in last 13 years. Zenyatta, Stardom Bound, Eight Belle's, Proud Spell and the list goes on and on in just American Racing alone. Their speed figures are very comparable to their male counterparts and I stronly felt that had Zenyatta ran in BC Classic she would have won. It's not Big Brown's fault that he had to run against inferior competition (current 3YO Crop) so he deserves 3YO COLT DESIGNATION but he's not the best 3YO of his generation. That distinction should go to mighty Zarkava of Aga Khan's Stable. If Goldikova could crush the best of Milers all over the world than it's scary what Zarkava could do. Too bad it's all heresay but I'll be following the Fillies and Mares this year closely and hope they could come close to last year's amazing feat. ZENYATTA and  ZARKAVA truly has the Look of Eagles in the pages of Racing and Timeform.  

05 Jan 2009 2:50 PM
Ida Lee

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, for your defense of Big Brown. I love that horse so much. He was so exciting to watch and so beautiful I water up just looking at him. He was and is a true Champ and could the Derby & Preakness have been more exciting as we watched this gorgeous creature race like the wind?  I don't care what happened at the Belmont. It doesn't reduce for me his greatness for one minute. His connections were obnoxious OK but quite frankly, I think they just loved their horse and bragged about him. So what. They had a talented, beautiful, one of a kind Champ on their hands. I'd brag too. Love you Big Brown.

05 Jan 2009 3:55 PM

Hi Steve

You said about ieah and dutrow that we shouldn't judge people based on some brash statements they make or a persona that we don't care for.

What a person says and does is the only way a person can judge another that they have never met. What I have seen and heard from dutrow is nothing but negativity.

I wish he had handled the situation better because this just looks bad on the industry. A trainer should never overshadow the horse he trains.

06 Jan 2009 12:11 AM
Laura B

Thank you very much, Steve, for this and all your articles and postings.  Everything you write is edifying and entertaining, with a fresh perspective that virtually brings us into the stall or onto the racetrack with the wonderful creatures that are your subject and our (your readers') shared passion.  May the horse(s) continue be with you in 2009!

06 Jan 2009 12:20 AM
Steve Haskin

Darryl, do you really believe we should judge a person's character based on brash comments he makes about his own horse? I would hope true character goes a lot deeper than that. And that statement was in reference to Iavarone. I dont see why people cannot separate Mike Iavarone from Rick Dutrow. They are two different people.

Happy New Year to you, Laura, and thank you.

06 Jan 2009 12:36 AM
Matthew W

Steve I concur about Big Brown! He had that look. The competition did not matter-- Big Brown reminded me of Spectacular Bid, and no other horse has, not even Sunday Silence/Easy Goer....Both Brownie and Bid were victims of questionable rides in The Belmont---Why Kent didn't let him go to the lead after he broke first will forever be pondered--Why Big Brown didn't win The Belmont by 12 will forever be pondered.....

06 Jan 2009 12:58 AM

Steve it is dutrows comments on OTHER horses that I have a problem with, and Iavarone was silent. Just like I don't like Terell Owens comments on other players. I don't care if someone toots their own horn just be respectful of others.  

06 Jan 2009 1:10 AM
Steve Haskin

So, Darryl, I take it from your comparison to Terrell Owens that you dont like Wade Phillips or Tony Romo or Jerry Jones only because they were silent. There's no difference disliking Iavarone and disliking all three of those guys.

06 Jan 2009 10:09 AM

Once again Steve, Thank you so much for this article.  As a certified Big Brown lover I am so happy to know that people "in the know" see what I see in him.   As for Mike Iavarone, all I can say is this, regardless of his "brash" comments, the man loves his horses.  When I watched him interact with Big Brown, it is obvious to me how much he cares for his horses.  Too me, that is the most important thing, because as stated by Pegasus and yourself, this means he will make the right decision for the horse.  Not for the money or the fans, but for the horse.  I commend him for not taking any chances with Big Brown's health, and while many of us wish we could have seen much more of him, I would rather have him healthy and safe.  I look forward to seeing him in person at Three Chimney's this summer.  It is a shame that people can't see beyond their dislike of IEAH and Dutrow and see what an amazing animal Big Brown is.  I for one feel tremendously honored to have been witness to his accomplishments.  

06 Jan 2009 12:57 PM

Matthew W,

I was pondering the 08 Belmont just the other day. I recalled a different start for Big Brown than you so I looked up the DRF Chart and watched a replay to refresh my memory. Lo and behold it was just as I remembered, Big Brown broke awkwardly and poorly and did not break in first. I also seem to recall that he broke into Guadacanal almost taking the poor maiden out and causing the beginning of his own demise.

It's a fact that over time things can get a little clouded, but I don't understand why anyone would insist in skewing the facts almost right from the start.

Let's keep it real and say Big Brown had a very bad day in the Belmont. Some of it may not have been all his fault but from the start he and not anybody or anything else started a chain reaction of events that led to his embarrasing loss. For the record Big Brown did not have "the look" at the end of Belmont Day 2008.

