No Stopping 2013 Triple Crown Heroes

So, we’re breeding fragile horses who cannot stand up to rigid racing and training programs. At least that’s what we keep hearing.

The days of tough, durable horses are over, replaced by brittle-boned steeds with weak lungs and delicate constitutions who need to be coddled and cloistered away from the rigors of racing as often as possible. At least that’s what we keep hearing.


When people look back at the 2013 Triple Crown, they will not see spectacular times or monstrous speed figures or 10-length romps. But that doesn’t mean they should stop looking, for there is a lot to see and take away from the three races, which should convince at least some of the doubters that today’s Thoroughbred lacks the fortitude of its ancestors.

Not only did the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont winners – Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice – run in eight of a possible nine Triple Crown races, they exited the final leg as tough, sound, and energetic as they went in. And that was after having competed in a total 19 races in 2013 alone, 18 of them two-turn races and 17 of them graded stakes, including 11 grade I’s.

Starting back in January, Orb has run 1 1/8 miles, 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles, 1 1/4 miles, 1 3/16 miles, and 1 1/2 miles. And he won four out of six. It is rare to see a 3-year-old competing in a 1 1/8-mile race in January and never backing off or going off form throughout the entire Triple Crown trail. And this came after racing four times in a three-month period as a 2-year-old.

Oxbow hasn’t had more than five weeks off between races since last October, racing at seven different racetracks at seven different distances in six different states from New York to California and as far south as Louisiana and Arkansas. He’s had to break from posts 10 or 11 four times and got hung wide each time. He’s had to overcome six rider changes, premature moves, bad rides, and the dreaded 1 post in the Derby, and with all that, his two best races were his last two. A speed horse/stalker by nature, he was asked to come from last in a 10-horse field in the Arkansas Derby, then in the Kentucky Derby, he was the only horse close to the brutal pace set by Palace Malice who was able to finish in the top half of the field. He has raced a total of 75 furlongs since December and has run hard in every one of them. But even that hasn’t been able to tire him out.

And what kind of a messed up 3-year-old campaign did Palace Malice have? Following a gut-wrenching third, beaten a half-length, in his two-turn debut in the Risen Star, he had a nightmare trip in the Louisiana Derby when he was blocked the entire length of the stretch, and then had to come back in two weeks in the Blue Grass Stakes in a 14-horse field on (first-time) Polytrack in order to even make the Derby field. He ran his heart out, having to do all the dirty work trying to run down the talented Rydilluc, who had opened a big lead on the turn. After catching him and putting him away, he lost focus, spotting the tractor tire marks and jumping over to his left lead. He still finished second, getting nipped right on the wire by the late-running Java’s War. He then came back in three weeks with that Debacle in the Derby, getting blinkers on and setting some of the fastest fractions in the history of the Derby over a sloppy track not conducive to fast times. It was by far the fastest fractions ever set in the Derby over a sloppy or muddy track. He skipped the Preakness, turned in two sensational works, and then proceeded to score an easy 3 1/4-length victory in the Belmont.

So, although Palace Malice did not compete in all three Triple Crown races, he did have an exhausting and improvised campaign and those fractions in the Derby had to take something out of him.

In all, these three horses have made a total of 30 career starts at 10 different racetracks and at 10 different distances from five furlongs to 1 1/2 miles. They have combined to finish in the first four in 25 of the 30 races. Of the ones in which they were worse than fourth, Oxbow was pulled up and vanned off in his career debut, was a fast-closing fifth in the Arkansas Derby when Gary Stevens took him back to last in his first ride on the colt, and ran an excellent sixth in the Kentucky Derby, taking the lead in that blistering pace. Palace Malice was seventh in that throw-out Louisiana Derby, a race most people felt he would have won or been right there had he gotten through on one of two occasions, and was 12th in the Kentucky Derby after setting suicidal fractions of :45 1/5 and 1:09 4/5. So, in reality, none of these horses has ever run a bad race.

And it must be noted, as far as their slow times in the Triple Crown, on all three occasions it rained the day of the race or the day before, and the track was either sloppy, drying out, or just plain deep.

No one is claiming this is one of the better crops we’ve seen, but as for the three Triple Crown race winners, there have been few horses as tough and honest. It is highly doubtful they will emulate the Triple Crown crop of 2007, in which Curlin, Hard Spun, and Street Sense all made the Breeders’ Cup Classic, finishing 1,2,4, respectively. But you know they are all going to give it 100 percent every time they step on the track.

Palace Malice in fact came out of the Belmont in such good shape and was so keen to train, the usually conservative Todd Pletcher was forced to work him a half-mile two weeks later.

Orb was sent to the Fair Equine Therapy Center at Fair Hill to recharge the batteries, and Bruce Jackson said the colt is doing super.

“He’s had a few treatments in the hyperbaric chamber and has put on a good deal of weight since he’s been here,” Jackson said. “He had a hard campaign and just needed a little R&R. He spent a week grazing in the paddock and walking through the trails and forest, and he started back in training this week. His energy level is excellent and he looks great.”

As for Oxbow, the “Little Engine That Could” has been “full of himself” according to Wayne Lukas, who, like Pletcher, is going to have to work him ahead of schedule.

“He’s got so much energy right now I’m going to have to work him in a couple of days,” Lukas said. “He is such a tough sonofagun. He’s what you call old-school. I tell you what, if the ($150,000) Swaps Stakes (July 4) was still $500,000 and grade I like it used to be we’d run in it; that’s how good he’s doing.”

It is too early to rate this crop of 3-year-olds in comparison to other crops and too early to assess the three Triple Crown race winners until we see how they do in the big summer races and how they fare against older horses in the fall. But for now, it is reassuring to know there still are horses with the toughness and durability of the stars of the past who not only can survive the grueling Triple Crown campaign but actually thrive during it. For that alone, Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice should be admired and given the respect they have earned.   


Leave a Comment:


Nice angle, Steve.  Thanks for the positive slant and for reminding us all is not lost, even though things do look rather bleak sometimes.  It still is a fact that annual starts are down from 11.3 in 1960 to about 6 currently. In the "if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, it's a duck" category, it is a fact that the decline in annual starts trends down in the exact oppsite direction of the upward  trend line of the use of lasix. It's really quite spectacular that the elephant in the living room hasn't budged in a positive direction for quite some time.  Yet it is refreshing to find there are exceptions to everything.  The TC three are "throwbacks" in today's environment, certainly.  There are other examples of this from time to time, but these examples stand out precisely because they are by today's standards unusual and not the norm. I find that to be unsettling and not something we should be content with.  

23 Jun 2013 10:42 PM

So, Steve, did someone ghostwrite the biography of Dr. Fager that carries your name? One could be forgiven for thinking you weren't around back when.

None of the things you cite would have been considered hard campaigning in my youth, or even yours. I was outraged when Northern Dancer at 2 was raced in two stakes in five days. But never had five weeks off? Ahhhh.

I think you were concentrating on Oxbow and Palice Malice. The Orb that ran in the Preakness and Belmont was not the same horse that won the Derby with elan, going away.

The trainers who say their horses are jumping out of their skins are the same ones who always say that about all their "big" horses. Not reliable sources. Stallion syndication promoters.

And the excuses! Saw a tire track, switched leads, had to catch the pacesetter, had to set the pace, had a sealed track (not to be compared with an undoctored muddy track), they were forced wide, they had traffic inside. These things didn't happen in the old days? Practically every race?

I dispute the ticket-tearers' lament that the horses today are inherently fragile. But I couldn't do it by insisting they demonstrate the toughness of, say, the Good Doctor.

I would suggest that the horses of yore were not that tough. It wasn't the horses who signed up to race. Our data banks aren't full of their bad races, their injuries, or what they were on. We commemorate only their best efforts. Meanwhile, we medicate our horses with harmful meds and ban meds that would help them maintain health and soundness. This is a track/government competition for the bettors who boost the handle the most: money launderers. They create a mirage of crackdowns on ways to manipulate form -- a silly pursuit given you can manipulate form with a bucket of water.

