Let's Talk About Stayers

Unofficial Champion Stayer 2010: Bourbon Bay
By Erwin Wodarczak

Stamina is on everyone’s mind as we head into the Triple Crown, so it is timely to also discuss one category that continues to go missing from the list of annual champions. Unlike the year-end awards presented in Australia, Hong Kong, and Europe, the Eclipse Awards offer no specialist category for long-distance runners, or stayers.  Sprint specialists of both sexes are recognized with year-end championship honours—distance specialists are not.  In other words, of the two most important characteristics of the classic modern Thoroughbred—speed and stamina—only one is officially recognized and implicitly valued.

Since 2008, in an effort to counter this trend, Left Coast Racing (leftcoastracing.com) has hosted the Stayers’ Watch series and the Unofficial Champion Stayer Award.  Both series showcase North American racehorses who give their best performances at distances of 1 1/2 miles or longer.  Stayers’ Watch tracks horses racing in such long-distance or “marathon” races.  The Champion Stayer Award each year honours the horse whose overall performance in long-distance races, on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces, are deemed superior to its rivals.

This year, Left Coast Racing awarded the unofficial title of Champion Stayer for 2010 to BOURBON BAY.

Bourbon Bay was a decisive victor in Santa Anita’s three major turf marathons (plus an allowance score) early in 2010.  He closed against a slow pace in the San Luis Obispo Handicap on February 21; reeled-in rapid pace-setters in the San Luis Rey Handicap on March 20; and prevailed in a stretch duel over Skellytown before holding off Unusual Suspect in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap on April 18.  In winning those three handicaps Bourbon Bay became the first horse since Kotashaan in 1993 to sweep Santa Anita’s “stayers’ triple”.

After the San Juan Capistrano Bourbon Bay was given the summer off, returning to action in the Clement L. Hirsch Memorial Turf Championship in October.  At 1 1/4 miles the race was not at his best distance, plus he likely was rusty after the long layoff—nevertheless he raced well to finish third.  He was then aimed for the Hollywood Turf Cup, but developed a fever the day before and was scratched.  He did not run again in 2010.

UNUSUAL SUSPECT’s durability—he raced 15 times this year, on both turf and synthetic surfaces, at both middle and stayers’ distances—earns him an honorable mention.  He actually competed in more distance races than Bourbon Bay, and won a Grade I stake, the Hollywood Turf Cup — Bourbon Bay’s major wins were all Grade IIs.  However, the Hollywood Turf was Unusual Suspect’s only win during the year, although he did finish in the money in four previous attempts at stayers’ distances.  More significantly, he was soundly beaten by Bourbon Bay in all three of their meetings.

ELDAAFER also earns an honorable mention, with his wins in the Turfway Park Fall Championship and the Breeders’ Cup Marathon.  In the latter race, he set a Churchill Downs track record for 1 3/4 miles.

Left Coast Racing congratulates Bourbon Bay and his human connections for earning the Unofficial Champion Stayer title, and we wish them all the best for their 2011 campaign.



Retrospective List of Unofficial Champion Stayers

This list of top stayers from the past, commencing from the beginning of the “graded stakes era” in North America in 1973 and continuing to the present day, is intended to complement Left Coast Racing’s Stayers’ Watch series and Unofficial Champion Stayer Award.

The precedent for naming “retrospective” champions was set in the early 1970s, when the late Kent Hollingsworth, then editor of The Blood-Horse, pored over old racing publications and statistics and compiled a list of “champions” from before 1936, the year the Daily Racing Form began naming annual champions. That list, first published in a limited-edition book called The Great Ones, eventually gained quasi-official status and is regularly reprinted.  In fact, Hollingsworth’s list is considered so authoritative that it is not unusual for a writer to state that, say, Sir Barton was named Horse of the Year for 1919—when in fact there was no such title at that time.

Top horses for each year were selected based on their records in races of 1 1/2 miles or longer, adjusted according to each race’s grade-level.  Victories in dirt races are given more weight to take into account North American racing tradition—which in part explains, for example, Easy Goer (1989) being ranked above two turf horses who raced more often at these distances.  Horses listed as “honorable mentions” are for cases where either the rankings are very close, or the horse’s accomplishments, while not championship-calibre, warrant special mention.

Disclaimer: I make no claims that this list is definitive.  I realize that I bring to this project only a fraction of the knowledge and historical perspective that Kent Hollingsworth brought to The Great Ones.  However, I hope that this list will prompt discussion of the need to promote stamina as well as speed in the Thoroughbred among racing authorities and fans alike.