06 Jan 2009 1:18 PM

Thank you, thank you, thank you once again, Steve. I came into this blog late, as usual, but have to agree wholeheartedly with your article.  Especially your perfect evaluation of Big Brown.  And I am just thrilled to hear all the loving comments from readers.  He is magnificent and rare and some of us will always love him with no ifs, ands or buts involved.  I love to hear anyone say good things about Big Brown but especially you because I have so much respect for your opinion and expertise.  Over the holidays I re-read your book - Tales of the Triple Crown and loved it all over again.  Thanks for the wonderful stories.  I can't wait for the races of 2009 and reading all about it through your voice on Bloodhorse.  

06 Jan 2009 4:52 PM

Thanks, Steve, for speaking up for Big Brown. I've left quite a few message boards because of the Big Brown bashing. I, too, have followed and been involved in racing for over 40 great years, and I still think he had it, too.

Feel good stories are great, who, recently hasn't enjoyed Sackatoga Stables and Funny Cide, Alex and Smarty.

But, you want the animal loving fan. And chances are, that animal lover goes to PETA. And that site is full of the worst and most preposterous information on racing you can imagine. (Imagine my surprise to read (from a Peta Moderator) that there are little Secretariats running around due to frozen sperm. I would have replied au contraire, peta person, but I would have had to register on the site...no..not going to.)

When only negativity is published in regular media, the perception the regular, only interested in the Triple Crown fan gets is racing is cruel. And I wish there was a way to change that perception.

Racing does need name horses, or as LDP said, heroes (that stick around). Since the new order is money, maybe, instead of Triple Crown incentives, the focus should be on monetary incentives to continue racing older horses to build a fan base. Tack that million or five bonus on a few traditionally older horses races that have lost their luster over the past decade or two.

And I am so glad I read this and see other people saw Big Brown looking not his A-game for the Belmont. I thought he looked irritated as all get out, and wondered who the tv announcer was talking about when he said..Big Brown looks great!

06 Jan 2009 5:30 PM

O.K. Steve,

I know I had asked you this before but I cannot find the "sticky" note I wrote this down on and am not having the best of luck with my google search engine.  It is looking more and more like I really might make the Derby this year. Meeting my mom and a couple aunts. I am looking for some package deals. I don't know how I will make it through it without crying the entire time as this will be an absolute dream come true for me but I will do my best to "buck" up and stop my snibbling. Any advice from you or some other fellow bloggers on places to stay, who to check out for package deals,events to attend etc... would be very much appreciated. OH, and where I can find you when I'm there for an autograph and maybe a photo would be an added bonus : ) Maybe I could put on a cap and a "rookie" t-shirt or something and follow you around the track for awhile. haha...... I did check out rentmyhouse4derby.com and did find one heck of a mansion for rent along with box seats to the derby for the minor price of 36,000.....(ouch)... I wish!

06 Jan 2009 9:31 PM

Schabelli: I almost hate to get into this again and perhaps it will get shut down before it even begins, but maybe you need to watch the replay again. BB wanted to run and was clearly being held back by Kent. Had Kent let him go, it is very possible he could have went to the front. He was also startled by a starter on the track that should have never been there at the break plus Kent pulled him up when he felt he wasn't going to win. If anyone should have been embarrassed it should have been him. I certainly wasn't  "embarrassed" by his loss. I admit a lot of things went wrong which contributed to BB being rank, probably first and foremost his training schedule or lack of leading up to the race but keep in mind he also has bad feet. Quite the contrary on the "look" at the end of the Belmont. He certainly did have the "look". The look of a horse that wanted to run and was pi$$ed that he wasn't allowed to. No, I don't believe he would have won because he used to much energy at the beginning of the race. BB was and still is a champion.

06 Jan 2009 9:41 PM

O.K. after looking at Kentuckyderby.com it seems that you have to "apply" for reserved tickets and may or may not get them. Otherwise you have to purchase general admission tickets and my understanding is these are for infield and paddock only and don't get you to the track at all. Is this correct? Anyone have experience with the general admission tickets? I wouldn't be going for the party. I would be going to see the race and see the horses. Maybe catch some workouts or visits to the track. Is this possible?  Thanks for everyones input.

06 Jan 2009 10:05 PM

I "ditto" many comments commending your obvious objective admiration for a fine and gorgeous horse, Big Brown. It's too bad his accomplishments were minimized becaue of his human connections, who I think truly loved BB. I will always remember emailing friends who were going to the K Derby before the Derby telling them about the Florida Derby and how this big machine (almost a Secretariat)tore up that field, that I expected BB to be a major player, if not the only player, in the Derby. He was gorgeous, charismatic, a perfect PR specimen as well for the Triple Crown series. May he have just as beautiful, but strong-footed-hoofed babies who will be just as relentless on racetracks thus prove all those naysayers wrong someday! And, he was irritated/rank as all heck before the Belmont. Watching from Arlington Park, I said to my friends, he doesn't like the track: look at how his feet are not taking to that field, he's sinking in circles, as they are trying to load him. That was after seeing the flare-up in the detention barn and enough to let me know it would be some more time before the TC would be won.....