There is a new reluctance to risk a horse who has a problem detectable only with imaging devices that weren't dreamed of in the good old days. Put a canny trainer running his hand down a horse's leg against an ultrasound and it's no contest. The horses had dodgy ankles, incipient tendon tears and the like in the old days but their people did not know or did not care. The horses ran unless they were favoring a leg enough to make it doubtful that they could be iced into making an effort. Also, the economic loss of a breakdown was miniscule compared to current stallion values.

Speed is one of the factors in figuring pounds per square inch of impact. None of these horses have worked or raced fast enough for this particular test of soundness.

As for where they've run and won or placed: they only have to beat each other.

23 Jun 2013 10:47 PM

Bravo, Steve.  Great article.  and Bravo to Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice.  We all have an exciting summer ahead with these guys.

23 Jun 2013 10:55 PM

Mr. Haskin,

"Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice should be admired and given the respect they have earned “  

Off the three colts mentioned Orb is the only one deserves respect and admiration. It is grossly inappropriate to pool Oxbow and Palace Malice with Orb despite the fact that they each share a victory in the TC series.

Orb's record is superior to both.

He won 5 consecutive races including two G1 & a G2. No other 3YO colt has won 5 consecutive races. He is the only colt that has made the board in all three Triple Crown races and has the most graded earning to date.

Oxbow has won 3 races that include a G1 and a G3. Place Malice has won 2 races that include a G1. Orb's number of G1 victories and total number of victories equals that of his two compatriots. Oxbow and Palace Malice were off the board in the premier race for 3YO of any sex. How can they be conceivably be pooled with Orb?

The G1 races won by Oxbow and Palace Malice were in pedestrian times. Five of the last 20 renewals of the Kentucky Derby were contested on sloppy tracks. Orb time of 2:02.89 supersedes those of Smarty Jones, Go For Gin and Super Saver with only Mine That Bird 2:02.66 being better. The sloppy track reason for the ultra-slow times for the Preakness and Belmont do not pass the reasonable excuse test.

Orb is by far the leader of the 3YO colts pack and to pool him with others is patently wrong.

23 Jun 2013 11:02 PM
tom mallios

Great article steve,i am a believer in your assesment.hogwash.It is incredible how many of these critics have a short memory.Look back at the beginning of this century.starting in the year 2002 thru 2004. 3 horses not only swept the first 2 legs of the triple crown,2 of them ran 2nd. they were beaten by horses waiting in the wings at the belmont stakes.1 of them was not as lucky. the  3 horses i am talking about are. war emblem , funny cide and smarty jones. also what is the common denominator to all 3? they were bred by milers, our emblem,distorted humor and elusive quality. breeders are not stupid people,when they saw this formula work for 3 years in a row. they decide to start breeding for speed.after all,they are all humans.we all know that humans are creatures of habit. so when something works,the copycats came out of the woodwork.all wanted to discover the next great miler as a sire.the so called old school guys will say as you mention.horses are brittle.with the purses being handed out today,what idiot if he owned a star race horse would run him into the ground.

24 Jun 2013 12:37 AM

I measure racehorses by how much weight they carry and if they race beyond their 3 year old season.  How many of this year's crop that were on the Triple Crown trail will be around for their fourth, fifth, or even sixth season of racing?  Nosiree Steve, most of them will finish up their three year old season and off to the breeding shed they will go.

24 Jun 2013 2:50 AM

Steve, I love your incite-you always nail what a lot of us fans are thinking/feeling--hope to shake your hand someday,

Pat Diers

24 Jun 2013 7:45 AM

If Oxbow runs in the Breeders Cup Classic he will be my bet.  Reminds me so much of Hard Spun.  A horse that has a high cruising speed.  If Santa Anita is playing like it did last year, he'll be long gone.  

24 Jun 2013 8:48 AM

Thank you, Steve, for reminding everyone just how durable our Classic winners really are. And I really have to credit the remaining competitors for their courage and will-power and sheer beauty in motion.  Thanks to the point system, just about every horse belonged in the Derby.  (The only head scratching was over "Who's going to win?", rather than "What's that horse doing in the gate?")

But...I'm still in a bit of a funk since the Belmont. I really, really wanted to see a Triple Crown winner this year, and I thought Orb would do it. But I certainly cannot discredit Oxbow or PM for that. They earned their wins, and I was proud of them all. The TC races were all exhilarating, and there were actually no major disappointments.

Now, I'm rabidly looking forward to the Saratoga meet to see just which 3 year old moves to the head of the class.  This has certainly NOT been a weak sophomore group, but all more-than-capable equals.

24 Jun 2013 8:51 AM

Tough counts, I've always said that. In fact, it's half the battle if not more. You can't run if you don't have 4 legs to stand on. That being said, the trick is to put tough and talent together to make great. I think it will come some fine day, that special horse who has it all. I may not be around to see it but the time will come. Until then, tough is good, and this was a good year for tough horses. Celebrate the warriors who show up and run their hearts out. Win, lose or draw, they deserve our respect. Speaking of tough, we can't forget Paynter. Hats off to you, boy. Your resiliency and strength makes you a  champion.

24 Jun 2013 9:26 AM

THANK YOU Steve!  I am so tired of hearing how "fragile" today's horses are.  They are definitely coddled but I feel that that is a big part of the problem.  While I certainly don't agree with the days of old when horses often ran more than once in a week or two and three consecutive weeks, I do believe that running every 6-8 weeks or less is what is ruining the horses.  The best example I can think of is the simple fact that claimers and allowance horses all over the place are running every 2-4 weeks and retiring sound with upward of 30-40 starts.  So it makes no sense why the top level stakes horses cannot run more than 5-6 times per year and still many of them end up injured.

24 Jun 2013 9:27 AM
Abigail Anderson

Steve: I always enjoy reading about this hotly-debated topic and I can already see that this article has provoked some very diverse thinking! I'm weighing in on a different dimension: I'm interested in why people think the breed is weaker or the equivalent, since this notion about thoroughbreds is pretty much universal. I know the arguments on the "weaker side" too and respect them.

But I also think that we are different people today in the post-print age. Our sense of time is radically different, for one thing, and that means we want results/

outcomes/answers faster. We are also convinced that we "see everything" that goes on in the world pretty much "as it happens." (This latter being nonsense since we only see what the networks select for us.)

So, what has this got to do with the subject of your article?

Well, it makes me wonder if the debate would even be happening had we been able to watch every racing season since Man O' War. Today we remember the "great ones" but those few don't necessarily represent their generation or even the time in which they raced. There are all those "other" thoroughbreds, horses like Molasses Bill whose story I discovered when I found a gorgeous photo of him for sale & bought it. But the point is that those "others" represent thousands of thoroughbreds over the last 100 years and we don't really know how fit they were either.

Secondly, I wonder how much our new sense of time plays into the "what's wrong with thoroughbreds today" argument, because we really aren't a culture that can wait all these years for another Wonder Horse without complaining about it. I mean, we even get annoyed when our computers seem to take too long to load!

24 Jun 2013 9:43 AM
Steve Haskin

Abigail, the diverse thinking is from the two people you would expect to provide diverse thinking. Nothing wrong with diverse thinking, but how Dr. Fager and the book got into this discussion is beyond me. And the other diverse thinker does not accept opinions. According to him, lumping Oxbow and Palace Malice in with Orb is not one person's opinion or something he disagrees with, it is "patently wrong." It's must be nice to be so authorative about everything.

Your last graph is very profound. I couldnt put it any better. As for our horses, it's the cart before the horse theory. Are our trainers so conservative because the horses are more fragile or are the horses so fragile because the trainers are so conservative. It's like the parent who lets his or her child eat off the table or get dirty as opposed to the parent who keeps their child away from any possible germs. Which child is going to grow up stronger and healthier? No one can say which is right and wrong. Each person has to decide that for himself. Maybe the horses of today are not as strong-boned as the horses of the past. Perhaps we have injected too much speed into the breed. I'm just saying it is refreshing to see three horses such as these who thrive on racing and training. Perhaps there are more like them who arent given the chance. It seems many of our top trainers wont let them eat off the table. I dont know whats right or wrong.