Year/Horse/Comments:

2009    Cloudy’s Knight    1st: Kentucky Cup Turf, Sycamore S., Valedictory S., W.L. McKnight H.; 2nd: Breeders’ Cup Marathon
2008    Champs Elysees    1st: Northern Dancer Turf S., Hollywood Turf Cup; 2nd: Jim Murray Memorial H.; 3rd: Pattison Canadian International Championship also Canadian Horse of the Year
2007    English Channel    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational S.; 2nd: Sword Dancer Invitational H. also Champion Turf Horse largest winning margin in Breeders’ Cup Turf history (7 lengths)
2006    T.H. Approval    1st: Sunset H., San Juan Capistrano Invitational H.; 2nd: San Luis Rey H., San Luis Obispo H.
2005    Relaxed Gesture    1st: Canadian International Championship; 2nd: Sword Dancer Invitational H.
    Meteor Storm (honorable mention)    1st: W.L. McKnight H.; 2nd: San Luis Rey H., Canadian International Championship
2004    Better Talk Now    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, Sword Dancer Invitational H.
2003    (vacant)    (No North American horse won more than one graded stayers’ race during the year)
2002    With Anticipation    1st: Sword Dancer Invitational H.; 2nd: Breeders’ Cup Turf
    Continental Red (honorable mention)    1st: San Luis Rey H.; 2nd: San Luis Obispo H., Sunset H.; 3rd: San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., Kentucky Cup Turf H.
2001    Blueprint    1st: San Luis Rey H., Sunset H.; 3rd: San Juan Capistrano Invitational H.
2000    John’s Call    1st: Sword Dancer Invitational H., Turf Classic Invitational S., Cape Henlopen S.; 3rd: Breeders’ Cup Turf
1999    Single Empire    1st: San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., San Luis Rey H.; 3rd: Hollywood Turf Cup S.
1998    Buck’s Boy    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, Turf Classic Invitational S., Pan American H., Riggs H. also Champion Turf Horse
1997    Chief Bearhart    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, Canadian International Championship, Elkhorn S.; 2nd: Stars and Stripes Breeders’ Cup Turf S. also Champion Turf Horse and Canadian Horse of the Year
1996    Windsharp    1st: San Luis Rey H., San Luis Obispo H.; 2nd: San Juan Capistrano Invitational H. last female champion stayer
1995    Sandpit    1st: San Luis Rey H., Caesar’s Palace Turf Championship H.
1994    Bien Bien    1st: San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., San Luis Rey H.; 2nd: San Luis Obispo H.
1993    Kotashaan    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, San Luis Rey H., San Luis Obispo H., San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., Oak Tree Invitational S. also Champion Turf Horse and Horse of the Year
1992    Fraise    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, Sword Dancer Invitational H.; 2nd: Hollywood Turf Cup S., Turf Classic Invitational S.
1991    Miss Alleged    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, Hollywood Turf Cup S. also Champion Female Turf Horse
1990    El Señor    1st: Sword Dancer Invitational H.; 3rd: Breeders’ Cup Turf
1989    Easy Goer    1st: Belmont Stakes, Jockey Club Gold Cup last champion stayer to race primarily on dirt surfaces
    El Señor (honorable mention)    1st: Sword Dancer Invitational H., Hialeah Turf Cup; 2nd: Turf Classic Invitational S.
    Frankly Perfect (honorable mention)    1st: Hollywood Turf Cup S., San Luis Rey H.; 2nd: Sunset H.
1988    Great Communicator    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, Hollywood Turf Cup S., San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., San Luis Obispo H.; 2nd: San Luis Rey S., Oak Tree Invitational H.
1987    Theatrical    1st: Breeders’ Cup Turf, Turf Classic Invitational S., Sword Dancer H., Hialeah Turf Cup H. also Champion Turf Horse
1986    Dahar    1st: San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., San Luis Rey S.; 2nd: Sunset H., Hollywood Turf Cup S., Hollywood Invitational Turf H.
1985    Vanlandingham    1st: Washington D.C. International Invitational S., Jockey Club Gold Cup; 3rd: Hollywood Turf Cup Invitational S. also Champion Male Older Horse and Champion Turf Horse
    Nassipour (honorable mention)    1st: Rothmans International, Dixie H., Seneca H.; 2nd: Niagara S.; 3rd: Pan American H.
1984    John Henry    1st: Hollywood Invitational H., Sunset H., Turf Classic Invitational S.; 3rd: San Luis Rey S. also Champion Turf Horse and Horse of the Year
1983    All Along    1st: Rothman’s International, Washington D.C. International Invitational S., Turf Classic also Champion Female Turf Horse and Horse of the Year
    Erin’s Isle (honorable mention)    1st: San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., San Luis Rey S., Hollywood Invitational Turf H.; 3rd: Sword Dancer H., Turf Classic
1982    Lemhi Gold    1st: Jockey Club Gold Cup, San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., Sword Dancer H., San Marino H.; 2nd: Hollywood Invitational Turf H. also Champion Older Male Horse
1981    John Henry    1st: Jockey Club Gold Cup, San Luis Rey S., San Luis Obispo H., Sword Dancer S., Oak Tree Invitational S., Hollywood Invitational Turf H. also Champion Male Older Horse, Champion Turf Horse, and Horse of the Year
1980    John Henry    1st: San Juan Capistrano Invitational H., Hollywood Invitational Turf H., Oak Tree Invitational S., San Luis Rey Stakes, Hialeah Turf Cup H.; 2nd: Jockey Club Gold Cup, Sword Dancer Invitational H.; 3rd: Turf Classic Invitational S. also Champion Turf Horse 1979    Bowl Game    1st: Washington D.C. 1979    Bowl Game    1st: Washington D.C. International Invitational S., Turf Classic Invitational S., Hialeah Turf Cup H., Arlington H.; 2nd: Brooklyn H. also Champion Turf Horse
1978    Exceller    1st: Jockey Club Gold Cup, Hollywood Invitational H., Sunset H., Oak Tree Invitational S., San Juan Capistrano Invitational H. only horse to defeat two Triple Crown champions, Affirmed and Seattle Slew, in same race (Jockey Club Gold Cup)
1977    Johnny D    1st: Washington D.C. International Invitational S., Turf Classic S.; 3rd: Canadian International Championship S., Man O’ War S., Lawrence Realization S. also Champion Turf Horse
    Majestic Light (honorable mention)    1st: Man O’ War S.; 2nd: Washington D.C. International Invitational S., Turf Classic S., Canadian International Championship S.
    Exceller (honorable mention)    1st: Canadian International Championship S.; 2nd: Man O’ War S.; 3rd: Washington D.C. International Invitational S.
1976    Youth    1st: Washington D.C. International Invitational S., Canadian International Championship S. also Champion Turf Horse
1975    Snow Knight    1st: Man O’ War S., Canadian International Championship S., Seneca H.
    Forego (honorable mention)    1st: Woodward S., Suburban H. also Champion Older Male Horse and Horse of the Year
1974    Forego    1st: Jockey Club Gold Cup, Woodward S. also Champion Older Male Horse, Champion Sprinter, and Horse of the Year
    Astray (honorable mention)    1st: San Juan Capistrano H., San Luis Rey S., San Luis Obispo H.; 3rd: Bowling Green H.
1973    Secretariat    1st: Belmont S., Man O’ War S., Canadian International Championship S.; 2nd: Woodward S. also Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse, Champion Turf Horse, Triple Crown Champion, and Horse of the Year
    Prove Out (honorable mention)    1st: Jockey Club Gold Cup, Woodward S. defeated Secretariat in Woodward S., and Riva Ridge (Champion Older Male Horse) in Jockey Club Gold Cup