06 Jan 2009 10:16 PM
The Deacon

Hey Steve, I saw Majestic Prince win the Santa Anita Derby in 1969. I fell in love with him that day, he was so gorgeous. John Longden walked by me and he winked, he knew he had something special. Longden did not want to run him in the Belmont, McMahon overruled and the rest is history. The "Prince" could have been one of the all time greats. Next to Dr. Fager, he was my favorite horse.

Thanks for the continued wonderful blogs, you are a tributr to this industry..............

06 Jan 2009 10:51 PM
Steve Haskin

Kar, I forgot the name of the tour company I spoke at last year, but you can get all the information you need from Michael Horvath (pghfans@comcast.net), who was my contact. If you are the one who you wanted to visit Three Chimneys, a visit there is part of the tour. The prices were reasonable, as they had different tours for different prices. Some tours of a few days to a whole week. I spoke at the whole week (Monday to Sunday) tour, which stayed at the Radisson in Lexington. They also went to the track for workouts, Keeneland, The Thoroughbred Center, The Kentucky Horse Park, Old Friends, and WinStar Farm. There would no problem hooking up with you at the track. And I wont even charge you for my autograph :)

06 Jan 2009 11:41 PM
Steve Haskin

Karen, I wasnt getting personal, the "en" somehow got dropped off your name.

07 Jan 2009 9:24 AM

Hey Steve!

Happy New Year.

I saw in your article the mention of the 3 breakdowns, now 5 I believe. Turfway is investigating a similar issue.

I know you were never a big proponent of synthetics, any thoughts on what is going on?

Also, I know you aren't big on awards, but are you attending the Eclipse awards, for a first hand report of that exciting event? (tongue in cheek).

I can see by your comment to Karen that you're still on the same comedic roll you were before New Years!

07 Jan 2009 1:32 PM
Matthew W

Shabelli the Belmont pace was Big Brown's for the taking! Indeed, it WAS the pace that WON the Belmont! Big Brown broke awkwardly but was very keen for the lead/very capable of taking it---At least give him his head! Big Brown will forever be remembered as the greatest horse NOT to win Horse Of The Year---But his greatness is unquestioned....

07 Jan 2009 1:37 PM
Karen in Texas

Steve,  Sorry this is such a late post. I commented on Jan.2 and am just now getting back to the blog. After reading Karen in Indiana's post from Jan.1, I remembered a really nice book titled "My Racing Heart", by Nan Mooney. It is her true story of life with horses, the absence of horses, and how she brought them back into her life again. Karen in Indiana might enjoy reading it--it is almost therapeutic for fans with a similar personal history. (I know this is a little off subject.) Thanks.

07 Jan 2009 1:42 PM
Matthew W

Brigette RIGHT ON! I wanted to see more....The hoof problems should've been the reason to run him at four! There was unfinished business with Big Brown: He needed to show us more/we needed to see him more! More turf races/after that hand ridden race at Monmouth--Lucky Monmouth! Why hurry off to stud, hooves heal, Racing is gambling all ways around---Why talk the talk---then run off to the breeding shed? Racing deserved better! Big Brown was of the caliber that transcends the sport/the ownership needed to know that! NO financial decision should EVER trump that very fact, less racing itself will succumb to financial decisions....

07 Jan 2009 2:03 PM

Karen, I just love reading your comments; you say everything I feel and say it so well.  I'd love to meet some writers from these blogs at the races.  I actually did, purely by accident, meet Nancy in the paddock at The Haskell - we were both camped out to see Big Brown when he came in.  We talked for hours and got on like old buddies.  It was so liberating to talk to someone who loves horses like I do and not to see the eyes glaze over after 5 minutes.  Nancy and I email and she sent me copies of her Big Brown pictures which were super.  Like you Karen, I've always wanted to go to the Derby and have never been able to do it.  I do go to the Preakness and Belmont but my goal is to add the Derby in 2010 when my daughter is home from the Peace Corps.  So, Steve, if you're at the Preakness signing autographs, I'll bring my book!  And I want to add one more comment to what Karen said about Big Brown during and after the Belmont.  He did not want to stop; he had the hell yanked out of his poor soft mouth all the way down the final stretch.  I wouldn't be surprised if his mouth was bloody.  But for sure he was angry and in pain and confused.  Being pulled up like that, when there was no injury, was dangerous for every horse and rider on the track but especially for Big Brown - it could easily have caused him to break down.  Thank God he came out of it safe!  I'm planning on doing that tour you talked about, Steve, sounds like horse heaven to me.

07 Jan 2009 3:54 PM
Steve Haskin

The name of that Ky. Derby tour is Premiere Sports Travel -- Sportstravel.com. You can see all their packages.

Nan Mooney began her turf writing by writing a Final Turn editorial for the Blood-Horse. I assigned her a feature for the Ky. Derby souvenir magazine when I was editor and she did a great job. She's a terrific writer, with lots of passion. I haven't seen anything by her in quite a while.