24 Jun 2013 10:37 AM
Bill Rinker

Thanks for a very informative article Steve. Regardless of the track conditions, care of the horse, or other factors, the talent level of the participants involved is somewhat cyclical in nature. However, we are able to control, affect, or manipulate, the outcome of our sport by our awareness of any underlying dangers involved with the process of training and racing. I think that most people want what is right. Unfortunately the economics and success rate weld a double edge sword. As we all know current medication rules are under much scrutiny, lasix being particularly focused upon. Personally I'm of the opinion it also welds this double edge sword. I very much like the fact that it helps prevent bleeding, but I'm very worried by the effects of it's diuretic process. Among many other consequences, the diuretic process has the potential to diminish preformance rates in longer distance races. It is very important to know and understand the function and absorption rate of the equine digestive track. I would like to know what percentage of horses show signs of varying degrees of dehydration prior to racing. It would be an interesting evaluation if the track vet could walk up to each horse in the saddling paddock and preform a quick skin pinch examination. It's a simple question that could probably shed a lot of light on the somewhat over all dormant improvement in longer distance racing events.  

24 Jun 2013 11:51 AM

coldfacts--thank you for using facts and logic. i mean that honestly.

orb has had the best spring campaign of any 3 yo in the last 5 years, and ranks with the best 3 yo spring campaigns of the last 13 years.

yet he is seen as at best equal to, and at worst inferior to, two horses that last year wouldn't even had merited mention.

if any of the below had been said about orb's preakness or belmont, 100 posts would be up decrying how all he ever gets are excuses and that his is a bum; however, horses with loosing records are allowed every excuse:

"[Oxbow] had to break from posts 10 or 11 four times and got hung wide each time. He’s had to overcome six rider changes, premature moves, bad rides, and the dreaded 1 post in the Derby, and with all that, his two best races were his last two. Palace Malice was seventh in that throw-out Louisiana Derby, a race most people felt he would have won or been right there had he gotten through on one of two occasions, and was 12th in the Kentucky Derby after setting suicidal fractions of :45 1/5 and 1:09 4/5. So, in reality, none of these horses has ever run a bad race."

why isn't orb given a pass on getting the dreaded one post in the preakness. no horse has won from it in what? 20 years or more?

why isn't he given the a pass for a premature move in the belmont (started at the same point in which calvin borel was lambasted for having started mine that bird's belmont move), or a bad ride in the preakness, given that his jokey placed him in a position he was known to hate?

nobody seems to care that normandy invasion is only a MSW and is still eligible for a NW2, and has lost every race he's run this year, and hasn't won a race since nov. 2012.

oxbow's campaign can't even begin to rival shackleford's, yet shack was never considered better than, or even on par with, animal kingdom, who had only win the spiral and the derby to his name in all of his 3 yo season, and finished behind shack twice in the both the preakness and the belmont (which is what is used to support oxbow's superiority to orb).

everybody excuses oxbow and palace malice's ky derbies due to "suicidal fractions," when only a year before a horse set similar fractions all by himself, and still managed to finish a close 2nd in the derby. hansen attended thos frations much closer than oxbow did, and finished about the same place but was written off because of it.

this year should be dubbed, "the year horse racing lost its collective mind."

here's two additional facts that you might want to consider when you are lumping orb in with horses like palace malice and oxbow:

1. the NYRA released the pre-belmont medications rosters, and orb was one of only two horses not to receive meds within 72 hours of the belmont, the other was giant finish (even incognito, who bettors proablly assumed was running clean due to the lack of lasix, was medicated pre-belmont with estrogen).

a clean horse managed third against medicated horses, on a track in which only 2 horses managed to make up significant ground on all day, in a 1 1/2 mile race after going wide on the far turn (which you yourself have decried as a suicide move in year's past). still think that oxbow and palace malice's performances in that race were superior?

if belmont still had the pre-race sequestration barn, the outcome may have been more like the ky derby, in which all horses were denied meds within 72 hours of the race.

since the preakness is the wild-west regarding meds, we'll never know what and how close to the race orb's competitors where "topped off." but given that shug didn't medicate pre-belmont, it is likely he didn't medicate pre-preakness either.

2nd fact--orb's fractions in the ky derby were the same as i'll have another's, except for the final fraction. he came home a second slower, yet ran almost 10 lengths farther than i'll have another, since 1 second = 5 length, he was actually moving much faster than i'll have another, and with an inside trip, would have finished close to 2 minutes flat.

24 Jun 2013 12:17 PM
Old Timer


In this reader's opinion, your books on Dr. Fager and Kelso were superb. I got to see them both run and your writing brought back great memories.

On a sort of related subject, I have to admit disappointment that they seem to want to keep the Breeder's Cup in California almost permanently. It stinks that it is not moving around so that more fans in other parts of the country can see it live and in person without a $600 to $800 plane ticket.

24 Jun 2013 12:33 PM
steve from st louis

Steve, put me down in the unconvinced category regarding the soundness we are breeding into our Triple Crown participants. With all of the nutritional supplements and technological innovations available to today's conditioners, they still chose to race their juvenile and  sophomore cracks less than half as much as they did years ago.

In Secretariat's Derby, run 40 years ago, only two horses from the 13 starters, Elmendorf's Twice a Prince (6-2-1-1) and Martha Geary's Forego (7-3-2-0)had less than 10 lifetime starts before the Derby. This year, from 19 starters, only Itsmyluckyday had as many as 10 starts prior to the Run for the Roses, while  Oxbow (9) and Mylute (9) were the only runners who registered more than six lifetime starts. Not a ringing endorsement for soundness. And while racetime is a fleeting figure with many variables, suffice to say none of the 2013 Triple Crown results came close to any competitive speed figures.

As for this year's participants, let's see how many compete in a robust Fall campaign, including starts against older runners. I'll wager my garage--not quite my house--but my garage that they will be few and far between.

24 Jun 2013 12:49 PM

I agree with Steve in that Orb is a tough horse to have competed in the schedule he has run on.  Same for Oxbow.  Palace Malice is probably going to make noise this summer also.  My knock is not on these 3 horses.  My knock is that nothing is being said about yet another year going by with No Triple Crown winner.  Orb let us down with his lack luster Preakness, but not wanting to be down on the rail and not wanting to go between horses is typical of the A.P. Indy line horses.  Dreaming of Julia just displayed it again in the Mother Goose.  The problem with our horses to day is that they are not true route horses.  Orb did his best to say he was the best distance horse, but I think he needed another week between the Derby and Preakness.  He got that for the Belmont, but he just did not seem to like Belmont that day.  Stamina is in short supply in the American bred Thoroughbred.  It is not going to get any better with todays breeding practices.  Our classic winners are all bred for the 1 1/8 to 1 1/4 miles.  Problem is, the Triple Crown concludes with a 1 1/2 mile race.  Palace Malice ran the field off their feet and then even he staggered home.  I give him his due as a Belmont winner.  Just not sure that he can do it again. As American racing goes, he probably will never run 1 1/2 miles again.  Unless he moves to the turf....which given his pedigree should be considered....he will probably never run farther than 1 1/4 miles.  Its a shame because barring injury, he has 2 1/2 or 3 more years of racing (possibly) ahead of him.  Oxbow should improve as he gets older, the same for Orb.  I just have a bad feeling that none of the 3 will be running in 2015 as Five year olds.  And that is too bad because racing could use them.  None of them is bred in the purple enough to be rushed off to stud.  SO I vote to keep them racing for at least another 2 years.

24 Jun 2013 1:13 PM

I think Orb would have won the Belmont if they had skipped the Preakness, or if there was more time between the races.

I also think we would have had a couple of Triple Crown winners in the last 35 years if there was more time between the Preakness and the Belmont.

If a horse wins the first 2 legs with just 2 weeks rest, he would have a better chance of sweeping with more recovery time.

I would suggest pushing the Belmont back at least 1 week, if not 2.

The way it is scheduled now, horses running in the Derby and waiting for the Belmont have a huge advantage. Two recent examples are Palace Malice this year and Summer Bird a few years ago.

24 Jun 2013 3:25 PM


I'm enjoying this blog. I concur with the opinions of Coldfacts and Papillion about Orb vs Oxbow and Palace Malice although I think that Palace Malice could have won both Preakness and Belmont had he skipped the Derby (hindsight vision nevertheless). Going forward it is going to be interesting as I think that Verazzano is on the rebound and poised to strike in the Haskell and Traverse.

