[image url="http://cdn.bloodhorse.com/images/content/fabbott_large.jpg"]Franny Abbott[/image]
Franny Abbott is the President of the National Steeplechase Association, a post he accepted in 2007. He is the 14th president of NSA, dating to 1895 and follows Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard. Abbott is the former director of the Radnor Races in Malvern, PA. and a former steward and race official on the circuit.
In addition, he runs a bloodstock consulting form, Abbott Bloodstock, which specializes in buying, selling, pedigree analysis, etc. and is active at Thoroughbred sales at Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, and other sales venues. Brother Rick Abbott runs Charlton Bloodstock and is a Pennsylvania racing commissioner. Abbott is a graduate of the University of Miami, and also of the Racing Commissioners International stewards school at the University of Louisville.
The 53-year-old lives in West Chester, PA with his wife Franny (yes her name is Franny too). They have four sons. Abbott is the son-in-law of noted Thoroughbred owner/breeder Betty Moran of Brushwood Stable.
One goal Abbott announced upon taking office was to enhance steeplechasing's position within the Thoroughbred industry. He would like to see steeplechase racing pursue some pari-mutuel wagering, create a better connection with the Breeders' Cup and NTRA, and build an international day of racing.
National Steeplechase Association was formed by the Jockey Club in 1895 and sanctions all official Thoroughbred racing over jumps in the United States with purses of $5 million annually at 32 race meets and several host racetracks. In 2006, 543 Thoroughbreds participated in NSA races with total attendance at race meets and racetracks of more than one million.
One of the NSA's season highlights comes to Keeneland Friday, April 20 with the $150,000 Royal Chase (gr. I) which will feature 2006 race winner Sur La Tete among others.
Would you like to see steeplechase races being contested at Woodbine Racetrack?
We would like to see steeplechasing racing at as many race tracks as possible. We are trying to grow our sport and by having patrons at more tracks experience the steeplechasing I think we can. The turf course at Woodbine, being on the outside of the dirt, would bring steeplechasing closer to the racetrack fans. There used to be a Canadian Steeplechase and Hunt Association, and Woodbine hosted steeplechasing up until the mid 1950s.
I am interested in becoming a steeplechase jockey? I am 16, and am wondering how I can prepare for such a task?
Many of our jockeys come from other areas of horse sports. A lot of our jockeys work for trainers and get experience that way. Working for trainers gives you the opportunity to work and school horses on a regular basis and get a shot to ride a race. There is a jockey school The North American Racing Academy in Lexington, KY started by Chris McCarron. The web address is http://nara.kcts.edu. Have a look!
San Francisco, CA:
Franny, good luck in your new position. I am fast becoming a big fan of steeplechase racing. I have been watching TVG's coverage in the morning hours from Europe for past few months and I am amazed at the sport's popularity overseas. I am the insurance broker who put together the on-track accident insurance for jockeys at most of the flat tracks across the US. I would like to talk to you about a plan I have to insure the steeplechase jockeys. This is obviously critical to the viability of the sport. Do you keep statistics on the number of injuries that occur to your jockey colony?
We would very much like to talk. We have been trying, just like the flat jockeys to get coverage. Call the NSA office (410-392-0700) and ask for Pete. He will be able to answer your questions or get answers.
New York, NY:
Are you going to move the Breeders' Cup Steeplechase to Friday card at Monmouth Park this year so that it appears on the same card as the new Breeders' Cup races and gets better exposure?
We are currently in discussions with the Breeders’ Cup about this fall. Stay tuned. Nothing is definite yet but we are working hard.
New York, NY:
Why is it that I can bet on every steeplechase race run in England and Ireland through TVG but I can only bet on American steeplechase races if they are held at Saratoga or Colonial Downs?
Simply, pari-mutuel laws. This is another area on which we are working. We are also working on sending our signals from the race meets to Europe and other outlets.
Saratoga Springs, NY:
Franny, The NY (Saratoga) Steeplechase races have decreased in the last several years. Is there any effort to get them back to be a prominent part of NY racing?
We work hard every year with the NYRA management team to try to get the number back to 12. The major problem is the betting. Patrons tend to keep their money in their pockets for steeplechase races. We need your help and other people like you to let the NYRA know how important steeplechasing racing is to your Saratoga experience.
It's a fairly vague question, but where and how does steeplechasing fit into major track racing? It seems like it's lessened in recent years, why?
We currently race at Keeneland, Colonial Downs, Saratoga and Philadelphia Park. We are currently planning some additions to our major track program. What we provide is an exciting alternative to Thoroughbred racing that the fans seem to like.
Los Angeles, CA:
Why isn't there any steeplechasing out here on the West Coast? We'd sure like to have it here.