6 Comments

Leave a Comment:

sherpa

EW, I have visited your site regularly since a blog of yours was published here a year or so ago (Cloudy's Knight - my hero!), and I only wish there were enough distance races run so that you'd have to blog weekly!  I don't know of any other horse-racing website that is devoted to the "Stayers" I love best of all.  

Bourbon Bay is a worthy "unofficial" champion for 2010, though obviously not a match for most of those listed in prior years.  This is what we are reduced to.

During Breeder's Cup season, I often read articles by turf-writers proposing that the Marathon should be abolished.  Lord, save us and our few remaining stamina-breds from these fools whose attention-span is limited to < a mile.  If I were sponsoring the BC, I'd make the Marathon the Main Event!

Thanks for leftcoastracing.com!

27 Apr 2011 7:23 PM
Racingfan

I for one am very happy to see these "unofficial" Champion Stayer awards!!!  I think it is a terrible thing that there is no such award included at the Eclipse ceremony.

27 Apr 2011 10:06 PM
Carlotta Cooper

It's a shame that stayers aren't appreciated more in the U.S.  Instead, I just see shorter and shorter races carded for Thoroughbreds.  Then people wonder why horses can't get the Derby distance, or start hitting a wall at 1 1/16.  It seems like when we do have good stayers, if they are intact horses, they are just shipped off overseas when they retire.  We never keep them here for breeding.  So sad and so short-sighted.

28 Apr 2011 10:55 AM
Pedigree Ann

We finally have races for dirt stayers again, but we have lost many of the top races for classic distance horses. East of the Mississippi, there is now no 10f Grade 1 races for older horses before the JC Gold Cup in the fall. The older mares have more chances at the G1 level at 10f than the guys do! The NYRA is the biggest perpetrator of this farce, but Gulfstream, Monmouth, Meadowlands, and Suffolk have all 'dumbed down' their signature races for older horses to 9f, and in Maryland things are so mismanaged that they've given up as a major venue.

The lack of classic distance tests make stamina-limited horses like Quality Road into faux stars, doomed to failure when they go for the BC Classic in a full field. If the Gulfstream Park Hcp (at 10f) is now at a bad time vis-a-vis the World Cup, why not run it earlier, with the Donn at the start of the meet for a prep? Because breeders don't want their high-priced milers shown up as lacking? They can always blame travel or surface for failure in Dubai, after all.

28 Apr 2011 11:24 AM
PomDeTerre

Pegigree Ann- anyone can get the same stats u tout out of a book, the internet or the drf.  I'm a breeder/owner and i find your diatribe on ancestry obnoxious bordering on arrogant.  Put the mare togethe with the stallion, make the most educated and responsible call u can as a breeder- and hope for the best foal possible.  Reiterating past stats is inconsequential to the futuer.

18 May 2011 10:28 PM
PomDeTerre

PS to pedigree ann- why is it that u produce your amazing stats AFTER the race?

18 May 2011 10:29 PM

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