24 Jun 2013 4:00 PM
tom mallios

Coldfacts and Papillon.let me get this straight.Orb winning the fountain of youth when violate basically ran the stretch hurt.his winning the fla,derby when ,except for a broken down shanghai bobbi.there was only 1 horse IMLD. the rest were either maidens or allowance horses.then he wins the derby on such a brutal surface,that almost 14 horses pulled up because they hated it.then he layed an excuse laden egg in the preakness.then he was flat in the belmont you want to compare his 3 yo career to date to ,lets start with mine that bird.won the derby,ran a close 2nd to arguably the most dominant filly of our generation.he had a little trouble on the turn.then ran 3rd in the belmont. let us go to big brown.won the fla. derby/kent derby and hurt in the belmont. let me expand even more.funny cide,won the derby/preakness and ran 2nd in the belmont.  how about smarty jones,undefeated leading up to the derby .then he dominated the derby/preakness and lost a heart breaker at the wire.he beat everyone else by double digits.for good measure,let me throw in one more.war emblem. swept the derby and hurt in the belmont. so you apparently weigh the preps more than the feature events. do you actually and respectfully think orb should be spoken about in the same breathe as the colts i mentioned.the only thing that orb has more than the others is the excuse every time he loses. have a nice day

24 Jun 2013 4:06 PM

Mr. Haskins,

You say that these horses are stronger than ever. Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice are getting stronger through each race. And I sure hope that they are getting stronger. But, my thing is, with watching horse racing since the day that Go For Wand broke down in the Breeders Cup Distaff in 1990, I see the horses back then, that would be able to handle more than 10 races in their life. Now, since the Triple Crown season is over, my question is, how many of those horses that have run in the Triple Crown, will actually make it past August, before they are retired to the Breeding shed. It seems to me now, that if they were to keep a horse racing longer than a year or two, they would have to be one of two things, a gelding, or a filly/mare. Colts don't seem to make it past their three year old season (even though some do). It just seem to me, that the owners are so much into wanting to rush their colts through 1 or 2 seasons, and then ship them off to the breeding shed, a whole lot faster than what they can actually go. Most of them don't get past 10 races, before being shipped off to the breeding shed. Lets take last years Triple Crown series. I'll Have Another, only had 7 starts, before he was retired, just before the Belmont Stakes. What about Bodemeister. He only had 6 starts. Union Rags had 8 starts. All of this before they were retired. Bodemeister raced for only 1 season, as a 3 year old. And I'll Have Another and Union Rags raced at 2 and 3 before being retired. What about Hansen being raced 9 starts, in a 2 season time span, at age 2 and 3. He too is retired. Don't you think, that in order to get a stronger breed, that they would or should race more than 9 times in a career? We don't see that many type of horses anymore. Not like we used to. Now they race through the Triple Crown, maybe get one or two races after the Triple Crown, and their done. I respect all of our horses, no matter who they are, but I say I give all the filly/mares, and the geldings a whole lot more credit, then I would the colts. They race longer, they race through more than just one or two seasons. Black Caviar, and Zenyatta raced through their 6 year old seasons, and so did Goldikova. Rachel Alexandra raced through her four year old season. All racing at least 19 times, with Black Caviar racing 25 times, and finishing undefeated. Those are the types of horses that we need. Ones that will race as a 4, 5 and 6 year olds. Maybe even more. We need a John Henry type of horse that can race 83 times. Or how about Say Florida Sandy who raced 98 times. I'm not saying that is how many races that they need to race in, but Say Florida Sandy raced until he was at least 9 before being retired to stud. That's what I am talking about. Maybe if we go back to the days of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, where that is what was being talked about, that is what brought fans back into the racing world, we could actually keep our fans in the racing business, and our racing business could grow more. I don't know. But, that's what seemed to have worked a few years back. Maybe going back to Havre de Grace, Goldikova, and Black Caviar times as well. Race them. Don't be afraid. And who's to say. Orb, Oxbow and Palace Malice might not be around, by the time the midsummer classic of the Travers Stakes comes around. I sure hope they will, but who knows.

24 Jun 2013 4:06 PM


Right on! We need to look more to our fillies and mares to judge our runners and sires, and less to the leading colts whose death would wipe out a $10 million asset. We've got some dandy mares running and they're bred exactly the same as the colts.

STEVE: I just read your Dr. Fager bio, so I know that you know and appreciate what a tough, fast and versatile old-timer looked like. (Read it twice in a row, in fact.)

ABIGAIL: Love the "computer load time" reference. I say to myself "So would you rather go down to the library to look it up?"

RACINGFAN: Those claimers aren't sound; they're just raced despite their being unsound. Nothing to lose, as opposed to racing a possible successful stallion. Once he's displayed his abilities, nobody who owns one wants to take the slightest risk either of breakdown or even of them losing a step and dimming the image we have of them.

Did you see the figures on post-race testing of claimed horses for unsoundness? There's an article on this website. Google: "19 Calif. claims voided in rule's first month."

The new rule provides that claimed horses have to pass a post-race soundness test before the claim goes through. Note that someone claimed these horses, so owners and trainers judged them the best in their races, not the worst.  

24 Jun 2013 8:45 PM
Plod Boy Phil

Unlike Ranag, I disagree with the opinions expressed by Coldfacts and Papillon regarding Orb and Oxbow.  From a Racing Flow perspective, Oxbow's three TC races were, as a whole, better than the same three by Orb.  

To address two points made by papillon:

1) As stated here shortly after the Derby, a comparison of the fractional times of the 2012 and 2013 Derbys lacks merit, as the 2012 edition was run on an important Speed Biased surface.  Analyzing fractions in a vacuum has serious flaws. Furthermore,  the results of this year's Preakness and the Belmont supported the notion that the pace setters and pressers from the 2013 Derby were greatly compromised.  That fact also provided handicappers with a reminder of just how beneficial speed in races is in providing conditioning and stamina for future efforts.  Closing into ideal Flows like Orb, Golden Soul, Revo and Mylute did in the Derby do little to benefit the horse.  Credit to all that understood the significance of the Derby Flow, as each of the next two TC races produced a robust win price on an 'upgraded' runner from the Derby.

2) The belief that a horse, Orb,  or a rider, Rosario, made a premature move in a race in which both of the horses to finish in front of it (PM and Oxbow) were significantly ahead of it at every call is simply illogical. A premature move requires a horse to get caught from behind,  not fail to make ground on those he's chasing.

24 Jun 2013 8:48 PM

Some good comments here as well as references to good horses both past and recent past. I feel the breed has gotten weaker but I also feel there are several factors that contribute to it. Genes are still genes so when you roll the dice you will always have the chance of getting a horse with a big heart or excellent confirmation or lots of old time stamina. Maybe the question is what %age of these horses are showing up nowadays. When I look up horses I used to watch as a kid and I see a lot of them racing till they were 10 - 15yo or sometimes making 3 starts in 20 days or 20 starts as a 2yo I wonder what is wrong with horses today? KyAlta, a decent western sire often raced with 7 - 10 days rest and most of his 52 starts were in stakes. I am sure from the 70's and early 80's people could name many horses like this. I was wathcing John Henry over the weekend and am still amazed at his ability.

To be fair to the new crops trainers are under pressure and scrutinizd when they bring a horse back in less than 14 days and do horses have the same opportunities to show what they can do? When I see maidens at Woodbine having chances to go 11 furlongs on the grass or 12 furlongs on the turf that is a nice opporuntity for breeder's but these events are not run often enough to showcase the breed. However it didn't get like this overnight. In comparison harness racing still has many strong horses who race often and till they are much older than their TB counterparts. They must be doing something fight.

Steve is right that we must not judge too quickly as maybe one if these 3yo's might up and be a monster in the fall.

24 Jun 2013 9:48 PM

Orb had no greater an excuse in the Preakness and Belmont than Palace Malice had in the Derby or Oxbow had in the Derby and Preakness.  I don't think he stands head and shoulders above the other two classic winners.  I think all 3 are good horses, but not yet proven to be great horses.  I hope they get their chance.