07 Jan 2009 4:53 PM
Karen in Texas

Steve,  Yes, Nan Mooney's passion absolutely jumps off the page! I had to read "My Racing Heart" in short segments because the emotional involvement for me became really intense. I think she now has a baby and has written a book about young professionals and their financial difficulties in today's society. How great that you gave her a turf assignment!

07 Jan 2009 5:15 PM

Thank you TerriV. I love to come here and read the blogs also. It gives me a place to converse with those who share my passion. Like you said, most people's eyes glaze over when you start to talk about the horses.


I didn't even notice the "en" was missing off my name but now that you point it out, its kindof cool, even if it was accidental. Kindof like we go way back : ) Thanks for all the info. I will check out the tours and packages right away. Don't be surprised if I don't hold you to the meeting and the autograph when I make it to the derby!

07 Jan 2009 5:52 PM

Karen2, you probably shouldn't count on getting reserve tickets. But, go early, go general admission and park yourself at the rail of the saddling paddock. That's what we did on my one and only treasured trip (Silver Charm's year). We got great pictures and I have wonderful memories (except for my exacta that were the horses who finished 2-3 instead of 1-2)

07 Jan 2009 7:42 PM

Steve, thank you so much for your insightful thoughts about the results of the vote.

Your feelings on Big Brown are so real.  It gave me the chills just to see him on television.  I was so disappointed with what happened in the Belmont.

I read your articles always but I have stayed completely away from horse racing since Wandering Boy's breakdown.  And Shakis.  Just unbearable to think what these horses have given to racing and there is no just ending.

07 Jan 2009 8:21 PM
Steve Haskin

Brad, glad to see your comment was tongue in cheek or  I would have had to scold you for asking a dumb question.

My thoughts on the synthetic breakdowns are no different than theyve always been. Like everything, they rushed into this blindly without doing their homework and now these tracks are stuck with an unpredictable surface and they dont know what to do about it. It's sad, because they could have put him a state of the art dirt track for much less money and hired a good maintenance crew. Oaklawn did it last year and they now have a wonderful and safe surface. There are going to breakdowns on any kind of surface, but the synthetic proponents were almost arrogant about their track and vilified all those who questioned it.

07 Jan 2009 11:32 PM
Steve Haskin

Karen II, regarding this comment "Don't be surprised if I don't hold you to the meeting and the autograph when I make it to the derby!"

Did your desire for my autograph disappear that quickly? As for no longer wanting to meet me, did someone spill the beans about my halitosis problem?

07 Jan 2009 11:36 PM
Steve Haskin

Shoshin, I appreciate your kind words, but we are unable publish your recent comment in its present form. If you wish to re-phrase your opening sentence or state your expertise and hard facts on the matter, and drop your political views and comments, which have no place on here, we will be glad to publish it. This forum is for opinion and facts. Your opening comment provided neither. Thank you.

08 Jan 2009 9:27 AM


You crack me up. I just noticed the "error" in my comment and I got a kick out of it. That is way to funny. Clearly I meant I WOULD hold you to the meeting and autogragh even if you have the worst "halitosis" in the world. If I make it to the derby this year (its looking good!) meeting you would be a highlight of my trip,bad breath and all :)

So, the package deal I am looking at consists of grandstand seats on the first floor in section 125-148. Do you know if these are decent or not? Clearly I would love to get to millionare's row or in some box seats but I will be happy as long as I can see the track and feel the thunder!

08 Jan 2009 12:23 PM
The Deacon

Steve I would like to see a committe of some kind come together and try to restore this once great sport. Bring it back to it's heyday, like a "Back to the Future". On this committe would be folks like yourself, a few brilliant throwback trainers and owners, and some very knowledgeable horsemen. We would need rule makers and decision makers there as well, along with track officials, top vetinarians, and racing officials. I think this can be done. People just need to put their differences aside and get on the same page to fix this sport. Just a thought..............

08 Jan 2009 1:05 PM
Steve Haskin

FYI, whoever is left on here, of the first three finishers in the Eclipse trainers poll -- Jackson, Joe allen, and the Mosses -- none made the top 3 finalists -- IEAH, Godolphin, and Frank Stronach.

08 Jan 2009 1:33 PM


Besides a package deal which does sound really nice if you are looking at the one Steve is reccomending have you ever heard of Ebay? There you can find tickets as well as on many different locations such as tickets.com. This works well for those who cannot get away for the amount of time that your package deal entails. There are plenty of options out there for anyone who wants to attend that include great seats. Sold out doesn't mean you can't get in.

08 Jan 2009 1:43 PM

Steve, One must keep one's sense of humor right now.

Do you think the deck was stacked in favor of IEAH with this nomination? (TIC=tongue in cheek, since I think I'm going to be using it all the time)

Deacon, A similar suggestion was made on another board, by a throw-back trainer, including fans and veterinarians along with the others you mention, whooosh the ridicule and smack downs that ensued,from all the experts on these boards weren't pretty. (NO TIC)

08 Jan 2009 2:20 PM

Okay, count me in for IEAH, not that it matters.