Right now all of the trainers are working on the east coast. Organizing a race is difficult and sites are hard to find. Getting horses to the west coast would be costly and the purses to attract horses would have to be strong. Having said that we are always looking for more opportunities. If you have any ideas give us a call. We were very close to having a major race at Hollywood Park.
Why isn't there any steeplechasing out here on the West Coast? We'd sure like to have it here.
The Steeplechase Triple Crown has shifted from the race tracks to the race meets. It is now run at Camden, SC, Middleburg, VA, and Malvern, PA. It is very popular with our horsemen.
Did you ever ride a jump race? If not, what's the closest you've come?
No, and I have great admiration and respect for those who do. It is a very dangerous job. As far as the closest, If you knew me you would know that since I was 16 years old I have never weighed less than 175lbs. I grew up playing other sports and never even considered race riding.
I realize you've just started as the president of the National Steeplechase Association, but how has it gone thus far? What are your ultimate goals?
So far I would say it has gone well. Early still and we have a lot to do. My ultimate goals are many. More support for the race meets. Increased opportunities for the horsemen. Higher purses. More races at the race tracks. Implement some type of pari-mutuel betting on steeplechasing.
New York, NY:
Is steeplechasing growing? If so, where and in what capacity?
Yes, I believe it is. There are more owners at the moment. More horses available to run and increasing opportunities. We are always trying to add new meets and I think we will have some success in the near future. In fact we are in discussions with a group on Long Island to have a race meet at Caumsett Park.
The participants all love what they do. We attract owners from the flat game for a couple of reasons. First, It gives their horses a second life and the possibility to earn more money. Also, it is a much more relaxed atmosphere. Everyone is friendly and we are always trying to keep it that way.
Far Hills, NJ:
Here at Far Hills, we host one of the most popular and profitable race meets of the year, how can you bring our model to other sites around the country?
Far Hills is in one of the most affluent and populated areas of the country. Far Hills has become a major event in the New York Metropolitan area and northern New Jersey. It also helps to have a train station right down the street. The people who run Far Hills are big thinkers. They are never afraid to innovate. That is very important.
Who's going to win the Royal Chase at Keeneland on April 20?
Answering that might get me in trouble. I better pass.
Have you ever been to the Cheltenham Festival in March? If so, what were your impressions? If not, you better get over here and see it.
I have never been to Cheltenham. Funny you should bring this up. I am actually working on finding a house to rent next year. I am hoping to bring some of my family and my brother-in-law and some of his family. We are really looking forward to it. If you have any suggestions please let me know.
Is there a Todd Pletcher equivalent in steeplechasing and if so who would that be?
We have several very successful trainers. None, I don’t think that are on the top year after year. The closest would probably be Jonathan Sheppard. He was leading trainer year after year for a long time. Recently, there are some younger trainers who are very good and challenge him every year.
I’m planning on going to the High Hope Steeplechase here in Lexington. It’s my first steeplechase. Other than drink wine and eat cheese, what should I do or what should I make sure not to miss?
Please watch these Thoroughbreds that jump fences. They are very good and entertaining. The professionalism of all of our licensees is top notch. Enjoy
It seems to me like most steeplechase meets are tied to some kind of charity. Why is that and how do you select the charities?
All of our meets run for charity. We have given millions of dollars annually to many charities. The people who run the meets select them. Local hospitals, Open Space organizations etc. It really depends on which charity fits the best and is willing to participate.
How does a trainer convert a flat horse to steeplechasing?
Slowly and patiently. They start over small logs and gradually work their way up to the hurdles. It takes several months and some horses learn more quickly than others.
Is there a good source on the Internet for steeplechasing, if I don’t know much about it?
Start with our web site “www.nationalsteeplechase.com” or email us at “firstname.lastname@example.org. There you can find out about our schedule and race meets in you area. I believe all of our race meets have web sites.
Who’s your favorite steeplechaser of all-time and what’s your greatest steeplechase memory?
McDynamo. I’m prejudiced. My brother-in-law owns him. However Flatterer and Lonesome Glory would also come to mind. One would be McDynamo’s first Breeders’ Cup win. A very close second would be Flatterer wining at Radnor carrying 176 lbs. in 1986. That’s the record weight carried to victory in an American hurdle stakes. That was very impressive. Something I don’t think we will see again.
What happened to McDynamo? When will we see him at the races again?
He is scheduled to run at Nashville in the Iroquois Steeplechase on May 12. He is doing fine and has been Fox Hunting this year as usual.
I have very little experience with the jumpers, but am confused about the difference between a timber race and a jump race? Do you know?
They are both jump races. Timber is run over wooden fences, post and rail, stacked rails and run over longer distances from 3 to 4 miles. Hurdle races are run over the “The National Fences” and at distances between 2 and 3 miles. They are artificial hedges that travel from race meet to race meet.