Regarding top colts rushing off to the breeding shed; I think it's a matter of dollars and cents.  A stallion will make a lot more money at stud than he could ever earn on the track.  Consider also, that if a top 3-yr old was kept in training but had a lack-luster campaign at 4, his stud fee for his freshman year at stud would be much lower than what he would have commanded if retired on top of his game. Geldings run longer as they have no stud value and top mares run longer because delaying entering the broodmare band by a year or two doesn't make that much difference financially, as a mare can only produce a single offspring each year.

24 Jun 2013 10:01 PM


I think Wayne Lucas's comments regarding Oxbow are enough to support your article , "he's old school..."  

25 Jun 2013 5:39 AM
Curlin Eyes


Thank you for your column that are always informative and well written.

I have read all of your readers' comments with some dismay.  Maybe horses are more fragile today or maybe training methods are wrong.  I don't know.  But can't we appreciate Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice for what they are?  Beautiful animals who have won a Triple Crown race and have come out of it soundly.  I always look forward to the TC races because of the animals and the stories behind them.  I am not disappointed in any of the winners, because they were the best horse on that particular day.  It is not as big of a deal to me whether we have another TC winner as it seems to be for everyone else. There will never be another "Big Red", but I get completely immersed in the racing season anyway.  Congrats to Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice!

25 Jun 2013 9:09 AM

Jockeykid, I predict that a filly or a gelding will win the Triple Crown and go on to race as a 4 year old.  My favorite horse, Union Rags, was retired with a minor injury because he has more value at stud.  This is a crying shame, and the industry is suffering as well as the fans of these lovely colts.

25 Jun 2013 11:06 AM


since you declined to post my rebuttle to tom mallios, and have allowed a disproportionate number of orb-bashing posts, could you address three questions?

why didn't you or bloodhorse or any other horse racing news source, at least note that orb and and giant finish were the only two horses racing clean in the belmont?

do you believe that the "adjuncts" given to all of the other horses are performance-neutral, and support no restrictions on when and how many may be administered before a race?

in what other season have you ever ranked horses with such disparate records in the same category--when have you ever said that a horse 4 for 6 with 3 graded stakes wins in a row is only on par with a horse 2 for seven with no consecutive wins, and a horse 1 for 5, with no consecutive wins.

for any who say that those of us who believe orb is the best horse, and that we only offer excuses--only a hypocritical, irrationality can allow you to think that when you place horses with records like oxbow and palace malice in the same or even higher category than orb--because by doing so, you are coming up with excuses for 90% of the races they've run this year.

i don't expect this to be posted--but it would be nice if you would address it, since blogs like this one are contributing and feeding what is becoming a very ugly anti-orb that i believe will surpass the anti-zentyatta sentiment ten-fold.

25 Jun 2013 11:23 AM
Steve Haskin

Papillon, every one of your posts has been posted, the last being June 24 at 12:17 p.m. If you sent any others they were not received.

25 Jun 2013 11:45 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

Old school is here now, especially with Twinkies back on the store shelves 7-15-13, all is well but these 3 year olds mentioned are no cupcakes with Palace Malice being the frosting on the cake. He is the number one after dinner treat, and dinner spoiler for the rest of the year and beyond unless they retire him, and that's no creampuff fluff. They should sell Twinkies for 13 cents a package for old school sakes. That's the price all of the packaged baked goods were in my heyday when I ate massive amounts of cupcakes, twinkies etc etc. Candy bars were 5 cents forever when I was eating a ton of them. Then ten cents for a long time. My allowance usually went to baseball cards then I did extra work to earn snack money.

25 Jun 2013 12:13 PM
steve from st louis

Steve, The Jockey Club and Dr. Larry Bramlage, a member of their Thoroughbred Safety Committee, recently published a 25-year study which produced facts most would conclude are contrary to popular belief.

"This data is definitive. It shows that horses that began racing as 2-year-olds are much more successful, have much longer careers, and, by extrapolation, show less predisposition to injury than horses that did not begin racing until their 3-year-old year. It is absolute on all the data sets that the training and racing of 2-year-old Thoroughbreds has no ill effect on the horses' race-career longevity or quality. In fact, the data would indicate that the ability to make at least one start as a 2-year-old has a very strong positive affect on the longevity and success of a racehorse. This strong positive effect on the quality and quantity of performance would make it impossible to argue that these horses that race as 2-year-olds are compromised."

He goes on to say, "The thoroughbred industry is raising horses only to sell, not to race. This is weakening the breed to the point they are unable to race."  

If trainers continue to keep 2- and 3-year-olds in their stalls and off the race track, we'll end up with a breed unfit to race, except for the first six months of their 3-year-old campaign, during the Triple Crown events. They can even use Bodemeister as their poster child.

25 Jun 2013 12:19 PM

Fings ain't what they use to be by British Racehorse Author Tony Morris 2005:

COLE Porter made the point in 1934, and Lionel Bart did likewise in 1959. Both cast an eye on the past, compared it to the present, and recognised deterioration. And both found audiences who could relate to what they said, with the result that “Anything Goes” and “Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be” became tremendous hits.

 Of course, old fogeys are always apt to tell the younger generation that standards have dropped, but Porter was only in his mid-forties, and Bart under thirty, when producing the exercises in nostalgia that furthered their fame. It is not necessary to be ancient or decrepit to notice decline, nor to be a Victor Meldrew to deplore developments in modern life which patently do not amount to progress.

 So, although I write as a senior citizen, I am stating no more than what should be obvious to those of more tender years, when I refer to the loss of soundness in the thoroughbred. The breed is not what it was when I came into the game, and there is not a trainer with some years of experience who will fail to confirm that there has been a marked deterioration in toughness and resilience in recent (equine) generations.

 John Gosden told me recently of an occasion when he was assistant to Sir Noel Murless in the master trainer’s final season at Newmarket. After the boss had sent a filly for her third canter of the morning, his bold young side-kick ventured the thought that perhaps this was over-doing things somewhat. The rejoinder came in the form of a reproof, pointing out that this was a filly from Jim Joel’s top family, developed over several generations by Jim and his father, and she would be able to take it.

 Of course, the old man was right, but 30 years on Gosden knows that he doesn’t have the luxury of a yard full of horses who can be treated like that. He has had to cultivate a temperament that can cope with handling the distress of horses coming back damaged after routine exercise.

 It has long been a diverting exercise to compare horses of one era with those of another, although we know that any conclusions can only be speculative. How much more difficult might it be to compare trainers of different eras? We can do no more than recognise them as great in their day.

 Jack Jarvis used to try his yearlings in the week before Xmas, so as to identify his Derby horse. Reg Day, with a Gold Cup candidate in his care, would send the horse the full distance a few days before, to be sure that he would get the trip. They were men with their roots in the 19th century, to be sure, but I met them both when they still had licences in the 1960s. How would they have dealt with the fragile breed we have today? They couldn’t operate the way they did, and I’ve no doubt they would have despaired at what has happened in the breed since their heyday.

 So what has gone wrong, and why? Well, fings ain’t wot they used t’be because now anything goes. In this country, in the late 1950s, we started to water courses. It was a big mistake. Horses used to run on any ground from heavy to hard, and unsuitable going was never reckoned an excuse for failure; it was expected that a good horse should cope with any underfoot conditions, that was how we tested them properly, and if they couldn’t cope, breeders would not trust them to produce stock who could cope. In short, we bred for soundness.

 In the 1960s we came to recognise that America could produce horses as good as our own, and by the early 70s we had to concede that many of their horses were better than ours. We determined to live the American dream, and while we obtained some short-term benefits and even a few that endured for the long term, it came at a cost.

 The Americans developed a drug culture, permitting race-day medication, with filling programmes and providing a range of betting opportunities as the priorities, while neglecting the consequences to the breed. They habitually bred from horses who had needed drugs to deliver performance, and Europeans, while nobly resisting the use of medication in racing here, were content to breed from, or buy stock by, horses who had raced with artificial aids.

 Combine all that with the decline of the owner-breeder, on both sides of the Atlantic, the advances in veterinary knowledge that have enabled stallions to cover huge books, and inflated markets for the product, and we arrive at the present day, with a brittle breed.

 We have spent the best part of 300 years cultivating the thoroughbred, and for most of that time we were refining it by breeding the best to the best, or what we thought was best – and at least we ran our racing in such a way that we could believe we knew how to identify the best.