08 Jan 2009 2:23 PM
Steve Haskin

Karen, which tour and package did you choose?

08 Jan 2009 3:05 PM
Steve Haskin

Deck stacked? I dont know what you mean. The truth is, based on accomplishment in 2008 they deserve to win. How can they possibly lose in this field?

08 Jan 2009 3:09 PM

I find it interesting that Zayat didn't make the finalists as they had the winningest year. Of course Stronach is there, he always is. And IEAH did have a great year, PR aside. I had given my vote to Joe Allen for entirely sentimental reasons, it just hurts me that for all of her accomplishment Pep will get no awards. I do expect to see her enter the Hall of Fame someday.

Just as an aside, I spent the day at my local track yesterday and I noticed two things...

1. The average age of the patrons had to be at least 50.

2. Every horse ran on Bute and only 1 ran without Lasix. 75 horses raced (safely, to my knowledge).

I am 39 and I love to talk to "old" people, especially at the track. But what happens in 10 years when they are gone and there are few replacment fans? And 76 of the 77 (we had 2 scratches) horses were bleeders? Really? And I'm not entirely sure why they give Bute, but seriously, EVERY horse?? It doesn't seem right. I had a FABULOUS time (I met Gary Stevens and Russell Baze!) but I was noticing some of the things that may seem negative to potential fans and am interested in finding a way that I can help to improve things for the folks that work so hard to bring this wonderful sport to us. I would like to help ensure a future for all of us who love horse racing.

08 Jan 2009 3:15 PM

"How can they possibly lose in this field?

Steve Haskin 08 Jan 2009 3:09 PM "

Thus the TIC

08 Jan 2009 3:28 PM

Karen2 Seating chart:


This site doesn't show above 128 in that area, haven't sat there in years so not sure.

"For great views of the race at some of the best prices available, try Grandstand seating in the 100-300 Grandstand sections. You're on your own for food, drinks and betting, but you still get great views of the race from the front stretch, just before the finish line.

There are mutuel windows and concession areas available, but you don't get any in-seat wait service, personal betting machines or private restrooms like you might in the Clubhouse seating."

Per their site.

Me, we're in a box with friends, staying with the same or maybe another trainer who live in Louisville. Great access to the backside, with people who can go where they want. Very fortunate to know people and don't make a habit out of making them mad or calling them out. Cast your bread upon the water and it will return tenfold... or something like that, loosely translated from Irish Gaelic, my gran.

Hoping he has one in the Derby this year, the ultimate, revisited.

08 Jan 2009 3:42 PM

I can easily get behind IEAH. They had some great horses and did some incredible things for the sport - mostly without making a big deal out of their good deeds.  And, I was convinced that they really care for their horses even while running a business.  

Steve, you didn't say whether you'd be at the Preakness to autograph your book for me. Or maybe you'll be there for Sunrise at Old Hilltop which I thoroughly enjoy every year.

08 Jan 2009 4:29 PM


I am looking at the Radisson Lexington 5 night stay package. It seems less expensive to stay in Lexington versus Louisville and this package actually includes an open house at three chimneys and lunch at Keeneland track along with some other tours and specialties such as admission to the Kentucky horse park to see the parade of champions. Although the race is very important to me, visiting the farms is also very important. Probably a once in a lifetime trip for me so I have to make it count! I am a little concerned about Lexington being an hour away from Louisville and wonder if that is a mistake to stay there.

Slyder: Thanks for the info. I am very familiar with E-bay but because of my lack of planning skills a package deal seems like the best way to go. Plus when I went out to Kentuckyderby.com it was my understanding you had to apply for reserved seating. Not really sure how that works.

08 Jan 2009 4:39 PM
Steve Haskin

Karen, as I said, the Radisson package is the one I spoke at last year on their first night. It was fun and the group was very responsive and seemed to enjoy all the stories I told and the human interest angles surrounding the Derby horses.

08 Jan 2009 5:14 PM


Thanks for the info. You are very fortunate to know people on the inside. I live in the North pole quite close to Santa so don't know any people involved in racing on the big scale and frankly people around here look at me funny when I talk about it so much. As far as making a habit out of making your friends mad or calling them out... I would hope not. After all, they are your friends : )

I am one of those very misplaced race fans. Got involved in horses at a young age and had the race bug from a young age and soaked in as much about it as I could my entire life....from afar.... but it looks like I'm headed to Kentucky this year and I am beside myself!

08 Jan 2009 5:23 PM


Any chance you will be the "guest" speaker again? That is included in the package. Darn...looks like I'm a year late........

08 Jan 2009 5:28 PM

Hey Steve, love your articles & especially your article "out with the Old" from 1-2-08. When you talk about the "look of eagles" the 1st horse to come to mind is the GREAT FOREGO. I had taken some pics of him at the Ward farm bfore he went to the Ky.Horse Park & those shots show the look of eagles. Sent a set of pics I took of him at "Farewell to Forego Day" & at Ward's farm to Frank Whiteley,Jr. I guess he liked them, never returned them. Saw Majestic Prince at Spendthrift & he also had "THE LOOK". Would like to send you some of these pics if you'd like.    Kathy

08 Jan 2009 5:58 PM

Well Karen, at least two I met on here. Think back.