Is the McCarron I see riding jump races related to Hall of Fame flat jockey Chris McCarron?
Matt McCarron is Chris’ nephew. He is Chris’ brother Greg’s son.
Lonesome Glory’s win at Cheltenham in 1992 I believe put American steeplechasing on the world stage for a bit, but it’s been a few years since we’ve seen an American runner. When can we expect another one and how do you think the best American steeplechasers stack up against the best from here?
First we have to compare them to your hurdle horse. Lonesome Glory was an exceptional horse in America, having won 5 Eclipse Awards, and certainly proved his worth in England. It takes a special individual to participate on an International level. A horse has to be able to travel well, he has to be able to run on softer turf and – no matter when he goes – his owner s would have to be willing to give up at least part of the season here.
Right now, our two best horses are Mcdynamo and Sur La Tete and I think they would stack up well against English competition. McDynamo is starting to get old (10 now). Sur La Tete is a notoriously tricky shipper, so any English campaign he would try would involve an extended stay. Logistically it would be difficult for him. I would love to see more horses give it a try and hopefully it’s something we can accomplish.
Is the Sport of Kings Challenge bonus series still in existence? If not, what happened to it?
The bonus and the energy of the Sport of Kings Challenge was a product of a lot of work by George Sloan, who sadly passed away a few years ago. George worked very hard to create an event and a strong relationship between American steeplechasing and English steeplechasing. The bonus program included $1 million for winning two races in the United States and two more in England and a smaller $75,000 bonus for winning one race in each country. No one ever won the first bonus, but Lonesome Glory captured the secondary bonus in 1992 and generated a lot of good will and publicity. The relationship between America and England is still there, and we would like to see it grow and continue. But much of the funding that went into the bonus program has been channeled to other areas of American Steeplechasing
As an owner, I enjoy being in the paddock at the races to see the horses up close, check out the trainers, etc. Why does your sport require special badges to enter the paddock?
Safety issues and crowd control just like every race track in America. If we let everyone at the races in the paddock we wouldn’t be able to get the horses in the Paddock Our paddock in many cases are only temporary facilities. Any legitimate horseman has access to our paddocks, and can often bring in guests.
Hi Fran, How do you think you will go about interesting new racetracks in putting on pari-mutuel steeplechase races.
We encourage and will continue to encourage race track to host steeplechase races for their entertainment value. As long as jump races are additional races on any race card we can add to the excitement of a day at the race track. We stay in contact with many race tracks as possible and keep talking.
Fair Hill, MD:
Off the steeplechase topic for a moment, we've read about Kentucky Derby hopeful Hard Spun being bred by your mother-in-law Betty Moran and your brother-in-law Michael. How involved were you in the decision to sell him and are there any regrets? Secondly, how do you think he'll fare in the Derby? Third, where is the mare and what are the plans for her now? On a bigger picture, how much attention does the steeplechase industry pay attention to major flat races like the Derby?
I will answer the last part first. Almost everyone in steeplechasing has some connection to flat racing. They either started in flat racing and came to steeplechasing or they have gone to flat racing from steeplechasing. There are many top trainers who had their start and early education in steeplechasing. We follow the Derby and all of flat very closely. Most if not all of our horses come from flat racing. They are after all thoroughbreds first.
As far as Hard Spun is concerned I really had no hand in the decision to sell. Michael and Betty foal shared and selling him was the plan from the beginning. Regrets, I don’t think anyone has regrets if you are a breeder and lucky enough to breed a horse as good as Hard Spun appears to be. Betty owns the mare and will continue to breed her well and sell some and keep some. Turkish Tryst foaled a Kingmambo filly this year and is being bred back to Storm Cat.
Given the paucity of wagering on steeplechase races, I assume your sport relies upon a lot of sponsorships. Considering your demographics of people who have money to spend on a sport with little likelihood of recouping their investments financially, I would think sponsors would love steeplechasing. How hard is it to attract sponsors?
We depend heavily on sponsors, particularly at the local race meets. And in fact they have had great success attracting those sponsors who see the value of these very successful meets. Our Race meets work very hard educating potential sponsors and inviting them to the races to experience the excitement and see the potential of our clientele.
Who is the best steeplechase horse you have been associated with and what was it about that horse that made them special?
McDynamo is obviously the horse with which I have been most closely associated. He belongs to my brother-in-law, Michael Moran. I have had the honor to be around him over the years and I think his most amazing attribute is his professionalism. Nothing seems to bother him once he leaves the barn. He is the most relaxed racehorse I have seen.
Are their attributes of a flat racing Thoroughbred that make some more suitable than others for steeplechasing?
Let’s not forget that steeplechase horses are thoroughbreds that run and jump. Propensity for grass and a good turn of foot helps. I personally think that the stamina can be created. If they do not have that finishing kick I think you are in trouble.