 The checks and safeguards we had, whereby we could expect to improve the thoroughbred, have been ditched, and few breeders, even assuming that they would want to, can realistically have a breeding programme in which soundness is a prime concern. They take pot luck, with stock that hasn’t been effectively tested as it was up to half a century ago.

 Unfortunately, while half a century is not much in human terms, it can mean several generations where equines are concerned – and all too often that means several generations of abuse, piling unsoundness on unsoundness.  Anything goes now, and fings ain’t wot they used t’be.

25 Jun 2013 12:29 PM

hey, I love your comment Mary. I'm hoping that one day we will have a Triple Crown winner. And it would be nice to see a filly or a gelding actually go on to win the American Triple Crown. We haven't had one in 35 years, so maybe a filly or gelding could step up to the plate and actually win one. And that's the kind of thing that really gets me upset. About horses like Union Rags being retired to soon, I mean. From what I understand, way back when, horses had to earn their way to the breeding shed, by what they did on the race track. Now adays, all they need to do is go one season, (which would be their 3 year old season), aim for that one race, (which would be the Kentucky Derby). And as soon as they get through the Kentucky Derby, may race them in the rest of the Triple Crown, and after that, ship them off to the breeding shed. And that is a real shame, considering that you know a lot of these horses have real good talent. How much talent they have, we will never know. They exit a whole lot quicker than the enter.

25 Jun 2013 2:44 PM
The Deacon

"When the Legend Becomes Fact, Print the Legend"

from the movie "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance".........

Steve you have become a legend among all your bloggers. You have the uncanny ability to write about the most sensitive subjects and they come out insightful, benign (benign meaning respectful), and informative.

All I will say about these trainers today is that they could really learn a lot about old school training methods by studying some of our great trainers from the past.

John Nerud should teach an on-line class and call it horse training 101.

Today it's about instant gratification, win a race or two then off to the breeding shed and make millions.

25 Jun 2013 2:57 PM
tom mallios

papillon,apparently a horse winning preps gets you your jollies. trust me my my lips if you cannot grasp the concept. if i owned a race horse and he was a 3yo. i would much rather win the preakness and the kentucky derby than win the G1 florida derby and the kentucky derby. 3 out of 6. that is meant to impress us.orb was not running at the end in the derby.look at his final bris closing was a 91.that is pedestrian. a couple of reasons he won the prove my point,look how impressive giant finish and revolutionary were in the belmont.they were non existant,they also were fresh horses bypassing the preakness.the field came back to orb. how can you explain he beat goldencents by 62 lengths in the derby and by a nose in the preakness.oh i get it.the 20 yards he ran on the so called bad inside ,that made him lose 61 lengths in momentum. so you keep chirping up irrelevant stakes numbers. like i said give me the derby and the preakness or belmont. i could care less if my horse was 2 for 10 the entire year,as long as they were competitive.

25 Jun 2013 4:13 PM
Bill Two

You may be right about these horses, but the breed as a whole is seemingly less durable and certainly cannot seems to sustain speed over a distance of ground like the horses of the past.  Horses in general are faster at sprint distances, but slower in routes. This isn't surprising and in fact should be expected given the the kinds of horses we're breeding.  A lot of the top sires were sprinters or milers such as Elusive Quality, Mr. Prospector, etc.  I wish we could get some new bloodlines infused into our horses.  How about importing some German stallions or mares?  Whatever, let's try to produce horses who don't stagger down the lane coming home in our classic races. It would be a nice change of pace.

25 Jun 2013 5:30 PM
Age of Reason

Calm down, guys. I haven't seen this much hysteria over The Steve's writing since...well, never. Anywho, I'm frankly a little disappointed at Orb's supporters whose only argument for that colt's superiority seems to be spouting off raw (and thus meaningless) numbers and stats. If greatest number of wins is all that entitles one to a championship award, why weren't Rapid Redux and Peppers Pride named Horses of the Year? Yes, Orb has a higher number of wins and win percentage thus far in the season than Oxbow or Palace Malice; but the numbers are skewed because the majority of any 3yo's campaign thus far has been in Derby preps. PREPS: not must-win races, not championship events or classic races, but preparatory races for the real 3-year-old season which begins with the Derby. Sure, Orb owns a greater number of wins due to his success in the prep races, but overall his performance so far in those races which truly define the 3 year old season--Derby, Preakness and Belmont, then Haskell, Travers etc.--has been lacking in my opinion and others'. Winning the Florida Derby is nice, but the Florida Derby does not a champion make (Take Charge Indy, anyone? Dialed In?), and Orb failed to consistently be competitive when it mattered more. If you're a college basketball coach, would you rather have a 30-0 team who gets knocked off in the elimination round, or coach a 17-13 bunch who makes it to the Final Four?

Papillon: When you see angry riot-crowds of horse racing journalists forming a lynch mob across from Orb's barn and burning crosses next to Shug's office, then you can say that Orb has been treated worse than Zenyatta in the media; but not 'til then. BloodHorse writers haven't dimissed the Belmont with "He lost, get over it", and NBC's analysts weren't calling Palace Malice the "likely Horse of the Year" before the Belmont gallop-out was even completed, and articles about Orb's every win haven't been filled with arm-chair commentary of how the vanquished field should have been stronger. Until then, I see no reason to mention the two in the same sentence. Of course, you're entitled to your own opinion.

25 Jun 2013 6:02 PM
Lights Are On

Obmar's comments hit the nail on the head.  The whole culture of racing in America is to win one big race, call him "great" and retire him to stud to sell babies at auction.  What does that have to do with Orb, Oxbow, and PM?  Nothing, except we'll see just how committed to racing their connections really are.  P.S. I wish there was a "like" button for comments posted.  

25 Jun 2013 7:39 PM

I think the problem is not the trainers, nor the breeders, it's the owners.  We have a new type of owners, investment type owners who really don't think of these horses as nothing but an investment and they all want quick returns.   We just keep breeding from horses who never gets any foundation, most runs less than 10 races then retires.  At this point, I don't mind if they run in G3 races until they're 5 yrs old, as long as they keep running.  The term "regally bred" is a farce, because we're breeding from a bunch of horses who won 1 or 2 G1s and were "popular" during their TC chase.  The next generation will be coming from the Quality Roads or Union Rags or Gemologist or Alpha, none of which has really accomplished much.  Even Curlin, who has been making babies left and right and none has so far shown any promise of greatness and Curlin was one of the most if not the most durable horse I can remember in the last 10 years.  I'm hoping the Zenyattas, Rachels and Animal Kingdoms babies runs forever but then again, it all depends on the owners.

When it comes to geldings though, they'd run the horse until they bottom him out because they can't make money on him in the breeding shed...

25 Jun 2013 10:57 PM
Tiz Herself

Awesome job again Steve- I enjoy this group of three year olds... what's not to like?

Also there are some that when they return to racing, it will make it even sweeter. Black Onyx, Shanghai Bobby, Code West, Dewey Square, Govenor Charlie, He's Had Enough, Long River, Mylute, Normandy Invasion, Revolutionary, Verrazano, Violence, Abraham, Delhomme, Brown Almighty, Capo Bastone, Carried Interest, Den's Legacy, Departing, Flashback, Freedom Child, Incognito, Power Broker, Quiros (1/2 brother to Invasor!), Quinzieme Monarque, Rydilluc... who am I missing? That is just the boys

25 Jun 2013 11:45 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Palace Malice is a growing boy, late maturing physically and mentally and is a freakish talent. He has a big shot at superstardom, could be a Grade One winner on all surfaces if they choose to do so and has a good chance to win the BC Classic this year.

26 Jun 2013 12:25 AM

40 yrs later and we certainly have not seen the likes of Secretariat again....But we seem to get another Twice a Prince every year....Improvement of the breed?  Nice bumper sticker...

26 Jun 2013 1:24 AM

Tiz Herself,

 Also Tiz the Truth, surprised you missed this one, and also Itsmyluckyday, just to name a couple of more. Your list in itself kind of disputes the stance that we are breeding just as strong a horse as ever.