The other well known guy, known well for a long time.

Just listen when they talk or learn when I really am not as informed as they are.

Not kissing up, just showing respect. Sad, don't think that perspective will be available to all anymore here, oh well reap what you sow.

08 Jan 2009 6:43 PM
Steve Haskin

Kathy, Forego will be my next "Look back" blog. I'm not sure when I'll get to it, but I've already started preparing it, and oddly enough it begins with my visit to Forego at John Ward's farm withy my wife. I'd love to see your photos. Forego is still the most remarkable horse I've ever seen. Some of the things he accomplished are unheard of today.

08 Jan 2009 6:43 PM
Steve Haskin

Karen, I know they like to get different people each year, and they've invited several people to speak, but they havent gotten anyone yet. It's still early. I doubt it will be me again. It was a hassle going all the way to Lexington and then driving back to Louisville that night and get up at 4 a.m. the next morning. I'm sure whoever they get will be terrific.

08 Jan 2009 6:47 PM


You're the one from ND? The hinterlands?

Man if you're this excited now you'll never survive....

Got your hat and outfit picked out and your bags packed?  Remember as a kid the few trips I went on my clothes were totally wrinkled by the time I left on the trip.

TRY to go to the Oaks, that's a great experience too, lots of locals on that day.

Dream of a lifetime or 4 to get to the coveted circle. In the paddock on the big day, unbelievable (as Bob Lewis often said)

One guy I met on these, then in person, very accomodating and generous. So didn't even really need to be friends with him.

Showed the respect and it happened, could've happened for others too.

08 Jan 2009 6:49 PM

Belatedly, thank you again for another wonderful article.  It's been a while since I read it the first time, but I've been doing some thinking about all that you said in regard to Big Brown and I have to admit that I was one of those who was put off by the words and actions of his connections.  First and foremost, I have loved horses for as long as I can remember (and that's a long, long time - ha), so for me to have gotten so caught up in the connections of the horses is strange, even to me.  Perhaps it was the all the heart-warming stories of the recent past, Funnycide's Sackatoga crew, Smarty Jones' lovable Chapmans, and even Giacomo's underdog status for his KD win, helped me to get caught up in the romantic human interest side of things, and led to my bias.  I fell completely in love with Barbaro and all of his connections and followed him through his ordeal, again gaining a great respect and deep admiration for his trainer and his owners.  In my opinion, Barbaro had that look of eagles, but of course, I never saw him up close and personal, so maybe it was just my school-girl infatuation.  The next year, it was Street Sense and Hard Spun for me, yep, the connections were part of that picture, too.  In other words, I'll admit that I let the media's coverage of Big Brown's connections influence me to not be in favor of the horse.  Hypocrite!  Yes, that would be me.  Thank you for making me stop to think about it, Steve.  Big Brown's Derby was definitely a race for the ages when he blasted to the front from the 20 stall, it just would have been so much nicer if Dutrow had been able to keep his mouth shut.  I am going to try to keep a more open mind in the future, because it is all about the horse first.

08 Jan 2009 7:58 PM

Karen2 you think you live in the north pole? No way girlfriend I'm farther north than you and I'm excited just reading about your plans!

08 Jan 2009 9:32 PM


Your comments have me a bit troubled. I remember back and remember you took issue with something I posted so I believe when you are referring to two people you are referring to Draynay and of course me.  If I offended you in a previous post, please accept my apology. I consider myself a genuinely nice person who is passionate about racing. I can be a little opinionated at times but don't know to many adults that don't have that problem. I certainly don't hold a grudge. Especially towards another poster. I respect everyone on these boards...everyone... even if we don't share the same opinion. I can be open minded and learn something every day from someone posting out here. I believe we are all kindred spirits who share a deep love for this industry and these horses. As Steve says... Out with the old.... Can we start fresh?

My bags are not packed yet but I'm sure as soon as I book the package they will be. I'm 41 so this is a long time coming. I am already thinking about what kindof hat to wear and what kindof dress. All in all what I hope to get out it is that the Derby will be all that I have dreamt it will be along with the added bonus of meeting some of my favorite famous individuals, such as Smarty, Cigar, Alysheba,BB and of course Steve Haskin. I don't drink much but maybe will have to try a mint Julip (spelled wrong?). Yes, I live waaaayyyy up here in the North. It's wicked cold and I can already feel the Kentucky sunshine on my face. I simply can't wait.

08 Jan 2009 10:54 PM

This is a great blog...thanks, Steve! I must give a shout out to barb with her newspaper stories on the filly racing for charity. We MUST both live in PDX and follow the PM circuit through the big "O". Yes, the coverage is sparse and weak, but if you keep after them, I'll do it too! I have needled them mercilessly on their lack of coverage. Maybe WE should offer to proof read for the young reporter and be a source of support -- we need her.