26 Jun 2013 10:19 AM

Orb, Oxbow and Palice Malice did not provide any Triple Crown results that I feel will go down in history as great races to remember. Orb defeated very tired front runners, Oxbow won an uncontested pace race that surprised even his jockey, and Palice Malice defeated a tired Orb and Oxbow as he crawled across the finish. Not the stuff to write home about, I dare say.

26 Jun 2013 10:25 AM

Oh, I do have a few points to address.

First: Tom, you said, "what idiot if he owned a star race horse would run him into the ground."  Short memory?  How about Jess Jackson and Rachel Alexandra?  Remember The Woodward?

Second: Most people commenting seem to be concentrating only on the winners.  Doesn't anyone notice the other contenders?  It pays to watch them all.  It is that attention to detail that allows one to project to future form in upcoming stakes. If you don't take the time to notice it, you lose.

Yes, Orb was my favorite...but basically because I liked the way he moved over the ground, and I loved his breeding.  I felt he was bred for the TC.  Guess the owner and trainer did too, or they never would have entered him.  I make no excuses for him.  If you watched the races closely, you might have noticed that Shug made no excuses.

The only apologists seem to be fair-weather Orb fans who climbed on the Orb bandwagon late on the trail.

Even Steve noticed the potential in Oxbow and Palace Malice long before the TC run began....because he, like myself, noticed how well they actually performed despite setbacks during their losses. (To be honest, I did notice Oxbow and his courage; I didn't really credit PM because the La Derby to me was simply a toss.)

Lasix: It seems a recent study by Vets concluded that diuretics cause bone loss.  I have been saying the same thing for years.  People tend to equate osteoporosis with aging.  I don't buy that.  If my bones were strong thoughout my life, and I'm suddenly faced with galloping osteoporosis, perhaps it's not my age but my medication.  If you're being treated for hypertension, you're taking diuretics.  If you take diuretics, you will have bone loss.  When you have bone loss, they become brittle, and you break more easily.  For humans there is little choice.  You take the medication or you have a stroke, or drown in your own fluids.  With horses, it's not a life and death matter.  It's a matter of ROI.  My opinion is that if a horse is a bleeder, DON'T race him/her.  Funny how every other country in the world manages to maintain durable thoroughbreds without lasix, except the USA.  Shame on us.

But don't tell me the true thoroughbred has vanished.  Yes, I remember and love the Slew, Citation, Kelso...all monsters.  But did you forget about Rapid Redux so soon? Gio Ponti? Lava Man?  Kinsale King? Game On Dude? Invasor?  Einstein? Mmmmmmmmm Rock Hard Ten!

Can you just imagine a race with Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, and Damascus.  Wow! It happened.  What about the duel in the Woodford Reserve when Einstein edged out Cowboy Cal? Awesome race. Does anyone doubt the size of the heart of little Jackson Bend?  If you're always looking back ruefully, you simply might not notice what's happening in front of your nose today.

Yes, sometimes I miss the old days, but I embrace the now and what is to come.  I get to meet all of you lovely people, and get to listen to your opinions, and join in the conversation with an ease that was non-existant 40 or 50 years ago. Thank you for teaching me so much.

And always be thankful with what you have now, and enjoy yourselves.

26 Jun 2013 10:41 AM
Linda in Texas

Thank you Steve. I used to hear my dad use the word Hogwash. Reminded me sweetly of him. He was the one who allowed me into the world of horses for a summer distraction that began at age 11. Still going strong 62 years later.

Oxbow caught my eye the first time Steve photo'd him. He was as i think i even said, full of himself. Just a gutsy compact stick of dynamite. Orb, big and beautiful, Jennifer's baby. Palace Malice, still a toddler, wait til he grows up and removes his training shoes. Tracks were nasty every TC race. One horse entered the track during the post parade and i swear i heard him swear. Not this again! They want me to race on this #$/% again? But kudos to the track keepers/managers of The Belmont. How they cleared what i saw the morning of the race is amazing.

I say never give up, have faith, the best is yet to come. And a special thanks to those who appreciate the hard work it takes to put these giants on every racetrack, so some of us can sit back and knock them into the dirt with negative opinions. I say, if you are so damn smart,go buy one and see what you can do with it.  

Thank you Steve.

And off topic. Ascot Races - To No Nay Never, Congratulations. And to Thomas Chippendale brave winner now in the paddock with Skippy, El Prado, Gone West and all the other's here one minute gone the next, Rest in Peace.  

26 Jun 2013 12:32 PM

I meant to add that yesterday's Champions seemed to average 14 or 16 hands.  Many of today's runners average between 16.5 to 17.3 hands.  It is much more difficult to keep such a large horse healthy during his racing career.  You might assume they would be more durable, but all that weight on those spindly legs actually leaves them more vulnerable to injury.

26 Jun 2013 12:46 PM
tom mallios

slew running into the ground means not allowing a horse any rest.not where they run. rachel was spaced out perfectly.  where a horse runs is up to the connections,i can never question is how often they run that can hurt the get your facts straight.

26 Jun 2013 1:32 PM
Linda in Texas

Slew dear Slew - Well said indeed, especially your last sentence.

Dr. D. - always makes me smile.:)

Deacon - wise learned words from a dad schooled son.

Predict- Itsmyluckyday has a fracture of his pelvis. His future could be compromised is probably why Tiz Herself did not list him.

Thanks Steve. You are always right on target with your writings. And speaking of dad's, i will always wonder if down deep inside your dad had a secret wish to be a writer. Me thinks he saw in you what he held close to his own vest.

26 Jun 2013 1:46 PM

I mainly just read the comments and laugh a lot and learn a lot.  But I just had to say that Slew, you got it right on the money.  During my 61 years, I have learned that appreciating "now" is the secret to life.

Racing has always changed over time in many ways, responding to changing technology, primarily.  When I began watching racing, a lot of emphasis was put on carrying weight.  Then as transportation became faster with easier conditions, owners chose to ship their horses to the races that assigned their animals the least weight, which, in theory at least, gave their horses a better shot at winning.  That's why we don't see the great weight carriers anymore.  I bet if today's ultrasounds and bone scans had been available in the 1950's and 60's, there would have been less starts per horse as trainers could identify more risks.  And of course, as mentioned before, the incredible stud values have their effect, too.  And so on and so on.

Thank you Steve and thank all y'all--this is always such a thought-provoking blog!

26 Jun 2013 4:30 PM

One more thing!  This is a great time to be a race fan!  Why?  Because I just got to see Royal Ascot live!!

26 Jun 2013 4:33 PM

Tom: I have to differ with your opinion. It's not just the spacing or rest time.  When you throw a highly competitive 3 year old filly in a race against older males, you are running her into the ground. Every horse in that race was gutted, because RA was not a quitter.  RA was gutted because at 3, she was too immature to know enough to pace herself.

Rachel in the Woodward...the Slew in the Swaps...owners' decisions that were NOT in the best interest of the horse.  Usually up to the task, why wasn't Life At Ten scratched before the debacle in the BCLC? I contend that horses can be run to ground by bad choices made by their connections, whether a claimer or a G1 winner.

26 Jun 2013 7:31 PM

Tiz Herself

You're missing whom I thought was my Derby favorite, Hear the Ghost!

27 Jun 2013 2:29 AM
tom mallios

first of all slew.i do not know or care what handicapping methods you use.the only odd thing about R.A running in the woodward was that she faced older regards to speed figures.she buried the competition going using your logic that running a filly against the boys is running them into the ground.john sherrifs and the mosss' should be ashamed of themselves for exposing Zennyata against males in back to back Breeders cup classics.

27 Jun 2013 12:43 PM

Slew -  sorry to say but "yesterday's" Thoroughbreds NEVER averaged 14 hands (even "little" Northern Dancer was 15.2 and he was not well accepted in his day due to his small size) and many of them were plenty big like Man O War, Native Dancer and Forego.  And today's Thoroughbreds do not "average" 16.5 (which is not a measurement) to 17.3 hands.  Although they are out there, a 17 hand horse is still not the norm.....  

27 Jun 2013 6:35 PM

Bigtex, Hear The Ghost was my favorite also.  

27 Jun 2013 6:58 PM
Fran Loszynski

I'm one of those fans Steve that says exactly that our racehorse are no longer bred for stamina but reading your article reminds me that it really isn't the physical aspect but the heart and courage that crosses the finish line, thank you.

27 Jun 2013 10:39 PM


I love this article, it provides hope for the future.  I agree, these 3 warriors lasted through another grueling Triple Crown run proving there is fortitude and stamina in the breed yet.  I even think there were far less injuries this year than the last couple of years.  

Does some tweaking need to be done in regards to breeding and medication, most likely, but the strength we've seen in Paynter, Animal Kingdom, etc. is remarkable and speaks volumes for the breed.

I think Abigail hit the nail on the head with timing.  Perhaps we are trying to fit the thoroughbred into human agendas and we need to see more 2 yr. old foundations.

Great article and happy vacation Steve.  I hope you will still be at the Haskell.  Don't stay away too long.

27 Jun 2013 10:39 PM
El Kabong

Steve, well done.

Obviously the gloves are on the ice and racing this summer has much to settle in the minds of many an expert.

If I'm not mistaken, Orb was given his due, and no one covered his story more objectively. He's a talented horse managed by an impeccable trainer according to everything you have written.

Maybe this TC season will force all parties to realize that they need to race, train and think beyond the TC series if they want their champion to rise above. I for one could care less about a TC champion as along as we continue to see full fields and spirited racing. I can't remember a Belmont race with a field like we had this year. In past years where the triple crown was on the line, we had a field of 5 or 6. Hogwash. I prefer a year like this year where perhaps the best is yet to come and one where more trainers/owners are compelled to compete. The flip side as many have pointed out is that when we have a dominate TC horse on the trail, the fields melt away. The champion is not tested by his best adversaries who know it is best to wait and hope the Monster is lofted to the breeding shed before the summer and fall races conclude the year. Despite my misfortunes of handicapping the year, I have enjoyed the racing thus far immensely. From the sound of it, most are healthy and still in the hunt for the good of all racing. How can that lead to any bitterness about the state of racing? We have a bounty of healthy horses on the verge of entertaining us once more in the summer season leading up to the breeders cup. May they all stay that way and keep confusing those so willing to crown one King.

27 Jun 2013 10:46 PM

There do seem to be more big thoroughbreds today, but maybe it only seems that way as some of the most popular and successful horses recently have been on the tall side of "average".  I suspect the average thoroughbred is still 16 to 16.2 hands (and I'm sure by 16.5 Slew meant 16 and 1/2 hands, which is 16.2).  In regards to Northern Dancer, I would be very surprised if he was actually 15.2; maybe with long feet and shod.  15 is probably closer to his true height.

28 Jun 2013 8:51 AM

Tom: Zenyatta did not begin her racing career until late in her 3 year old year.  She ran approx. 5 times a year, and she raced at 4,5,and 6. She ran mostly on artificial surfaces (protects the joints). She ran against the boys only twice, and those races were spaced a year apart, even though she was bigger than most of the males. She was well-protected while racing.

Rachel was pushed as a 3 year old.  She didn't need urging to run; she just took off and ran.

She was raced 6 times at 2, beginning in May, 2008.  She raced 8 times at 3, hard races on dirt against stiff competition. She ran 4 times at 4, and was then retired with an undisclosed ailment.  (People don't seem to realize, she actually ran just as well at 4 as she did at 3; the other fillies, however, had matured at 4 as RA had precociously done at 3.

When RA walked in the post parade for the Woodward, she was highly agitated. (I still think she might have been in heat). She tossed Calvin, then whacked him with her head. She was difficult to settle.  RA ran her heart out, but for the final 2f, for the first time, she ran under the whip.  When the race was done, RA could barely stand.  To me, that is running a horse into the ground.  And from an interview with her former trainer, Hal Wiggens in BH, he thought she was run into the ground in that race.

My opinion has nothing to do with handicapping, and everything to do the healthy career and life of a thoroughbred.

Zenyatta retired sound at 6; RA was retired early at 4 due to injury.

Mary: Man O'War and Secretariat were considered huge at 16 hands 2 inches.(16 and a half hands or 16.5 decimally) Slew was 16 hands (and he looked huge.)

War Admiral was smaller than Seabiscuit, who wasn't very big himself.  1940's TC Champions were about 15 hands.

Midnight Lute...17 hands 1 inch

Zenyatta...over 17 hands 1 inch

Rock Hard Ten...17 hands 3 inches

First Dude....17 hands

Stately Victor...17 hands

Unbridled Belle...over 17 hands

Unrivaled Belle...over 17 hands

and many more over 17 included a few TC contenders this year. The TB is trending from small and compact to large and bulky.

28 Jun 2013 9:26 AM
tom mallios

slew, i have to laugh at your comments about R.A. , all of a sudden she was immature and did not know how to pace herself.first of all the woodward was end of august whereas 3 yos' far as the immaturity and the fact she did not know how to pace herself.was that an optical illusion in the oaks and in the preakness.she sure did not look like a rank immature filly who could not control herself on the front end.when i say it is up to the owners. i mean responsible owners. running against the boys is a major exception and not the rule.but as stated earlier.if you went by speed figures,RA was 2 to 3 lengths faster than the nearest competitor.the same thing if you go back a while.when personal ensign beat the boys at saratoga. on paper she was 3 lengths faster than her nearest competitor. i know races are not run on paper.but i would much raher be sitting on the fastest horse by far going in to a race. than backing a slower contender. whatever happens during the race is never predicted. as far as life at ten not being scratched in the BC. how can you relate that to running a horse into the ground.the owners pointed to that race.fact she was not scratched in my opinion is the same why other horses are not scratched . the tracks do not want to refund the money wagered .especially with her.she was a huge favorite on the ultimate platform. the money that would of had to be refunded with the exotics and other wagers would of been severe. chalk that up to not say they ran her into the what may look like a bold and challenging move,may just be an excellently calculated least it is a decision they are pointing example of running a horse into the ground ,then coming to their senses was palace malice. he ran in the La. derby end of march,since he did not qualify for the derby. the connections,whoever made the call. they decided to come back 2 weeks later in the that he  qualified,he came back 3 weeks late in the derby.gave me the impression that all they wanted was a derby horse.being a public looked as though he was just an advertising billboard. look how he ran in the derby,he was over the top.he could not relax and took off and set those rediculous fractions.thankfully smith pulled him up and conserved him to race another day. you saw the difference in the belmont when he was a fresh horse. so that is running a horse into the ground.excessive races within a short period of time.not taking on a challenge that you and i or anyone else may deem ridiculous.

28 Jun 2013 9:33 AM

Tom, the dissension between us is due, I believe, to that fact that we approach horse racing from 2 very different perspectives.

You see the horses as odds, numbers on a page, pp's, and $$ won.

I see horses as the epitome of courage and fluid grace. Watching them move makes my world a better place. I care about their career and life after racing. I appreciate the intelligence I find in their eyes. I respect the power they convey. I love the fire in their hearts. I worry about their vulnerability.

To me, any decision not made in the best interest of the horse is the wrong decision.

28 Jun 2013 12:32 PM
tom mallios

then slew,we do agree. my entire point to start was that i would not run a horse into the ground. i am trying to preserve its' health.i understand your love for them after racing.but bottom line these are race horses.of course they will be put through strenuous races.that is why they are famous and you love them.if money were not involved where you say i care about would never of heard of them.please take a poll of peole and ask them.if parimutual wagering would not be many would follow the game as intently. sometimes the problem with the so called animal lovers is. and i personally take offense to that we could care less about the horses health and well being.that we are barbarians that say,put them in the oval and let them run so we can bet them. you did not understand my initial post. it was in favor of preserving the health of not only horse,but jockey.god forbid if a horse goes down.the potential for human and horse fatality is great. i want to avoid that circumstance. thus my initial point not to run horses to much.then there are the old timers who say todays horses are brittle,they cant run as often as the old or the other please.i agree there are dangers to lasix.what happens to the thousands of horses that are bleeders and cannot race without the we just lay them up as pets,or do we race them and say the hell with them.lasix like any drug has its' positives and negatives.another reason i am in favor of not over racing them.the less they run,the less lasix they take in if they use the medication.therefore the side effect is not as harsh. so to summarize,we both agree,that we want the safety of horse and rider.

28 Jun 2013 2:07 PM

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