09 Jan 2009 6:20 AM


Your excitement is contagious! Now I'm thinking about the Derby this year.

Wondering if you are a member of the Churchill Downs Twin Spires club (TwinSpiresClub.com)? I know I got an offer from them for Derby tickets a few months ago, but it was pricey and I don't remember what it included. The seats were good and it wasn't a lottery type thing.

Anyway, good luck to a fellow misplaced racing fan and don't forget to visit Old Friends a few miles down the road from KHP.

09 Jan 2009 11:37 AM

No maam it was not just you, but several people on Jason's blog.

It wasn't anything said to me at all. Since, really I'm still just a fan and gambler when all is said and done, even though I may be getting into a partnership here soon.

I made two friends on the BH blogs who are in the industry who I was fortunate enough to actually meet plus 2 others who I converse with on here but haven't actually met.

( Hey Wanda, hope you're staying warm! Katsan, hope you're having a better year, praying no more tradgedies for you.)

At least one of those I have actually met had his insight, crushed then was scolded for his viewpoint. The others were sort of dismissed as well.

Was just saying that as friendly, nice and accomodating as he and his friend turned out to be towards me and my friends in real life, it's a shame some people didn't realize just how nice these people are. Passionate about their livlihood and trying to defend it, really who should have to do that day after day?

The other person I know who is very Derby oriented, and accomodating, I have known for a long time, didn't meet on here of course, met thru another friend years ago. He's not exactly without his battles with the media etc.

I'm just happy that you will be getting to attend the Derby, to me that fits into 100 things to do before you die. It's all about the fashion (according to my wife) it ranges from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Statemet that you don't drink and a Mint Julep all in the same sentence? Whoa!  No offense to Early Times, but that is definitely not a cocktail for the weak hearted. May want to buy their readymix and give it a try at home to see how you react. Me, I (BLASPHEMY) don't like them, but to get a glass and try them guess everyone should do it once. You can just buy the glass you know, I have a nice collection.

Still hope you can fit the Oaks into your schedule as well as everything else, sounds like you'll be busy.  Just be prepared for crowds and craziness.

Also, not to be negative, but it can be ugly weather (remember Smarty's run? That was a scary storm.). As long as you're prepared, nothing can make you enjoy it any less. Whether it's rain or really hot. I hope for your sake it's a mild, sunny, bright and beautiful day!

09 Jan 2009 11:54 AM

p.s. My favorite basketball coach of all time, Lute Olson, the guy Midnight Lute is named after is from North Dakota too.  I've been to both Dakota's. Bill Mott was born in SD used to run in SD before he went to work for Jack Van Berg and Wayne ran there when he was young.

It's an interesting area of the country although South Dakota seems like it got the better of the deal.

09 Jan 2009 12:03 PM
The Deacon

I just read that Joe Hirsch the dean of American turf writers died this morning. He was an amazing and gifted writer who brought integrity and fun to this sport. I was just wondering Steve if you had the thought perhaps to write a blog about his life and what he meant to American racing.

Thank you........................

09 Jan 2009 12:04 PM

Thanks for the warning Bradgm about the mint Julep. Perhaps just buying the glass will be a better option. We do plan on taking in the Oaks as well and am also looking forward to that. I do remember Smarty's run and remember seeing some not so great weather so I prepare for both and hope for the best!

North Dakota in my opinion is a very well kept secret. There is a general assumption that it is just cold and miserable here. Although it can be cold and miserable, there are so many great things about North Dakota. We are actually having one of the worst winters in 10 years. Really they have been quite mild and have very little snow. But it really is the heart of the farming community. Believe it or not, we are the number one producers of 16 commodities. The summers here are fabulous and honestly, I live in literally the cleanest city I have ever seen. Lots of pride of ownership and real salt of the earth people. Yes, it is a more conservative community with a lot of old values but I love it and it is a wonderful place to raise your kids. I don't know if you read the New York Times but a month ago North Dakota hit the front page with the statement "Recession? What recession?  It is rich in Western history and the badlands are breathtaking. Unfortunately, the closest race track is 200 miles away and it is a very small scale track. When I feel like maybe I'm missing out on something, I travel to Colorado (where I was raised) and then I can't wait to get back to wide open spaces and clean air.

I'm sorry your friends have felt their insight and viewpoints were crushed on here. It has happened to me as well and probably most bloggers on here a time or two. I think the key is not in what you say but how you say it and I know sometimes blogs can be taken the wrong way. I have actually been trying to be more careful in my selection of words when addressing others. I think there are a lot of differing opinions but it also makes it good discussion with a lot of good view points. We really are blessed the BH lets us do this.

09 Jan 2009 2:45 PM

Karen, not sure what part of Colorado you're talking about but the wide open still exists there, my gran lives there.

Here in California is beautiful, can't beat the Ocean but too many people.

Think I agree with Katsan that New Mexico is one beautiful place. Gets the bad rap, but nowhere has the variety of country like they do. Plus they are horse people all over that State. They're up to 6 race tracks now and the whole state has maybe a couple million people. Bet there's more animals than people there.

As far as the people who have been crushed on here. Well we're fans, gamblers etc. Don't think what someone says on a racing blog affects our everyday life much at all, agree?

At least in no way, shape or form that it affects those who are in the industry, have been long before our fandom, will be long after we move on to something else. Most of them live and die with it. Wouldn't you be just as passionate about something that was life and death, food on the table and something you have done your whole life? Can't compare how we feel to that at all, not about racing anyway.

Just think that's what I'm saying and think the chastisement was unnecessary and out of place, by all who did or have done it.

09 Jan 2009 4:15 PM

Barb: Traveling alone????? Well if you do, I will get you contact information or something so we can hang out. I will be going with my mother and sister and maybe a girlfriend from Colorado. Its not really my moms dream or my sisters but my mom lives on the east coast and it sounds like fun to her to go. So I think it will just be an over all good time.

I really did some dreaming today. I looked up rentmyhouse4derby.com and just looked at all the beautiful places for rent. You literally live like a movie star for a couple days. DREAMY! But money does matter so maybe someday when I win the lottery! What's with this Brownstable party? Sounds like the place to be if your an important person.

09 Jan 2009 4:45 PM

Going to the Derby??!!  Wow, for Karen2!  That has got to be exciting, but you're going to have to keep posting about the plans as you make them and then let us all know how it all works out.  Hubby and I keep saying we're going to try to get there some day, but at the rate we're going, it may not ever happen.  All the travelling we thought we'd do when he retired hasn't quite worked out - ha!  You will definitely need to go to Lexington, too, if you don't do the package that stays there and commutes to Louisville.  Whatever way you do travel, I hope it will be wonderful!

09 Jan 2009 7:27 PM

Barnstable Brown party.

Hosted by Patricia BB and her sister Priscilla, in honor of Patricia's husband, who had diabetes, now deceased, to raise money for Diabetes research. Lots of 'celebrities' often B listers or athletes usually a performer or two, sometimes impromptu. You can buy tickets for a grand or more.

Black tie affair. Proceeds go to a reasearch program at UK. Lots of corporate sponsors, Not my cup of tee, do it once, that's enough though it's a good cause.

Lots of parties, events etc. You can't possibly do them all but try to take in the Museum and at least one of the Derby festival events, if that's your thing, Pegasus parade?  

If you're staying in Lexington, drive out to see some of the farms. That is the real beauty there.

The homes in Old Louisville are interesting too. Some really old, beautiful mansions etc.

10 Jan 2009 1:22 AM
Matthew W

Steve, Big Brown retired and with nary a word about his soundness--Big Brown retired sound/with a quarter which is/was really no biggie---Horseracing needed a David Stern type--to convince IBEA to race at four---COMPENSATING THEM by paying for his insurance/ and upping his purses by one million...Horseracing needed to offer that to Curlin as well, as well as Zenyatta.....offering five million if two face off....ten million if all three go, say, in the Whitney.....And then there was Zenyatta.....Here's hoping she goes East/Here's hoping they pay her cuz she's a mare so money talks....Get it up, Saratoga, offer an extra mil---You're Saratoga, you're supposed to have the very best---SO....Go out and get her--We all want and need to see it!

13 Jan 2009 2:08 AM
Matthew W

Steve you're so right about California Racing Board's "rushing in" with the synthetics! I can remember when they widened Hollywood Park's dirt course to 1 1/8 mi---it was the finest dirt track I ever saw!.... It was the growth hormones/steroids that produced the heavy muscle that that caused the breakdowns on the dirt---just to change track surfaces--like you would change into your NIKE shoes to accomidate your pumped up body---changing track surfaces merely accomodates this newer equine athlete---Why instead not ban for life the cheaters, who skim from the top/all that is good about this sport! I live in the West/would like to see Zenyatta run once again---But I really want to see her dirt! California needs to get ONE dirt track back---That's what has become of racing: Everyone wants to know if they can dirt/and now nobody knows.....howbout a threeway at Oaklawn with the Godolphin tandem and the big black mare.....

15 Jan 2009 8:15 PM

Hi Karen2,

I am the Michael that Steve refers to when you asked about the Lexington trip. As you may be able to tell from my e-mail, I've been busy following the STEELERS and I am just getting caught up on my racing news. If you have any questions or concerns, please e-mail me (pghfans@comcast.net) and we can discuss your plans. Hopefully, we will see you in Lexington this year.

04 Feb 2009 1:22 PM
dr fager01

PEMY, you said you saw cigar and skipaway,but not the bull run, well i saw holy bull, he had brought tremendous life back to thoroughbred racing, his breakdown in the donn G1 shifted the paradyme of the racing world. resulted in an average consistant G1 winner name cigar reel of 16 straight to become americas horse.  bull possesed speed power and heart of a lion, i sympathize with your absence of witnessing one of the greatest thoroughbreds to have graced american racing.

21 Oct 2009 3:36 PM

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